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La venganza de Tamar (1621-1624), Tirso de Molina

English title: Tamar's Revenge
Date written: sometime between 1621 and 1624
First publication date: 1634
Keywords: morality > honour, morality > crime, morality > punishment, morality > justice-revenge, violence > personal, violence > murder, family > brothers/sisters, family > duty, family > parents and children, family > incest
Genre and type: tragedy
Title information

Sometimes translated as 'The Rape of Tamar', the title is perhaps more accurately translated as 'Tamar's Revenge'.


The tragedy of Amnon’s rape of his half-sister, Tamar, and her bloody revenge on him, brought to life by a master dramatist in this stirring Biblical drama.


King David’s sons have returned to the royal palace in Jerusalem to rest during a 10-day truce, a brief respite from the war against the Ammonites in Rabah. His favourite son, Amnon, decides to scale his father’s harem walls to get a glimpse of the women inside. He hears a beautiful singing voice and falls instantly in love with the singer without seeing her. He learns that she will wear a red dress at an upcoming wedding and he attends, masked, in order to meet her. When he does, he realises her identity: she is his half-sister, Tamar. He is thrown into mental chaos as a ‘brother and lover’. Despite their kinship, he flirts with her and tries to kiss her hand. Tamar, protective of her honour, ends the wedding feast and orders her guards after him.

In the second act, Amnon suffers from melancholy, and the court’s best efforts cannot cure him—not amusing stories, singers, fencing, nor a visit from his father, the King, can cheer him. Only Tamar can bring him some relief; he asks her to play-act the part of his lover, a murdered Ammonite princess, but Tamar stops the game when he kisses her hands, saying he’s gone too far. He persuades her to say goodnight to him as the princess-lover, but Tamar’s fiancé, Joab, hears their lovers’ exchange and is enraged at her infidelity and incestuous talk with her brother. Tamar convinces him it was only play-acting and Joab forgives her. However, Amnon’s sickness gets worse, and he tells his father that the only cure will come from Tamar, whom he asks to bring him a meal, as she ‘knows his tastes’. Dismissing everyone else from the room, Amnon declares himself free from the rule of God, the King or honour, and only subject to the law of Eros.

Amnon venomously ejects Tamar from his room, disgusted with her after having raped her. Tamar vows revenge, and appeals to her father and brothers to avenge her honour, which Amnon has destroyed by taking her virginity. Tamar’s full-brother Absalom promises to exact justice for her dishonour.  David intends to punish Amnon severely, but after seeing him he takes pity and forgives Amnon. Absalom finds his father’s crown on a platter and tries it on; King David finds him wearing his crown and fears Absalom’s growing ambition. The King knows that if Amnon were to die, Absalom would be next in line as heir to the throne. Against his better judgment, David allows Absalom to take Amnon and his brothers out to his country estate for a banquet. Tamar leaves the palace for the countryside, where she stays with the shepherds. The seer, Laureta, gives each of Tamar and her brothers a flower symbolic of their personal situation and future. Amnon sees Tamar, but as she is veiled he does not recognise her and forcibly removes her veil. He fears the worst as he has forced Tamar twice and the seer gives him a warning. Amnon is murdered at the feast—Absalom and Tamar gloat over the body which is laid out over the feasting table. Their brothers bring the news of Amnon’s death to their father, and the King is distraught at the death of his favourite son.


The play is based on the Biblical story of Tamar’s rape by her half-brother Amnon in 2 Samuel 13, with additional details from Flavius Josephus. The story has appeared in Spanish ballads, and perhaps the most famous retelling in this form is in Federico García Lorca’s Romancero gitano (See Paterson’s very full introduction, Tirso de Molina 1969: 13). Also, the second act of Calderón’s Los cabellos de Absalón is directly taken from the third act of Tirso’s La venganza de Tamar (See Sloman 1958).

  • Sloman, Albert E. 1958. The Dramatic Craftsmanship of Calderón. Oxford, Dolphin

  • Tirso de Molina. 1969. La venganza de Tamar, ed. A. K. G. Paterson. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press (in Spanish)

Critical response

This is one of Tirso’s most popular tragedies, enjoying large-scale productions in both Spanish and English. Paterson’s 1969 edition still provides the most complete overview of the play, its themes and features, of any modern study. Recently, however, with productions of the play on the English stage, critics such as Thacker have analysed the play from a fresh perspective.  This has specifically affected the critical view of Tamar who, through her awakening sexuality, plays a more vibrant role than in earlier productions and critical reviews. See Weimer 2005 and Thacker 2008.

  • Thacker, Jonathan W. 2008. ‘Tirso’s Tamar Untamed: A Lesson of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Production’. In The Comedia in English: Translation and Performance, eds. Susan Paun de García and Donald R. Larson, pp. 164-76. Woodbridge, Tamesis

  • Weimer, Christopher. 2005. Review of Tamar’s Revenge, Comedia Performance, 2, 234-7

  • Tirso de Molina. 1634. La venganza de Tamar. In Parte Tercera de las comedias del Maestro Tirso de Molina. Tortosa

  • Tirso de Molina. 1969. La venganza de Tamar, ed. A. K. G. Paterson. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

  • Tirso de Molina. 1988. Tamar's Revenge/ La venganza de Tamar, trans. John Lyon. Warminster, Aris and Phillips

    Note this is a dual-language text in English and Spanish.

Useful readings and websites
  • Hesse, Everett W. 1964. ‘The Incest Motif in Tirso’s La venganza de Tamar’, Hispania, 47, 2, 268-76

  • Hesse, Everett W. 1991. Tirso’s art in La venganza de Tamar: Tragedy of Sex and Violence. York, SC: Spanish Literature Publishing Company

  • Paterson, A. K. G. 1968. ‘The Textual History of Tirso’s La venganza de Tamar’, Modern Language Review, 63, 2, 381-91

  • Sloman, A. E. 1958. The Dramatic Craftsmanship of Calderón: His Use of Earlier Plays. Oxford, Dolphin

  • Smith, Dawn L. 1997. ‘Crossing Generic Boundaries: The Case of The Rape of Tamar’, Indiana Journal of Hispanic Literatures, 10-11, 37-44

  • Thacker, Jonathan. 2008. ‘Tirso’s Tamar Untamed: A Lesson of the RSC Production’. In The Comedia in English: Translation and Performance, eds. Susan Paun de García and Donald Larson, pp. 164-76. London, Tamesis

  • Weimer, Christopher. 2005. Review of Tamar’s Revenge, Comedia Performance, 2, 234-7

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Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 22 February 2011.

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