The Spanish Tragedy – Act Three, Scenes 1-3: “This is devised to endanger thee”

Scene One: The Viceroy of Portugal learns Baltazar is not dead, but in good health at the Spanish Court. Villuppo’s device to destroy Alexandro is revealed, and Villuppo is sentenced to death. 

Act Two closes with Hieronimo’s grief-stricken vow to seek his son Horatio’s killers and avenge his murder; Act Three opens with the Viceroy of Portugal grieving the supposed death of his son, Prince Baltazar. The Viceroy’s expression of grief is in stark contrast to that of Hieronimo: only one incidental rhyme and no Latin. There is some repetition, but it lacks urgency and passion (“That would be feared, yet fear to be beloved, / Sith fear or love to kings is flattery” [10-11, italics mine]). The grief expressed by the Viceroy in an earlier scene (1.3), however, does mirror that of Hieronimo in 2.5. In 1.3, the Viceroy falls to the ground in despair (SD 9); in 2.5, Hieronimo “sets his breast unto his sword” (SD 67): actions of desperation and despair. Additionally, in both scenes the grieving men speak their pain in Latin (1.3.15-17, 2.5.67-80). The Viceroy’s belief that the nobleman Alexandro is responsible for his son’s supposed death, and his plans to exact revenge via his execution, might account for his emotional difference in the two scenes. Hieronimo, on the other hand, does not know the identity of Horatio’s murderers, so like the Viceroy in 1.3 shows a passionate, agonizing grief.

Alexandro is brought in front of the Viceroy, who orders he be bound to a stake and burnt. As he awaits execution, Alexandro vows, “My guiltless death will be avenged on thee — / On thee, Villuppo, that hath maliced thus, / Or for thy meed, hast falsely me accused” (3.1.51-53). These lines could easily have been Horatio’s, spoken in the arbor while bound and helpless before Lorenzo and Baltazar. Horatio was murdered for the prize of a Spanish noblewoman’s hand and the status accompanying it; Villuppo’s attempt to eliminate Alexandro was also prompted by a desire for advancement and gain.

Before the flames can be lit for Alexandro’s execution, the Ambassador arrives with news that Baltazar is alive and well in the Spanish Court. He brings letters that confirm this and announces a new peace accord with Spain. The Viceroy’s words to Villuppo, “Accursèd wretch to intimate these ills / Against the life and reputation / Of noble Alexandro” (75-77) are, again, also fitting for Lorenzo’s and Baltazar’s ears. Alexandro, whose fate nearly matched that of Horatio’s, is freed and given advancement. Villuppo is sentenced to death and confesses,
Rent with remembrance of so foul a deed,
My guilty soul submits me to thy doom;
For not for Alexandro’s injuries,
But for reward and hope to be preferred,
Thus have I shameless hazarded his life. (92-96)
With his accuser condemned, Alexandro receives justice as well as the promise of “public notice of [his] loyalty” (104) by the Viceroy. This short subplot shares much with that of Horatio’s death, yet differs in that Alexandro’s story is resolved in a satisfactory way: the malicious are punished, the innocent rewarded.

*

Scene Two: Hieronimo finds a letter written by Bel-Imperia (who is locked away) implicating Lorenzo and Baltazar in Horatio’s murder. Lorenzo decides Serberine cannot be trusted and must be killed. He bribes Pedringano into doing the task.

Alexandro’s reprieve and the condemnation of his accuser is followed in 3.2 by the entrance of the grieving, bereft Hieronimo. His words lament a world void of justice and fairness, a place of chaos and violence, and he calls on the heavens to shed light on Horatio’s murder. If they do not, he cries, “How should we term your dealings to be just, / If you unjustly deal with those that in your justice trust?” (10-11). These words recall Isabella’s earlier statement, “Time is the author of truth and right / And time will bring this treachery to light” (2.5.58-59). Despite Hieronimo’s more circumspect and wary mindset, he still believes there is an inherent goodness in the universe that should aid him in his search. His words, following as they do the discovery of Villuppo’s machinations, infuse a sense of hope and faith into the darkness of the scene.

As Hieronimo’s distress increases, he calls on “Eyes, life, world, heavens, hell, night and day” (3.2.22) — all entities he mentions in the previous 22 lines — to “See, search, show, send, some man, some mean, that may –” (23). His plea is cut short as “A letter [in red ink] falleth” (SD 23) — as if dropped from the heavens. The letter, penned in blood by the locked-away Bel-Imperia, outlines not only her own situation but also the circumstances of Horatio’s death. She urges revenge, calling Hieronimo by name:
Revenge thy self on Baltazar and [Lorenzo],
For these were they that murdered thy son.
Hieronimo, revenge Horatio’s death,
And better fare then Bel-Imperia doth.  (28-31)
Bel-Imperia’s blood has quite literally given her a voice, and it craves revenge. There is no rhyme or anaphora and the only repetition is of the word “revenge.” Her letter is stark, simple, and direct. She commands, rather than implores, Hieronimo to act.

