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. 

*

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.

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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.

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*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.

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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.

*

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.

The Spanish Tragedy – Act Three, Scenes 1-3: “This is devised to endanger thee”

Scene One: The Viceroy of Portugal learns Baltazar is not dead, but in good health at the Spanish Court. Villuppo’s device to destroy Alexandro is revealed, and Villuppo is sentenced to death. 

Act Two closes with Hieronimo’s grief-stricken vow to seek his son Horatio’s killers and avenge his murder; Act Three opens with the Viceroy of Portugal grieving the supposed death of his son, Prince Baltazar. The Viceroy’s expression of grief is in stark contrast to that of Hieronimo: only one incidental rhyme and no Latin. There is some repetition, but it lacks urgency and passion (“That would be feared, yet fear to be beloved, / Sith fear or love to kings is flattery” [10-11, italics mine]). The grief expressed by the Viceroy in an earlier scene (1.3), however, does mirror that of Hieronimo in 2.5. In 1.3, the Viceroy falls to the ground in despair (SD 9); in 2.5, Hieronimo “sets his breast unto his sword” (SD 67): actions of desperation and despair. Additionally, in both scenes the grieving men speak their pain in Latin (1.3.15-17, 2.5.67-80). The Viceroy’s belief that the nobleman Alexandro is responsible for his son’s supposed death, and his plans to exact revenge via his execution, might account for his emotional difference in the two scenes. Hieronimo, on the other hand, does not know the identity of Horatio’s murderers, so like the Viceroy in 1.3 shows a passionate, agonizing grief.

Alexandro is brought in front of the Viceroy, who orders he be bound to a stake and burnt. As he awaits execution, Alexandro vows, “My guiltless death will be avenged on thee — / On thee, Villuppo, that hath maliced thus, / Or for thy meed, hast falsely me accused” (3.1.51-53). These lines could easily have been Horatio’s, spoken in the arbor while bound and helpless before Lorenzo and Baltazar. Horatio was murdered for the prize of a Spanish noblewoman’s hand and the status accompanying it; Villuppo’s attempt to eliminate Alexandro was also prompted by a desire for advancement and gain.

Before the flames can be lit for Alexandro’s execution, the Ambassador arrives with news that Baltazar is alive and well in the Spanish Court. He brings letters that confirm this and announces a new peace accord with Spain. The Viceroy’s words to Villuppo, “Accursèd wretch to intimate these ills / Against the life and reputation / Of noble Alexandro” (75-77) are, again, also fitting for Lorenzo’s and Baltazar’s ears. Alexandro, whose fate nearly matched that of Horatio’s, is freed and given advancement. Villuppo is sentenced to death and confesses,
Rent with remembrance of so foul a deed,
My guilty soul submits me to thy doom;
For not for Alexandro’s injuries,
But for reward and hope to be preferred,
Thus have I shameless hazarded his life. (92-96)
With his accuser condemned, Alexandro receives justice as well as the promise of “public notice of [his] loyalty” (104) by the Viceroy. This short subplot shares much with that of Horatio’s death, yet differs in that Alexandro’s story is resolved in a satisfactory way: the malicious are punished, the innocent rewarded.

*

Scene Two: Hieronimo finds a letter written by Bel-Imperia (who is locked away) implicating Lorenzo and Baltazar in Horatio’s murder. Lorenzo decides Serberine cannot be trusted and must be killed. He bribes Pedringano into doing the task.

Alexandro’s reprieve and the condemnation of his accuser is followed in 3.2 by the entrance of the grieving, bereft Hieronimo. His words lament a world void of justice and fairness, a place of chaos and violence, and he calls on the heavens to shed light on Horatio’s murder. If they do not, he cries, “How should we term your dealings to be just, / If you unjustly deal with those that in your justice trust?” (10-11). These words recall Isabella’s earlier statement, “Time is the author of truth and right / And time will bring this treachery to light” (2.5.58-59). Despite Hieronimo’s more circumspect and wary mindset, he still believes there is an inherent goodness in the universe that should aid him in his search. His words, following as they do the discovery of Villuppo’s machinations, infuse a sense of hope and faith into the darkness of the scene.

