The Spanish Tragedy – Act Two, Scenes 4-6: “This place was made for pleasure not for death”

Scene Four: Horatio and Bel-Imperia rendezvous at Hieronimo’s bower. Pedringano advises Lorenzo and Baltazar. They murder Horatio and carry off Bel-Imperia.    

Horatio and Bel-Imperia meet in Hieronimo’s bower, accompanied by Pedringano. They praise the night for giving them cover so “pleasures may be done” (3), and once more the bower’s perceived safety is mentioned (“…let us to the bower, / And there in safety pass a pleasant hour” (4-5). Despite this, Bel-Imperia tells Horatio “my heart foretells me some mischance” (15) and sets Pedringano as watchman.

Bel-Imperia deems Pedringano “as trusty as my second self” (9), but the servant quickly reveals in an aside that he will “deserve more gold / By fetching Don Lorenzo to this match” (12-13). He exits, unbeknownst to the couple, who are too engrossed in each other to notice and trust him to stand guard. As they become more at ease their words intertwine and are shared, suggesting growing intimacy and mouths touching mouths. At one point, Bel-Imperia repeats and reorders her own words, resulting in a rhythmic, leisurely flow showing her contentment (“And in thy love and counsel drown my fear: / I fear no more, love now is all my thoughts” [21-22, italics mine]).

“Pleasure” is mentioned repeatedly in the couple’s dialogue (all italics mine): “And that in darkness pleasures may be done, / …And there in safety pass a pleasant hour” (3, 5); “And heavens have shut up day to pleasure us” (17), “And Luna hides herself to pleasure us” (19); “…for pleasure asketh ease” (23). Use of the word situates Hieronimo’s bower as a place where Bel-Imperia and Horatio feel secluded and comfortable enough to open their hearts to each other, as well as enjoy each other physically. We hear this in their couplets, which end in easy, simple rhymes:
HORATIO: The more thou sit’st within these leafy bowers,
The more will Flora deck it with her flowers.
BEL-IMPERIA: Ay, but if Flora spy Horatio here,
Her jealous eye will think I sit too near .  (24-27)
Their dialogue is luxurious and sensual, filled with flirtation and physical attraction. The mention of Flora, goddess of flowers and spring, leads to the inclusion of Cupid, Venus, and Mars:
HORATIO: If Cupid sing, then Venus is not far:
Ay, thou art Venus or some fairer star.
BEL-IMPERIA: If I be Venus, thou must needs be Mars,
And where Mars reigneth there must needs be wars.  (32-35)
From here, the lovers’ exchange shifts to that of a metaphorical battle: “Then thus begin our wars: put forth thy hand / That it may combat with my ruder hand” (36-37). There is a similar line in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, likely written around five years after ST (“And touching hers, make blessed my rude hand” [1.5.51]).

The naming of the mythological lovers Venus, goddess of love, and Mars, god of war, reiterates the theme of love as war. Bel-Imperia and Horatio seem to role play the mythological lovers, parrying with words of battle (“But first my looks shall combat against thine” [39]; “Then ward thyself: I dart this kiss at thee” [40]; “Thus I retort the dart thou threw’st at me” [41]). Rhadamanth’s earlier refusal to mix warriors and lovers (1.1.46) hangs over the scene; this, as well as the references to Greek gods and goddesses, lends an epic feel to the lovers’ rendezvous.

As their passion increases, the couple’s words become more sensual (“My twining arms shall yoke and make thee yield” [2.4.43]), culminating in references to dying, often used in the early modern period to refer to sex or orgasm. “O stay a while, and I will die with thee: / So shalt thou yield, and yet have conquered me” (48-49), says Horatio. It is unclear if the pair is in the act of consummating their relationship. If they are, the bower can be described as representative of a portal or threshold between friendship and physical love (discussed in my earlier blog post).

Immediately following the couple’s words of surrender, Lorenzo, Baltazar, Serberine (Baltazar’s man), and a disguised Pedringano appear at the bower. Lorenzo tells Baltazar, “…away with her! Take [Bel-Imperia] aside” (51), literally giving his sister to her spurned suitor. He then sneers at Horatio, “O sir, forbear: your valor is already tried” (52). The rhyming of “aside”/ “tried” and the reference to Horatio’s valor links the two triangles in the plot: the love triangle of Baltazar, Horatio, and Bel-Imperia and the war triangle of Lorenzo, Baltazar, and Horatio. Once more, the blending of love and war drives the plot.

Lorenzo orders Pedringano and Serberine to “Quickly – dispatch, my masters!” (53). There is no rhyme or other literary device; his orders are brutal and peremptory. The stage directions state “They hang [Horatio] in the arbor” (SD 53) and “…stab him” (SD 55), the penetration of Horatio’s body mirroring the penetration of sexual intercourse implied not ten lines before. The men’s actions also make a mockery of Horatio’s earlier “The more will Flora deck it with her flowers” (25) — the place of pleasure is now decked with death. Once again, the bower represents a portal between one existential state and another.

Bel-Imperia begs for Horatio to be spared, calling on both Lorenzo and Baltazar: “O save him, brother! Save him, Baltazar! I loved Horatio, but he loved not me” (57-58). Baltazar’s reply, “But Baltazar loves Bel-Imperia” (59), is chilling in its simplicity. There is no feeling of remorse or responsibility, only entitlement to Bel-Imperia’s person. She cries for help, calling “Murder! murder! Help, Hieronimo, help!” (62). Her brother’s response as they abduct her, “Come, stop her mouth! away with her!” (63), is equally cold. “I will stop your mouth” (5.4.97) is a phrase used in Shakespeare’s later Much Ado About Nothing (1598-99) when Benedick finally kisses Beatrice. The idea of Baltazar forcibly kissing Bel-Imperia as he drags her away adds to the violence of the scene and suggests rape, as well as the rending of the bower as a place of love and pleasure.

