The Changeling – Act One, Scenes 1-2: “There’s scarce a thing but is both lov’d and loath’d”


Scene One: Alsemero, a visitor to Alligant, has encountered Beatrice-Joanna in the temple. He decides to change his travel plans to stay and woo her, not knowing she is already betrothed to Alonzo. Alsemero’s companion, Jasperino, is surprised by his friend’s lovesick behavior but decides to pursue Beatrice-Joanna’s maid, Diaphanta. Alsemero learns of Beatrice-Joanna’s engagement but does not leave Alligant. Beatrice-Joanna is having second thoughts about her betrothal to Alonzo since meeting Alsemero. She explains to Alsemero that she finds her father’s servingman, DeFlores, repulsive.

Alsemero enters in a reverie, comparing his glimpses of Beatrice-Joanna to things sacred and holy. Both times she was in the temple, leading him to conclude that this “…admits comparison / With man’s first creation, the place blest” (1.1.7-8). Where an allusion to the Garden of Eden might also suggest the Fall of Man and its connection to sin and death, Alsemero uses it to describe pairing with
Beatrice-Joanna as “perfection” (1.1.11). His thoughts quickly move to holding their marriage ceremony in the temple, which would signify both “beginning and perfection too” (12). Starting the play with musings on perfection and holiness introduces its exploration of appearances and seeming, themes important to the plot. Can first impressions and external appearances be considered legitimate indications of character?

Jasperino arrives to let Alsemero know the seas are favorable for their departure but is surprised when his friend resists leaving. Jasperino praises the wind as “fair” for a “swift and pleasant passage” (13, 14) but Alsemero disagrees, saying, “I know ‘tis against me” (21). Jasperino is confused by his friend’s reticence, as in the past he has been a keen traveler. He asks if Alsemero is unwell, since “Lover I’m sure y’are none, the stoic / Was found in you long ago” (36-37). The ship’s crew is told they will not be setting out today; sensing Alsemero’s lovesickness, one seaman quips in an aside “We must not to sea today; this smoke will bring forth fire” (50-51). This throw-away remark anticipates the events of the final act.

Beatrice-Joanna and Diaphanta arrive and Alsemero’s manner further astonishes Jasperino: “Salute a woman? He kisses too: wonderful! Where learnt he this?” (58). An hint of things to come that might be overlooked is Beatrice-Joanna’s query to Alsemero: “Which of the sciences is this love you speak of?” (63). Alsemero’s interest in science or medicine becomes important later in the play, and this quick mention is its introduction and only mention. He then takes the opportunity to profess his love to Beatrice-Joanna, whose response is unexpected:

Be better advis’d sir:
Our eyes are sentinels unto our judgements
And should give certain judgement what they see;
But they are rash sometimes, and tell us wonders
Of common things, which when our judgements find,
They can then check the eyes, and call them blind. (69-74)

Her reply seems to warn Alsemero from his attraction to her. It also advises against making judgements based on appearance alone, an admonishment that aligns with the play’s motif of sight and seeing. Is her warning due to her engagement to Alonzo, or does she sense a darkness within that could prove ruinous? Again, the lines hint at things to come.

Soon after Beatrice-Joanna’s reply, Deflores makes his first appearance. This is surely by design, since Deflores’ looks and what is or is not wrong with his face are important aspects of the character. He announces that her father has arrived, but Beatrice-Joanna demands to know why he felt it necessary to come tell her. In an aside, Deflores explains he is drawn to Beatrice-Joanna even though she abhors him:

…Must I be enjoin’d
To follow still whilst she flies from me? Well,
Fates do your worst, I’ll please myself with sight
Of her, at all opportunities… (98-101)

In her book Occult Knowledge, Science, and Gender on the Shakespearean Stage, Mary Floyd-Wilson includes a chapter considering The Changeling in light of ‘sympathies and antipathies.’ To put it succinctly, Dr. Floyd-Wilson describes how early modern medicine and science believed certain materials and essences were drawn to each other. A ‘sympathy’ meant a strong attraction to some property the other possessed. ‘Antipathy’ was the opposite, meaning some things were by nature opposed. In The Changeling, for instance, sympathy would mean Beatrice-Joanna is subconsciously drawn to something inherent in Deflores’ nature despite feeling physical revulsion. Similarly, although Deflores is physically attracted to Beatrice-Joanna, without sympathy he might not be willing to endure her scorn and verbal abuse. Sympathies and antipathies go a long way to explain why Middleton might have taken such care to point out Deflores’ facial defect. Since he is portrayed as being scarred or disfigured, physical attraction can be ruled out as the basis for Beatrice-Joanna’s actions later in the play.  His being unattractive rather gives the audience pause; is she being coerced, or has she discovered something in his nature drawing her to him?    

Beatrice-Joanna and Alsemero touch on the concept of sympathies and antipathies in the next few lines. She tells him she is repulsed by Deflores, calls it “my infirmity” (106), but cannot explain the feeling. Alsemero replies that everyone has something they cannot tolerate and that “There’s scarce a thing but is both lov’d and loath’d / Myself (I must confess) have the same frailty” (122-23). His particular aversion, he tells her, is something she personally may like: “a cherry” (125).  While it is tempting to associate his remark with our modern slang reference to virginity (which would align nicely), the Oxford English Dictionary shows the earliest use of that meaning to be the late 19th century. Alsemero, then, is simply not a lover of fruit.  

Meanwhile, Jasperino and Diaphanta are engaging in flirty, bawdy conversation. In some ways, theirs is the healthiest relationship in the play. There seems to be no deception between them, and no hints of manipulation, possessiveness, or jealousy. They both seem to have no expectations other than enjoying each other’s company. Consequently, their relationship sets off the very different ones between Alsemero and Beatrice-Joanna, Deflores and Beatrice-Joanna, and Alibius and Isabella. Jasperino and Diaphanta’s relationship is also important to the plot.

Vermandero arrives and welcomes Alsemero, whose late father he knew in younger years. At Beatrice-Joanna’s behest, he invites Alsemero on a tour of his castle; he also urges him to stay for her wedding. Alsemero is shaken by Beatrice-Joanna’s impending wedding, and in an aside laments, “I must now part, and never meet again / With any joy on earth” (194-195). He then insists he cannot stay, even to see the castle. Vermandero, unaware of Alsemero’s love for his daughter, brushes this off as mere civility and begins to praise the virtues of his future son-in-law. Alsemero observes:

ALSEMERO: He’s much
Bound to you, sir.
VERMANDERO: He shall be bound to me,
As fast as this tie can hold him; I’ll want
My will else.
BEATRICE [Aside]: I shall want mine if you do it.
VERMANDERO: But come, by the way I’ll tell you more of him.
ALSEMERO [Aside]: How shall I dare to venture in his castle,
When he discharges murderers at the gate? (213-219)

Much is packed into this short exchange. Alsemero notes that Alonzo has much to thank Vermandero for (“much bound to you”), to which Vermandero replies that he shall be “bound to [him]” (linked, connected) “[a]s fast as this tie can hold him” (as tightly as his marriage to Beatrice-Joanna can contract him). Vermandero will “want [his] will” (lack having his way) otherwise. To this, Beatrice-Joanna remarks in an aside that she “shall want [hers] if you do it” (lack having her own way if Vermandero binds Alonzo to her in marriage). Alsemero’s aside about “discharging murderers at the gate” not only reflects his emotional wounding in hearing of Beatrice-Joanna’s engagement, but also points to the action in Act Three.

As Beatrice-Joanna turns to leave, she drops her glove. If purposeful, this action is both invitation and challenge to a potential lover. It recalls Bel-Imperia’s dropping of her own glove in Thomas Kyd’s earlier The Spanish Tragedy. In their essay, “Fetishizing the Glove in Renaissance Europe” (available with a free JSTOR account), Peter Stallybrass and Ann Rosalind Jones discuss the meaning of gloves and the actions associated with them. A glove, at times perfumed, would be associated intimately with the hand of the beloved. It was a token that could be worn, cherished, or kissed by a devout lover. If this was Beatrice-Joanna’s intent, however, her move backfires. Her father sees the glove and calls for Deflores to pick it up and return it. Does Vermandero sense her possible flirtation?

Beatrice-Joanna is horrified. She refuses the glove and scorns Deflores’ attempt at service: “Mischief on your officious forwardness! / Who bade you stoop? They touch my hand no more: / There, for tother’s sake I part with this,” / [Takes off the other glove and throws it down.] (223-225, sd. 225). Deflores, however, cannot believe his luck:

Here’s a favour come, with a mischief! Now I know
She had rather wear my pelt tann’d in a pair
Of dancing pumps, than I should thrust my fingers
Into her sockets here; I know she hates me,
Yet cannot choose but love her:
No matter, if but to vex her, I’ll haunt her still;
Though I get nothing else, I’ll have my will. (227-233)

Alone on the stage after Beatrice-Joanna has stormed off, Deflores expresses his sexual attraction to her as well as his refusal to stay away. The phrase “thrust my fingers / Into her sockets here” is blatantly erotic, and in some productions made obviously so. He also declares he cannot help being drawn to her, an inversion of Beatrice-Joanna’s professed aversion: his sympathy to her antipathy. Deflores plans to continue being in her presence regardless of how she feels about it, because if he gets “nothing else” (materially/psychologically/ sexually), he’ll “have [his] will.” This not only echoes the previous exchange between Vermandero, Beatrice-Joanna, and Alsemero, but also gives a glimpse into Deflores’ character. No matter how Beatrice-Joanna feels about seeing him, he will do as he pleases for his own gratification. In modern terms, Deflores might be called a stalker.

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Scene Two: Alibius, an older physician in charge of the local asylum, fears his young wife Isabella will be unfaithful. He confides this to his man, Lollio, who agrees to keep an eye on her. Pedro arrives with Antonio/Tony, claiming Tony is his mad cousin and asking he be admitted for care. Lollio quizzes Antonio to get a feel for his wit, deems him a “scholar,” and escorts him into the ward.

Alibius is riddled with jealousy and fears his younger, beautiful wife Isabella is not content in their marriage. Lollio remarks that young plants are protected by older trees, but Alibius is not convinced. He responds, “I would wear my ring on my own finger; / Whilst it is borrowed it is none of mine, / But his that useth it” (27-29). Alibius’ concern about wearing his “ring” (early modern slang for vagina) ushers in other bawdy jokes and quips about sex and the female anatomy: “if it but lie by, one or other will be thrusting into’t” (30-31), “Thou conceiv’st me” (32), “you must look out, ‘tis every man’s case” (36, ‘case’ being another slang term for vagina), and “Supply my place” (39, in the sexual act).

This exchange is the first of many references to and jokes about cuckoldry in the asylum scenes. Cuckoldry, or wives cheating on husbands, would have resonated with Middleton’s audience and been a sure laugh. It appears or is mentioned in most of the plays of the period and serves as the foundation for many a poke at jealous, older, or hen-pecked husbands. Scholars such as Cristina León Alfar and Sara F. Matthews-Grieco have written books on the topic, and a quick Google search uncovers numerous other papers, dissertations, and theses on cuckoldry and early modern society.

