“Vasquez is instrumental to the tragedy, but is not himself a tragic character.” Exploring ideas about tragedy, consider the role of Vasquez in the play. Vasquez is first introduced to us in Act 1, Scene 2 – he is the third character we meet, after the Friar and Giovanni, and, in a way that is telling of what we are to find out about his character later on in the play, he is engaged in a duel with Grimaldi, a man of much higher rank than his own – this immediately highlights a defining feature of revenge tragedies, in that lower ranked characters often interact with those of higher rank in a manner unbefitting of their social standing, and by intertwining Vasquez with such notions from the off, it gives the character an immediate link to the very nature of revenge tragedies, and allows Ford to introduce him instantly as an ‘engine of revenge’ for Soranzo.
This allows Vasquez to commit gruesome acts (the plucking of Putana’s eyes) while maintaining that he does so only to defend the honour of his master; indeed, in this initial meeting, Soranzo implies that Vasquez only duels with Grimaldi because the latter has insulted Soranzo (‘and on this ground I willed my servant to correct this tongue’). Vasquez’s subsequent triumph over Grimaldi, and the pleasure he seems to take in his victory over the higher-ranked Grimaldi is a recurring characteristic of his, in that one of his driving motivations is to prove his ruthlessness to those who may doubt him.
Indeed, Vasquez’s bloodthirsty nature seems to be something that pushes certain aspects of the narrative forward, and is often used by Ford as a literary device with which the plot can be pushed forward; this is seen prominently in plot threads such as the one wherein Vasquez schemes to punish Hippolita. Vasquez’s luring Hippolita into following him to her doom provides a convenient method through which Hippolita, having served her dramatic purpose of exposing Soranzo’s treacherous nature to the audience, can be disposed of. The way in which he does this, by playing on Hippolita’s desire for revenge, gaining her trust, then subsequently betraying her, says much about Vasquez’s cunning, and when he, in an aside, says (in reference to Hippolita) ‘Work you that way, old mole?
Then I have the wind of you.’ it demonstrates his penchant for quick-thinking, and his dedication to Soranzo, in that he will do whatever he takes to protect him from any harm. Vasquez then proceeds to continue to indulge in his desires to cause chaos by, when Hippolita is about to poison Soranzo, giving her the poisoned goblet that she was going to give to Soranzo. By doing so in front of such a large audience, Vasquez ensures that, even in death, Hippolita will be remembered as a woman who, out of jealousy, attempted to kill a man on his wedding day; yet another example of Vasquez’s constant exacerbating of situations that could have been easily resolved, or punishing people he sees as ‘wrongdoers’ in a fashion that the audience would almost certainly have viewed as being needlessly ruthless.
While the excessive aggression on Vasquez’s part is a staple of Revenge tragedies, and one that is viewed as being integral to the idea of a ‘tragedy of blood’ such as ‘Tis Pity, it is not without its detractors; “trashy Jacobean violence, so inevitable and conventional”, is what Andrew Fuhrmann refers to it as, and indeed, though the idea of Vasquez’s violent nature is interwoven into his character by Ford, it can sometimes be overly wanton in terms of shock value, with a prime example being the character’s punishment of Putana for her aiding of Giovanni and Anabella’s incestuous relationship.
In what is one of the final scenes of the play, Vasquez, having ascertained that Giovanni is Anabella’s secret lover, and that Putana knew of this relationship in its entirety, orders for his Banditti to ‘put out her eyes instantly’, and in order to further emphasise Vasquez’s violent nature, Ford displays him as taking great pleasure in this, and immediately after, has the character decry the moral corruption of today’s age as being ‘excellent and above expectation’.
The fact that he is able to describe Annabella and Giovanni’s generation as being corrupt, immediately after having ordered such a horrific fate on Putana, coupled with the way in which he takes obvious glee in the incestuous revelation being made, forces the audience to laugh, and take a form of dark amusement in the juxtaposition of Vasquez’s taking a moral high from which he is able to criticize Giovanni, Anabella and Putana, with his ordering of such horrific acts against Putana – this form of macabre humour was common in revenge tragedies, with the fact that it went against the classical idea of decorum, allowing them to stand out as being much more radical and bloody than their traditional counterparts.