The Spanish Tragedy
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
THE SPANISH TRAGEDY
The Spanish Tragedy first saw anonymous publication in 1592 and is typically attributed to Thomas Kyd (but beginning only in the late 1700s), which is absurd. If Kyd had written it, he would have claimed it (Clark 256). His name appears only on a mediocre Cornelia, a translation of a French work. But The Spanish Tragedy is a Senecan revenge play — note the ghost device (Ogburn and Ogburn 681n) — with the 1580 war between Portugal and Spain as the setting. It, along with Titus Andronicus, was considered an “old play” in 1614 (Ogburn and Ogburn 344). Its dramaturgical revenge dynamics align the play with Hamlet, so much so that Stratfordians often suspect the elusive “Kyd” of having written the theoretical Ur-Hamlet. One of “mad” Edgar’s lines in King Lear — “Go to thy cold bed and warm thee” (III.iv.44) — comes from this play (Clark 880). (And see the same line in the Induction to The Taming of the Shrew.) Obviously, “Kyd” is inextricably wound up with the Shakespeare works and Oxfordians often credit The Spanish Tragedy, logically, to de Vere (e.g., Ogburn and Ogburn 216), with Bel-imperia signifying Elizabeth (Ogburn and Ogburn 714). The hyphenation in Bel-imperia signifies that it is an invention like Shake-speare (Ogburn and Ogburn 946). The play contains numerous Latin and foreign language phrases like Oxford’s early plays Titus Andronicus and Henry VI, Part 2 (Ogburn and Ogburn 318, 356).
Here is an online edition of the play: The Spanish Tragedy
See Will Hamlin’s Tragedy and Scepticism in Shakespeare’s England (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) for an excellent discussion of intellectual currents represented in this play.
See also C.V. Berney, “Who wrote The Spanish Tragedy?” Shakespeare Matters 4.2 (Winter 2005): 1, 19-21.
The ghost of Andrea, formerly a Spanish courtier, and the spirit of Revenge enter. Andrea’s ghost reports that in the “prime and pride” of his years (I.i.8) he was in love with Bel-imperia, daughter of the Duke of Castile: “In secret I possessed a worthy dame” (I.i.10). But he was killed in Spain’s war with Portugal. (So revenge will prove less appropriate for him than for his friend, later.) His soul descended to the Classical, especially Virgilian, underworld where Charon stopped him because the burial rite had not been performed. Three days later, his friend Horatio had managed the funeral, and Andrea could proceed. But underworld judges Minos, Aeacus, and Rhadamanth could not agree on which area of the underworld he belonged in, seeing as how he was both a lover and a fighter, or “martialist” (I.i.46). He is sent down a perilous trail to Pluto, along the way seeing Ixion and more Dantean scenes of usurers, wantons, murderers, and purjurers being punished. Once in the court of Pluto and his wife Proserpine, and having shown his “passport” (I.i.77), Proserpine asks that she might decide his fate. She sends him, accompanied by Revenge, back to earth through the gates of horn (I.i.82).
Then know, Andrea, that thou art arrived
Where thou shalt see the author of thy death,
Don Balthazar, the prince of Portugale,
Deprived of life by Bel-imperia.
Here sit we down to see the mystery,
And serve for Chorus in this tragedy.
The Spanish King, a Spanish General, the Duke of Castile (the King’s brother), and Hieronimo, a Knight Marshal, discuss good reports concerning their battle with Portugal. The General elaborates on the battle that claimed Andrea, killed by Prince Balthazar, son of the Portuguese Viceroy, who in turn has been captured by Andrea’s friend Horatio, Hieronimo’s son, in a one-on-one combat. “Here falls a body scindered from his head, / There legs and arms lie bleeding on the grass, / Mingled with weapons and unbowelled steeds” (I.ii.59-61).The rest of the Portuguese army fled. The General tells the King that the Viceroy of Portugal has offered a “peace conditional” (I.ii.89), a “homage tribute” (I.ii.90) to end the war. The King is pleased and plans to celebrate Horatio’s capture of Balthazar.
The Army enters, and Balthazar is brought in between Horatio and Lorenzo (son of the Duke of Castile and brother of Bel-imperia). Horatio and Lorenzo vie for the honor of having captured Balthazar. Horatio unhorsed Balthazar, but Lorenzo convinced him to surrender. Hieronimo acknowledged his bias but supports his son in this. The King decides to award Balthazar’s weapons and horse to Lorenzo and the armor and eventual ransom money from the Viceroy to Horatio. Balthazar is too important to reside at Hieronimo and Horatio’s house, so he will stay under guard with Lorenzo.
