World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

The Spanish Tragedy

Article Id: WHEBN0002053979
Reproduction Date:

Title: The Spanish Tragedy  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Hamlet, Sources of Hamlet, English Renaissance theatre, Theatre of the United Kingdom, Shakespearean tragedy
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

The Spanish Tragedy

Title page of the 1615 edition.

The Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronimo is Mad Again[1] is an Elizabethan tragedy written by Thomas Kyd between 1582 and 1592. Highly popular and influential in its time, The Spanish Tragedy established a new genre in English theatre, the revenge play or revenge tragedy. Its plot contains several violent murders and includes as one of its characters a personification of Revenge. The Spanish Tragedy was often referred to (or parodied) in works written by other Elizabethan playwrights, including William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Christopher Marlowe.

Many elements of The Spanish Tragedy, such as the play-within-a-play used to trap a murderer and a ghost intent on vengeance, appear in Shakespeare's Hamlet. (Thomas Kyd is frequently proposed as the author of the hypothetical Ur-Hamlet that may have been one of Shakespeare's primary sources for Hamlet.)


In the "Induction" to his play Bartholomew Fair (1614), Ben Jonson alludes to The Spanish Tragedy as being "five and twenty or thirty years" old. If taken literally, this would yield a date range of 1584–89 – a range that agrees with what else is known about the play. However, the exact date of composition is unknown, though it is speculated that it was written somewhere between 1583 and 1591. Most evidence points to a completion date before 1588, noting that the play makes no reference to the Spanish Armada, and because of possible allusions to the play in Nashe's Preface to Greene's Menaphon from 1589 and The Anatomie of Absurdity from 1588–89. Due to this evidence, the year 1587 remains the most likely year for completion of the play.[2]


Lord Strange's Men staged a play that the records call Jeronimo on 23 February 1592 at The Rose for Philip Henslowe,[3] and repeated it sixteen times to 22 January 1593; it was their big hit of the season. It is unlikely, however, that the performance in February of 1592 was the play's first performance, as Henslowe did not mark it as 'ne' (new).[3] It is unclear whether Jeronimo was The Spanish Tragedy, or The First Part of Hieronimo (printed in 1604), the anonymous "prequel" to Kyd's play, or perhaps either on different days.

The Admiral's Men revived Kyd's original on 7 January 1597, and performed it twelve times to 19 July; they staged another performance conjointly with Pembroke's Men on 11 October the same year. The records of Philip Henslowe suggest that the play was on stage again in 1601 and 1602. English actors performed the play on tour in Germany (1601), and both German and Dutch adaptations were made.[4]


Kyd's play was entered into the Stationers' Register on 6 October 1592 by the bookseller Abel Jeffes. The play was published in an undated quarto, almost certainly before the end of 1592; this first quarto was printed by Edward Allde — and published not by the copyright holder Jeffes, but by another bookseller, Edward White. On 18 December that year, the Stationers Company ruled that both Jeffes and White had broken the guild's rules by printing works that belonged to the other; both men were fined 10 shillings, and the offending books were destroyed, so that Q1 of The Spanish Tragedy survives in only a single copy. Yet the Q1 title page refers to an even earlier edition; this was probably by Jeffes, and no known copy exists.[5]

The popular play was reprinted in 1594; in an apparent compromise between the competing booksellers, the title page of Q2 credits the edition to "Abell Jeffes, to be sold by Edward White." On 13 August 1599, Jeffes transferred his copyright to William White, who issued the third edition that year. White in turn transferred the copyright to Thomas Pavier on 14 August 1600 and Pavier issued the fourth edition (printed for him by William White) in 1602. This 1602 Q4 featured five additions to the preexisting text (see below). Q4 was reprinted in 1610, 1615 (two issues), 1618, 1623 (two issues), and 1633.[4]


All of the early editions are anonymous. The first indication that the author of the play was Kyd was in 1773 when Thomas Hawkins, the editor of a three-volume play-collection, cited a brief quotation from The Spanish Tragedy in Thomas Heywood's Apology for Actors (1612), which Heywood attributes to "M. Kid".[3][6] The style of The Spanish Tragedy is considered such a good match with Kyd's style in his other extant play, Cornelia (1593), that scholars and critics have universally recognised Kyd's authorship.

