The Spanish Tragedy – Act Three, Scenes 13-15: “Thou art the lively image of my grief”

Scene Thirteen: Hieronimo, distracted and grief-stricken, is approached by petitioners requesting he plead their cases to the king. The group includes Balzuto, who seeks justice for his own murdered son.

Hieronimo enters carrying a book and exclaims, “Vindicta mihi!” (1), Latin for “vengeance is mine” (Neill 79, n1). He then begins a soliloquy in which he works through the idea of revenge. Throughout, he uses Latin quotes; these are from the Roman philosopher Seneca, which is also a hint as to the book he carries (possibly Seneca’s Octavia [Neill 79, n1]). Seneca was in vogue at the time ST was written, and his influence can be seen in many plays of the period.

As in previous scenes, the Latin quotes give an epic feel to Hieronimo’s lines. He muses on active revenge as opposed to delay and patient waiting and recognizes that “heaven will be revenged of every ill, / Nor will they suffer murder unrepaid” (2-3). He also observes that those who do harm can be answered in kind, and that death is the worst that can happen. He then declares, “…I will revenge his death” (20) and concocts a plan. His first step is fooling those in the Spanish court: 

…therefore, will I rest me in unrest,
Dissembling quiet in unquietness,
Not seeming that I know their villainies,
That my simplicity may make them think,
That ignorantly I will let all slip–
For ignorance I [know] , and well they know,
Remedium malorum iners est. (29-35)

The Norton translates this last line as “is an ineffective remedy for evils” (Neill 80, n35). While waiting for an opportune moment to act, Hieronimo has decided to feign no knowledge of who murdered his son. His “simplicity” and “quiet in unquietness” will mask his plotting and give the guilty false security. This may also trick them into thinking the murder is indeed “a nine days’ wonder” (3.10.11), and believe they are in the clear. Hieronimo’s calm and courteous demeanor will allow him to wait for the best time to exact revenge.

If this all sounds familiar, it should. In the years after ST, Shakespeare also wrote a play in which the main character is prompted to avenge a murder but takes the better part of the action to muse on what it means to commit such an act. Feigning madness while working through the situation is also in the plot, as is questioning if life is worth the suffering (“To be, or not to be…”). The play is, of course, Hamlet.      

Three citizens arrive with legal suits they want Hieronimo to argue on their behalf.* They have no way of knowing that the man they are appealing to for aid is also in pursuit of justice. One petitioner claims a debt, another contests an eviction, but the third, Bazulto, stands apart “With mournful eyes and hands to heaven upreared” (3.13.68). When asked about his suit, Balzuto explains he cannot put his woes into words, but will instead “With ink bewray what blood began in me” (77). This reference to blood is fraught with meaning: passion/anger, the lineage of his family, his son’s blood spilled. It also recalls the letter penned in blood by Bel-Imperia, dropped from her tower prison and similarly meant for Hieronimo’s eyes (3.2). Once more, a letter or document plays a role in advancing the plot.

Hieronimo reads Bazulto’s suit, which begins “…‘The humble supplication / Of Don Bazulto for his murdered son’” (3.13.78-79). Hieronimo is caught off guard and responds,
 
No sir, it was my murdered son…
Here, take my handkercher and wipe thine eyes,
Whiles wretched I in thy mishaps may see
The lively portrait of my dying self…  (80, 83-85).

In Bazulto, he sees himself: a man whose life is sapped by grief, hastening to the grave. The cloth Hieronimo offers is stained with blood and he explains it was taken from the body of Horatio. Is this the scarf given to Andrea by Bel-Imperia, then worn by Horatio in remembrance of his friend? Hieronimo calls it “a token ‘twixt [Horatio’s] soul and me” (88), a promise he will avenge his son’s death. If it is Bel-Imperia’s scarf, it is a tie that unbeknownst to Hieronimo, binds him to the lovers and their own sense of anger and grief.

