Revenge is a form of primitive justice usually assumed to be enacted in the absence of the norms of formal law and jurisprudence. Often, revenge is defined as being a harmful action against a person or group in response to a grievance, be it real or perceived. It is used to right a wrong by going outside of the law. This is because the individual taking revenge feels as though the law will not do justice. Revenge is also known as payback, retribution, retaliation, or vengeance; it may be characterized as a form of justice (not to be confused with retributive justice), an altruistic action which enforces societal or moral justice aside from the legal system. Francis Bacon described it as a kind of "wild justice" that "does... offend the law [and] putteth the law out of office". Primitive justice or retributive justice is often differentiated from more formal and refined forms of justice such as distributive justice and divine judgment.
Function in society
Detractors argue that revenge is simply wrong, of the same design as "two wrongs make a right".
Social psychologist Ian Mckee states that the desire for the sustenance of power motivates vengeful behavior as a means of impression management: "People who are more vengeful tend to be those who are motivated by power, by authority and by the desire for status. They don't want to lose face".
Some societies encourage vengeful behavior, which is called feud. These societies usually regard the honor of individuals and groups as of central importance. Thus, while protecting of his reputation an avenger feels as if he restores the previous state of dignity and justice. According to Michael Ignatieff, "revenge is a profound moral desire to keep faith with the dead, to honor their memory by taking up their cause where they left off". Thus, honor may become a heritage that passes from generation to generation. Whenever it is compromised, the affected family or community members might feel compelled to retaliate against an offender to restore the initial "balance of honor" that preceded the perceived injury. This cycle of honor might expand by bringing the family members and then the entire community of the new victim into the brand-new cycle of revenge that may pervade generations.
Feuds are cycles of provocation and retaliation, fueled by a burning desire for revenge and carried out over long periods of time by familial or tribal groups; they were an important part of many pre-industrial societies, especially in the Mediterranean region. They still persist in some areas, notably in Albania with its tradition of gjakmarrja or "blood feuds". During the Middle Ages, most would not regard an insult or injury as settled until it was avenged, or, at the least, paid for — hence, the extensive Anglo-Saxon system of weregild (literally, "man-price") payments, which placed a certain monetary value upon certain acts of violence in an attempt to limit the spiral of revenge by codifying the responsibility of a malefactor.
Honoring ones family, clan, or lord through the practice of revenge killings (敵討ち katakiuchi). These killings could also involve the relatives of an offender. Today, katakiuchi is most often pursued by peaceful means, but revenge remains an important part of Japanese culture.
The motto of Scotland is Nemo me impune lacessit, Latin for "Nobody shall provoke/injure me with impunity". The origin of the motto reflects the feudal clan system of ancient Scotland, particularly the Highlands.
The goal of some legal systems is limited to "just" revenge — in the fashion of the contrapasso punishments awaiting those consigned to Dante's Inferno, some have attempted to turn the crime against the criminal, in clever and often gruesome ways.
Modern Western legal systems usually state as their goal the reform or reeducation of a convicted criminal. Even in these systems, however, society is considered the victim of a criminal's actions, and the notion of vengeance for such acts is an important part of the concept of justice — a criminal "pays his debt to society".
Sudan has suffered cycles of revenge for many years, for example tribal conflicts in Darfur. South Sudan is torn by tribal conflicts with ethnic cleansing between the Nuer and Dinka peoples, fueled by appetite for revenge.
The popular expression "revenge is a dish best served cold" suggests that revenge is more satisfying if enacted when unexpected or long feared, inverting traditional civilized revulsion toward "cold-blooded" violence.
The idea's origin is obscure. The French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754–1838) has been credited with the saying, "La vengeance est un met que l'on doit manger froid" ["Revenge is a dish that must be eaten cold"], albeit without supporting detail. It has been in the English language at least since the 1846 translation of the 1845 French novel Mathilde by Joseph Marie Eugène Sue: "la vengeance se mange très bien froide", there italicized as if quoting a proverbial saying, and translated "revenge is very good eaten cold". It has been wrongly credited to the novel Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782).