As Hieronimo’s distress increases, he calls on “Eyes, life, world, heavens, hell, night and day” (3.2.22) — all entities he mentions in the previous 22 lines — to “See, search, show, send, some man, some mean, that may –” (23). His plea is cut short as “A letter [in red ink] falleth” (SD 23) — as if dropped from the heavens. The letter, penned in blood by the locked-away Bel-Imperia, outlines not only her own situation but also the circumstances of Horatio’s death. She urges revenge, calling Hieronimo by name:
Revenge thy self on Baltazar and [Lorenzo],
For these were they that murdered thy son.
Hieronimo, revenge Horatio’s death,
And better fare then Bel-Imperia doth.  (28-31)
Bel-Imperia’s blood has quite literally given her a voice, and it craves revenge. There is no rhyme or anaphora and the only repetition is of the word “revenge.” Her letter is stark, simple, and direct. She commands, rather than implores, Hieronimo to act.

Hieronimo is astounded and confused by what he reads, and like his initial response to Horatio’s body hanging in his arbor, takes it as a plot laid against him by Lorenzo. He believes he has been “betrayed” (37) and the letter a way to “entrap [his] life” (38). He is wary, telling himself, “…be not credulous: / This is devisèd to endanger thee, / That thou by this Lorenzo shouldst accuse” (39-41). Like Shakespeare’s later character, Hamlet (Hamlet c.1599-1601), who distrusts what may or may not be the ghost of his father, Hieronimo resolves to be canny and careful. He “…will by circumstances try / What [he] can gather to confirm this writ” (48-49).

Pedringano is called for and Hieronimo inquires about Bel-Imperia. Pedringano claims no knowledge of her whereabouts, but Lorenzo appears soon after and claims “…The duke my father hath / Upon some disgrace a while removed her hence” (57-58). He offers to take Hieronimo’s message to her, but Hieronimo demurs, claiming “her disgrace makes me unfortunate” (63). Lorenzo urges his services, but Hieronimo replies, “O no my lord, I dare not, it must not be” (65). In this short exchange, Hieronimo and Lorenzo’s lines end in rhyme, creating an obsequiousness in Hieronimo as he works to gracefully extricate himself from Lorenzo’s presence and offer of service. Lorenzo’s “use me” is matched with Hieronimo’s “it must not be” (64, 65); similarly, Lorenzo’s “farewell” is closed with Hieronimo’s “my thoughts no tongue can tell” (67, 68). The rhymes suggest a cautiously civil Hieronimo, bowing and scraping as he attempts to exit the scene and Lorenzo’s overly officious company.

Lorenzo and Pedringano immediately suspect Hieronimo knows the circumstances of Horatio’s death. Serberine, Baltazar’s man, is named by Lorenzo, but Pedringano disagrees (“My lord, he could not…/…he hath not left my company” [72-73]). His objections are ignored by Lorenzo, who like Shakespeare’s later characters Richard IIII and Macbeth (Richard III c.1593; Macbeth c.1606), is now consumed with paranoia. “…[H]is condition’s such / As fear or flattering words may make him false” says Lorenzo about Serberine, “I know his humor, and therewith repent / That e’re I used him in this enterprise” (74-75, 76-77). He begins to flatter Pedringano, telling him “I know thee secret as my soul” (79), and offers him gold to murder Serberine in a nearby park. Pedringano readily agrees, believing Lorenzo’s assurance that “When things shall alter, as I hope they will, / Then shalt thou mount for this” (93).

Pedringano exits to do the deed. Lorenzo, though, like Shakespeare’s paranoid kings, sees everyone as a threat (“Thus must we work that will avoid distrust; / Thus must we practice to prevent mishap” [106-107]) and will use the two men against each other to keep his hands clean (“And thus one ill, another must expulse” [108]). Lorenzo’s plan is for Pedringano to kill Serberine but immediately be arrested, tried, and executed for the murder. This will protect Lorenzo through the eradication of his easily-bought accomplices:
They that for coin their souls endangered
To save my life, for coin shall venture theirs;
And better ‘tis that base companions die,
Than by their life to hazard our good haps. (114-117)
He concludes, “I’ll trust myself, myself shall be my friend” (119). He can rely on no one’s secrecy and cannot feel safe while those who know the circumstances of Horatio’s death are alive. He sees those who have done his dirty work as “base” and expendable, and their loss necessary for his personal peace and security.

