Shakespeare and Revenge: or, Can We Swallow the Historicized with the Scientific?

Ayanna Thompson
Shakespeare and Revenge: or, Can We Swallow the Historicized with the Scientific?
Recent studies by neuroscientists have demonstrated that exacting revenge, and even anticipating exacting revenge, stimulates the dorsal striatum, the portion of the brain “that rats will work furiously to stimulate electrically” because it is the region “involved in enjoyment or satisfaction” such as experiencing “pleasant tastes.” If revenge is always sweet, if humans are wired to experience revenge as satisfying, do historicized readings of Shakespeare’s revenge tragedies have any validity? Scientific findings, after all, are treated as close to universals as anything else is in our age: these findings are treated by many as gospels. So how do (or should) we position scientific findings within our historicized readings of Shakespeare’s plays?