Alibius’ concern is “The daily visitants that come to see / My brainsick patients” (50-1). As stated in my introductory post for this series, going to asylums to get a glimpse of the mentally ill was indeed a pastime in the early modern period. Alibius is anxious that “gallants… / Of quick enticing eyes, rich in habits, / Of stature and proportion very comely” (53-55) might be “most shrewd temptations” (56) for Isabella. He instructs Lollio to ensure these visitors do not see her, then remembers a new patient should be arriving that day. On cue, Pedro and Antonio enter, leading Alibius to state “I think my expectation is come home” (78). This is an apt choice of phrase, since Antonio is smitten with Isabella and pretending madness to gain admittance to the asylum. Hence, the expectation of a new client has been fulfilled and (unbeknownst to Alibius) he happens to be a gallant trying to get close to Isabella. 

Pedro introduces Antonio as “Tony” and asks that he receive the best care, emphasizing that “He is a gentleman” (108). Before leaving, he pays Alibius and gives Lollio a little on the side, since he is to “keep [Tony] sweet and read to him” (91). Lollio quizzes Tony with several riddles and puns to ascertain his wit, a lengthy bit of business meant to provide laughs for the audience. He approves of Tony’s abilities, and as the scene closes, all exit to their various “charge[s]” (189). For Alibius, this means the patients’ ward; for Lollio, it means feeding the patients, getting Tony settled, and keeping tabs on Isabella.

The asylum subplot scenes can be difficult, and audiences may wonder why Middleton felt the need to include them. The obvious reason is that the main plot can be intense with few comedic elements, so the asylum scenes serve as a break. They contain quite a bit of humor, albeit often at the expense of the asylum patients (and therefore likely distasteful to modern audiences). Another reason is that these scenes address similar issues as the main plot and show them in another light. Themes of infidelity, the madness of love/passion, mistrust in relationships, and (to use that anachronistic term once more) stalking are present.

The characters in the asylum scenes also offer a form of oblique commentary on those of the main plot. Isabella, for instance, can be seen as an alternate Beatrice-Joanna. A strong female character with her own mind and a desire for agency, Isabella asserts her choice, station, and identity in a very different fashion than Beatrice-Joanna. Is Lollio Isabella’s Deflores? Antonio and Franciscus her Alsemero and Alonso? This is left for the audience to decide.  

Thomas Middleton and The Changeling: Introduction and Overview

Fair warning: Thomas Middleton’s The Changeling can be difficult to read or watch. Most of the characters are a blend of the attractive and the disagreeable; they’re not individuals you’d want to meet or have a relationship with. The plot involves manipulation, sexual assault, scheming, and murder, and there’s a subplot that includes the use of the mentally ill as entertainment or comic relief. (Evidence suggests this unsavory practice was common in the early modern period.) As if that’s not enough, it’s misogynistic, like most early modern plays. To counter that aspect with a feminist discussion, I highly recommend the Changeling episode of “Not Another Shakespeare Podcast!.”   

If The Changeling is stuffed with difficult subject matter and the characters are so awful, why is it so popular? Why does anyone bother? These are good questions, and the short response to both is that the play is extremely well-written. In performance it’s tense and exciting, and despite the unpleasant stuff can be an enjoyable two and a half hours. It’s not a morality play, but more of an exploration of things going terribly wrong due to…selfishness? An inability to see past one’s own desires? It’s hard to pinpoint. There are people in the play doing bad things, but are they bad people, or merely self-engrossed? Or something else entirely? At the close of the final act, rather than a feeling of moral superiority, there’s a sense of instability and confusion. Some characters do come to bad ends, but were they truly bad or just victims of circumstance? Did they simply make bad choices, or was the darkness in them all along? Could this be the meaning of the title?

In legend, a changeling was a being left in place of a human child stolen by fairies, a definition that doesn’t necessarily align with the play (we hear nothing of the characters’ childhoods). The inherent behavior of these beings was believed “monstrous,” however, which does fit with Middleton’s choice of title. As noted below, Antonio is called “the changeling,” but he’s not a child, and nearly every other character also enacts some sort of deception, bad behavior, or life shift. There are changes in relationships and loyalties, deaths and marriages, and attempts to be something or someone different. All these existential movements are destabilizing, creating a sense of dread or emotional vertigo.

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Thomas Middleton was born in 1580 in London. His father was a laborer/bricklayer who did well financially, which allowed Thomas to spend some time at Oxford University. He returned to London and became a prolific playwright, authoring several well-received plays. During Middleton’s lifetime, the most famous was A Game of Chess, a work that got him in quite a bit of trouble for its unflattering take on several prominent royal and court figures. Middleton died in 1627 and is buried in a now unmarked grave in London.

The Changeling is believed to have had its first performance in 1622, although it was not entered into the Stationer’s Register until 1652. The setting is Alligant (or Alicante), Spain, and the plot centers on Beatrice-Joanna, daughter of Vermandero, a wealthy nobleman. Beatrice-Joanna is betrothed to Alonzo de Piracquo, but when she meets Alsemero, she regrets her impending marriage. She enlists one of her father’s servingmen, Deflores, to kill Alonzo, but Deflores’ idea of recompense is offensive: he wants to be repaid sexually, and when she refuses, he rapes her. For whatever reason, their trysts continue, despite Beatrice-Joanna’s new betrothal to Alsemero. Because of Deflores she is no longer a virgin, so she orchestrates a bed-trick on her wedding night, sending her maid Diaphanta to Alsemero in her place. The deed complete, Diaphanta becomes a liability and is also killed by Deflores. Alsemero later witnesses a tryst between Beatrice-Joanna and Deflores and learns of the two murders. Deflores kills both Beatrice-Joanna and himself when confronted.

Now for the subplot: Alibius, a doctor who oversees the local asylum, is married to Isabella, who is much younger and very beautiful. Alibius, as expected, fears for her chastity if young gallants visit (see “use of the mentally ill as entertainment,” above). As if on cue, two of Vermandero’s servants, Antonio and Franciscus, pretend to be mad and are admitted as residents. Isabella’s subsequent discovery of their ruse and her response plays off the Beatrice-Joanna plot, countering the actions of one strong female character with another.

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Before delving into themes and what to watch for when reading/watching, here are the main characters and a short explanation of who they are:

BEATRICE-JOANNA: Vermandero’s daughter. When the play begins, she is betrothed to Alonzo; by the play’s end she is married to Alsemero. Beatrice-Joanna has strong feelings about Deflores (to say the least).

VERMANDERO: Beatrice-Joanna’s father, Spanish nobleman, and resident of Alligant/Alicante.

DEFLORES: A servingman to Vermandero. Some sort of facial scarring or skin condition renders him unattractive. He is besotted with Beatrice-Joanna.

ALONZO DE PIRACQUO: Beatrice-Joanna’s first betrothed. It doesn’t go well for him.

TOMAZO DE PIRACQUO: Alonzo’s brother. He attempts to warn Alonzo of Beatrice-Joanna’s apparent lack of affection, but is rebuffed. After his brother’s death, he arrives looking for answers.

ALSEMERO: A nobleman visiting Alligant. He meets Beatrice-Joanna at a religious service and is instantly smitten. He also dabbles in medicine/science.

JASPERINO: Alsemero’s companion. He joins the fun by wooing Diaphanta.

DIAPHANTA: Beatrice-Joanna’s ill-starred servingwoman and recipient of Jasperino’s amorous attentions.

ALIBIUS: A doctor in charge of the local asylum. He has trust issues due to his having a younger and very beautiful wife.

ISABELLA: Young, beautiful, and married to Alibius. She gives him no cause for jealousy, but he goes there just the same. Probably the most likeable character in the entire play.  

LOLLIO: The play’s clown figure. Lollio is Alibius’ saucy, bawdy, and (in his mind) witty assistant.

ANTONIO: The dramatis personae lists Antonio as “the changeling,” but as will become clear, Antonio has no right to single ownership of this description. He has the hots for Isabella and pretends to be mad so he can be committed to the asylum and be near her.

FRANCISCUS: The dramatis personae lists him as “the counterfeit madman” although this description fits Antonio as well. Like Antonio, Franciscus feigns madness so he can be locked up in the asylum and attempt to woo Isabella.

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There’s a lot to watch for in The Changeling. Pay attention to how many times sight, seeing, or eyes are mentioned or alluded to in the play. This is a central theme pointing to another very important aspect of the play: seeming or appearances. When Alsemero meets Beatrice-Joanna, he believes her to be associated with the holy (1.1.1-12); Jasperino urges Alsemero to his ship, but his friend tells him the wind only seems in their favor (15-16); Deflores appears to be merely a servingman but claims to have been born a gentleman (2.1.49). Was/is his physical appearance in some way associated with his downfall? Beatrice-Joanna seems to feel visceral disgust for Deflores, but by the end of the play is praising him; did her initial revulsion mask a subconscious attraction, or is the change due to something psychological? This handful of examples from the first two acts gestures to situations ripe with the potential for change, and makes the idea that one particular character is “the” changeling either disingenuous or an attempt to distract from other possibilities — perhaps to make their discovery more satisfying.

It’s not difficult to find performances of The Changeling online; there are videos, radio plays, discussions, and audio books. One of the most promising of the filmed productions is this 1974 BBC offering starring Helen Mirren. As of yet I haven’t watched it, but since you can’t go wrong with Helen Mirren I plan to remedy that as soon as possible. The complete text of the play is available (for free!) on the Folger’s extremely useful Early Modern English Drama website. For my blog posts, unless otherwise stated, all references are from the 1988 Penguin Classics Five Plays: Thomas Middleton, edited by Bryan Loughrey and Neil Taylor.

Let’s dig into this unsettling, sometimes offensive, but exceptionally well-written and enjoyable play…    

The Spanish Tragedy – Act Four, Scenes 1-5: “Am I at last revengèd thoroughly”

Scene One: Bel-Imperia and Hieronimo discuss avenging Horatio’s death. Hieronimo enlists Balthazar, Lorenzo, and Bel-Imperia to perform a play as part of the royal wedding festivities.

In an echo of Andrea’s dissatisfaction with Revenge at the close of 3.15, Act Four begins with Bel-Imperia confronting Hieronimo for his delay in avenging Horatio’s death:

Is this the love thou bear’st Horatio?
Is this the kindness that thou counterfeits?
Are these the fruits of thine incessant tears?
…O unkind father, O deceitful world! (4.1.1-3, 7)

The use of anaphora (“Is this…”) and the underlying guilt (“O unkind father”) recall Hieronimo’s earlier self-chastisement comparing his own inaction to Bazulto’s active seeking of justice  (3.13.99-107).  Bel-Imperia’s criticism of his delay reveals not only her frustration with Hieronimo, but also her feelings for Horatio. She shows her own strength, declaring,

Nor shall his death be unrevenged by me,
…For here I swear in sight of heaven and earth,
Shouldst thou neglect the love thou shoudst retain
…Myself should send their hateful souls to hell,
That wrought his downfall with extremest death (4.1.23, 25-26, 28-29)

Bel-Imperia vows that if Hieronimo neglects his duty, she will avenge Horatio’s death by killing her brother and new husband herself. Her determination contents Hieronimo, who sees it as a sign that the heavens are indeed listening. He apologizes for not believing the truth of her letter (3.2.37-43) and swears he will soon accomplish the deaths of those involved with the murder.  