*

Scene Three: Pedringano kills Serberine but is immediately arrested by the watch.

Lorenzo ‘s musing on protecting his “good haps,” or good fortune, at the close of 3.2 ushers in Pedringano’s request that “Fortune! once more favor me” (3.3.2) in his plan to kill Serberine. Pedringano’s opening monologue also references “gold” (5) and “his liberal purse” (9), signaling that he has fallen for Lorenzo’s lies. He goes as far as to say,
As for the fear of apprehension,
I know, if need should be, my noble lord
Will stand between me and ensuing harms;
Besides, this place is free from all suspect: (12-15)
Pedringano has swallowed the bait. He is gullible enough to believe he will be advanced for this deed and that Lorenzo will protect him if caught.

The watch enters, wondering why they have been summoned to pay particular attention to this park. Serberine enters soon after, also confused as to why he was told to report there. “How fit a place, if one were so disposed, / Methinks this corner is to close with one” (26-27). He is canny enough to realize this is a perfect location to commit a murder if one was of the mind.

As Serberine stands wondering, Pedringano shoots him. This attracts the watch, who quickly apprehend him. The dialogue lapses into repetition, mirroring the confusion of the scene, the commands of the watch, and Pedringano’s misguided arrogance:
PEDRINGANO: Who first lays hand on me, I’ll be his priest.
3 WATCHMAN: Sirrah, confess, and therein play the priest:
Why hast thou thus unkindly killed the man?
PEDRINGANO: Why? because he walked abroad so late.
3 WATCHMAN: Come, sir, you had been better kept your bed
Than have committed this misdeed so late. (37-42, italics mine)

The watch takes Pedringano to the marshal, Hieronimo. The man who seeks justice will now mete it out, unaware that he is weighing the fate of one of the men who killed his son — one of those he has vowed to discover. (Coincidence…or were the heavens listening?)

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.

The Spanish Tragedy – Act One, Scenes 1-2: “Will both abide the censure of my doom?”

Scene One: Andrea enters with Revenge and recounts the circumstances of his death and subsequent arrival in the Underworld. He tells how he stood before Pluto and Proserpine, who placed him in Revenge’s company.

Andrea enters accompanied by Revenge, which immediately situates the tale as a revenge tragedy. It also sets up one of the framing devices so important to the structure of the play: Andrea and Revenge sit on stage and observe the action throughout. The stage directions describe this scene as a “Chorus”; in Greek tragedies, the Chorus was an onstage group commenting on the action, often emphasizing the conflict or issues at hand. (A short video by the National Theatre on the concept of the Chorus and how modern directors have used it can be found here.)

Andrea explains who he was in life, and notes that his “descent — / Though not ignoble – [was] yet inferior far / To gracious fortunes of my tender youth” (5-7). This indicates Andrea was someone we might call self-made, bettering his station through his service to the Spanish Court. He also reveals that “In secret I possessed a worthy dame, / Which hight sweet Bel-Imperia by name” (10-11). In other words, his liaison with Bel-Imperia, niece to the king, was kept under wraps, perhaps due to his “inferior” birth. Their relationship indicates Bel-Imperia is a woman with a mind of her own — not one to follow orders, acquainted with her own desires, and determined to follow her heart.

What follows is a narrative of Andrea’s death in battle and subsequent trip to the Underworld. Not only is the imagery and syntax reminiscent of Virgil’s Aeneid, the tale itself recalls Aeneas’ journey in Book Six. We learn that initially Andrea was not allowed to pass into the Underworld, since his body lay unburied (like the bodies of Miseneus and Palinurus in Virgil’s epic). Only after Horatio, Andrea’s close friend, sees to the burial is he ferried across the Styx.