On 13 August 2013, an article appearing in The New York Times stated that scholar Douglas Bruster, after examining the manuscript of the play and comparing it with samples of Shakespeare's handwriting, has come to believe that Shakespeare did indeed write some of the play.[7] Bruster states that the fact that Shakespeare's handwriting was so "messy" has prevented scholars from reading the manuscript correctly, and thus devaluing the portions that Shakespeare presumably wrote.


Many writers have influenced The Spanish Tragedy, notably Seneca and those from the Medieval tradition. The play is ostensibly Senecan with its bloody tragedy, rhetoric of the horrible, the character of the Ghost and typical revenge themes.[8]:27 The characters of the Ghost of Andrea and Revenge form a chorus similar to that of Tantalus and Fury in Seneca's Thyestes.[8]:27 The Ghost describes his journey into the underworld and calls for punishment at the end of the play that has influences from Thyestes, Agamemnon and Phaedra.[8]:33 The use of onomastic rhetoric is also Senecan, with characters playing upon their names, as Hieronimo does repeatedly.[9] Hieronimo also references the Senecan plays, Agamemnon and Troades, in his monologue in Act 3, scene 13. The character of the Old Man, Senex, is seen as a direct reference to Seneca.[10]

The play also subverts typically Senecan qualities such as the use of a ghost character. In Kyd the Ghost is part of the chorus, unlike in Thyestes where the Ghost leaves after the prologue. Also, the Ghost is not a functioning prologue as he does not give the audience information about the major action on stage nor its conclusion.[8]:33 The Ghost is similar to those in metrical (meaning in meter form) medieval plays who return from the dead to talk about their downfall and offer commentary on the action. Revenge is akin to a medieval character that acts as a guide for those on a journey.[11]


The Spanish Tragedy was enormously influential, and references and allusions to it abound in the literature of its era. Ben Jonson mentions "Hieronimo" in the Induction to his Cynthia's Revels (1600), and quotes from the play in Every Man in His Humour (1598), Act I, scene iv. In Satiromastix (1601), Thomas Dekker suggests that Jonson, in his early days as an actor, himself played Hieronimo.

Allusions continue for decades after the play's origin, including references in Thomas Tomkis's Albumazar (1615), Thomas May's The Heir (1620), and as late as Thomas Rawlins's The Rebellion (c. 1638).[12]

In modern times, T. S. Eliot quoted the title and the play in his poem The Waste Land.[13] The play also appears in Orhan Pamuk's novel Snow.

Dramatis personæ

Figures in the Frame
  • The Spanish KING
  • The Duke of CASTILE, Don Cyprian, the King's brother
  • Don Lorenzo, the Duke of Castile's son
  • Bel-imperia, the Duke of Castile's daughter
  • PEDRINGANO, Bel-imperia's servant
  • CHRISTOPHIL, Don Lorenzo's servant
  • Don Lorenzo's PAGE boy
  • Don Hieronimo, Knight Marshal of Spain
  • His wife, ISABELLA
  • Don HORATIO, their son
  • A SERVANT to Don Hieronimo
  • Isabella's MAID
  • Don BAZULTO, an elderly man
  • GENERAL of the Spanish army
  • Three WATCHMEN
  • Three CITIZENS
  • The Portuguese VICEROY
  • Prince BALTHAZAR, his son
  • Don PEDRO, brother to the Viceroy
  • ALEXANDRO and VILLUPPO, Portuguese noblemen
  • The Portuguese AMBASSADOR
  • SERBERINE, Balthazar's serving-man
  • Two NOBLEMEN of Portugal
  • Two PORTUGUESE citizens (Portingales)


Before the play begins, the Viceroy of Portugal has rebelled against Spanish rule. A battle has taken place in which the Portuguese were defeated and their leader, the Viceroy's son Balthazar, captured; but the Spanish officer Andrea has been killed by none other than the captured Balthazar. His ghost and the spirit of Revenge (present onstage throughout the entirety of the play) serve as chorus and, at the beginning of each act, Andrea bemoans the series of injustices that take place before being reassured by Revenge that those deserving will get their comeuppance. There is a subplot concerning the enmity of two Portuguese noblemen, one of whom attempts to convince the Viceroy that his rival has murdered the missing Balthazar.