Bel-Imperia agrees to aid Hieronimo in any way she can. Pleased, he tells her “…the plot’s already in mine head” (4.1.51). The use of the word “plot” ushers in the next bit of action: Lorenzo and Balthazar’s arrival and subsequent request that Hieronimo devise an entertainment for the Viceroy. In 1.4, the pageant for the King was arranged and emceed by Hieronimo, so this duty would be under his purview. He accepts and tells them that in his youth he wrote a tragedy – and as luck would have it, he happened to find the script the other day. He asks Lorenzo and Balthazar if they will participate, “…favor me so much / As but to grace me with your acting it– / I mean each one of you to play a part— (4.1.80-82).

The two men are taken aback by this request, but due to their recently amended relationship with Hieronimo (3.15.160-164) agree to participate. Bel-Imperia readily assents to act a part. Hieronimo then outlines the plot, which concerns a knight of Rhodes who weds an Italian lady “Whose beauty ravished all that her beheld, / Especially the soul of Suleiman” (4.1.110-111). Suleiman tells a friend, the Pasha, of his desire for the lady. The Pasha finds and kills the knight; the lady in turn kills Suleiman and then herself. The Pasha hangs himself.

Hieronimo assigns the parts. He will play the Pasha; Balthazar will be “Great Suleiman, the Turkish Emperor” (134); Lorenzo, “Erasto, the Knight of Rhodes” (136), and Bel-Imperia, “Perseda, chaste and resolute” (138). In keeping with the metatheatrical nature of ST, the preparation and staging of the play-within-a-play follows the process of an early modern theatrical performance. The scripts or parts Hieronimo distributes to the group, for example, are very different from what modern actors receive. Early modern players received their lines and their lines only, with only a few words before and after each line as cues.

As the parts are distributed, Hieronimo advises the group what each character will need by way of costume. Balthazar must “…provide a Turkish cap, / A black mustachio, and a [sword]” (142-143). Lorenzo needs a cross, and Bel-Imperia should choose a costume reminiscent of a goddess “Like Phoebe, Flora, or the huntress–” (146). Hieronimo also tells them that the Viceroy’s ransom will pay for this entertainment. This money, of course, was paid for Balthazar’s release and ultimately intended for Horatio. He will, in essence, fund his own revenge.   

Hieronimo mentions one more thing about the play: “Each one of us must act his part / In unknown languages, / That it may breed the more variety–” (170-172). Balthazar’s lines will be in Latin, Hieronimo’s in Greek, Lorenzo’s in Italian, and Bel-Imperia’s in French. This unusual stipulation will make the play’s dialogue a veritable Babel, with characters speaking at each other rather than toor with each other. This reflects what has happened throughout the play, especially by those pursuing justice. There has been much speaking to each other but little understanding or communication — whether due to honest misunderstanding or by design. The jumble of languages, mirroring Hieronimo’s disordered and turbulent mind, will also confuse the participants and audience. (Remember: the actors’ parts only provided their individual lines, not the entire play.) Deaths will come as a surprise.

The various languages also underscore each participants’ persona. Hieronimo’s character uses Greek, the language of epic and tragedy. Balthazar’s speaks in Latin, reflecting his status as prince and eventual king. This could also be an ironic jab at his indecision, as Latin was the language of the law and learning. Lorenzo’s uses Italian, gesturing to his Machiavellian scheming and actions. French was the language of love, so it is fitting that Bel-Imperia speak it while avenging her lovers’ deaths.

Balthazar balks at this revelation, stating the obvious: “But this will be a mere confusion, / And hardly shall we all be understood” (178-179). Hieronimo assures him all will come together successfully — he will see to it. Balthazar, for all his gullibility, is the one who readily expresses misgivings. “How like you this?” (188), he asks Lorenzo, who replies that they must humor Hieronimo.

The others exit, leaving Hieronimo alone on the stage. He muses, “Now shall I see the fall of Babylon / Wrought by the heavens in this confusion” (192-193). Not only was Babylon the location of the biblical Tower of Babel, a structure brought to naught by linguistic confusion, but the city was also associated with sin and oppression. This implies that Hieronimo’s plan goes farther than simply justice for the death of his son. He looks forward to destroying a crushing and corrupt hierarchy. 

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Scene Two: Isabella, distracted in her grief, tears down the arbor. She then kills herself.

On the heels of Hieronimo’s mention of the fall of Babylon, Isabella enters holding a weapon. She is still distracted, and her words reveal her madness:

Since neither piety or pity moves
The king to justice or compassion,
I will revenge myself upon this place,
Where thus they murdered my belovèd son. (2-5)  

She tears down the arbor, destroying the place of her son’s death. An arbor was a place of shade and concealment created by leafy trees and flowering plants; Babylon, too, was believed to be a place of lush gardens. By tearing down the arbor, Isabella erases a place of life and fertility as well as death. In 2.4, it was where Horatio and Bel-Imperia consummated their love – if only through words and fond embraces.

After destroying the arbor, Isabella curses the ground where it stood:

Fruitless for ever may this garden be,
Barren the earth, and blissless whosoever
Imagines not to keep it unmanured!
An eastern wind commixed with noisome airs
Shall blast the plants and the young saplings;
The earth with serpents shall be pesterèd,
And passengers for fear to be infect,
Shall stand aloof… (14-21)

No longer will this place harbor love and beauty; it is now marked as a place of death and horror. Isabella cries, “See where [Horatio’s] ghost solicits with his wounds / Revenge on her that should revenge his death!” (24-25). Again, it seems Horatio has joined Andrea and Revenge in their vantage point on the stage.

Destroying and cursing the spot is not enough for the distraught Isabella. She exclaims,

And, as I curse this tree from further fruit,
So shall my womb be cursèd for his sake,
And with this weapon will I wound the breast
                She stabs herself.
The hapless breast that gave Horatio suck. (35-38)

Through its association with love and fertility, the arbor had symbolized Isabella herself. After mutilating the place of Horatio’s death, she destroys the place that gave him life.   

*

Scene Three: Preparations are underway for Hieronimo’s play, which is at the core of his plan for revenge.

Isabella tears down the arbor in 4.2; Hieronimo puts up the curtain for his play as 4.3 begins. It is likely that the same stage structure that supported the arbor was also used by Hieronimo to install the curtain. (It is also likely that it served as the gallows for Pedringano’s execution.) This framework, then, can be described as a space of transition, a portal between life and death.

Hieronimo requests that the Duke “…give the king the copy of the play: / This is the argument of what we show” (5-6). This was standard practice for an early modern play. The text would have been examined and vetted by the Master of the Revels prior to staging, but in this case, the king receives an advance copy. Then, in what seems an innocuous request, Hieronimo asks the Duke to “throw [him] down the key” (13) after the royal spectators are seated. Having this key is part of his plan.

Balthazar is instructed to “hang up the title” (17); this is glossed by the Norton as either a placard that provides the title of the play, or based on the next line, gives the setting (103, n17). Hieronimo then says to him, “Our scene is Rhodes–what, is your beard on?” (18), referring to his costume. Baltazar’s reply, “Half on, the other is in my hand” (19), is brilliant work by Kyd. He penned a line that deftly answers the question (no, Balthazar’s not in costume quite yet), while also gesturing to the prince’s waffling, half-man/half-boy nature. In one short phrase, Kyd reveals the problem with Balthazar.  

As if steeling himself for what is to come, Hieronimo gives himself a pep talk. He reminds himself of Horatio’s murder, Isabella’s suicide, and the need for vengeance. There is, however, no question that he is ready to act. The last four lines of his speech, as well as of the scene, make this clear:

Behoves thee then, Hieronimo, to be revenged:
The plot is laid of dire revenge;
On, then Hieronimo, pursue revenge,
For nothing wants but acting of revenge. (27-30, italics mine)

Something to consider: Revenge and Andrea are observing the action, with Revenge unconcerned to the point of dozing. Based on Hieronimo’s comment “nothing wants but acting of revenge” (italics mine), who is directing/advancing the action? Is Revenge the “director” of the play, or a mere spectator? Is Hieronimo acting under his own agency, or is Revenge in charge? Could it be that Revenge is relaxed enough to doze because the characters are following his script and he knows the outcome? If this is the case, who in this play (if anyone) has agency?  

*

Scene Four: Hieronimo’s play is performed for the King, Viceroy, Duke, and the court. As part of the action, Lorenzo and Balthazar are killed and Bel-Imperia kills herself. Hieronimo is detained before he can do the same.

The King, Viceroy, Duke, and their attendants enter and are seated. The King gives his copy of the play to the Duke, saying, “Here brother, you shall be the bookkeeper. / This is the argument of that they show” (9-10). The play does not state implicitly what the Duke does as bookkeeper, but in the early modern theatre one task was prompting actors who needed help with their lines. Some scholars speculate that a bookkeeper might also have introduced locations or characters.  

The play begins. Baltazar’s character, Sulieman, is passionately in love with Bel-Imperia’s Perseda, mirroring the relationship of Baltazar and Bel-imperia. Lorenzo’s character, Erasto, is Perseda’s preferred lover: he initiated Horatio’s death, but now acts his victim’s role.  

The first of the characters to die is Lorenzo/Erasto, stabbed by Hieronimo/The Pasha. Bel-Imperia/Perseda then stabs Suleiman/Balthazar and finally, herself. Before stabbing Suleiman/Balthazar, she says to him,

Tyrant, desist soliciting vain suits:
Relentless are mine ears to thy laments
As thy butcher is pitiless and base,
Which seized on my Erasto, harmless knight;
Yet by thy power thou thinkest to command,
And to thy power Perseda doth obey;
But were she able, thus she would revenge
Thy treacheries on thee, ignoble prince:                                                  Stab  him.
And on herself she would be thus revenged.                                                         Stab herself. 
(59-67)

Before her character kills Sulieman/Baltazar, she says to him what she may have wished to say all along. Since all the characters were speaking a different language, though, Balthazar may or may not have understood.

