The Spanish Tragedy
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
THE SPANISH TRAGEDY
Lorenzo, in rhyming lines closely echoing a sonnet in Hecatompathia by “Thomas Watson,” assures Balthazar that although Bel-imperia is acting coy, she will come around:
In time the savage bull sustains the yoke,
In time all haggard hawks will stoop to lure,
In time small wedges cleave the hardest oak,
In time the flint is pierced with softest shower —
And she in time will fall from her distain,
And rue the sufferance of your friendly pain.
That first line also shows up in Much Ado About Nothing (I.i.258) when Don Pedro predicts Benedick’s future succumbing to love; it appears also in Watson’s Hekatompathia (Ogburn and Ogburn 369, 505).
Balthazar, also in rhyming couplets, retains his bleak outlook, blaming his own looks and his way with words. Some of his lines echo closely more of “Watson’s” from the next sonnet in Hekatompathia.
The lines I send her are but harsh and ill,
Such as do drop from Pan and Marsyas’ quill.
My presents are not of sufficient cost,
And being worthless all my labour’s lost.
Maybe she loves someone else. Lorenzo tells Balthazar not to give up hope; he’s got a ploy to find out. If it’s another love interest, that could be “removed” (II.i.32).
Pedringano, one of Bel-imperia’s servants, has escaped punishment from Lorenzo’s father the Duke, thanks to Lorenzo’s intervention. He can win material rewards if he can tell Lorenzo whom Bel-imperia loves. Pedringano says he doesn’t knows of anyone. Lorenzo then threatens him with his sword, and Pedringano says that if she loves anyone it’s Horatio. He has seen letters and swears he’s telling the truth now. Pedringano must spy and report to Lorenzo about any planned meeting between the two lovers.
Balthazar wavers between wanting revenge against Horatio, his own personal “destined plague” (II.i.118), and fearing what Bel-imperia will think of him when he does. He provides another “marching figure” as exemplified earlier (I.iii.33ff):
First, in his hand he brandished a sword,
And with that sword he fiercely waged war,
And in that war he gave me dangerous wounds,
And by those wounds he forced me to yield,
And by my yielding I became his slave.
Now in his mouth he carries pleasing words,
Which pleasing words do harbour sweet conceits,
Which sweet conceits are limed with sly deceits,
Which sly deceits smooth Bel-imperia’s ears,
And through her ears dive down into her heart,
And in her heart set him where I should stand.
Lorenzo wants Horatio removed.
Horatio asks Bel-imperia, now that they have confessed their love for one another, why she shows “sign of inward languishments” (II.ii.6). Bel-imperia provides a poetic conceit regarding her heart as a ship and insists she is merely lovesick.
My heart, sweet friend, is like a ship at sea:
She wisheth port, where riding all at ease,
She may repair what stormy times have worn,
And leaning on the shore, may sing with joy
That pleasure follows pain, and bliss annoy.
Possession of thy love is th’only port,
Wherein my heart, with fears and hopes long tossed,
Each hour doth wish and long to make resort;
There to repair the joys that it hath lost,
And sitting safe, to sing in Cupid’s choir
That sweetest bliss is crown of love’s desire.
Pedringano meanwhile escorts Balthazar and Lorenzo to a place where they can spy on the couple, a familiar arrangement but darker an instance than in The Two Gentlemen of Verona or Twelfth Night. Horatio and Bel-imperia speak of their love, dangers, and pleasures, while Balthazar from his hiding place bitterly comments on the scene. Bel-imperia proposes that they rendezvous in Horatio’s father’s arbor this evening; “Till then each hour will seem a year and more” (II.ii.52). Lorenzo predicts the death of Horatio: his soul will be sent “into eternal night” (II.ii.57).
It may be relevant that Queen Elizabeth visited Havering in 1568 — consider “thy father’s pleasant bower the field, / Where first we vowed a mutual amity. / The court were dangerous, that place is safe” (II.ii.42-44, cf.II.iv.4) (Ogburn and Ogburn 821).
