(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!)
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” ). 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.
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.
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.
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.