The King and Viceroy are pleased with the play, and ask Hieronimo what is next for his character, The Pasha. His lengthy response begins by hinting that the onstage deaths were real:

Marry, this follows for Hieronimo:
Here we break off our sundry languages,
And thus conclude I in our vulgar tongue:
Haply you think—but bootless are your thoughts–
That this is fabulously counterfeit,
And that we do as all tragedians do:
To die today, for fashioning our scene– 
The death of Ajax , or some Roman peer–
And, in a minute starting up again,
Revive to please tomorrow’s audience.  (73-82)

Hieronimo then reveals the body of Horatio and explains,

Behold the reason urging me to this:
See here my show, look on this spectacle:
Here lay my hope, and here my hope hath end;
Here lay my heart, and here my heart was slain;
Here lay my treasure, here my treasure lost;
Here lay my bliss, and here my bliss bereft;   (89-93)

As before, his use of anaphora (“Here lay…” and “here my…”) reveals his passion and extreme emotion. He declares that his son’s wounds gave him purpose, and that the cause of his death “was love, whence grew this mortal hate, / The hate, Lorenzo and young Balthazar, / The love, my son to Bel-Imperia” (98-100). He then recounts Horatio’s death, the night “Where hanging on a tree I found my son” (111). This clear reference to Jesus is made stronger by its association with Hieronimo’s earlier statement regarding his son’s wounds giving him purpose. The death of Horatio gave Hieronimo new life; he was born again, so to speak.

Hieronimo next speaks directly to the Viceroy: “Speak Portuguese, whose loss resembles mine: /
If thou canst weep upon thy Balthazar, / ‘Tis like I wailed for my Horatio” (114-116). His next lines are for the Duke: “And you, my lord, whose reconcilèd son / Marched in a net, and thought himself unseen, / And rated me for brainsick lunacy” (117-119). “How can you brook our play’s catastrophe?” (121) he asks the two men.

He displays Horatio’s bloodied handkerchief to the King, Duke, Viceroy, and their attendants. In another gesture to Jesus, Hieronimo implies that the blood staining it cleaved to his own blood and drove him forward in his quest for justice. Now that Balthazar and Lorenzo are dead, however, his revenge is complete:

And never hath [Horatio’s bloody handkerchief] left my bloody heart,
Soliciting remembrance of my vow
With these, O these accursed murderers–
Which now performed, my heart Is satisfied. (126-129)

Hieronimo turns to the body of Bel-Imperia, whom he said was “Solely appointed to that tragic part / That she might slay him that offended her” (138-139). He then suggests that although the plot called for her character’s death, he would have rewritten it at her request, “But love of him whom they did hate too much / Did urge her resolution to be such” (144-145). Although his statement is certainly about Horatio, it is difficult to not think of Andrea as another “whom they did hate too much.” By now, the courtly audience begins to understand that the deaths they witnessed are not counterfeit, but real.

His monologue over, Hieronimo displays a noose and “runs to hang himself” (153sd). Before he can escape, however, the King calls for his capture. The Viceroy tells Hieronimo to tell the king of Horatio’s murder, and “Upon mine honor thou shalt have no harm” (158). In another reference to Horatio as Jesus, he replies, “Viceroy, I will not trust thee with my life, / Which I this day have offered to my son” (159-160). Hieronimo must also intuit that the Viceroy is trying to trick him.

The awful truth of the deaths in the play-within-the-play now clear, the King demands of Hieronimo, “Speak, traitor! Damned bloody murderer speak! / For now I have thee I will make thee speak: / Why hast thou done this undeserving deed?” (163-165). Hieronimo points out that he loved his son as much as the Viceroy and Duke loved theirs, yet he was not allowed justice:

O good words!
As dear to me was my Horatio
As yours, or yours, or yours, my lord, to you.
My guiltless son was by Lorenzo slain;
And by Lorenzo and that Balthazar
Am I at last revengèd thoroughly,
Upon whose souls may heavens be yet avenged
With greater far than these afflictions.  (168-175)

Although Hieronimo previously confessed all, the King still demands he speak. Hieronimo claims silence is his right, and that he will never “…reveal / The thing which I have vowed inviolate” (187-188). This vow is unclear. He has already confessed his role in the play-within-the-play’s murders, confirmed Bel-Imperia was a willing participant, and explained the reason for his actions; did Kyd leave out or abandon Hieronimo’s secret? At this point, he bites out his own tongue (193sd) to ensure his secret is never revealed. (Blogger’s note: can this even be done? Is it physically possible?) Looking back over Hieronimo’s monologue there are hints of this tongue-biting climax. He remarks “And thus conclude I in our vulgar tongue” (75). A few lines later, he states “The hopeless father of a hapless son, / Whose tongue is tuned to tell his latest tale” (84-85).

One aspect of ST has been the silent importance of the written word, and this is acknowledged in 4.4. Although without a tongue Hieronimo can no longer speak, the Duke quips, “Yet can he write” (195). Feigning compliance, Hieronimo makes signs asking for a knife to sharpen a quill pen. Provided with one, he “…stabs the DUKE and himself” (202sd). The King exclaims, “My brother and the whole succeeding hope / That Spain expected after my decease!” (203-204). In one fell swoop, Hieronimo has wiped out Spain’s (and Portugal’s) future; his desire for revenge has succeeded spectacularly. It has also shed copious amounts of blood, connecting Hieronimo’s vengeance to the stained handkerchief kept near his heart and Bel-Imperia’s letter urging him to act (3.2.26).

The grief of the King and the Viceroy now echoes the passion displayed by Hieronimo in previous scenes. The King laments that “I am the next, the nearest, last of all” (4.4.208): he is the next (the only) one left in the succession, the nearest to death, and the last of his line. The Viceroy’s response is even more extreme, commanding that he and the deceased Balthazar be set

Upon the mainmast of a ship unmanned,
And let the wind and tide haul me along
…To weep my want for my sweet Balthazar:
Spain hath no refuge for a Portingale.  (212-213, 216-217)

A ship at sea was often a symbol of fortune or life’s journey in medieval and early modern literature, so in his grief, the Viceroy throws himself at fortune’s feet. The scene closes with a funeral march, the King mourning the Duke and the Viceroy carrying the body of his son. 

*

Scene Five: Andrea is satisfied.

Scene Five returns to the epic feel that started the play. Andrea recounts the deaths chronologically, from Horatio to Hieronimo, calling them “spectacles to please my soul” (12). He takes care to note “My Bel-Imperia fallen as Dido fell” (10), giving her a stance equal to that of the tragic male characters. (In The Aeneid, Dido, Queen of Carthage, was Aeneas’ lover. She burned herself on a funeral pyre when he left to continue his quest.)

Andrea declares he will “beg at lovely Proserpine” (14) for the boon of ushering Horatio, Isabella, Bel-Imperia, and Hieronimo through the Underworld to the fields where they will spend eternity. Perhaps Proserpine has been the guiding force for Andrea’s revenge. She had, after all, “begged [Pluto] that only she might give [Andrea’s] doom” (1.1.79).

“Against the rest how shall my hate be shown?” (4.5.26) Andrea asks Revenge, who replies that as far as Lorenzo, Balthazar, and the others, “This hand shall hale them down to deepest hell, / Where none but furies, bugs, and tortures dwell” (27-28). Revenge’s response is a rhyming couplet, a simple set of verses that often signal the end of a scene. Rhyme is found throughout Act Four. While in previous scenes it signified agitation or passion, here it indicates satisfaction and closure.

Andrea solicits another boon: “Then, sweet Revenge, do this at my request: / Let me be judge and doom them to unrest” (29-30). In asking to appoint the torments of his enemies, he once more gestures to Proserpine’s request of Pluto. Andrea then names sufferers from myth and suggests substitutes: Tityus replaced with the Duke, Ixion with Lorenzo, Sisyphus with Serberine. Balthazar, he says, should “hang…about Chimera’s neck, / And let him there bewail his bloody love, / Repining at our joys that are above” (36-38).   

Revenge does not respond to Andrea’s suggestion. Instead, the play ends on rhyming couplets:

REVENGE: Then haste we down to meet thy friends and foes,
To place thy friends in ease, the rest in woes,
For here, though death hath end their misery,
I’ll there begin their endless tragedy.  (45-48, italics mine)

Giving the figure of Revenge the last words in a revenge tragedy means a satisfying finality for the audience. Deaths have been avenged, and Revenge’s verse ending suggests harmony has been restored.

Or has it?  

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!

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)

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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.  

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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.  

What’s in a Name? (The Spanish Tragedy edition)

I was told the first year of teaching is hell, and the past semester and a half have done nothing to prove otherwise. My blog has been pushed aside as I navigate not only my first two semesters as an adjunct instructor, but also the ins and outs of teaching during a global pandemic. I’ve learned valuable lessons, one being how to structure a syllabus that educates but doesn’t swallow my life with grading and prep. Said syllabus won’t be implemented until the coming fall, though, which leads me to this blog post. Consider this a short breath of fresh air, a way for me to do a little of what I love (researching and writing about early modern drama) as I tie up the loose ends of spring semester. While you wait for my regular posts to resume, please enjoy this interesting and tasty amuse-bouche for the mind…

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I’ve wondered about the character names in The Spanish Tragedy from the first time I read it. Why did Kyd choose them? More to the point, who names their child Bel-Imperia? It must mean something. There must be a reason Kyd chose it. Is it even an actual name? I finally gave in and decided it was time for some light research.

Unless otherwise noted, the name meanings/definitions below are from the Oxford Dictionary of First Names. I don’t call what follows deep and definitive, but the results are interesting and add another possible dimension to the characters’ personas. This is just me having fun learning more about names I find fascinating. Are the meanings what Kyd intended? Not likely, but I’d like to think he’d find the results intriguing, too.