When Andrea arrives, the guardians of the Underworld cannot agree on where his shade should spend eternity, as he “both lived and died in love, / And for his love tried fortune of the wars, / And by war’s fortune lost both love and life” (38-40). For love, Andrea went to war; valor in battle was a way to improve his standing in the Court and become more deserving of Bel-Imperia’s hand. The guardian Aeacus argues that as a lover, Andrea should be given entry to the “fields of love” (42). He is rebuffed by another guardian, Rhadamanth, as “it were not well, / With loving souls to place a martialist” (45-46). Love and war, Rhadamanth argues, should not be mixed – a concept to keep in mind as the play progresses.

From this point, Kyd incorporates words associated with wealth and value into the dialogue. They are introduced through the guardians’ discussion of fortune in the lines above and their use continues with varying frequency throughout the play. Prisoners are ransomed, soldiers are rewarded, and wealth is promised. The words are striking when considered alongside the play’s larger exploration of revenge and justice. Are these judgments based on perceived worth or equitably decided?

Andrea continues with his tale, stating he “trod the middle path” (72) in the Underworld, journeying between “deepest hell” (64) and “the fair Elysian green” (73). This liminal state is also a reflection of his life. He previously acknowledged that he rose higher than his birth but not high enough to openly court Bel-Imperia; similarly, in death, he fits with neither the lovers nor the soldiers. He is duly sent before Pluto and Proserpine, rulers of the Underworld, and Proserpine “beg[s] that only she might give [his] doom” (79). Proserpine is another figure who “trod the middle path,” spending half each year in the upper world and the remaining half as Pluto’s queen. Consequently, it is only appropriate that she — another liminal figure — is given judgement over Andrea. She sends him away in company of Revenge and they leave through the Gates of Horn, symbolic of truth (82; Neill 7, n82). Revenge then promises Andrea that he “shal[t] see the author of thy death, / Don Baltazar, the Prince of Portingale, / Deprived of life by Bel-Imperia” (87-89). The suggestion is that love will triumph over war.

*

Scene Two: In the Spanish Court, the General tells the King of Spain the story of Spain’s recent victory over the Portuguese, including the capture of Baltazar, Prince of Portugal. Lorenzo and Horatio enter with the Prince; the manner of his capture is disputed, bringing into question who should receive what reward for the feat.

In 1.2, Andrea’s story is told again, this time by other characters. The two narratives are linked as the General responds to the king’s query regarding the fate of his men: “All well, my sovereign liege, except some few / That are deceased by fortune of the war” (2-3, italics mine). This phrase recalls Andrea’s own phrase (1.1.39) and reminds the audience of the deceased courtier watching in the wings, Revenge at his side. The scene is heavy with references to value and worth; words such as “fortune” (1.2.3, 6, 103), “pay” (8), “tribute” (90), “reward” (100), and “enriched” (109) are sprinkled throughout the dialogue. Kyd’s use of other languages is also introduced in 1.2. The Duke of Castile, echoing the king’s giving thanks for his army’s success, quotes Claudian in Latin (12-14 [Neill 8, n12-14]), as does the General during his tale of the battle (55-56 [Neill 9, n55-56]). Until Greek, Italian, and French are introduced in the final scene, Latin is Kyd’s language of choice for quotes. Its use heightens the atmosphere of the play, raising it to the level of Greek tragedy and lending pathos to the characters’ experiences of grief and death.

Like Andrea’s tale in 1.1, the General’s recounting of the battle is aligned with Virgil through word choice and syntax; this also serves to elevate Andrea in death. The General tells how Andrea turned the battle in favor of the Spanish but was then slain by Baltazar, Prince of Portugal (1.2.65-72). Baltazar will soon be presented as a suitor to Andrea’s love Bel-Imperia, so the prince’s killing of his predecessor is noteworthy. Kyd continues to spin a textual web as the General tells of Horatio, Andrea’s best friend, capturing Baltazar shortly after his killing of Andrea. All three men — Andrea, Baltazar, and Horatio – were, hope to be, or will be Bel-Imperia’s lover. This mix of love and war sets up a rivalry that leads to destruction and drives the plot.

