283. The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd (c. 1582-92)

Revenge : Be still, Andrea; ere we go from hence

I’ll turn their friendship into fell despite,

Their love to mortal hate, their day to night,

Their hope into despair, their peace to war,

Their joys to pain, their bliss to misery

Act 1, scene 5, lines 5-9

The first revenge tragedy on the English stage, pre-Hamleting Hamlet by at least ten years. So here’s the plot – now pay attention (or else!)

The final battle in a war between Spain and Portugal culminates in the defeat and death of Spanish warrior Don Andrea by Portuguese prince Balthazar, who is subsequently captured jointly by Spanish prince Lorenzo, and Horatio, the son of the Spanish Knight Marshal Hieronimo. The beautiful Bel-imperia is thrown deep into mourning for her dead love Andrea, whose ghost watches the proceedings in the company of the spectre Revenge.

Soon Balthazar is living quite comfortably in the Spanish court under Lorenzo’s custody, where he falls in love with Bel-imperia, who has moved on to love Horatio. Horatio is murdered in front of Bel-imperia by Lorenzo and Balthazar, which drives his father Hieronimo mad with grief. But Hieronimo is planning his revenge, which involves convincing everyone to participate in a stage play which has some pointy daggers as props, giving the opportunity for more murders.

A long play (Act 3 has 15 scenes!) which is both interesting and savage. There are some scenes which, while related to the plot, seem a bit superfluous, although one (the court scene where one of Lorenzo’s lackeys is being tried for murder but is unconcerned as he wrongly believes his pardon has already been signed) is macabrely funny.

I found Horatio’s death was quite unexpected. I assumed there would be a long struggle between the two men seeking Bel-imperia and suddenly Horatio is both hanged and stabbed and Hieronimo becomes the centre of the drama, as he decides how to seek revenge for the death of his son.

And by the way, how could Balthazar assume that he could kill Andrea one moment, and have Bel-imperia throw herself into his arms the next?

And as for pre-Hamleting Hamlet … Thomas Kyd’s other known play, unfortunately lost to posterity, was … Hamlet (I kyd you not!)

Source :  Included in Four Revenge Tragedies, published by Oxford World Classics, edited by Katharine Eisaman Maus.

Favourite quotes/scenes:

Perhaps the very last line of the play, as the spectre of Revenge reassures the ghost of Don Andrea that the deaths of his enemies is merely the beginning of their eternal misery.

Personal rating:  5/10

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