  • BALTAZAR: “A variant of that of the biblical king Belshazzar… mean[ing] ‘Baal protect the king’.” In that name, Bel = ‘Baal’ + shazzar = ‘protect the king.’ Would Baltazar’s marrying Bel-Imperia be a form of protection for his father, the Viceroy of Portugal? Or — more appropriate to the meaning — the King of Spain, her uncle? After all, Spain and Portugal are at war when the play begins.
  • BAZULTO: www.houseofnames.com states the similar name “Basulto” could be derived from an “ancient Anglo-Saxon surname…from Basile, which means royal.” Through their shared grief Bazulto’s character reflects Hieronimo’s, so this possible meaning deepens the two characters’ association (see Hieronimo, below).
  • BEL-IMPERIA: Not surprisingly, this name doesn’t turn up in the Oxford or via a general web search, so I decided to parse it. The Collins English Dictionary defines “imperia” as supreme power, and the Oxford English Dictionary defines “imperium” in a similar way: “absolute or supreme power or dominion.” “Bel” could refer to beauty, as in bella or belle, but look back at the meaning of the name Baltazar. In that name, Bel refers to the god Baal. Based on these definitions, there are two possibilities for the meaning of Bel-Imperia: beautiful supreme power or Baal supreme power. Take what you will from that potential duality. 
  • GHOST OF ANDREA: The name Andrea is thought to be either “a coinage in English from the Greek vocabulary word andreia: ‘manliness, virility’” or a “form of the Greek name Andreas, a short form of any of various compound names derived from andr- ‘man, warrior.’” Andrea’s character aligns with these meanings. In life, he was a brave soldier, self-made man, and Bel-Imperia’s lover.
  • HIERONIMO, KNIGHT MARSHAL OF SPAIN: Hieronymos is from the Greek words hieros (holy) + onoma (name). This sheds additional light on the character. Is he the most noble, the most worthy, of the characters? If so, does this confer an aspect of holiness (or royalty? see Bazulto)? In the classic sense, he is arguably the most tragic. Despite this, do the gods appear to favor him over all others?  There’s a lot to unpack here, and it’s beyond the scope of this post (and my blog).      
  • HORATIO: The Oxford mentions only that this is possibly an ancient Etruscan name and notes its association with Horace, the Roman poet. A more general web search suggests meanings connected to the concept of time (“man of time” “timekeeper”). Does time stop or become suspended when he dies? For Hieronimo, Isabella,
    Bel-Imperia, and Andrea…possibly.   
  • ISABELLA: A Spanish variant of “Elizabeth” meaning “God is my oath.” In the context of the play, the meanings of the names Hieronimo and Isabella are striking; both are intertwined with the sacred. Whereas Hieronimo bears a “holy name,” Isabella’s name claims devotion to the holy. Her line “My husband’s absence makes my heart to throb” (2.5.34) suggests a deep love and need for Hieronimo.
  • LORENZO: The Oxford states this name is derived from “Lawrence,” which in turn is from the Latin Laurentius or “man from Laurentum.” It goes on to note that Laurentum may have come from the Latin laurus or “laurel.” As the laurel was a sign of victory, or given as an award, this gestures to certain things about the nature of the character. Is Lorenzo accustomed to winning? Is he focused on always being the victor, having his way, and believing he can command fate? His actions certainly bear these thoughts out.
  • PEDRINGANO: Pedrignano is a town in Italy, near Parma. Did Kyd intend this place name but spell it wrong? If so, does this situate Pedringano as an outsider and therefore unaware of the machinations of the ruling family? Is his gullibility a sign of ignorance and his brashness an attempt to fit in? These possibilities put a more sympathetic gloss on the character’s actions and demise.  
  • SERBERINE: Nothing comes up in the Oxford or via a general web search, but modern ears can’t help but hear “Serbia” in the name. The area we know as Serbia was part of the Ottoman Empire during the early modern period. Based on the possibility of Pedringano being a place name, might Serberine, too, be from another country? He is a servant to Baltazar; could he have been a prisoner of war, captured and presented to the prince?

As I said previously, I don’t claim these meanings define the characters or even that Kyd was aware of them — let alone had them in mind while crafting his play. This is a brief exploration of the more unusual character names based on my curiosity as to their meanings. My goal in posting this little exercise is to add some wonder, and another dimension, to your enjoyment of The Spanish Tragedy. I’ll be returning to my usual blogging as soon as I’m able (ST Act 3, Scenes 9-12, I’m looking at you!).

The Spanish Tragedy – Act Three, Scenes 4-8: “You know, my lord, I slew him for your sake”

(Cassidy Cash, host of That Shakespeare Life, recently posted a podcast on Thomas Kyd and his relationship to Shakespeare. If you’re interested in learning more about the man who wrote The Spanish Tragedy, here’s a link. Cassidy’s podcasts are always chock full of good information, so browse her archive, too. Enjoy!)

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Scene Four: Prince Baltazar learns that his man Serberine has been killed by Pedringano; Lorenzo assures the Prince that Pedringano will die for the offense. Lorenzo sends word to Pedringano that he will be pardoned, but this is a ruse to ensure his silence.

Pedringano’s angry defiance closes 3.3. In contrast, 3.4 opens with Baltazar greeting Lorenzo in a casual, conversational way — as if nothing is amiss:
BALTAZAR: How now, my lord, what makes you rise so soon?
LORENZO: Fear of preventing our mishaps too late.
BALTAZAR: What mischief is it that we not mistrust?
LORENZO: Our greatest ills we least mistrust, my lord,
And inexpected harms do hurt us most. (1-5, italics mine)

Assonance and repetition link not only the verses but also those speaking: two men bound by their shared guilt in the murder of Horatio. Their easy banter and the sing-song consonance of “mischief”/ “mistrust,” and “harms do hurt” efface the situation, Lorenzo’s paranoia, and his plot to eradicate both Pedringano and Serberine. The undercurrent of strain is apparent, but not yet the focus.

This convivial atmosphere changes quickly. Lorenzo tells Baltazar he suspects Hieronimo knows the circumstances of Horatio’s death, but Baltazar brushes it off with “Betrayed, Lorenzo? tush, it cannot be!” (13). Six lines later a Page enters announcing that Serberine is dead at the hands of Pedringano, and Baltazar’s tone changes to the incredulous: “Is Serberine slain that loved his lord so well? / Injurious villain, murderer of his friend!” (24-25). The irony is, of course, that “Injurious villain, murderer of his friend,” fittingly describes anyone who takes the life of an associate — Baltazar and Lorenzo included.

Lorenzo feigns surprised at the news. “Hath Pedringano murdered Serberine? / My lord, let me entreat you to take the pains / To exasperate and hasten his revenge” (26-28). In other words, Lorenzo, sought by Hieronimo (albeit unwittingly) as he calls for revenge on those involved with Horatio’s death, now urges his accomplice in that same offense to avenge a related murder. These few lines are a complex blend of murderers seeking revenge against other murderers and conspirators seeking justice against other conspirators. The conflation continues as Baltazar vows to “haste the marshal-sessions” (33). The “marshal-sessions” are the trial of Pedrigano, over which Hieronimo will preside as Knight Marshal: the very man Lorenzo now fears suspects them in the murder of Horatio. Revenge and justice seem to lose their meaning when they are also sought by those guilty of the very crimes in question.

Baltazar exits, leaving Lorenzo to muse at how well his plan is coming together (“Why so, this fits our former policy” [35]). He is pleased to find Baltazar as gullible as Pedringano and gloats, using words applicable to either Baltazar or Pedringano:
I lay the plot, he prosecutes the point;
I set the trap, he breaks the worthless twigs,
And sees not that wherewith the bird was limed….
He runs to kill whom I have holp to catch,
And no man knows it was my reaching fatch. (37-39, 42-43)
The Norton text glosses “fatch” as an obsolete form of “fetch” referring to stratagem or device (Neill 53). Lorenzo is convinced the plan he devised is foolproof and is confident it is working.

The Messenger arrives, delivering a letter to Lorenzo from the imprisoned Pedringano. Lorenzo skims the letter, which asks him to “help [Pedringano] in his distress” (51). He waves the request aside and sends the Messenger back to Pedringano with the reply, “Tell him I have his letters, know his mind, / And what we may, let him assure him of” (52-53). Lorenzo, of course, has no intention of helping Pedringano. “This works like wax” (55) he gloats, implying he can mold Pedringano and his circumstances to best effect. He prepares to send the Page to Pedringano, instructing him to “Bid [Pedringano] to be merry still, but secret; / …Bid him not doubt of his delivery. / Tell him his pardon is already signed, /…Show him this box, tell him his pardon’s in’t” (59, 61-62, 67). After admonishing the Page to not open the box on pain of his life, Lorenzo dispatches him with the words, “[Pedringano] shall not want while Don Lorenzo lives” (70). While at first blush this appears to promise Lorenzo’s protection and care of Pedringano, one must remember that 1) dead men want for nothing, and 2) Lorenzo plans to “live” (escape punishment) by permanently silencing Pedringano. After the Page leaves, Lorenzo reveals a level of paranoia worthy of Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Richard III: “Now stands our fortune on a tickle point, / And now or never ends Lorenzo’s doubts” (73-73).

At the close of the scene, Lorenzo lapses into Italian (82-83). Kyd may have made this choice to confirm Lorenzo’s Machivellian persona and underscore that he is not a noble or epic character. “Machivellian” comes from the name of Niccolo Machiavelli, an Italian diplomat and author of The Prince (1513), a book describing how a ruler might retain control during times of turmoil. One of the most well-known and enduring quotes from the book is “it is much safer to be feared than loved” (Chapter XVII “Of Cruelty and Clemency, and Whether It Is Better to Be Loved or Feared”). There is no way to know if Kyd read The Prince, but it is likely he knew of the book and its argument. Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of Kyd and Shakespeare, has a character named “Machevil” speak the Prologue in his The Jew of Malta (c.1590), and Shakespeare may have had The Prince in mind when writing Richard III (c.1593). Either way, as a gesture to Machiavelli or not, Lorenzo’s Italian is in stark contrast to the Latin other characters speak in times of duress or passion, and signals he is of a different mindset and nature.     

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Scene Five: The Page learns that there is no letter of pardon in the box Lorenzo entrusted to him.

The Page enters, carrying the box he was told contains Pedringano’s letter of pardon. Although the Page was warned not to look inside, curiosity gets the better of him and he peeks in. Unsurprisingly, the box is empty. The Page, however, feels no remorse in being part of Lorenzo’s ruse, and chuckles at “how the villain will flout the gallows, scorn the audience, and descant on the hangman” (10-12). The Page even plans to goad Pedringano on, “pointing my fingers at this box” so he will “Mock on” (14, 15). The jest is so appealing to the Page he considers it worth the risk — even if he goes to the gallows, too.

Lorenzo’s non-existent letter of pardon contrasts with Bel-Imperia’s actual, unlooked-for letter to Hieronimo. Both letters concern the release of someone imprisoned: Bel-Imperia, locked away unjustly by her brother and Baltazar, and Pedringano, held for his murder of Seberine. Bel-Imperia’s letter, written in blood, is meant to hasten justice via revenge for Horatio’s murder. Similarly, Lorenzo’s non-existent letter is blood-soaked in both its link to two murders and its aim of ensuring Pedringano’s swift execution. Although Pedringano’s dying on the gallows is just punishment for his murder of Serberine, the man’s doom originates in the lawless killing of Horatio — as does Bel-Imperia’s imprisonment and cry for justice. Both letters are linked tangentially and in some sense writ in blood.

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Scene Six: Pedringano is brought to the gallows but is flippant and sure of a pardon. The Page stands in the crowd, gesturing to the box that only he knows is empty. Pedringano is hanged.

Hieronimo enters with the deputy, lamenting that he is responsible for meting out justice despite being unable to win it for his son (“But shall I never live to see the day / That I may come, by justice of the heavens, / To know the cause that may my cares allay?” [5-7]). Hieronimo is unaware that the man whose execution he must now witness was a participant in Horatio’s murder and that consequently, the heavens are indeed answering his appeal.

Pedringano is escorted in by the Hangman. The Page, also in attendance, points at the box containing the non-existent pardon. In an aside, Pedringano tells him his arrival is welcome. He was afraid Lorenzo had forgotten him, he says, and in his concern had written to Lorenzo regarding “A nearer matter that concerneth him” (20). For a third time in Act Three, a letter linked with blood (in this case Pedringano’s impending execution) helps drive the plot.