At the end of the General’s tale, the king tells Hieronimo, Horatio’s father, of his son’s valor. Hieronimo responds, “Long may he live to serve my sovereign liege, / And soon decay unless he serve my liege” (98-99). These are interesting words. Does Hieronimo inadvertently curse his son? Is Horatio’s future relationship with Bel-Imperia disobedience to the king? The play most obviously engages with the theme of disobedience through Bel-Imperia’s agency, but it is also implied that Horatio has not been compliant with his father’s wishes. Several lines later, upon learning his son is a captor of Baltazar, Hieronimo exclaims, “…though from his tender infancy / My loving thoughts did never hope but well, / He never pleased his father’s eyes till now” (117-119). This is the only suggestion that Horatio’s past was less than dutiful and adds an interesting gloss to the lovers’ story.

Baltazar is brought on stage between Lorenzo and Horatio, who both claim him as their prisoner. Kyd uses this stage business to silently but effectively reveal the personality of the prince. Throughout the play, Baltazar is consistently on the fence, pulled between one person or situation and another; he is shown to be indecisive and a waffler. The fact that he is claimed by both men also gestures to the love triangle of Bel-Imperia, Horatio, and Baltazar — and the machinations of Lorenzo that accompany it. Once more, value and worth are front and center, as whoever is the true captor of Baltazar will be richly rewarded. The two men’s claims to Baltazar are argued in the king’s presence, and in essence, echo the rival claims to Bel-Imperia. She is, or will be, “prisoner” of Lorenzo and Horatio: Lorenzo, literally (at one point) and because she is his sister; Horatio because she has chosen to give him her heart.

Kyd creates a “war triangle” (Baltazar, Horatio, and Lorenzo) that parallels the “love triangle” of Baltazar, Bel-Imperia, and Horatio. This association is strengthened through dialogue. Both Horatio and Lorenzo claim the honor of first taking Baltazar prisoner. Lorenzo states, “This hand first took his courser by the reins” (155), to which Horatio replies, “But first my lance did put him from his horse” (156). Lorenzo, then, thought he took control of Baltazar, but Horatio knocked both men aside. This will also be seen with Bel-Imperia: Lorenzo attempts to control Bel-Imperia by promising her to Baltazar, but Horatio figuratively knocks them aside. This is alluded to in the next lines: Lorenzo says, “I seized his weapon and enjoyed it first” to which Horatio replies, “But first I forced him lay his weapons down” (156-157). The innuendo is obvious. Lorenzo presents Baltazar as a sexual partner for his sister; Horatio, however, forces Baltazar to “lay his weapon[] down.” When asked by the king to clarify who captured him, Baltazar’s response is filled with contrast and indecision:
He spake me fair, this other gave me strokes;
He promised life, this other threatened death;
He won my love, this other conquered me;
And, truth to say, I yield myself to both. (162-165)
Baltazar, therefore, is meant to be seen as an ineffectual partner for the strong-willed, decisive Bel-Imperia — and as ripe for the machinations of Lorenzo.

The king decides between the rival claimants (“Will both abide the censure of my doom? [175]). He awards Lorenzo Baltazar’s horse and weapons (the necessities of war); Horatio receives the prince’s ransom (180, 183). Baltazar is placed in Lorenzo’s custody (185), but the prince asks that Horatio be allowed to “bear [them] company… / Whom I admire and love for chivalry” (193-194, italics mine). Once more, we find that love and war are central. Baltazar’s request, though, is as much a recognition of Horatio’s valor as it is a display of his own indecision.

Kyd’s “The Spanish Tragedy”: Existential Boundaries Meet Metatheatre

This blog entry has been a long time coming, what with Thanksgiving, being knocked flat by a nasty cold, and the like. Anyway, several weeks back, I did a full-on tweet-gush over the pleasures of re-reading. This was brought on by a third? fourth? more? read of Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy. I went into this particular read with an open mind and came out of it with a new respect for Kyd. I’m not trying to make a cohesive argument here, just noting some impressions and what caught my fancy. This is a dense play with a lot going on (as you know), so I’m going to assume anyone reading my ramble has a basic knowledge of the plot and characters.

