The Spanish Tragedy – Act One, Scenes 1-2: “Will both abide the censure of my doom?”

Scene One: Andrea enters with Revenge and recounts the circumstances of his death and subsequent arrival in the Underworld. He tells how he stood before Pluto and Proserpine, who placed him in Revenge’s company.

Andrea enters accompanied by Revenge, which immediately situates the tale as a revenge tragedy. It also sets up one of the framing devices so important to the structure of the play: Andrea and Revenge sit on stage and observe the action throughout. The stage directions describe this scene as a “Chorus”; in Greek tragedies, the Chorus was an onstage group commenting on the action, often emphasizing the conflict or issues at hand. (A short video by the National Theatre on the concept of the Chorus and how modern directors have used it can be found here.)

Andrea explains who he was in life, and notes that his “descent — / Though not ignoble – [was] yet inferior far / To gracious fortunes of my tender youth” (5-7). This indicates Andrea was someone we might call self-made, bettering his station through his service to the Spanish Court. He also reveals that “In secret I possessed a worthy dame, / Which hight sweet Bel-Imperia by name” (10-11). In other words, his liaison with Bel-Imperia, niece to the king, was kept under wraps, perhaps due to his “inferior” birth. Their relationship indicates Bel-Imperia is a woman with a mind of her own — not one to follow orders, acquainted with her own desires, and determined to follow her heart.

What follows is a narrative of Andrea’s death in battle and subsequent trip to the Underworld. Not only is the imagery and syntax reminiscent of Virgil’s Aeneid, the tale itself recalls Aeneas’ journey in Book Six. We learn that initially Andrea was not allowed to pass into the Underworld, since his body lay unburied (like the bodies of Miseneus and Palinurus in Virgil’s epic). Only after Horatio, Andrea’s close friend, sees to the burial is he ferried across the Styx.

When Andrea arrives, the guardians of the Underworld cannot agree on where his shade should spend eternity, as he “both lived and died in love, / And for his love tried fortune of the wars, / And by war’s fortune lost both love and life” (38-40). For love, Andrea went to war; valor in battle was a way to improve his standing in the Court and become more deserving of Bel-Imperia’s hand. The guardian Aeacus argues that as a lover, Andrea should be given entry to the “fields of love” (42). He is rebuffed by another guardian, Rhadamanth, as “it were not well, / With loving souls to place a martialist” (45-46). Love and war, Rhadamanth argues, should not be mixed – a concept to keep in mind as the play progresses.

From this point, Kyd incorporates words associated with wealth and value into the dialogue. They are introduced through the guardians’ discussion of fortune in the lines above and their use continues with varying frequency throughout the play. Prisoners are ransomed, soldiers are rewarded, and wealth is promised. The words are striking when considered alongside the play’s larger exploration of revenge and justice. Are these judgments based on perceived worth or equitably decided?

Andrea continues with his tale, stating he “trod the middle path” (72) in the Underworld, journeying between “deepest hell” (64) and “the fair Elysian green” (73). This liminal state is also a reflection of his life. He previously acknowledged that he rose higher than his birth but not high enough to openly court Bel-Imperia; similarly, in death, he fits with neither the lovers nor the soldiers. He is duly sent before Pluto and Proserpine, rulers of the Underworld, and Proserpine “beg[s] that only she might give [his] doom” (79). Proserpine is another figure who “trod the middle path,” spending half each year in the upper world and the remaining half as Pluto’s queen. Consequently, it is only appropriate that she — another liminal figure — is given judgement over Andrea. She sends him away in company of Revenge and they leave through the Gates of Horn, symbolic of truth (82; Neill 7, n82). Revenge then promises Andrea that he “shal[t] see the author of thy death, / Don Baltazar, the Prince of Portingale, / Deprived of life by Bel-Imperia” (87-89). The suggestion is that love will triumph over war.

*

Scene Two: In the Spanish Court, the General tells the King of Spain the story of Spain’s recent victory over the Portuguese, including the capture of Baltazar, Prince of Portugal. Lorenzo and Horatio enter with the Prince; the manner of his capture is disputed, bringing into question who should receive what reward for the feat.

In 1.2, Andrea’s story is told again, this time by other characters. The two narratives are linked as the General responds to the king’s query regarding the fate of his men: “All well, my sovereign liege, except some few / That are deceased by fortune of the war” (2-3, italics mine). This phrase recalls Andrea’s own phrase (1.1.39) and reminds the audience of the deceased courtier watching in the wings, Revenge at his side. The scene is heavy with references to value and worth; words such as “fortune” (1.2.3, 6, 103), “pay” (8), “tribute” (90), “reward” (100), and “enriched” (109) are sprinkled throughout the dialogue. Kyd’s use of other languages is also introduced in 1.2. The Duke of Castile, echoing the king’s giving thanks for his army’s success, quotes Claudian in Latin (12-14 [Neill 8, n12-14]), as does the General during his tale of the battle (55-56 [Neill 9, n55-56]). Until Greek, Italian, and French are introduced in the final scene, Latin is Kyd’s language of choice for quotes. Its use heightens the atmosphere of the play, raising it to the level of Greek tragedy and lending pathos to the characters’ experiences of grief and death.