The King of Spain asks his brother, Don Cyprian of Castile, about Bel-imperia’s feelings towards Balthazar. Castile assures him that although she may act coy now, “she will stoop in time” (II.iii.5). He has threatened that he will no longer love her if she does not. The King tells the Portuguese Ambassador that the marriage has been set, and if it goes through then there will be a large dowry, the tribute required from Portugal shall be cancelled, and Balthazar and Bel-imperia’s son shall inherit the Spanish throne. The deal does not include Balthazar’s ransom, which is arranged with the prisoner’s captor, Horatio. The Ambassador says that the matter is being handled.
The Ambassador exits, and the King urges his brother to urge Bel-imperia in the right direction: “Young virgins must be ruled by their friends” (II.iii.43).
At dusk, Horatio and Bel-imperia head into the arbor. Bel-imperia has Pedringano keep watch at the gate, but Pedringano plans to get “more gold” (II.iv.12) by fetching Lorenzo. Bel-imperia has a sinking feeling, but Horatio cheers her up. Initially the two banter about the gods Luna and Flora, then Venus and Mars. “Cupid counterfeits the nightingale, / To frame sweet music to Horatio’s tale” (II.iv.30-31). The conversation grows steamier, but Pedringano brings in Lorenzo, Balthazar, and Balthazar’s manservant Serberine. With a brutality that will be outdone in Titus Andronicus, they similarly murder the young male lover in front of the female. They hang Horatio in a tree and stab at his body, despite Bel-imperia’s pleas and insistence that he didn’t love her. Lorenzo gloats and they drag off Bel-imperia, who screams “Murder!” and calls for Hieronimo (II.iv.62).
The Ogburns, with an edition containing different line numbering, invite us to compare this passage (II.iv.173-175) with Henry VI, Part 3 (III.iii.76-77) (Ogburn and Ogburn 1014n).
Hieronimo appears in his nightclothes. He heard a woman screaming, but he discovers a man hanged in his arbor, presumably to frame him with murder. He then recognizes that this is his son. He apostrophizes to night, which covers sin, to the earth, which did not devour the murderer. Hieronimo’s soliloquy contains its own implied stage directions, a technique refined, as is noted traditionally, by Shakespeare.
Hieronimo’s wife Isabella comes upon his grieving and the two lament together: “O where’s the author of this endless woe?” (II.v.39). Hieronimo says that “To know the author were some ease of grief, / For in revenge my heart would find relief” (II.v.40-41)
[The 1602 edition of the play includes Hieronimo mentioning that Horatio had eaten dinner with them and had said that he was going to visit Balthazar, so maybe he’s in his chamber now that it’s so late. Isabella notes that Hieronimo is having an episode of madness. Hieronimo tells a servant, Jaques, to “bid my son Horatio to come home: / I and his mother have had strange dreams tonight” (First Addition 18-19). Hieronimo has an exchange with another servant showing him to be in denial about his son’s corpse. He regains some sense, but only to grieve: “Sweet lovely rose, ill plucked before thy time” (55).]
“The line between proper judicial inquest and Machiavellian cunning is thus blurred, and this undoubtedly helps to explain Hieronomo’s ultimate success as a revenger” (Hamlin 158). Hieronimo takes a bloody handkerchief from his son’s corpse and swears to keep it with him until he has his revenge. Isabella asserts that time will reveal the murderer. She and her husband carry off the body of Horatio while Hieronimo offers a long Latin dirge, which contains phrasings from assorted classical poetry and expresses a desire for suicide but opts instead for revenge.
Andrea is more annoyed now. Balthazar is thriving, his friend Horatio has been murdered, and Bel-imperia is abused. Revenge assures him that he is merely being impatient. “The sickle comes not till the corn be ripe” (II.vi.9). Balthazar will pay.