I noticed frames and boundaries. Each one nests inside another, yet all are completely separate. Although important to the organization of the plot, these boundaries aren’t left to stand: they’re poked, prodded, and shown to be porous. Kyd begins this nesting and framing by starting the play with Revenge and Andrea on stage; they remain on stage throughout (II.6.sd), watching and at times commenting on the action. In IV.4, Kyd sets it up so we are watching Revenge and Andrea watch the King, Duke, and their retainers watch a play put on by Hieronimo, Bel-Imperia, et al. How meta is that? This is just one example of how ST displays its frames and boundaries. It’s also proud of being a play and wants you to know it. It’s like a Mondrian, formed and formatted by boxes that become the work of art, thereby creating a meta experience for the viewer. So why all the boundaries? Based on my reading experience, early modern playwrights loved boundaries. They knew their importance for separating and defining, but they also recognized their necessity for pushing back, making a point, or creating parody. Gender is one they couldn’t leave alone (I’m sure the gentle reader knows several instances of cross-dressing in early modern drama). Another line they loved to toe is class: think of Malvolio, envisioning himself married to his mistress (and our laughs at his presumption). There’s also the supernatural and spiritual: Glendower, fairies, Endymion, Doctor Faustus. ST rests on more prosaic boundaries, however; we find no cross-dressing or over-reaching of class, and the supernatural considerations are not of religion or power. Kyd’s boundaries are of blood, life, and relationships; he shows us how they structure a particular situation, their porosity, and how they can be collapsed while still holding true. He does this in a way that not only displays his plot’s structure, he revels in the experience of being meta.

One important boundary is Hieronimo’s arbor, which is fraught with meaning. Bel-Imperia and Horatio first meet here to consummate their love after Andrea’s death (II.4). If their consummation is physical, it adds yet another boundary, but even if it’s not, the line between their being friends and lovers is crossed within the confines of this arbor. The arbor stands as a portal between life and death, as it’s where Horatio is murdered and his body hung for his father Hieronimo to find (II.5). It’s a place where Isabella crosses the line between sanity and madness (III.8.5 sd), and where she stabs herself (IV.2.37-38 sd), making it once more a portal between life and death. It is mirrored in the gallows when Pedringano is hung in III.6; his body reminds us of Horatio’s body and the arbor’s association with life and death.

Balthazar’s character is constantly shifting and unsure, moving from one side of a boundary to another, never standing firm. In I.2, he’s literally caught between Horatio and Lorenzo: Lorenzo claims he took Balthazar’s horse by the reins and seized his weapon, while Horatio says he’s the one who knocked him from his horse and unarmed him (I.2.155-158). Balthazar is no help in the dispute. He equivocates by describing Horatio as more courteous and valorous, Lorenzo as brutal, but never allows which was his actual captor (I.2.161-165). By way of this dispute, his character parallels that of Bel-Imperia, who is also a point of contention between the two men. Balthazar recognizes this similarity (II.1.112-131), but he is weak compared to her. Unable to make a stand as far as his feelings, and much to her disgust, he is clearly intimidated by her strength and independence (II.1.9-28).

Through the character of Balthazar, the “fence-sitter” or the person who cannot choose one side of an argument or another is seen as weak and ineffective. This is not a matter of a back-and-forth that permeates boundaries, but one of fearing them. Since Balthazar is unable to maintain a stance one way or this other, he is in danger of being led astray, outwitted, or overcome. This is exactly what happens when the boundaries between the characters of Balthazar and Lorenzo collapse following the murder of Horatio. As Lorenzo puts it, he lays the plan and Balthazar (unwittingly) does the work, so he sees Balthazar as just as implicated in the killing as he is (III.4.38-49). In Lorenzo’s mind, through their conspiracy they become one, merged in his paranoid plan to eliminate all who may know too much. In the final act, Kyd deftly makes note of Baltazar’s lack of a strong, discrete self; preparing to stage Hieronimo’s play-within-the-play, Balthazar is asked “What, is your beard on?” (IV.3.18). In response, he notes his costume beard is “half on; the other [half] is in my hand” (19). Quite frankly, a better definition of waffler, or a character who is half a man or still half boy, I’ve yet to see.

