Making sense of The Courier's Tragedy

The Courier's Tragedy is a fictional Jacobean revenge play written by the fictional Richard Wharfinger. Oedipa sees a performance of it in San Narciso in Chapter 3

Recall that Oedipus Rex by Sophocles is the greatest tragedy of antiquity.

Characters from Squamuglia

Angelo
The evil Duke of Squamuglia. Murders the Duke of Faggio with poison.

Domenico
Friend of Niccolo. Tries to betray his friend to Angelo. Killed by Ercole.

Francesca
Sister of Angelo. Angelo wants her to marry Pasquale, who is her son. She is also sleeping with her brother Angelo.

Note the incest theme from Oedipus Rex.

Vittorio
Another courier.

Characters from Faggio

Original Duke of Faggio
Poisoned by Angelo. One reason is that he was sleeping with Angelo's sister, which resulted in Pasquale.

Pasquale
Evil illegitimate son of the Duke of Faggio. Takes over as regent of Faggio for his half-brother Niccolo when their father is murdered. Plans to murder Niccolo eventually. Killed by Ercole agents while having an orgy.

Niccolo
Rightful heir of Faggio. Flees home, ends up in Squamuglia, posing as a Thurn und Taxis courier.

Ercole
Scheming henchman who saves the life of young Faggio and smuggles him out of the palace.

Gennaro
Assumes head of state when Pasquale is killed until Niccolo (who is in Squamuglia) can be located.

Act IV

Gennaro is marching on Squamuglia with an army. Angelo sends Niccolo with a message of peace. Once he hears who Niccolo actually is, he sends someone to go get after him, but that someone is not named. They turn out to be three people: "with dancer's grace... long-limbed, effeminate, dressed in black... black silk hose pulled over their faces..." Trystero. Trystero kills Niccolo, in presumably the tragedy of The Courier's Tragedy.

The riddle of The Courier's Tragedy

The play is so intentionally convoluted that it's easy to read through without pausing to even learn the characters, let alone think through carefully. But amidst the entire mess there is really only one plot element not fully explained. Niccolo is sent from Angelo bearing a letter. This letter was the "lying document" in which Angelo sues for peace.

But that isn't the letter found on Niccolo's body. This new letter, although bearing the same seal as the original, is a "confession by Angelo of all his crimes, closing with the revelation of what really happened to the Lost Guard of Faggio." Although seemingly written by Angelo, it makes reference to Niccolo's death, which just happened. Since Angelo is presently in an orgy and, in any case, back in his castle, it is clear that this new letter is a forgery. By who else but Trystero. So Trystero is summoned by Angelo to kill Niccolo. They betray Angelo, kill Niccolo anyway, but all to incite Gennaro to destroy Squamuglia.

The Courier's Tragedy, then, for all its twists and turns really only has one bit of information to convey: Trystero will betray anyone or kill whomever to accomplish its own mysterious goals, which can run to the magnitude of destroying an entire city.

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