In fulfilling his office as Knight Marshal, Hieronimo speaks to Pedringano the words he craves to speak to his son’s killer. Unbeknownst to him, his desire has been granted and his laments for justice heard:
Stand forth, thou monster, murderer of men,
And here for satisfaction of the world,
Confess thy folly and repent thy fault,
For there’s thy place of execution. (24-27)

Pedringano’s reply is flippant and arrogant, mocking the trial and his situation (“First I confess—nor fear I death therefore– / I am the man, ‘twas I slew Serberine” [29-30]). Hieronimo responds to this by referencing his own seeking of justice. The reader/audience can find a certain poignancy in his words, as the Knight Marshal has no way of knowing that he actually is passing judgement on one of his son’s killers:
For blood with blood shall, while I sit as judge,
Be satisfied, and the law discharged.
And though myself cannot receive the like,
Yet will I see that others have their right. (35-38)

From this point on, judge, Deputy, and condemned are linked via the sharing of words. Hieronimo’s demand that Pedringano “for satisfaction of the world” (25) confess his crime is answered with a pert “But sir, then you think this shall be the place / Where we shall satisfy you for this [crime]?” (31-32). The Deputy responds in the affirmative, but Pedringano replies, “Now I think not so” (33); this is answered by Hieronimo’s “For blood with blood shall, while I sit as judge, / Be satisfied” (35-36 – all italics mine). “Satisfied” is passed between the three men, honed into different forms, and framed by different contexts, creating a triangle of justice similar to the other triangles of association (love, war) seen throughout the play.

The sharing of words continues between Pedringano and the Hangman. Their stichomythia (quick, give-and-take dialogue), however, even more so than their wordplay, creates a kind of intimacy between the condemned man and the official who will end his life:
HANGMAN: Come, sir.
PEDRINGANO: So then, I must up?
HANGMAN: No remedy.
PEDRINGANO: Yes, but there shall be for my coming down.
HANGMAN: Indeed, here’s a remedy for that. (48-52, italics mine)

In a rapid exchange over several lines, Pedringano and the Hangman share words (“break” [58,61]; “truss” [70, 71]; “office” [80, 81]), change meanings, and craft puns. In response to his good humor, Hangman calls Pedringano “the merriest piece of man’s flesh / that e’er groaned at my office door” (79-80). Their dialogue could be played as comedy or straight, a directorial choice that would color the scene as well as Pedringano’s overall character.

Hieronimo, on the other hand, finds no humor in Pedringano’s flippant attitude and storms out, declaring:
Murder, O bloody monster—God forbid,
A fault so foul should ‘scape unpunished!
Despatch and see this execution done–
This makes me to remember thee, my son. (97-100)
His leaving means he unwittingly misses the execution of one of his son’s killers, a death by hanging that echoes Horatio’s hanging in the arbor. Justice will be served, although the man seeking it will not be in attendance.

Pedringano tries to play his hand, telling the Hangman and Deputy they should be in “no haste” (101) to execute him. To their inquiry “have you hope of life?” (102), he replies “Why, rascal, by my pardon from the king” (105). The Hangman takes this in stride and summarily executes him. It is then proclaimed by the Deputy that Pedringano’s corpse shall not receive burial rites (“Let not the earth be chokèd or infect / With that which heavens contemns and men neglect” [109-110]). No man came to Pedringano’s aid; he dies condemned and forgotten by all but those entangled in Lorenzo’s web.          

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Scene Seven: The hangman brings Hieronimo a letter written by Pedringano confessing his role in the murder of Horatio. Hieronimo vows to go to the king and demand justice for his son.

Following the Deputy’s proclamation that Pedringano’s corpse remain unburied so as not to “chok[e] or infect” the earth (109), Hieronimo enters, distracted and full of grief. He too invokes the earth and elements, crying, “My woes…hath wearièd the earth,” “surcharged the air,” and he claims the winds and trees now participate in his pain (2, 3, 5-6). His agony has become so intense it has “broken through the brazen gates of hell” (9), a line recalling Andrea’s journey to the Underworld and presence in the tower of Hades and Proserpine (1.1.74-80). It is also a reminder that in essence, Hieronimo’s and Andrea’s calls for revenge are one: vengeance on Baltazar and Lorenzo would mean justice served for both Horatio’s and Andrea’s deaths.

Hieronimo’s emotional torment is such that his soul “[w]ith broken sighs and restless passions” (3.7.11) “beat[s] at the windows of the brightest heavens / Soliciting for justice and revenge” (13-14). This last line also alludes to the Furies, creatures in Greek mythology who sought vengeance “for crimes against the natural order.” Hieronimo’s despairing vision of his sighs and passions beating against the heavens’ “impregnable” “walls of diamond” (16, 15) is tinged with irony, however: Revenge is seated on the stage, close at hand and watching the action unfold.

As if to reinforce Revenge’s presence, the Hangman enters bearing a letter found on Pedringano’s corpse. The letter, addressed to Lorenzo, is the one described by Pedringano in an aside to the Page (3.6.19-21). It states “If [Lorenzo] neglects [Pedringano], [Pedringano’s] life is desperate, / And in [his] death [he] shall reveal the truth” (3.7.34-35). His fear of being “neglect[ed]” by Lorenzo was, of course, reified in the Deputy’s final condemnation of Pedringano as one “heavens contemns and men neglect” (3.6.110). His letter goes on to reveal
“You know, my lord, I slew him for your sake,
And was confederate with the prince and you;
Won by rewards and hopeful promises,
I holp to murder Don Horatio too” (36-39)          

Hieronimo’s tormented soul, beating on the windows of heaven, has indeed been heard. “And actors in th’accursèd tragedy / Wast thou, Lorenzo, Balthazar and thou” (40-41), he exclaims in disbelief, foreshadowing the mechanism of his revenge in Act Four. His cry also situates the role of acting alongside the play’s other structural devices: watching and framing.

What Hieronimo reads astounds him, and his language begins to rhyme as events fall into place and he turns them over in his mind, struggling to understand:
What have I heard, what have mine eyes beheld?   
O sacred heavens, may it come to pass
That such a monstrous and detested deed,
So closely smothered, and so long concealed,
Shall thus by this be vengèd or revealed?” (44-48, italics mine)

The importance of letters in The Spanish Tragedy cannot be overstated. Bel-Imperia’s, writ in blood, spoke the truth, although Hieronimo was wary of believing it at the time. The non-existent letter of pardon from Lorenzo was a lie, a deception to give Pedringano false hope, leaving him to die scoffing and joking on the gallows. Pedringano now posthumously repays Lorenzo for this neglect and “reveal[s] the truth” (35) via this letter. Comparing what he read in Bel-Imperia’s letter with what he now learns from Pedringano’s, Hieronimo realizes Bel-Imperia’s message was legitimate and that she, too, is a victim of Lorenzo’s machinations.

Hieronimo calls Lorenzo “false” (57) and Baltazar “bane to [Horatio’s] soul and me” (59). As his rage increases, he gives it free rein against the Prince:  
Woe to the cause of these constrained wars,
Woe to thy baseness and captivity,
Woe to thy birth, thy body and thy soul,
Thy cursed father, and thy conquered self!
And banned with bitter execrations be
The day and place where he did pity thee. (61-66, italics mine)

The anaphora and rhyme in the lines drive home Hieronimo’s disbelief and growing fury. He refers to Baltazar as “base,” “conquered,” and his father the Viceroy as “cursed,” presumably due to having such a son as heir. (“Woe to thy birth…Thy cursed father…conquered self” are also reflexive enough to suggest a lament for Horatio.) It is interesting that Hieronimo reserves his curses almost entirely for Baltazar; his invective against Lorenzo is limited to calling him “false” (57). This may reflect the fact that Horatio acted honorably and with chivalry to Baltazar, only to be rewarded with murder at the hands of the same man he treated with respect. As Hieronimo’s rage intensifies, the time and place Horatio showed Baltazar mercy is also rejected and cursed, “banned with bitter execrations”; it is forgotten, erased from memory due to its bitter and horrific outcome.

The scene closes with a vow from the distraught Hieronimo:
I will go plain me to my lord the king,
And cry aloud for justice through the court,
Wearing the flints with these my withered feet,
And either purchase justice by entreats,
Or tire them all with my revenging threats.” (69-73)

He will not be denied; he will be heard. He will appeal to the king, wear the stones of the court smooth as he follows the Court, and cry for revenge until they appease him – even if only to get some peace and quiet. Crying, pacing, begging to be heard, calling for revenge: these are the last resorts of a mind in duress, and reflect Hieronimo’s earlier vision of his “broken sighs and restless passions” (11) beating their wings helplessly against the diamond walls enclosing the Empyrean.  

*

Scene Eight: Isabella goes insane with grief.

Hieronimo closes 3.7 with words of lament and a vow to implore relentlessly, but his plan shows direction and single-mindedness. Isabella opens 3.8 in a grief-stricken state of distraction, quizzing her maid about various herbs before “run[ing] lunatic” and calling for Horatio (SD 6). “My soul hath silver wings / That mounts me up unto the highest heavens” (15-16) Isabella tells her maid, her description mirroring that of Hieronimo’s own fluttering, desperate soul. Isabella’s actions and state of mind recall those of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s later Hamlet (1599-1601); the two women, both broken-hearted and insane with grief, release their pain by crying out to those not there and rambling on about herbs and flowers (4.5).

In her madness, Isabella exclaims, “To heaven! ay, there sits my Horatio” (17). In light of Andrea’s and Revenge’s sitting on the stage observing the action, a possible directorial choice might be to have Horatio join them, creating an even more poignant scene: the deranged mother, broken by grief, seeing a vision of her murdered son in Revenge’s company. The last words Isabella speaks in the scene are, like Horatio’s, a vow: “But say, where shall I find the men, the murderers, / That slew Horatio? whither shall I run / To find them out that murderèd my son?” (23-25). Both husband and wife are bound individually and as one by grief, their souls fluttering against their perceived lack of power to obtain justice for their murdered son.

The Spanish Tragedy – Act Two, Scenes 1-3: “Her favor must be won by his remove”

Scene One: Lorenzo tells Baltazar he will deal with Bel-Imperia, as he knows how to wear down her resolve. From Pedringano, one of her serving men, Lorenzo learns that Bel-Imperia loves Horatio. Lorenzo and Baltazar begin to devise a plan to remove this obstacle.

Act Two Scene One begins with Lorenzo attempting to assuage Baltazar’s hurt feelings. He tells him all steadfast creatures and solid things can eventually  be worn down (“In time the savage bull sustains the yoke,” “In time small wedges cleave the hardest oak” [3, 5]) and that Bel-Imperia is no exception. Baltazar, however, is not convinced. He protests, “No, she is wilder and more hard withal, / Then beast, or bird, or tree, or stony wall” (9-10), but then true to form changes course, saying, “It is my fault, not she that merits blame” (12). Again, Baltazar’s lack of confidence and wavering are on display. He goes on to denigrate his appearance, letter writing skills, and gifts, stating they are so lacking that Bel-Imperia is right to reject him (13-18).