Like Andrea’s tale in 1.1, the General’s recounting of the battle is aligned with Virgil through word choice and syntax; this also serves to elevate Andrea in death. The General tells how Andrea turned the battle in favor of the Spanish but was then slain by Baltazar, Prince of Portugal (1.2.65-72). Baltazar will soon be presented as a suitor to Andrea’s love Bel-Imperia, so the prince’s killing of his predecessor is noteworthy. Kyd continues to spin a textual web as the General tells of Horatio, Andrea’s best friend, capturing Baltazar shortly after his killing of Andrea. All three men — Andrea, Baltazar, and Horatio – were, hope to be, or will be Bel-Imperia’s lover. This mix of love and war sets up a rivalry that leads to destruction and drives the plot.

At the end of the General’s tale, the king tells Hieronimo, Horatio’s father, of his son’s valor. Hieronimo responds, “Long may he live to serve my sovereign liege, / And soon decay unless he serve my liege” (98-99). These are interesting words. Does Hieronimo inadvertently curse his son? Is Horatio’s future relationship with Bel-Imperia disobedience to the king? The play most obviously engages with the theme of disobedience through Bel-Imperia’s agency, but it is also implied that Horatio has not been compliant with his father’s wishes. Several lines later, upon learning his son is a captor of Baltazar, Hieronimo exclaims, “…though from his tender infancy / My loving thoughts did never hope but well, / He never pleased his father’s eyes till now” (117-119). This is the only suggestion that Horatio’s past was less than dutiful and adds an interesting gloss to the lovers’ story.

Baltazar is brought on stage between Lorenzo and Horatio, who both claim him as their prisoner. Kyd uses this stage business to silently but effectively reveal the personality of the prince. Throughout the play, Baltazar is consistently on the fence, pulled between one person or situation and another; he is shown to be indecisive and a waffler. The fact that he is claimed by both men also gestures to the love triangle of Bel-Imperia, Horatio, and Baltazar — and the machinations of Lorenzo that accompany it. Once more, value and worth are front and center, as whoever is the true captor of Baltazar will be richly rewarded. The two men’s claims to Baltazar are argued in the king’s presence, and in essence, echo the rival claims to Bel-Imperia. She is, or will be, “prisoner” of Lorenzo and Horatio: Lorenzo, literally (at one point) and because she is his sister; Horatio because she has chosen to give him her heart.

Kyd creates a “war triangle” (Baltazar, Horatio, and Lorenzo) that parallels the “love triangle” of Baltazar, Bel-Imperia, and Horatio. This association is strengthened through dialogue. Both Horatio and Lorenzo claim the honor of first taking Baltazar prisoner. Lorenzo states, “This hand first took his courser by the reins” (155), to which Horatio replies, “But first my lance did put him from his horse” (156). Lorenzo, then, thought he took control of Baltazar, but Horatio knocked both men aside. This will also be seen with Bel-Imperia: Lorenzo attempts to control Bel-Imperia by promising her to Baltazar, but Horatio figuratively knocks them aside. This is alluded to in the next lines: Lorenzo says, “I seized his weapon and enjoyed it first” to which Horatio replies, “But first I forced him lay his weapons down” (156-157). The innuendo is obvious. Lorenzo presents Baltazar as a sexual partner for his sister; Horatio, however, forces Baltazar to “lay his weapon[] down.” When asked by the king to clarify who captured him, Baltazar’s response is filled with contrast and indecision:
He spake me fair, this other gave me strokes;
He promised life, this other threatened death;
He won my love, this other conquered me;
And, truth to say, I yield myself to both. (162-165)
Baltazar, therefore, is meant to be seen as an ineffectual partner for the strong-willed, decisive Bel-Imperia — and as ripe for the machinations of Lorenzo.

The king decides between the rival claimants (“Will both abide the censure of my doom? [175]). He awards Lorenzo Baltazar’s horse and weapons (the necessities of war); Horatio receives the prince’s ransom (180, 183). Baltazar is placed in Lorenzo’s custody (185), but the prince asks that Horatio be allowed to “bear [them] company… / Whom I admire and love for chivalry” (193-194, italics mine). Once more, we find that love and war are central. Baltazar’s request, though, is as much a recognition of Horatio’s valor as it is a display of his own indecision.

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earlymodernetc

Shakespeare and early modern drama. MA in English, BA in Liberal Studies. Reader, playgoer, music lover. Twitter: @16thCenturyGirl

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