The King's nephew Lorenzo and Andrea's best friend Horatio dispute over who captured Balthazar, and though it is made clear early on that it is in fact Horatio that defeated him while Lorenzo essentially cheats his way into taking partial credit, the King leaves Balthazar in Lorenzo's charge and splits the spoils of the victory between the two. Horatio comforts Lorenzo's sister, Bel-imperia, who was in love with Andrea against her family's wishes; despite her former feelings for Andrea, Bel-imperia soon falls for Horatio. Her courtship with Horatio is motivated partially by her desire for revenge. Bel-imperia intends to torment an amorous Balthazar, the killer of her former lover.

As Balthazar is in love with Bel-imperia, the royal family concludes that their marriage would be an excellent way to repair the peace with Portugal. Horatio's father, the Marshal Hieronimo, stages an entertainment for the Portuguese ambassador; Lorenzo, suspecting that Bel-Imperia has found a new lover, bribes her servant Pedringano and discovers that Horatio is the man. He persuades Balthazar to help him murder Horatio during an assignation with Bel-Imperia; Hieronimo and his wife Isabella find the body of their son hanged and stabbed, and Isabella is driven mad. Revisions made to the original play supplement the scene with Hieronimo briefly losing his wits as well.

Lorenzo locks Bel-Imperia away, but she succeeds in sending Hieronimo a letter, written in her own blood, informing him that Lorenzo and Balthazar were Horatio's murderers. His questions and attempts to see Bel-Imperia convince Lorenzo that he knows something; afraid that Balthazar's servant Serberine has betrayed the plot, Lorenzo convinces Pedringano to murder him, then arranges for Pedringano's arrest in the hopes of silencing him too. Hieronimo, appointed judge, sentences Pedringano to death; Pedringano expects Lorenzo to procure his pardon, and Lorenzo, having written a fake letter of pardon, lets him believe this right up until the hangman drops Pedringano to his death.

Lorenzo manages to prevent Hieronimo from seeking justice by convincing the King that Horatio is alive and well. Furthermore, Lorenzo does not allow Hieronimo to see the King, claiming that he is too busy. This, combined with his wife's suicide, which happens just prior to Hieronimo's appeal to the King, pushes Hieronimo past his limit. He rants incoherently and digs at the ground with his dagger. Lorenzo goes on to tell his uncle, the King, that Hieronimo's odd behaviour is due to his inability to deal with his son Horatio's newfound wealth (Balthazar's ransom from the Portuguese Viceroy), and he has gone mad with jealousy. Regaining his senses, Hieronimo, along with Bel-Imperia, feigns reconciliation with the murderers. The two plan to put on a play together, Soliman and Perseda. Under cover of the play they stab Lorenzo and Balthazar to death in front of the King, Viceroy, and Duke of Castile (Lorenzo and Bel-Imperia's father); Bel-Imperia kills herself, and Hieronimo tells his audience of his motive behind the murders, but refuses to reveal Bel-Imperia's complicity in the plot. He then bites out his own tongue to prevent himself from talking under torture, after which he kills the Duke and then himself. Andrea and Revenge are satisfied, delivering suitable eternal punishments to the guilty parties.

The 1602 additions

As noted above, the White/Pavier Q4 of 1602 added five passages, totalling 320 lines, to the existing text of the prior three quartos. The most substantial of these five is an entire scene, usually called the painter scene since it is dominated by Hieronimo's conversation with a painter; it is often designated III,xiia, falling as it does between scenes III,xii and III,xiii of the original text.

Henslowe's Diary records two payments to Ben Jonson, dated 25 September 1601 and 22 June 1602, for additions to The Spanish Tragedy. Yet most scholars reject the view that Jonson is the author of the 1602 additions. The literary style of the additions is judged to be un-Jonsonian; Henslowe paid Jonson several pounds for his additions, which has seemed an excessive sum for 320 lines. And John Marston appears to parody the painter scene in his 1599 play Antonio and Mellida, indicating that the scene must have been in existence and known to audiences by that time. The five additions in the 1602 text may have been made for the 1597 revival by the Admiral's Men. Scholars have proposed various identities for the author of the revisions, including Dekker, John Webster, and Shakespeare—"Shakespeare has perhaps been the favorite in the continuing search..."[14]

(It can seem surprising to find Shakespeare, house playwright for the Lord Chamberlain's Men, as a putative reviser of a play associated with their rival company the Admiral's Men. Yet Sir Thomas More provides a precedent of Shakespeare working as a reviser in a surprising context. It is also quite possible that the play remained, in different versions, in the repertoire of more than one company, and that the Jonson additions for Henslowe refer to the adaptation of one script while the additions in the 1602 Quarto represent those to another version, not for Henslowe but for the Chamberlain's Men. It is notable that Richard Burbage, the Chamberlain's lead actor, was a celebrated player of Hieronimo's part.)