Hieronimo has lost all composure, and “draws out more objects” (90sd) that he hands to Bazulto, saying “take this, and this—what my purse?– / Ay, this, and that, and all of them are thine, / For all as one are our extremities” (90-92). If Bazulto is the personification of grief, Hieronimo’s actions are that of a man giving grief his all. He begins a long lament decrying his delay in avenging Horatio. If Bazulto, a poor citizen, can actively seek justice for his own lost son, Hieronimo feels he should do as much – if not more:

See, see, O see thy shame, Hieronimo:
See here a loving father to his son;…
If love’s effects so strives in lesser things,
If love enforce such moods in meaner wits,
If love express such power in poor estates–
…Then shamest thou not, Hieronimo, to neglect
The sweet revenge of thy Horatio?   (95-96, 99-101, 106-107; italics mine)

The anaphora, or repetition of “if love” at the beginning of the lines, drives home Hieronimo’s feelings of guilt and shame. Bazulto does not have the position or wealth of Hieronimo, but love for his son presses him on. Hieronimo’s actions from five lines earlier do imply, however, that he is now prepared to give everything to his cause.  His speech continues with a vow: “I’ll down to hell, and in this passion / Knock at the dismal gates of Pluto’s court, / …Till we do gain that Proserpine may grant / Revenge on them that murderèd my son” (109-110, 120-121). These references connect him with Andrea, who in 1.2 recounted his own journey to the Underworld and experience before Pluto and Prosperpine. Remember, too, that Andrea was placed in the company of Revenge by Proserpine, and the pair sits watching this unfold.

In a fit of passion, Hieronimo tears the petitioners’ requests with his teeth. The petitioners exit the stage in dismay, leaving Hieronimo alone with Balzuto. He now appears to see the image of Horatio in the old man and says to him,

And art thou come, Horatio, from the depth
To ask for justice in this upper earth?
To tell they father thou art unrevenged…
Go back, my son, complain to Aeacus,
For here’s no justice; gentle boy be gone,
For justice is exilèd from the earth:  (132-134, 137-139)

If the director chose to have Horatio join Revenge and Andrea, this becomes yet another metatheatrical moment. Balzuto, quietly wondering at his words, asks Hieronimo, “Alas, my lord, whence springs this troubled speech?” (143), but instead of answering, Hieronimo again cries out to his son. Is he truly conflating Bazulto and Horatio? He says to the old man, “But let me look on my Horatio: / Sweet boy, how art thou changed in death’s black shade? …Horatio, thou art older than thy father” (144-145, 149). Bazulto gently tries to tell him he is not his son, but this only enrages Hieronimo: “What, not my son? thou then a Fury art, / …To plague Hieronimo, that is remiss / And seeks not vengeance for Horatio’s death” (152-53, 156-157). The audience or reader must decide if this response is dissembling or actual madness brought on by guilt at not acting more swiftly in his revenge. This, of course, is another similarity to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in which the lead character also recognizes and blames himself for being dilatory in seeking revenge.

Bazulto answers, “I am a grievèd man and not a ghost” (158), leading Hieronimo to observe, “Thou art the lively image of my grief; / Within thy face my sorrows I may see” (161-162). In the features of the old man, Hieronimo sees his inner turmoil. To him, Bazulto is the embodiment of grief, his physicality an expression of sorrow and loss. Revenge may watch from afar, but grief walks among the living. 

*

Scene Fourteen: The Viceroy arrives to make good on the points agreed upon in Portugal’s treaty with Spain — including the marriage of Baltazar and Bel-Imperia. The Duke of Castile confronts Lorenzo with the rumor that Lorenzo is attempting to undermine Hieronimo in the eyes of the King. He insists Lorenzo and Hieronimo be on good terms once more.

The Viceroy and King confirm Bel-Imperia’s betrothal to Balthazar and that the couple will be married the following day. Like many women over the course of history, Bel-Imperia is a bargaining chip. Instead of being seen as an individual with her own mind and desires, she is a token of favor to cement the newly contracted peace and bring prestige to her family. The Viceroy vows that after the nuptials, he will give Balthazar his crown and spend the remainder of his days in prayer – something that both impresses and pleases the King.

The Duke of Castile and Lorenzo remain after the King and Viceroy exit. They discuss the impending marriage, something Lorenzo has “…longed so happily to see” (48). If he speaks truthfully, rather than simply being politic, it may confirm the theory that he hopes to wield influence on the malleable Balthazar and become a shadow figure of power in the Portuguese court. The Duke then confronts his son with a rumor he has heard:

It is suspected – and reported too —
That thou, Lorenzo, wrong’st Hieronimo,
And in his suits towards his majesty
Still keep’st him back, and seeks to cross his suit. (53-56)

As expected, Lorenzo plays dumb and claims to not understand who would say such a thing. His father makes clear that if true, this is not acceptable, saying, “Lorenzo, know’st thou not the common love / And kindness that Hieronimo hath won / By his deserts within the court of Spain?” (61-63). He tells Lorenzo it would be “a scandal…among the kings” should “Hieronimo exclaim on thee” (69, 67), and insists he answer truthfully regarding the rumors. Lorenzo replies that he cannot control gossip, and Hieronimo’s age and grief are the reason he believes this idle talk. He agrees to be reconciled with Hieronimo, and his father calls for the Knight Marshal to be brought to them.

