In Dark Age Heroes, we see a strong comparison with the ‘Revenge Tragedies’. The idea of revenge and the seeking of retribution to rectify sin is explored in the characterHagen, who is highly comparable with the character ‘Bosola’ from ‘The Duchess of Malfie’. Bosola is the right hand man of Ferdinand, a similar relationship thatHagenmaintains with Gunther, we see as well that Bosola is highly superior intellectually and physically to his master, a condition also shared withHagen. Bosola commits a terrible murder and slaughters the Duchess of Malfie and her children;Hagensimilarly commits a terrible murder. Both men also share similar endings, they strive to rectify their mistakes by bringing righteous justice to their enemies and die in the attempt.
Hagen is desperate to achieve redemption from his crimes: “…not a day passes when I pray for the impossible salvation of my soul…” and believes that with his final confrontation of Krimhild and his attempt to save his King Gunther, that he will weight the balance of his soul in the other direction. An alternative argument is that the story is actually Krimhild’s, that it is her revenge onHagenthat is the chief justice of the book. Indeed her character is introduced in the first line of the novel. However, we see that though Krimhild’s revenge onHagenmay be justified, she takes it to extreme and excessive levels with the murder of most of her family and with her personally beheading her own brother. This extremity is a theme of the Revenge Tragedies: famously the Spanish Tragedy features a scene where Hieronimo bites out his own tongue in order to stop himself from incriminating others who helped him enact his revenge; he also hangs up the body of his son in order to reveal the treachery of Lorenzo. Excessive violence and horror is equally as prevalent in Dark Age Heroes where we see the conclusion unleashes the true potential of the human being’s capacity to commit atrocities: “Blood spattered out from the stumped, grotesquely meaty neck from which a white spinal column and numerous arterial veins protruded…”
Dark Age Heroes calls into question what one considers to be justifiable revenge, both spiritually, and in terms of society and the law. At the end of the book we see that Etzel, the king of Hungary, cannot pass any judgement or sentence because his country has been broken by the sheer scale of the bloodshed: “Etzel fell to the floor, making no effort to prevent Hildebrand, having been finally, utterly, irreversibly: crushed.” – here we see Etzel allows Hildebrand to take the law into his own hands because so much damage has been inflicted that no official form of justice can take place.
A blog by Joseph Sale
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