The Viceroy of Portugal checks with two Portuguese noblemen, Alexandro and Villuppo, to be sure that the ambassador has left for Spain and carries tribute payment, now that Portugal has been defeated. He has. “Then rest here a while in our unrest” (I.iii.5) — a line that resembles Bianca to Kate in The Taming of the Shrew: “content you in my discontent” (I.i.80). The Viceroy then turns into Richard II and, in a lather of self-deprecation and misery over his sour circumstances, cries, “Fortune may bereave me of my crown: / Here, take it now” (I.iii.18-19). He laments the loss of finances, the blood of his people, and his own son Balthazar, who he thinks is dead now. He even wishes he had gone into battle himself instead. He crafts his woe into a so-called “marching figure,” similar to those found in “E.O.” poetry, Locrine, and Shakespeare.
My late ambition hath distained my faith,
My breach of faith occasioned bloody wars,
Those bloody wars have spent my treasure,
And with my treasure my people’s blood,
And with their blood, my joy and best beloved,
My best beloved, my sweet and only son.
Alexandro tells the Viceroy that the Spanish have taken Balthazar prisoner and hold him for ransom. But the Viceroy cannot believe the vicious Spanish would not kill him in revenge. Then Villuppo provides supposed eyewitness testimony that when Balthazar was fighting the Lord General of Spain, Alexandro “Discharged his pistol at the prince’s back” (I.iii.67). When Balthazar fell, the rest of the Portuguese fled. The Viceroy wonders what motivated the betrayal: bribery? ambition? He decides that Alexandro will die once the death of Balthazar is confirmed. Villuppo will be rewarded.
Villuppo confesses in an aside that he has lied, providing “an envious, forged tale” (I.iii.93) and “Deceived the king” (I.iii.94): that Alexandro is his enemy and he expects to benefit from this deceit.
Bel-imperia asks Horatio to report to her the circumstances of her lover’s death. We hear yet another recounting of Andrea’s death: he had been fighting with Balthazar for a long time before Nemesis, envying Andrea’s reputation and prowess, disguised herself “in armour’s mask” (I.iv.19), as Pallas Athena had done in legend, and brought in reinforcements — “a fresh supply of halberdiers” (I.iv.21) arrived and wounded Andrea’s horse, at which point Balthazar took the advantage and killed him. Horatio took Balthazar prisoner and after some strife (like that over Patroclus in Homer’s Iliad) was able to retrieve the body of Andrea. He took the corpse to his tent and eventually “saw him honoured with due funeral” (I.iv.41). Horatio now in remembrance wears a scarf he took from Andrea’s arm. Bel-imperia says that the scarf was a love-token from her, and she gives her blessing to Horatio’s wearing of it. Horatio must leave: the duke her father has charged him with seeking the prince, Balthazar.
Bel-imperia privately admits that Horatio is her new “second love” (I.iv.61), “But how can love find harbour in my breast, / Till I revenge the death of my beloved?” (I.iv.64-65). She cannot fully allow love in her heart until she avenges Andrea’s death. She says that the murderous coward Balthazar is courting her.
Balthazar and Lorenzo come along. Lorenzo asks his sister why she is melancholy. She wants to be alone, but Balthazar is here to see her. He is smitten, asserting that “love can work such miracles” (I.iv.89), but she remains scornful. Lorenzo, impatient with the hyperconscious roundabout conversation, advises Balthazar to forego the “ambages” (I.iv.91) — a word he got from Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde — and woo “in plain terms” (I.iv.92). But Bel-imperia has had enough and, leaving, drops a glove which Horatio picks up for her. She allows him to keep it, and Balthazar laments this lost chance. Lorenzo assures him that women are temperamental and matters will improve for him.
Horatio, Lorenzo, and Balthazar join the feast being held by the King for the Portuguese ambassador, who can see that Balthazar is not only alive but being treated very well. Portugal has paid its tribute, so Spain is bursting with good will now. The King calls for Hieronimo, the Knight-Marshal who promised entertainment for the banquet “with some pompous jest” (I.iv.137). Hieronimo enters with a drum, and a masque begins, in which actors portraying three knights capture three kings and take their crowns. The King asks for an explanation. Hieronimo says that the first knight represented Robert, Earl of Gloucester, an English hero who, during the reign of King Stephen of “Albion,” conquered Portugal. The Spanish King tells the Portuguese Ambassador, see? things could be much worse. The second knight represented Edmund, Earl of Kent, who, during King Richard’s reign, “razed Lisbon walls” (I.iv.154) and captured the King of Portugal, for which he was titled Duke of York. The Spanish King again cajoles the Ambassador, suggesting “That Portugal may deign to bear our yoke, / When it by little England hath been yoked” (IV.i.159-160). Hieronimo says the third capture represented John of Gaunt taking the King of Castile. This time the Portuguese Ambassador can say that Spain too has been conquered by England, implying that the Spanish King ought to be less cocky. The King then drinks to the good show and ends the festivities.
Andrea complains that he has come from the underworld merely to witness a lot of feasting: “Nothing but league, and love, and banqueting!” (I.v.4) — a line echoing Petruchio’s exasperation: “Nothing but sit and sit and eat and eat” (Taming V.ii.12). Revenge advises patience, reassuring him that all joys will be reversed before long.