Bel-Imperia is placed behind physical boundaries when her brother Lorenzo locks her in a tower (III.9; III.10.31); but throughout the play, she is framed by various existential boxes and boundaries. In I.4, her dead lover, Andrea, watches as she proclaims her love for his friend, Horatio, who wears Andrea’s blood-soaked scarf as a token (a note to II.6 says “the chorus figures [Revenge and Andrea] have been on stage from the start and remain so…). The scarf, taken by Horatio from Andrea’s arm as his friend lay dead, had been given to Andrea by Bel-Imperia. The scarf therefore binds the three in friendship, love, duty, and finally, the process of revenge. Andrea watches from his place near Revenge as Bel-Imperia lays her gage for Horatio, setting up a love triangle consisting of herself, Horatio, and Balthazar. Balthazar, who was Andrea’s killer (I.4.69), was captured on the field by Horatio but is now captivated by his love for Bel-Imperia, and this interlocking group of lovers is the core of the play. Without the death of Andrea, the spurning of Balthazar by Bel-Imperia, and her choice of Horatio as lover, there would be no motive for the death of Horatio–and no play. Horatio’s murder and Hieronimo’s call for revenge against Lorenzo and Balthazar then dovetails with Andrea’s earlier demand for revenge against Balthazar for killing him in battle. So many to be avenged, so little time!

The play’s love triangle also blends love and war, bringing us back to Bel-Imperia, who repeatedly associates the two. Not only does this keep the strife between Spain and Portingale/Portugual in the forefront, it underscores the battlefield killing of Andrea and his call for revenge. Bel-Imperia’s words of love to Horatio are couched in allusions to battle and he responds in kind: “Thy war shall be with me” (II.2.32), “Appoint the field / Where trial of this war shall first be made” (II.2.39-40); “Nay, then, to gain the glory of the field, / My twining arms shall yoke and make thee yield” (II.2.42-43). Not only are Bel-Imperia’s words to Horatio peppered with references to battle, in one passage, she makes love as war active. After Balthazar proclaims his servitude to her, swears his heart is in thrall (I.4.81, 83), and declares he has “laid [his] heart to gage” (I.4.85), Bel-Imperia turns to leave and purposefully drops her glove, which is picked up by Horatio (I.4.99 sd). Horatio offers it to her, but she tells him to keep it for his pains (I.4.101). In this short passage, the concept of love as war is physically enacted: spying Horatio as he enters, Bel-Imperia throws down her “gage.” This action is a tangible play on the words spoken by Balthazar in line 85, as well as a sign that her choice of lover is Horatio (I.4.67)–who picks up both the glove and her challenge. By picking up Bel-Imperia’s “gage,” Horatio has unwittingly entered into the challenge laid down by Balthazar through his claim to have laid his heart to gage for Bel-Imperia’s love. Not only is Balthazar spurned by his intended, he watches her new love Horatio literally and figuratively pick up her gage, setting the battle in motion.

Bel-Imperia shows her agency by deciding she will love Horatio and refusing to consider Balthazar, who is a politically strategic match. Her framing of love as war, as well as her challenging her suitors with words thick with allusions to battle reveal more than her strength and independence. Is Bel-Imperia at war with love? Could it be she doesn’t want to marry, which would lead to a loss of independence? Or does she simply want to marry the man of her choosing? Is she actively rejecting the idea of a state marriage and becoming a political pawn or prize? Is her Venus/Mars dialog with Horatio a playful way of expressing her sexuality and revealing that she is open to being wooed by him? In III.10.96-99, Bel-Imperia tells Balthazar and Lorenzo that she “fears [her]self…As those / That what they love are loath and fear to lose.” The Norton Anthology of English Renaissance Drama (eds. Bevington et al, 2002) glosses this as a possible expression of the fear of losing her independence (p47, n9). Is it only in an arranged marriage she fears losing herself, especially this one, meant to broker peace between Spain and Portugal (and uniting her with the killer of her dead lover)? A look at Bel-Imperia’s actions and words throughout the play paint a picture of a woman who appears open to love and comfortable in her independence, seemingly willing to marry the man of her choice. An arranged marriage would stifle her, as she is loath to give up her freedom and become a token to broker peace. Her later suicide fits this scenario; if she cannot live and love on her own terms, her life would be intolerable.