Hieronimo is astounded and confused by what he reads, and like his initial response to Horatio’s body hanging in his arbor, takes it as a plot laid against him by Lorenzo. He believes he has been “betrayed” (37) and the letter a way to “entrap [his] life” (38). He is wary, telling himself, “…be not credulous: / This is devisèd to endanger thee, / That thou by this Lorenzo shouldst accuse” (39-41). Like Shakespeare’s later character, Hamlet (Hamlet c.1599-1601), who distrusts what may or may not be the ghost of his father, Hieronimo resolves to be canny and careful. He “…will by circumstances try / What [he] can gather to confirm this writ” (48-49).

Pedringano is called for and Hieronimo inquires about Bel-Imperia. Pedringano claims no knowledge of her whereabouts, but Lorenzo appears soon after and claims “…The duke my father hath / Upon some disgrace a while removed her hence” (57-58). He offers to take Hieronimo’s message to her, but Hieronimo demurs, claiming “her disgrace makes me unfortunate” (63). Lorenzo urges his services, but Hieronimo replies, “O no my lord, I dare not, it must not be” (65). In this short exchange, Hieronimo and Lorenzo’s lines end in rhyme, creating an obsequiousness in Hieronimo as he works to gracefully extricate himself from Lorenzo’s presence and offer of service. Lorenzo’s “use me” is matched with Hieronimo’s “it must not be” (64, 65); similarly, Lorenzo’s “farewell” is closed with Hieronimo’s “my thoughts no tongue can tell” (67, 68). The rhymes suggest a cautiously civil Hieronimo, bowing and scraping as he attempts to exit the scene and Lorenzo’s overly officious company.

Lorenzo and Pedringano immediately suspect Hieronimo knows the circumstances of Horatio’s death. Serberine, Baltazar’s man, is named by Lorenzo, but Pedringano disagrees (“My lord, he could not…/…he hath not left my company” [72-73]). His objections are ignored by Lorenzo, who like Shakespeare’s later characters Richard IIII and Macbeth (Richard III c.1593; Macbeth c.1606), is now consumed with paranoia. “…[H]is condition’s such / As fear or flattering words may make him false” says Lorenzo about Serberine, “I know his humor, and therewith repent / That e’re I used him in this enterprise” (74-75, 76-77). He begins to flatter Pedringano, telling him “I know thee secret as my soul” (79), and offers him gold to murder Serberine in a nearby park. Pedringano readily agrees, believing Lorenzo’s assurance that “When things shall alter, as I hope they will, / Then shalt thou mount for this” (93).

Pedringano exits to do the deed. Lorenzo, though, like Shakespeare’s paranoid kings, sees everyone as a threat (“Thus must we work that will avoid distrust; / Thus must we practice to prevent mishap” [106-107]) and will use the two men against each other to keep his hands clean (“And thus one ill, another must expulse” [108]). Lorenzo’s plan is for Pedringano to kill Serberine but immediately be arrested, tried, and executed for the murder. This will protect Lorenzo through the eradication of his easily-bought accomplices:
They that for coin their souls endangered
To save my life, for coin shall venture theirs;
And better ‘tis that base companions die,
Than by their life to hazard our good haps. (114-117)
He concludes, “I’ll trust myself, myself shall be my friend” (119). He can rely on no one’s secrecy and cannot feel safe while those who know the circumstances of Horatio’s death are alive. He sees those who have done his dirty work as “base” and expendable, and their loss necessary for his personal peace and security.

*

Scene Three: Pedringano kills Serberine but is immediately arrested by the watch.

Lorenzo ‘s musing on protecting his “good haps,” or good fortune, at the close of 3.2 ushers in Pedringano’s request that “Fortune! once more favor me” (3.3.2) in his plan to kill Serberine. Pedringano’s opening monologue also references “gold” (5) and “his liberal purse” (9), signaling that he has fallen for Lorenzo’s lies. He goes as far as to say,
As for the fear of apprehension,
I know, if need should be, my noble lord
Will stand between me and ensuing harms;
Besides, this place is free from all suspect: (12-15)
Pedringano has swallowed the bait. He is gullible enough to believe he will be advanced for this deed and that Lorenzo will protect him if caught.

The watch enters, wondering why they have been summoned to pay particular attention to this park. Serberine enters soon after, also confused as to why he was told to report there. “How fit a place, if one were so disposed, / Methinks this corner is to close with one” (26-27). He is canny enough to realize this is a perfect location to commit a murder if one was of the mind.

As Serberine stands wondering, Pedringano shoots him. This attracts the watch, who quickly apprehend him. The dialogue lapses into repetition, mirroring the confusion of the scene, the commands of the watch, and Pedringano’s misguided arrogance:
PEDRINGANO: Who first lays hand on me, I’ll be his priest.
3 WATCHMAN: Sirrah, confess, and therein play the priest:
Why hast thou thus unkindly killed the man?
PEDRINGANO: Why? because he walked abroad so late.
3 WATCHMAN: Come, sir, you had been better kept your bed
Than have committed this misdeed so late. (37-42, italics mine)

The watch takes Pedringano to the marshal, Hieronimo. The man who seeks justice will now mete it out, unaware that he is weighing the fate of one of the men who killed his son — one of those he has vowed to discover. (Coincidence…or were the heavens listening?)