Themes and motifs

A long time dispute among scholars has been the moral status of revenge. Because revenge is the most obvious theme of the play, a lot of debate has been made over it. One can make judgments on the morality of Hieronimo based on his revenge-focused goals but the question many scholars face is whether the fault of his intentions is truly his. Steven Justice theorises that the judgment of the play falls less on Hieronimo than on a society in which the tragedy results from a way of life.[15] It is argued that Kyd used the revenge tragedy to give body to popular images of Catholic Spain.[15] Kyd tries to make Spain the villain in that he shows how the Spanish court gives Hieronimo no acceptable choice. The court turns Hieronimo to revenge in pursuit of justice, when in reality it is quite different.

Some critics claim that Hieronimo’s attitude is what central Christian tradition calls the Old Law,[15] the Biblical notion of an “eye for an eye”. Hieronimo’s passion for justice in society is revealed when he says, “For blood with blood shall, while I sit as judge, / Be satisfied, and the law discharg’d” (–36).

The nature of murder and death, performed and as natural phenomena, is also questioned. Smith considers the decade of the play relevant to the use of hangings, murders, and near deaths throughout the play.[16] Multiple characters are killed or nearly killed throughout the play. Horatio is hanged, Pedringano is hanged, Alexandro is nearly burnt at the stake, and Villuppo is assumed tortured and hanged. Kyd consistently refers to mutilation, torture, and death, beginning early in the play when the ghost of Don Andrea describes his stay in the underworld: “And murderers groan with never killing wounds, / And perjured wights scalded in boiling lead, / And all foul sins with torments overwhelmed” (I.i.68–70). He vividly describes in these lines as well as others the frequency of murder and torture in the underworld. Murder and death make up the tragedy theme that holds true through the last scene of the play.

The central theme is essentially revenge. The given title explains that there is some sort of harm that has been put on the main character to make him want to seek revenge. Revenge, however, is not the only theme. One key theme is that of Wealth and Power. This theme is clear in the sole actions of Balthazar.[17] He kills Horatio in the beginning to gain power that in turn gives him wealth. This is also clear with the character of Lorenzo. Toward the end of the play he tries to convince the king to get rid of Hieronimo. Lorenzo knows that in the absence of Hieronimo, he will become more powerful and closer to the king.

The play also has a theme of revenge in historical context. The play in a way re-enacts the conflict between Spain and England.[18] Kyd takes this opportunity to patronise the Spanish Armada and to make a political joke. This is very popular in Elizabethan and Greek tragedies. The play is used as a sort of defence mechanism for the English.[18]


The structure in essence is a 'play within a play'. The play begins with the background of why Hieronimo wants to seek revenge. He is seen as a minor character and eventually leads up to being the protagonist to add to the revenge plot. When he becomes the main character, the plot begins to unfold and become the revenge story that it is. Kyd incorporates the build up to the revenge as a way to show the internal and external struggles of the characters. The actual revenge takes place during the play that Hieronimo stages, making this the climax of the play.[17] The resolution is essentially the explanation to the king of what has happened. The play within the play is not described until the actual play is performed, intensifying the climax, and the resolution is short due to the explanations that have already occurred.

Critics say that The Spanish Tragedy resembles a Senecan Tragedy. The separation of acts, the emphasised bloody climax, and the revenge itself, make this play resemble some of the most famous ancient plays.[19] Kyd does acknowledge his relations to Senecan Tragedies by using Latin directly in the play but also causes Christianity to conflict with pagan ideals. We also see Kyd’s use of Seneca through his referencing three Senecan plays in The Spanish Tragedy. It is said that this play was the initiator of the style for many “Elizabethan revenge tragedies, most notably Hamlet”.[19]

Modern performances

The Royal Shakespeare Company staged a production of the play in 1996–1998, directed by Michael Boyd.[20] The cast included Peter Wight as Hieronimo, Jeffry Wickham as the King of Spain, Paul Bentall as the Duke of Castille, Siobhan Redmond as Bel-imperia, and Deirdra Morris as Isabella.