Speaking of suicide…there is so much blood in this play: suicides, stabbings, bloody scarves worn as tokens, letters written in blood, tongues bitten off (is that even possible?). Many of these actions take us back to the breaking or maintaining of boundaries. For instance, the sibling relationship between Lorenzo and Bel-Imperia is destroyed when he kills her lover, their blood ties slashed and destroyed, bleeding like Horatio in the arbor. Grief is linked with blood, as is revenge: Andrea’s bloody scarf, Isabella’s blood when she stabs herself, the death and blood in Hieronimo’s play. Bel-Imperia’s prison boundaries are broken by blood when she uses her blood to write a letter to Hieronimo, which finds an echo of sorts in his biting out his own tongue; in these two actions Kyd examines the effectiveness of the spoken word. Bel-Imperia finds the spoken word useless in her captivity, while Hieronimo is able to escape his own captivity (literal and existential) by voluntarily ending his ability to speak.

In every sense, revenge frames this play. It bounds it, opens it (“enter the ghost of Andrea, and with him Revenge” I.1.1 sd) and literally has the last word (“For here, though death hath end their misery / I’ll there begin their endless tragedy” IV.5.47-48). Revenge, as well as the pain and chaos accompanying it in the mind of the grieving, is made tangible as well as implied. Revenge as a character watches the play and keeps us company as part of the audience. It comments on the action (I.1; III.15; IV.5) just as it drives the action, and its presence adds to the meta aspect of the plot: we know the play is about the act of revenge, yet we can see a physical Revenge observing the action and supporting those who call on him. Revenge sustains those who clamor for him, and is joined by the dead, who continue to exist in his company. The living characters are unable to see Revenge and Andrea sitting on the stage (joined by the dead Horatio?), so when Isabella  says “To heaven, there sits my Horatio / Backed with a troop of fiery cherubins” (III.8.17-18), and Bel-Imperia laments Horatio’s unavenged death with “Andrea, O Andrea, that thou sawest” (III.9.9), the nesting, framing, and meta aspects of the play are compounded. In another instance of this, grief, felt by Hieronimo, Isabella, and Bel-Imperia, is given flesh in the character of Bazulto, the old man seeking justice for his murdered son. Hieronmio recognizes him as the “lively image of my grief” (III.14.162), making grief tangible on the stage, just as the embodied Revenge sits watching with Andrea. Perhaps a directorial choice would be to have Bazulto/Grief join them.

The chaos of the mind brought on by grief is enacted in Act IV with the staging of Hieronimo’s play and its jumble of languages and nationalities. During these scenes, ST again shows just how metatheatrical it can be, referencing Hieronimo “knocking up the curtain” (IV.3.1 sd); giving the King a copy of the play and referring to the “argument” or plot (IV.3.6-7); “hanging up the title” (IV.3.17); and appointing the “bookkeeper” (IV.4.9). As the play draws to a close, Kyd nests, boxes and carefully positions, framing that acts as a foil to the apocalyptic chaos of Hieronimo’s play-within-the play. The play-within-the-play dialog is a Babel of languages, its actors speaking at each other rather than to each other, and ending in carnage and bleeding bodies. All the while Revenge and Andrea sit watching; are they watching the king and his retinue or the bloody play-within-the-play? Are they watching us?

In Kyd’s play, revenge is something directed and set in motion by forces on the outside of life. Revenge exists on the boundaries of existence, yet remains a part of it; set apart, yet woven into the fabric of a life. It is shown as a force that can define and include as well as confuse and separate. Kyd, framing his story like a Mondrian and nesting it like a set of Russian dolls, has a lot to say about boundaries, and he does so subtly and succinctly. The blood is there to hold our attention.