Its path to modern popularity may begin with the 1949 film Kind Hearts and Coronets which had revenge is a dish which people of taste prefer to eat cold. The familiar wording appears in the film Death Rides a Horse (1967), in the novel The Godfather by Mario Puzo (1969), as if from an "old Klingon Proverb" in the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and again in the title sequence of the Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) where it was jokingly cited as a Klingon proverb.
The phrase has also been credited to the Pashtuns of Afghanistan.
Another proverb states, "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves". Another version (Chinese: 子不复仇非子也) proposes that a son who does not take revenge for his parents is not a son.
Revenge is a popular subject across many forms of art. Some examples include the painting Herodias' Revenge by Juan de Flandes and the opera Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In Japanese art, revenge is a theme in various woodblock prints depicting the forty-seven Ronin by many well-known and influential artists, including Utagawa Kuniyoshi. The Chinese playwright Ji Junxiang used revenge as the central theme in his theatrical work The Orphan of Zhao; it depicts more specifically familial revenge, which is placed in the context of Confucian morality and social hierarchical structure.
Revenge has been a popular literary theme historically and continues to play a role in modern and contemporary works today. Notable examples of literature that feature revenge as a theme include the plays Hamlet and Othello by William Shakespeare, the novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, and the short story "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe. More modern examples include the novels Carrie by Stephen King and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Other examples are the Greek myths of Medea, and the novel The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Although revenge is a theme in itself, it is also considered to be a genre.
Revenge as a genre has been consistent with a variety of themes that have frequently appeared in different texts over the last few centuries. Such themes at hand include but are not limited to: disguise, masking, sex, cannibalism, the grotesque, bodily fluids, power, violent murders, and secrecy. Each theme, along with the concept of dramatic irony, play a large role in the success of revenge in literature. Dramatic irony is a literary device in which the audience possesses knowledge unavailable to characters in a novel, play, or film. Its purpose is to intensify the tragic events that are going to unfold by creating tension between the audience and the actions of the characters. It is essential to narratives of revenge.
The most common theme within the genre of revenge is the recurring violent murders that take place throughout the text, more so, however, in the final act or scene. The root of the violence is usually derived from the characters' childhood development. Violent murders are seen in many texts ranging from dramas to novels. Carrie, a 20th century novel written by Stephen King, has prime examples of this theme that do, indeed, occur during the final scenes. Another interesting text that incorporates this theme is the sixteenth-century drama Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare.
Continuing on, the themes of masking and disguise have the ability to go hand in hand with one another. A character may employ disguise literally or metaphorically. A mask, per se, is the literal example of this theme; while pretending to be something one is not is considered to be the metaphoric example. Additional themes that may cause the protagonist and antagonist to develop a masked or disguised identity include sex, power, and even cannibalism. Examples of sex and power being used as themes can be seen in the novel Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, as well as the already mentioned drama, Titus Andronicus.
Overall, although revenge is considered a theme in itself, its constant development over the last few centuries can allow it to be considered a genre as well. Key components, expressed as themes, that make up this genre are prevalent in copious literary works.
Humans are not the only species known to take revenge. There are several species such as camels, elephants, fish, and many species of primates (chimpanzees, macaques, baboons, etc.) that have been recognized to seek revenge. Primatologists Frans de Waal and Lesleigh Luttrellave conducted numerous studies that provide evidence of revenge in many species of primates. They observed chimpanzees and noticed pattern of revenge. For example, if chimpanzee A helped chimpanzee B defeat his opponent, chimpanzee C, then chimpanzee C would be more likely to help chimpanzee A's opponent in a later squabble. Chimpanzees are one of the most common species that show revenge due to their desire for dominance. Studies have also been performed on less cognitive species such as fish to demonstrate that not only intellectual animals execute revenge.