Publication Date



The Fatal Contract, female revenge, female violence


The Fatal Contract by William Heminge is not a good play. Its critical afterlife is essentially non-existent, with Fredson Thayer Bowers being one of the only critics to discuss it, criticizing its lack of “inspiration” and “ethical spirit.”1 I argue however, that the play is both inventive and moral, despite its many derivative aspects and narrative foibles. I suggest a new reading of the play as deeply innovative in terms of gender and revenge. Bowers criticizes the play’s morality because of the ultimate exoneration of Chrotilda, the central revengeress. The play can be reinterpreted and partially redeemed by understanding Chrotilda’s extreme violence as a uniquely female revenge. In her quest to avenge her own rape, Chrotilda sets up her plot such to teach her rapist of his evil, rather than seeking maximum pain regardless of understanding. She constructs herself as asexual in her guise of Eunuch, removing the villainous link between female sex and violence, enabling her to act outside of the boundaries of female propriety. Because of her didactic revenge, her rapist fully understands his own evil, revealing a strong moral intentionality behind the admittedly chaotic dénouement, along with an opportunity for blameless female agency.