The Spanish Tragedy – Act Three, Scenes 9-12: “What madding fury did possess thy wits?”

Scene Nine: Bel-Imperia, imprisoned in a tower, bemoans her captivity and the loss of Horatio.

Scene 8 closed with Isabella running lunatic, desperate to know who murdered her son. Scene 9 opens with Bel-Imperia at the window of the tower where she is locked away, in part for her knowledge of Horatio’s killers. She is angry, and rails against her imprisonment and “sequest[ration] from the court” (2). Crying out in frustration, she laments, “Hieronimo, why writ I of thy wrongs? / Or why art thou so slack in thy revenge?” (7-8). Her complaint brings to mind Shakespeare’s later play Hamlet and the title character’s delay in avenging his father’s murder.

This scene also includes one of the play’s many metatheatrical moments. From the tower, Bel-Imperia calls out, “Andrea, O Andrea, that thou sawest / Me for thy friend Horatio handled thus” (9-10). As discussed previously, the play’s stage directions seem to call for Andrea and Revenge to be present throughout, so Andrea is indeed a witness to Bel-Imperia’s treatment. Both he and Revenge have seen all: Bel-Imperia’s assignation with Horatio, Horatio’s murder, and Bel-Imperia’s abduction and imprisonment. Their observing the action is one of the many frames structuring the play; these frames allow a nesting of sorts, each one neatly supporting the others.

*

Scene Ten: Lorenzo releases Bel-Imperia from her captivity. She confronts both him and Balthazar, who once more pleads his love.

Lorenzo sends his page to free Bel-Imperia. He explains to Balthazar that her imprisonment was “…for a policy / To smooth and keep the murder secret” (9-10) and that any interest in Horatio’s death will blow over, likening it to a “nine-days’ wonder” (11) — something that is discussed for a short time and then forgotten. Lorenzo instructs Balthazar to “deal cunningly” (18) with Bel-Imperia and “Salve all suspicions, only soothe me up” (19). In other words, Balthazar should be sly and crafty with Bel-Imperia, gloss over any suspicions she may have, and above all, have Lorenzo’s back. Lorenzo goes on to suggest that if Bel-Imperia is angered by the recent events, “Jest with her gently: under feignèd jest / Are things concealed that else would breed unrest” (22-23). It says much about Lorenzo that he believes gentle humor would lead anyone to forget witnessing a murder and being carried off to a tower.

Bel-Imperia enters, understandably angry and insisting to know why she was subjected to such treatment. “What madding fury did possess thy wits?” (33) she demands of Lorenzo. He attempts to convince her that he “…sought to save [her] honor and [his] own” (38). Their father and the King were expected to call on Hieronimo when she and Horatio were found in the arbor, he explains, and then remarks:

Why then, remembering that old disgrace,
Which you for Don Andrea had endured,
And now were likely longer to sustain
By being found so meanly accompanied,
Thought rather–for I knew no readier mean—
To thrust Horatio [out of] my father’s way. (54-59)

Lorenzo’s blunt statement, grounded in class and status, is a swipe at Bel-Imperia and both of her lovers. In his eyes, she brought disgrace on herself through her previous relationship with Andrea, and he sees her keeping company with Horatio as casting a similar pall. Bel-Imperia will have none of it. She replies, “You, gentle brother, forged this for my sake, / And you my lord, were made his instrument–” (64-65). She knows Lorenzo crafted this tale as a coverup and tells Balthazar to his face that he is being used. Lorenzo, however, continues his spin, protesting that she was imprisoned because her melancholy over Andrea’s death angered their father. Once more, Bel-Imperia is having none of it. “But why had I no notice of his ire?” (73) she asks. Lorenzo’s feeble answer is that telling her would only have increased her woe.

Lorenzo then attempts to direct Bel-Imperia’s attention to Balthazar, “the gentle prince” (78) who feels such passion for her. She remains suspicious, however:

Brother you are become an orator–
I know not I, by what experience–
Too politic for me, past all compare,
Since last I saw you…” (83-86)  

Lorenzo is being glib, and she does not trust him; he’s not usually this smooth. Based on lines 54-59, it seems Balthazar’s royal status is the answer to Lorenzo’s taking such an interest in his sister’s love life. He has found he can easily manipulate Balthazar; it is also clear he thinks he can control, or at least gaslight, Bel-Imperia. As a near relation, Lorenzo would have close access to the couple and could conceivably wield influence and gain power.  

Balthazar, who has been dipping into the dialogue every so often, protests that he is besotted with Bel-Imperia’s beauty but despondent that his affection is not reciprocated. What follows is a telling exchange between the three characters. The snap of the stichomythia, or short back-and-forth sparring dialogue, creates a sense of unguarded truthfulness that contrasts with Lorenzo’s fictions:

BALTHAZAR: ‘Tis that I love.
BEL-IMPERIA:                     Whom?
BALTHAZAR:                                       Bel-Imperia.
BEL-IMPERIA: But that I fear.
BALTHAZAR:                       Whom?
BEL-IMPERIA:                                     Bel-Imperia.
LORENZO: Fear your self?
BEL-IMPERIA:                     Ay, brother.
LORENZO:                                            How?
BEL-IMPERIA:                                                     As those
                That what they love are loath and fear to lose. (96-99)

The implication is that Bel-Imperia fears losing herself in a loveless relationship. She rejects Balthazar’s proffered love because in her mind it mirrors her earlier imprisonment: as his wife, any agency she may possess would be taken away.   