An amateur production of The Spanish Tragedy was performed 2–6 June 2009 by students from Oxford University, in the second quad of Oriel College, Oxford.[21] Another amateur production was presented by the Hyperion Shakespeare Company 21–30 October 2010 with students from Harvard University in Harvard's New College Theatre.[22] In November 2012, Perchance Theatre in association with Cambridge University's Marlowe Society staged a site-specific production in King's College Chapel, Cambridge. In October/November 2013, the Baron's Men of Austin, TX performed the work in a near-uncut state, with period costumes and effects, at Richard Garriott's Curtain Theater, a mini replica of the Globe Theater.

Other professional performances include a modern-dress production[23] staged at the Arcola Theatre in London in October–November 2009, directed by Mitchell Moreno,[24] with Dominic Rowan as Hieronimo, as well as a production in Belle Époque era costume, staged by Theatre Pro Rata[25] in Minneapolis in March 2010, directed by Carin Bratlie.

The play has never been filmed or staged on television.


  1. ^
  2. ^ J. R. Mulryne, "Kyd, Thomas (bap. 1558, d. 1594)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 4 Nov 2013
  3. ^ a b c J. R. Mulryne, ‘Kyd, Thomas (bap. 1558, d. 1594)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 4 Nov 2013
  4. ^ a b Chambers, Vol. 3, pp. 395–7.
  5. ^ Edwards, pp. xxvii–xxix.
  6. ^ Heywood, Thomas (1841 reprt). An Apology for Actors in Three Books, pp. 45, 65. F. Shoberl, Jr. Retrieved 4 May 2014.
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c d Baker, Howard. "Ghosts and Guides: Kyd's 'Spanish Tragedy' and the Medieval Tragedy". Modern Philology 33.1 (1935).
  9. ^ Kyd, Thomas. The Spanish Tragedy. J.R. Mulryne, ed. London: A&C Black, 1989.
  10. ^ McMillin, Scott. "The Book of Seneca in The Spanish Tragedy." Studies in English Literature 14.2 (1974): p. 206
  11. ^ Baker, p. 28, 31
  12. ^ Edwards, pp. lxvii–lxviii.
  13. ^ Eliot, T. S. The Waste Land, line 431: "Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo's mad againe."
  14. ^ Edwards, p. lxii.
  15. ^ a b c Justice, Steven. "Spain, Tragedy, and The Spanish Tragedy". Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, Vol. 25, No. 2, Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama (Spring, 1985), pp. 271–288. Published by: Rice University. 1 April 2009.)
  16. ^ Smith, Molly. "The Theater and the Scaffold: Death as Spectacle in The Spanish Tragedy". Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, Vol. 32, No. 2, Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama (Spring, 1992), pp. 217–232. Rice University.
  17. ^ a b Kishi, Tetsuo. "The Structure and Meaning of The Spanish Tragedy." 15 April 2009 .
  18. ^ a b Carman, Glenn. "Apocalypse and Armada in Kyd's Spanish Tragedy." 1997. The Free Library. Renaissance Society of America. .
  19. ^ a b Dillon, Janette. The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare's Tragedies. Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  20. ^
  21. ^ Daily Information, Oxford. Theatre Review: The Spanish Tragedie
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^

Further reading

  1. Broude, Ronald. Time, Truth, and Right in 'The Spanish Tragedy'. Studies in Philology, Vol. 68, No. 2 (Apr. 1971), pp. 130–145. Published by: University of North Carolina Press. 1 April 2009.
  2. Justice, Steven. Spain, Tragedy, and The Spanish Tragedy. Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, Vol. 25, No. 2, Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama (Spring, 1985), pp. 271–288. Published by: Rice University. 1 April 2009.
  3. Kay, Carol McGinnis. "Deception through Words: A Reading of The Spanish Tragedy". Studies in Philology, Vol. 74, No. 1 (Jan. 1977), pp. 20–38. University of North Carolina Press. 1 April 2009.
  4. Smith, Molly. "The Theater and the Scaffold: Death as Spectacle in The Spanish Tragedy". Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, Vol. 32, No. 2, Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama (Spring, 1992), pp. 217–232. Rice University

External links

  • : Thomas Kyd and Revenge TragedyHamletSources and Models for
  • The Spanish Tragedie from Project Gutenberg
  • The Spanish Tragedy Shorter version of the play for a modern audience
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.