Bel-Imperia enters with Balthazar, looking downcast. When urged by Balthazar to look more cheerful, she tells him, “My looks, my lord, are fitting for my love, / Which, new begun, can show no brighter yet” (101-102). This excellent reply is both truth and a fitting response; she does not love Balthazar, so looking less than happy is appropriate; at the same time, it was thought fitting for a newly contracted bride to be reticent and modest in her affections. Her father then greets her with lines that cannot be welcome: “Content thyself, for I am satisfied: / It is not now as when Andrea lived, / We have forgotten and forgiven that” (110-112).

Bel-Imperia is silent for the rest of the scene. She makes no response to her father’s slight, and no attempt to defend Andrea or their love. Since Andrea is watching the exchange, a director might have him offer angry gestures, sit sulkily, or take it in impassively (3.15 gives a clue as to what Kyd may have envisioned). Similarly, Bel-Imperia’s wordless response is left to the director’s imagination and reading of the scene.

Hieronimo arrives and the Duke greets him kindly. He tells Hieronimo, who continues to feign madness, that contrary to the rumors Lorenzo is not blocking his suit. If he were, the Duke continues, Hieronimo is held in such high esteem that he himself would be offended. Hieronimo responds by drawing his sword and offering to fight anyone repeating this chatter. Lorenzo loved Horatio, he declares, so the gossip that he is blocking justice for Horatio’s death is shameful.

Balthazar’s response to the reconciliation is either naïve or crafty: “Why this is friendly done, Hieronimo” (162). Does he believe Hieronimo is truly forgiving, or is he perpetuating the ruse? Again, in performance, this depends on the director’s vision. Lorenzo, dissembling as before, says “And thus I hope old grudges are forgot” (163), to which Hieronimo replies, “What else? it were a shame it should not be so” (164). Hieronimo is playing the long game, working to outmaneuver the two men. After they exit, an obviously lucid Hieronimo says in Italian, “someone who shows me more affection than usual has either betrayed me, or wishes to betray me” (Neill 91, n168-169). Hieronimo knows what’s going on, and his use of Italian highlights his disgust at the two men who murdered his son. They are untrustworthy and he knows they are actively working against him. They are undeserving of the more honorable language of Latin, the tongue of epic grief and revenge.

*

Scene Fifteen: Andrea is angry that Revenge appears to be sleeping through the unfolding events.

Andrea calls out for Erictho and Cerberus to wake and implore Pluto and Proserpine’s aid against Acheron and Erebus, who signify chaos and despair. Erictho and Cerberus are powerful inhabitants of the Underworld, and of course, Pluto and Proserpine placed Andrea with Revenge at the end of 1.1. In a fit of anger and passion, Andrea declares that none have seen “Such fearful sights as poor Andrea sees! / Revenge, awake!” (3.15.5-6). He then scolds his companion, saying, “Awake, Revenge! for thou art ill-advised / To sleep away what thou art warned to watch” (8-9). Revenge may actually have dosed off or Andrea may deem it sleeping since things appear to be veering from his desired outcome. In a misread of the previous scene, he tells Revenge that Lorenzo and Hieronimo are now in league, halting his chance for revenge.

Revenge responds that Andrea’s fears are not grounded. Revenge has its own time and method; it cannot be forced and can only happen at its own pace. Andrea is then given a foretaste of coming events via a dumbshow, which Revenge explains cryptically. The dumbshow suggests the impending marriage will be closely followed by death, implying that Hymen, the god of marriage, is displeased. This contents Andrea, who promises to settle back and allow things to work as ordained. Revenge answers, “Then argue not, for thou hast thy request” (38). Andrea’s death, as well as Horatio’s, will be answered.

*

*I have to mention a happy accident appearing in the Norton. In 3.13, Hieronimo’s servant announces the arrival of the three petitioners; the original text may have identified the servant’s lines with only an “S.” or perhaps “Ser.” Consequently, the Norton misidentifies the speaker as “Serberine.” Serberine, of course, was involved in Horatio’s murder and subsequently killed by Pedringano at Lorenzo’s behest (3.3). Actors often play more than one part in a production, a process called doubling, and the thought that the actor who plays  Serberine might double the part of Hieronimo’s servant is too perfect. The actor playing Serberine, a character involved in Horatio’s murder and killed to ensure his silence, returns to play a servant to Horatio’s father. Shades of remorse, guilt, and punishment in the servant’s role would be unavoidable. Brilliant!

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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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