During this exchange, both Baltazar and Lorenzo show their agitation and state of mind through literary devices, most notably the use of rhyme. Lorenzo has only four instances (“coy”/”joy” [1, 2], “disdain”/“pain” [7, 8], “me”/”see” [37, 38] and “about”/”out” [39, 40]), which suggests a certain calm and decisiveness. Baltazar’s word choice, however, belies an anxious frenzy. Nearly every line is a rhyming couplet, and he uses anaphora in successive alternating lines:
Yet might she love me for my valiancy–
Ay, but that’s slandered by captivity.
Yet might she love me to content her sire–
Ay, but her reason masters his desire.
Yet might she love me as her brother’s friend–
Ay, but her hopes aim at some other end.
Yet might she love me to uprear her state–
Ay, but perhaps she hopes some nobler mate.
Yet might she love me as her beauty’s thrall–
Ay, but I fear she cannot love me at all.   (19-28)
The prince’s pattern of speech reveals his unsettled mind and lack of confidence. His lines turn on each other through the anaphora that both links and drives them apart; rhyme suggests a desire for stability and closure. The contrast between Baltazar and Lorenzo (and, for that matter, Bel-Imperia) is unmistakably clear.

Lorenzo counsels Baltazar to “leave these ecstasies” (29) and reassures him that any obstacles to Bel-Imperia’s love will be “be known and then removed” (32). He hints of a plan if Baltazar will be complicit (“I have already found a stratagem / …My lord, for once you shall be ruled by me: / Hinder me not whate’er you hear or see. / By force or fair means will I cast about” [35, 37-39]). In this exchange, Lorenzo employs rhyme, but it is not as easy or nicely coupled as in Baltazar’s lines 19-28. Where the prince matched the likes of “friend”/”end,” “state”/”mate,” and “thrall”/”all,” Lorenzo’s pairs are more forced: “loved”/”removed” (31, 32), “stratagem”/”theme” (35, 36), suggesting a determined, crafty mind. A shared homophone serves to indicate growing agreement:
Lorenzo: What if my sister love some other knight?
Baltazar: My summer’s day will turn to winter’s night.  (33-34, italics mine)
Even Baltazar’s implied harmony with Lorenzo depends on contrast (summer/winter), keeping the focus on his uncertainty.

Lorenzo calls for Bel-Imperia’s servant, Pedringano, and presses him for information. Lorenzo reminds Pedringano that when Andrea and Bel-Imperia’s liaison was discovered, he protected him (“…I did shield thee from my father’s wrath / For thy conveyance in Andrea’s love” [46-47]). He offers Pedrigano money and friendship for the name of Bel-Imperia’s current lover, and when the servant demurs, threatens him with death. Pedringano begs his life, so again, Lorenzo vows to “guerdon thee,” (72), “shield thee,” (73), and “conceal what’er proceeds from thee” (74). Taking Lorenzo at his word, Pedringano reveals that Horatio is Bel-Imperia’s lover. He is then dismissed with instructions to watch and advise Lorenzo of the couple’s next meeting.

Baltazar, in usual fashion, tells Lorenzo that his plan to spy on the pair is “Both well and ill: it makes me glad and sad–” (111). Rhymes and anaphora fill the following twenty or so lines as Baltazar laments learning of Bel-Imperia and Horatio’s love. He expresses happiness that he “know[s] on whom to be reveng’d” (114) but fears he will lose her if he acts. He calls Horatio his “destined plague” (118); not only did he capture Baltazar in battle, he has (in essence) captured Baltazar’s intended wife. The prince concludes Horatio has “ta’en my body by his force, / And now by sleight would captivate my soul” (130-131) and pledges that he will, therefore, “tempt the destinies, / And either lose my life, or win my love” (132-133). Lorenzo replies, “Do you but follow me and gain your love: / Her favor must be won by his remove” (135-136). In other words, Horatio must die so Baltazar can possess Bel-Imperia.

*

Scene Two: Horatio and Bel-Imperia meet. Pedringano directs Baltazar and Lorenzo to a concealed location where they can observe their rendezvous.

Horatio’s opening line (“Now madam, since by favor of your love” [2.2.1, italics mine]) pulls from Lorenzo’s 2.1 closing (“Do you but follow me and gain your love: / Her favor must be won by his remove” [135-136, italics mine]). These shared words link the machinations of Lorenzo and Baltazar to Horatio and Bel-Imperia’s newly declared affection. As couple meets and proclaims their love, Pedringano conducts Lorenzo and Baltazar to a hiding place “above” (2.2.6 SD) where they can see and hear the exchange.

Once more repetition is key, this time in contrasting Baltazar and Lorenzo’s reactions. The men use similar words, but their context is not the same:
Baltazar [above]: O sleep, mine eyes, see not my love profaned;
Be deaf my ears, hear not my discontent;
Die heart, another joys what thou deserv’st.
Lorenzo: [above] Watch still mine eyes, to see this love disjoined;
Hear still mine ears, to hear them both lament;
Live heart, to joy at fond Horatio’s fall.  (18-23)
The difference is stark. Baltazar is prepared to give up, close his eyes, and perish at the sight of Bel-Imperia with another man. Lorenzo, however, feels heightened anger and violent rage. The one instance of rhyme, “discontent” / “lament,” links the two disparate responses, serving as a reminder that the two men are in league to destroy the lovers’ happiness.

In the next lines, the lovers themselves are linked through the sharing of a word. More intimate than a rhyme, in this case the passing of a word from one mouth to another gestures to growing connection and warmth:
Horatio: The less I speak, the more I meditate.
Bel-Imperia: But whereon dost thou chiefly meditate?  (25-26)
Hidden above, Lorenzo and Baltazar copy this act of spoken intimacy, repeating words and phrases used by the lovers — but shading them with malice:
Horatio: On dangers past, and pleasures to ensue.
Baltazar [above]: On pleasures past, and dangers to ensue.
Bel-Imperia: What dangers, and what pleasures dost thou mean?
Horatio: Dangers of war, and pleasures of our love.
Lorenzo [above]: Dangers of death, but pleasures none at all.  (27-31)
The four characters’ lines interact and mesh. The structure of the dialogue, along with the location of the men above, virtually surrounds the lovers with menace and growing danger — yet they remain unaware of the threat.

The scene also makes Bel-Imperia’s agency and strong will unmistakably clear. She speaks more than twice as often as Horatio, 32 lines to his 14, and it is she who drives the relationship. She re-introduces the idea of love as war (“Let dangers go, thy war shall be with me… / Give me a kiss, I’ll countercheck thy kiss: / Be this our warring peace, or peaceful war” [32, 37-38]), further indication of her strength and determination. The trope also brings to mind Rhadamanth’s warning, quoted by Andrea at the start of the play: “it were not well, / With loving souls to place a martialist” (1.1.45-46).

Horatio tells Bel-Imperia to “appoint the field / Where trial of this war shall first be made” (2.2.39-40), and she suggests his father Hieronimo’s bower. This is where they “first…vowed a mutual amity,” and while “the court were dangerous, that place were safe” (42-43); they acknowledge their trysts must be kept secret. The scene closes with a pair of rhyming couplets, but not from Horatio and Bel-Imperia. Horatio’s “Return we now into your father’s sight: / Dangerous suspicion waits on our delight” (54-55) matches with Lorenzo’s “Ay, danger mixed with jealious despite / Shall send thy soul into eternal night” (56-57), spoken from his place of concealment. Lorenzo’s rhyming of Horatio’s “delight” with “despite” and “sight” with “night” is an additional gesture to the lovers’ peril.

*

Scene Three: The King, the Duke, and the Ambassador to Portugal draw up the contract that will unite Bel-Imperia and Baltazar in marriage. The Ambassador prepares to return to his country to obtain the consent of the Viceroy.

Bel-Imperia and Horatio’s rendezvous is followed in this scene by the finalizing of a marriage contract between Bel-Imperia and Baltazar. The Duke of Castile (Bel-Imperia’s father) states “Although she coy it as becomes her kind… / …she will stoop in time” (3,5; italics mine). His remark echoes Lorenzo’s earlier attempt to placate Baltazar (“My lord, though Bel-Imperia seem thus coy, / …In time all haggard hawks will stoop to lure” [2.1.1, 4; italics mine]). The Duke also maintains that Bel-Imperia will love Baltazar or “forgo my love” (2.3.8), which pleases the King. Once more, value and commerce are the focus; the king’s offer of a “large and liberal” (13) dowry to sweeten the contract ushers in words such as “gift” (17), “tribute” (19), “reward” (35), “price” (37), and “estate” (46). Bel-Imperia is merely a rich token to cement a political alliance.

The marriage agreement is drawn up and ratified, but the King once more admonishes the Duke about Bel-Imperia’s strong personality (“Now, brother, you must take some little pains / To win fair Bel-Imperia from her will” [41-42]). The scene closes with the King stressing that the marriage is of the utmost importance:
“If she neglect [Baltazar] and forgo his love,
She both will wrong her own estate and ours….
Endeavour you to win your daughter’s thought–
If she give back, all this will come to naught”  (45-46, 49-50).

All in all, the men’s concern seems to be more about exerting control over a strong-willed female than about forging an alliance with a previously defeated political rival. Failing to curb her agency is not an option.

The Spanish Tragedy – Act One, Scenes 3-5: “They reck no laws that meditate revenge”

Scene Three: In the Portuguese Court, the Viceroy of Portugal mourns his son, Prince Baltazar, who he believes was killed in battle. Villuppo, a nobleman, sees an opportunity for gain and crafts a tale to implicate Alexandro, another nobleman, in the prince’s supposed death.

Scene Two ended with plans to feast Baltazar in the Spanish Court, but the opening of 1.3 is in stark contrast, focusing instead on the Viceroy of Portugal’s grief over his son’s supposed death in battle. Early on, the Viceroy flings himself to the ground (1.3.9 SD), lamenting his perceived loss. He then bemoans the fickleness of fortune and lack of redress for his pain (“What help can be expected at her hands, / Whose foot is standing on a rolling stone… / Why wail I, then, where’s hope of no redress?” [28-29, 31]). His grief over the supposed death, along with his lament that fortune is blind to his suffering and deaf to his cries (“And could she hear, yet is she willful mad” [25]), places him as a prologue to the grief and frustration Hieronimo will show after the actual death of his son Horatio. Where the Viceroy rails against fate, however, Hieronimo’s rage will be directed against the hierarchical powers he believes interfere with justice for his son.

Words pertaining to wealth, as well as the use of Latin, continue. References to wealth from 1.2 are picked up in the first lines of 1.3 as the Viceroy asks if “tribute payment” has been sent to Spain (1.3.3). Latin quotes are part of the Viceroy’s lament (15-17), adding pathos. Spoken as he grovels on the ground, they heighten the Viceroy’s bereft state. Later in the scene, when Villuppo decides to spin his tale, the focus returns to value and wealth through words such as “ransom,” (49), “fortune” (54), “guerdon” (55), “gold” (80), and “reward” (92).

In much of 1.3, the Viceroy’s character is reminiscent of the grieving King Alonso in Shakespeare’s much later The Tempest (c.1611). King Alonso, also inconsolable over the perceived loss of his son, responds to Francisco’s “Sir, he may live” with “No, no, he’s gone” (2.1.114, 123). Similarly, in The Spanish Tragedy, Alexandro tells the Viceroy, “No doubt, my liege, but still the prince survives” (1.3.43). The Viceroy, however, is convinced otherwise: “…they have slain him for his father’s fault” (46). When Alexandro disputes this as “a breach to common law of arms” (47), the Viceroy responds, “They reck no laws that meditate revenge” (48). This line, in essence, encapsulates the entire play.

