This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

"The Proof of the Pudding is in the Eating": Sweeney Todd and the Modern Revenge Tragedy




Mechler, Mary M.

Type of Degree





Revenge tragedies create a world where corruption leads to retribution through personal rather than civil channels. Although many have connected Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and the revenge tradition, few have explored how the adaptation recreates the genre in a modern theatrical context. This thesis discusses the various adaptations of Sweeney Todd leading to Sondheim’s musical, with particular attention to the combination of revenge and melodramatic theatrical forms with modern theory and criticism. Through Bertolt Brecht’s theories on epic theatre, one may discover the techniques that serve to separate the audience from the revenger’s plight allowing examination of revenge’s effects on the revenger. Karl Marx and Friedrick Engels’ ideas on class struggle offer a lens to explore the social injustice that feeds the genre. When combined, these elements define a modern version of the revenge tragedy the functions as a more radical social critique recreating the revenger as a revolutionary figure.