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.
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?