*

Scene Five: Hieronimo is awakened by Bel-Imperia’s cries. He rushes out to find Horatio dead and hanging in the bower.

Hieronimo hears cries coming from his bower and hurries out to investigate. He sees “A man hanged up and all the murderers gone, / And in my bower, to lay the guilt on me: / This place was made for pleasure not for death” (10-12). He does not immediately recognize Horatio as the victim, but then begins to keen and lament his son’s murder, crying, “O heavens, why made you night to cover sin?” (24). His cry recalls Horatio’s words to Bel-Imperia, “that in darkness pleasures may be done” (2.4.3), spoken in the last scene.

Hieronimo’s passionate grief is underscored by his use of rhyme. His pain is made clear through rhyming couplets such as “sin”/”been,” “devour”/”bower”, “misdone”/”begun,” “wert”/”desert,” and “joy”/”boy” (2.5.24-33). The rhymes are simple, creating a structure of sorts as he struggles to process the chaos surrounding him. His wife Isabella joins him in the bower and rhymes “Horatio” with “woe” when she realizes her son has been murdered: “What world of grief—my son Horatio! / O where’s the author of this endless woe?” (38-39, italics mine). The couple’s shared agony is apparent through their shared words; Hieronimo responds “To know the author were some ease of grief, / For in revenge my heart would find relief” (40-41, italics mine).

Isabella moves from disbelief to emotional anguish, crying, “O gush out tears, fountains and floods of tears, / Blow sighs and raise an everlasting storm!” (43-44). Shakespeare uses like words in King Lear (c.1608), written years after Spanish Tragedy. Lear, mad and raging at the skies, encourages the winds to mirror his passionate anger (“Blow winds and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow! / You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout / Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!” [3.2.1-3]). The use of tempests and storms as a device to express overwhelming, violent passion is found throughout early modern drama. Life is often described as a sea journey, and the weather encountered a metaphor for the good and bad times experienced along the way.

Hieronimo and Isabella morn over Horatio’s body, continuing to speak in couplets as they express their shared grief. At one point, Hieronimo extends the image of the flowering bower to his son’s corpse, saying “Sweet lovely rose, ill plucked before thy time” (46). He vows revenge, telling Isabella,
Seest thou this handkerchief besmeared with blood?
It shall not from me until I take revenge.
Seest thou those wounds that yet are bleeding fresh?
I’ll not entomb them till I have revenged…  (51-54, italics mine)
The anaphora indicates Hieronimo’s resolve. He is steadfast, and by doubling down on “seest thou” and “not…[un]till I” emphatically dedicates himself to seeking justice for his murdered son. If the handkerchief he takes from Horatio’s body is the one Horatio took from Andrea’s body (1.4.42), given to Andrea by Bel-Imperia and worn by Horatio at her behest (1.4.48), the cloth essentially binds Bel-Imperia and Hieronimo in a pact of vengeance against Andrea’s killer, Baltazar, as well as the mastermind of Horatio’s murder, Lorenzo.

Isabella declares, “The heavens are just, murder cannot be hid: / Time is the author both of truth and right, / And time will bring this treachery to light” (2.5.57-59). Her repetition and rhyme indicate a strong belief in the essential goodness of the universe, highlighting the play’s exploration of justice. In Isabella’s mind, since the heavens cannot countenance evil, all will be revealed. Hieronimo, however, is more circumspect:
Meanwhile, good Isabella, cease thy plaints,
Or at the least dissemble them a while;
So shall we sooner find the practice out,
And learn by whom all this was brought about. (60-63).
Hieronimo knows he cannot rely on the heavens to discover Horatio’s murderer. He “sets his breast unto his sword” (SD 67), and in 14 lines of Latin, vows revenge. This action with his sword, and the Latin verse, gesture again to a Greek epic as well as mark out Hieronimo as a tragic figure.

*

Scene Six: Andrea complains to Revenge that what he has seen has only increased his pain.

Andrea and Revenge have been on stage throughout, watching the action. Andrea is affected by what he has seen and complains to Revenge, using repetition, rhyme and anaphora to express his frustration:
Brought’st thou me hither to increase my pain?
I looked that Baltazar should have been slain,
But ‘tis my friend Horatio that is slain;
And they abuse fair Bel-Imperia
On whom I doted more than all the world
Because she loved me more than all the world.  (1-6, italics mine)
Andrea’s expression of dissatisfaction incorporates the passionate syntax of all the characters we have seen thus far: Baltazar’s anaphora (2.1.19-28); Bel-Imperia and Horatio’s repetition and sharing of words (2.2.25-28); and Hieronimo and Isabella’s rhyming couplets (2.5.36-41). Andrea similarly channels and embodies confusion, love, and grief, unsure as to why he is privy to these events and how they advance vengeance for his death. Revenge replies with a promise that he will be satisfied, stating “Thou talk’st of harvest when the corn is green: / …The sickle comes not till the corn be ripe” (2.6.7,9). A certain type of death is implied through Revenge’s reference to the sickle, tool of both the agricultural and metaphorical reaper. The image is of a swift, sweeping motion, cutting through adversaries and clearing the way for justice and renewal.

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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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