In a short subplot, the nobleman Villuppo sees in the Viceroy’s determined grief an opportunity for gain. He devises a backstory for Baltazar’s supposed death that lays the blame squarely on Alexandro. The Viceroy is eager to believe the tale, and Alexandro is taken away under custody. Alone on the stage, Villuppo gloats that he “Deceived [him], betrayed mine enemy, / And hope for guerdon of my villainy” (94-95). In the coming scenes, these lines will loom over the action, prescient and apt.

*

Scene Four: Horatio tells Bel-Imperia the story of Andrea’s death; she decides Horatio will take Andrea’s place as her lover. Lorenzo arrives with Baltazar and presents him to
Bel-Imperia as a suitor, something she rejects immediately. The king puts on a celebratory feast with the Ambassador to Portugal in attendance. At the banquet, Hieronimo presents an entertainment much praised by the king.

The “envious forged tale” (1.3.93) wrought by Villuppo at the close of 1.3 is followed by one of truth and affection in the opening of 1.4. Bel-Imperia enters with Horatio and implores him to tell her the circumstances of Andrea’s death, “Who living was my garland’s sweetest flower” (1.4.4). This brings to mind a bower of blooming plants and gestures to the coming action in Hieronimo’s arbor. As before, Andrea’s story is recounted in the style of a Greek epic. Horatio states that “wrathful Nemesis, that wicked power, / Env[ied]…Andrea’s praise and worth” (16-17), suggesting that Andrea’s prowess in battle was such that even the gods were jealous and sought to end his life. Bel-Imperia learns that after Andrea was killed by Baltazar, Horatio carried his body to his tent, wept over him, and took a scarf from Andrea’s arm as a token, intending to “wear it in remembrance of [his] friend” (43). That scarf, Bel-Imperia tells Horatio, was her gift to Andrea as he left for battle and she urges Horatio “now wear thou it both for him and me” (47). They swear friendship and service to each other, and Horatio leaves Bel-Imperia to her thoughts.

Alone, Bel-Imperia muses “But how can love find harbor in my breast, / Till I revenge the death of my beloved?” (64-65). This, of course, echoes Revenge’s promise to Andrea, “…thou shalt see the author of thy death, / Don Baltazar… / Deprived of life by Bel-Imperia” (1.1.87-89). She decides that “second love shall further my revenge” (1.4.66); because Horatio was Andrea’s friend, and Baltazar Andrea’s killer, she will take Horatio as her lover. These few lines are intense and important. They reveal not only the workings of Bel-Imperia’s mind, but also show her to be a strong, intelligent, strategic woman. She feels she is the one who must avenge Andrea’s death and is ready to meet the challenge. In most early modern plays, the character taking revenge is a son or other male family member. Kyd, however, gives this role to Bel-Imperia, along with a strength and fortitude reminiscent of Greek heroines such as Dido and Electra. In this way, Bel-Imperia, like Andrea, is linked to epic poetry — albeit in a more subtle manner. Kyd also takes this opportunity to weaponize love, situating it as a tool of revenge.

Lorenzo and Baltazar approach Bel-Imperia, who greets them both with disdain. Baltazar attempts to flatter her, which falls flat and makes things worse. Notice the sharing of words between characters:

Bel Imperia: Your prison then belike is your conceit.
Balthazar: Ay, by conceit my freedom is enthralled.
Bel-Imperia: Then with conceit enlarge yourself again.
Baltazar: What if conceit have laid my heart to gage? (82-85, italics mine)

Kyd uses this device throughout the play to show connections of varying sorts (love, agreement, tension, opposition) between characters. Here, twisting the meaning of conceit (wit/desire/imagination/whim [Neill 20, nn.82-85]) reflects Bel-Imperia’s attempts to free herself from an undesirable suitor. She uses the word first; he picks up on it to protest his attachment to her; she contorts the meaning and flings it back at him; he then uses it to elicit pity. The sharing of words continues:

Bel-Imperia: A heartless man and live? A miracle!
Baltazar: Ay, lady, love can work such miracles. (88-89, italics mine)

Bel-Imperia: What boots complaint, when there’s no remedy?
Baltazar: Yes, to your gracious self must I complain,
In whose fair answer lies my remedy… (92-94, italics mine)

Each time, Baltazar seizes on a word used by Bel-Imperia (miracle, complaint, remedy), and turns it to flatter her or elicit pity.

Eventually, Bel-Imperia has had enough of the parrying and turns to leave. Seeing Horatio approaching, “she…lets fall her glove, which Horatio…takes up” (99 SD). In Baltazar’s previous exchange with Bel-Imperia, he claimed to “have laid [his] heart to gage” (85) for her love. By Bel-Imperia’s dropping a glove in front of Horatio, she throws down her own gage, challenging Horatio to be her lover and igniting the play’s love triangle (Bel-Imperia, Baltazar, and Horatio). “Throwing down your gage” or gauntlet) was a challenge to fight, usually to right a perceived insult to honor or station – in other words, to avenge a wrong. In Shakespeare’s 1597 play Richard II, Bolingbroke and Mowbray challenge each other by throwing down their gage, or glove (1.1.69, 146). Later in that same play, nearly every character on stage throws down a glove or gauntlet, creating a shortage (“Some honest Christian trust me with a gage, / That Norfolk lies” 4.1.83-84). Bel-Imperia’s action at first seems off-hand or unimportant, but it is a pivotal point in the play and a blow to both her brother and the prince. Kyd’s use of this simple gesture is masterful, suggesting Baltazar’s words are useless (“laid my heart to gage”) and contrasting Horatio as a man of action (“Signor Horatio stooped in happy time” [102]).

Lorenzo, Baltazar, and Horatio are called to a banquet that boasts a masque of sorts, or an entertainment, devised by Hieronimo. Masques were like plays but were more of a state or political event, and usually praised the king, his Court, or his reign in general. The banquet and masque in 1.4 do triple duty: display the wealth and bounty of the king and Spanish Court, demonstrate their fair treatment of their high-ranking prisoner Baltazar, and celebrate Spain’s victory over Portugal. Hieronimo’s masque is important in that it gestures to his play-within-a-play in the final scene. By showing Hieronimo in charge of presenting and narrating the banquet’s entertainment, his future offer of a self-written play as a diversion for the Court is not unexpected or out of place.

*

Scene Five: Andrea expresses impatience at the scenes of love and revelry he has seen.

This very short scene (9 lines) allows Andrea to vent his frustration. “Come we for this from depth of underground / To see… / Nothing but league, and love, and banqueting!” (1.5.1,4). Revenge calms him by promising the pleasures he has witnessed will be changed to “hate,” “despair,” and “misery” (7, 8, 9).

The scene is also a framing device. Act One began with Andrea and Revenge, and they close it. This is an example of how Kyd neatly layers the scenes and storylines of the play, nesting them like Russian dolls. As the action unfolds, these layers make what is actually a very intricate plot more accessible. Reading The Spanish Tragedy is a complement to watching it, since reading allows the chance to step back and recognize its many frames and scaffolds.

Why Live Theatre Matters (and Why I Mourn the Stratford Festival’s Season Being Postponed)

I posted this on social media yesterday, so you’ve probably seen it. If not, it’s the story of how live theatre changed my life. Please support the arts in through this terrible time. They have an importance beyond entertainment, and their value goes beyond mere ticket prices.


This is a stupidly long reaction to the Stratford Festival’s postponing their season. I had to mull over what I was feeling and why, and this is the result:

The Stratford Festival having to postpone their season broke my heart. Gutted me. Many of you probably wonder why I care so deeply for the Festival, why I’m such a champion of it over and above other venues. Well, it’s complicated, but here’s why. (Warning: this will be lengthy.)

My journey to scholar of Shakespeare/early modern drama has been convoluted. I left high school despising Shakespeare after a horrible encounter with Julius Caesar in my senior year and stayed away, certain that I would hate anything else Will had written. After a long stretch, I carefully dipped my toe into the Complete Works, more from a sense of obligation than anything else. I loved British literature and was afraid my ignorance of Shakespeare took away from my understanding of works by other British writers. I was surprised to find that I didn’t hate Shakespeare after all — in fact, I rather liked him. I enjoyed his plays as literature, but since I didn’t go to live theatre, my appreciation stopped there.

In London several years later (2008), I saw Dominic Dromgoole’s production of Lear at The Globe. My go-to description of that afternoon is “it was like scales dropped from my eyes.” Right then I understood that reading Shakespeare without seeing it is an incomplete experience. Things are going on in the plays that can’t be articulated, and if the plays aren’t seen, it’s impossible to grasp their true complexity. Unfortunately, where I live in Southwest Florida, Shakespeare on the stage is a rare commodity. I wanted to see the plays live, but it wasn’t going to happen at home.

In 2012, I took my parents to see a filmed version of the Stratford Festival’s The Tempest. They’ve gone to the Shaw Festival for decades and often make day trips to Stratford, so they had seen it live — they weren’t going to be three hours from Christopher Plummer and miss him! They loved seeing the production again, but it was my mind that was blown. I kept asking “This is what you go see?” “I don’t have to go to the UK or NYC to see this kind of thing?” As a live theatre newbie, I was amazed. I booked tickets to spend a weekend with them at Niagara on the Lake later that year, and planned my own overnight trip to Stratford to see Cymbeline and Henry V.

Reader, that 24 hours in Stratford changed my life. It took what was quickly becoming a passion for Shakespeare and made it an obsession. It made me want to take my knowledge to the next level, so within weeks of coming home, I decided to get my M.A. in English (and my PhD if life would let me).

Fast forward to December 2017… I graduated magna cum laude from FGCU with my Master’s, and my love for Shakespeare now included a love for early modern drama in general. I couldn’t possibly give up studying what I loved, so since I couldn’t give up my day job (due to house, husband, etc.) I became an independent scholar. Fast forward to today…I am set to become an adjunct instructor at FGCU this fall. If you had asked me only ten years ago if I’d be presenting at conferences, going to live theatre, and getting ready to teach my first semester at a university, I would have said you were nuts. But here we are.

The point of this ramble is that none of this would have happened without Stratford. The Festival literally changed my life, and I’m eternally grateful. It sounds sappy, but it helped me find myself, what I love, and who I want to be. On top of that, I fell in love with the town of Stratford, what it stands for, and the incredible people there. I feel at home there, like myself there, and my yearly visits (since 2012!) reconnect me to my dreams and goals. I’ve also made some amazing friends through my love of the Festival, people I feel close to and care about very much.

That, in quite a bit more than a nutshell, is why I’m so enthusiastic about Stratford. Not only does the Festival have some of the finest productions I’ve seen, it has an essence of outreach and welcome that encourages and challenges you. It’s truly a special place filled with special people. Not going this year will leave a huge hole in my heart, but you can bet I’ll be there in 2021.