Balthazar’s response shows he does not grasp her deeper message: “Then, fair, let Baltazar your keeper be” (100). Her response, “No, Balthazar doth fear as well as we” (101) is followed by two lines of Latin glossed as “They yoked tremulous dread to quaking dread, a futile act of stupid betrayal” (Neill 67, n.102-103). Although Bel-Imperia has deep concerns (“tremulous dread”), Balthazar has shown himself to be filled with cowardice of varying stripes (“quaking dread”). Their union would be pointless, as it would deny her the strong partner she needs to still her own fears and create an effective relationship.     

Is Balthazar unable to understand this or does he simply enjoy playing the Petrarchan lover, imagining himself the victim of a cruel, indifferent lady? As the scene closes he continues his lament, likening his lovelorn state to someone lost in a strange land:

Led by the lodestar of her heavenly looks,
Wends poor oppressèd Balthazar,
As o’er the mountains walks the wanderer,
Incertain to effect his pilgrimage.  (106-109)

*

Scene Eleven: Two travelers meet Hieronimo — who they come to believe is insane.

Reflecting the uncertain pilgrim described in Balthazar’s lament, 3.11 opens with two Portingale travelers asking Hieronimo the way to the duke’s residence. Hieronimo’s replies are riddling and nonsensical, along the lines of Hamlet’s responses to Polonius in 2.2 of Shakespeare’s later play. The lengthy directions Hieronimo provides begin with “…a path upon [their] left-hand side, / That leadth from a guilty conscience / Unto a forest of distrust and fear–” (3.11.13-15). (The left side was traditionally associated with evil, so his implication would have been evident.) This path will lead the travelers through darkness and peril, but eventually,

There in a brazen cauldron fixed by Jove
In this fell wrath upon a sulfur flame,
Yourselves shall find Lorenzo bathing [himself]
In boiling lead and blood of innocents. (26-29)

The travelers are unsettled and unsure as how to take this. They chuckle as Hieronimo leaves and observe, “Doubtless this man is passing lunatic, / Or imperfection of his age doth make him dote” (32-33). They leave to seek the duke’s palace on their own.  

*

Scene Twelve: Hieronimo encounters the King, who is accompanied by the Ambassador of Portugal, the Duke of Castile, and Lorenzo. Hieronimo demands justice for Horatio, but due to his actions is again thought insane.

As if to confirm he is either lunatic or doting, Hieronimo enters “with a poniard in one hand, and a rope in the other” (3.12 s.d.). His use of rhyme underscores his agitation and passion:

Now sir, perhaps I come and see the king,
The king sees me, and fain would hear my suit.
Why, is not this a strange and seld-seen thing
That standers-by with toys should strike me mute.  (1-4, italics mine)

Hieronimo’s use of rhyme continues for the next five lines, after which he appears to regain his composure. He realizes suicide will leave his son’s death unavenged and the murderers free: “For if I hang or kill myself, let’s know / Who will revenge Horatio’s murder then? / No, no! fie no! pardon me, I’ll none of that” (17-19). Hieronimo sees the King, Ambassador, Duke of Castile, and Lorenzo approach and decides to press his case. He cries out, “Justice, O justice to Hieronimo” (27), but is swiftly cut off by Lorenzo, who responds “Back! see’st thou not the king is busy?” (28). Hieronimo, reading the room (so to speak), backs off to let the group pass. As they do, the Ambassador tells the King of the Viceroy’s overwhelming joy at his son’s safety and treatment in Spain. To express his happiness, the Viceroy has vowed   

…in the presence of the court of Spain,
To knit a sure, inexplicable band
Of kingly love and everlasting league
Betwixt the crowns of Spain and Portingale. 
There will he give his crown to Balthazar,
And make a queen of Bel-Imperia. (45-50)

The Ambassador also reveals that the Viceroy has sent Balthazar’s ransom, which the King instructs be paid to Horatio. Does he not know of Horatio’s death? This line and those that follow suggest he does not. Hearing his son’s name, Hieronimo repeats his cries for justice. Although Lorenzo tries once more to silence him, this time he will not back down:

Away, Lorenzo, hinder me no more!
For thou hast made me bankrupt of my bliss.
Give me my son, you shall not ransom him.
Away! I’ll rip the bowels of the earth… (68-71)

At this point, the stage directions indicate Hieronimo “…diggeth with his dagger” (71 s.d.), stage business embodying not only his overwhelming frustration, but also his attempts to dig up or uncover the truth of his son’s death. He then vows to “…ferry over to th’Elysian plains, / And bring my son to show his deadly wounds” (72-73). His words and actions try to direct attention to Horatio’s murder and the fact that unlike Balthazar, he cannot be ransomed and returned to his father’s care.

The King is flummoxed; he appears to be truly ignorant of Hieronimo’s loss. He demands, “What means this outrage? / Will none of you restrain his fury?” (79-80) and after Hieronimo’s exit, asks, “What accident hath happed Hieronimo? / I have not seen him to demean him so” (83-84). Lorenzo responds that Hieronimo is overly proud of Horatio, but greedy to have the Prince’s ransom money for himself. He also suggests that since Hieronimo is “helplessly distract” (96), he should resign from his position of Knight Marshal. The King, however, expresses concern that this would “increase his melancholy” (99) and thinks it better to wait. His attention then turns to the impending marriage of Bel-Imperia and Balthazar.  

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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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