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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Summary & Analysis

Act I, scene i


The play begins when the ghost of Andrea and the spirit of Revenge enter the scene. Andrea informs the audience that during his life, he was a nobleman at the Spanish court. The ghost then tells the story of his last days, how in the prime of his youth he won the love of the beautiful Bel-Imperia, but was soon thereafter killed in battle between Spain and Portugal.

Andrea's narrative then shifts to what happened after his death. He "descended straight" down to a classically pagan underworld or Hell, where he arrived at the river of Acheron only to be blocked passage by the ferryman Charon, because of his unperformed funeral rites. When his friend Horatio finally performed his rites three days later, Andrea descended into the underworld where he came to sit before three judges, Minos, Eacus and Rhadamant, who were to determine which "field", or area of the underworld, he should spend the rest of eternity—the field of the lovers or of the warriors. The judges are conflicted over their placement of Andrea because of the circumstances surrounding his death: Andrea died in war, but seems to have died for the love of Bel-Imperia. So, Minos decides to defer the matter to Pluto, king of the underworld. On his way to the palace of the king, Andrea came to a place with "three ways," the right one leading to the field of the lovers and the warriors, the left one to "deepest hell" of villains in eternal torment, and the middle way to the Palace. Taking this middle way, he soon arrived at the palace, where Proserpine, Pluto's wife, took a special interest in his case and asked if she could be his judge. After which, according to Andrea, she immediately sent him, along with the spirit of Revenge, through the gates of horn into the world, which, according to Andrea, is the last thing he remembers before arriving "here," at the start of the play.

The spirit of Revenge then goes on to predict that Andrea will see his killer, Prince Balthazar of Portugal, slain by Bel-Imperia and explains that he and Andrea will now both watch and serve as the chorus for the tragedy that they and the audience are all about to witness.


The first scene begins the play's exposition, where we are introduced to the play's key characters and themes. The plot of The Spanish Tragedy is a tragic one, full of love that is cut short, violence, the delay of justice, and the clamoring of voices for revenge.

The first scene grounds the plot in three important ways. First, we are given the narrative background of the main story: Andrea and Bel-Imperia's ill-fated love, Andrea's death at the hands of Balthazar, and Andrea's desire for revenge. Using a very ornate rhetorical style—with a great deal of alliteration, assonance, and consonance—Kyd sets up the narrative that will follow. It should be noted, though, that it is not Andrea's death but his friend Horatio's death that will provide the impetus for the play's bloody end. In fact, it should be noted that Andrea's case for revenge is rather weak; he was killed in a fair, if uneven battle, and an Elizabethan audience would have little sympathy for his desire to even the score. In fact, the main revenge plot of the play takes a long time to get started, and it is not until Act II, scene v that we will see the principal murder to be avenged and the emergence of Hieronimo as the play's tragic protagonist and avenger.

Second, the scene sets the mood and tone of the story and creates its "moral universe." Andrea's speech is delivered in measured blank verse, occasionally lapsing into rhyme, and his tone is serious and vengeful. And he inhabits a mixed Christian/pagan universe, which draws on Virgil's Aeneid for its geography of the underworld, though in a slightly expanded version with the introduction of a "third way" for souls like Andreas who do not fit neatly into either the group of lovers or the evil who are punished horribly for their crimes. Such a "third way" is necessary if we are to have a figure like Andreas, a figure who still has some interest in the world and who has not moved on to the next life completely. This world is one in which justice is delayed, where the judges of the underworld pedantically argue and are unable to come to conclusions, and where the final judges (Pluto and Proserpine) send Andreas on a quest for revenge, a tactic that will introduce further delay in the pursuit of justice as the machinations of revenge work their way to fruition. Such delays, with eventual vindication, have been seen as demonstrations of the Medieval commonplace "Truth is the daughter of time", a favorite subject of sermons; in other words, one of the play's main themes is the delay of justice and its eventual realization through that delay.

In a properly Christian world, revenge would be strictly in the hands of God, but in the play, Proserpine endorses revenge, and it is she who sends Andreas through the gates of horn (the gates through which true dreams come) so that he can revenge himself on his killer. The arrival through the gates of horn indicates that we should believe Andreas and Revenge in what they say. And the endorsement of revenge places the play in a universe somewhat, though not completely, removed from the world of the ordinary Elizabethan, for whom revenge was a controversial issue.

Finally, the play introduces us to its theatrical world, where we are quickly introduced to several important structural features, or conventions, that the play uses. Many of these are drawn from Senecan tragedy. Seneca was a Roman playwright of the first century A.D., whose bloody, sensationalistic plays were widely read by Elizabethans and used as models for Elizabethan tragedy, especially revenge tragedy. Revenge tragedy was a sub-type of tragedy where the primary motivation for the protagonist is revenge. The Spanish Tragedy is perhaps the earliest extant version of such a tragedy, and Shakespeare's Hamlet is undoubtedly the most famous.

Conventions of Senecan tragedy that we have already seen include: the angry ghost, calling from revenge from beyond the grave; the brief expository speech made by that ghost in order to inform the audience of the play's back-story; and the chorus composed of Andreas and Revenge. But as with Virgil, Kyd does not blindly copy the theatrical conventions of Seneca. The chorus is unlike anything in Seneca; it does not merely comment but, rather, has a perceived and direct interest in the action, and Andreas is introduced to us as a full-blooded character in his own right. In effect, Kyd places two mediating characters between us and the central action of the play, and these two act as an audience to the events of the play, while we perceive them as being part of the play itself. This ambiguous actor/audience status also serves to make ambiguous the relationship between the world of life and the world of the play, as we are more ready to identify real life with the events of the main plot that Andrea and Revenge watch as if they were at a play. Thus, this meta-theater setup conveys an ambiguity not only about the distinction between the "play" and "reality" but also makes ambiguous the line between the natural world and the supernatural.


Act I, scene ii

The Spanish King, a Spanish Lord General, the Duke of Castile (the King's brother), and Hieronimo, Knight-Marshal of Spain, return to discuss the aftermath of their battle with Portugal, which is the same battle in which Don Andrea died. When the King asks him to give a report on the status of the troops, the Lord General reports good news: the Spanish troops have gained victory and with "little losse." After congratulations from the King and Castile, the General proceeds to give a run-down of the battle. This includes a more detailed description of Don Andrea's death at the hands of Balthazar, Prince of Portugal and the son of the Portuguese Viceroy which we first heard described by Andrea himself in I.i. The General also relates the subsequent capture of Balthazar by Horatio, Hieronimo's son and Andrea's friend, a capture that resulted in the retreat of the Portuguese forces. The General informs the King that the Viceroy of Portugal has made an offer of conditional surrender, promising to pay tribute to Spain if the Spanish armies cease their attack. The Spanish King seems to accept this offer and asks Hieronimo to celebrate with him the success of his son's capture of Balthazar.

The Army returns from the battle, with Balthazar held captive between Horatio and Lorenzo, son of the Duke of Castile and brother of Bel-Imperia. The two Spaniards hotly contest which one should receive credit for the capture of Balthzar; Horatio, who knocked Balthazar off his horse after battling with him, or Lorenzo, who after Balthzar was cornered persuaded him to surrender using gentle persuasion. Hieronimo, while avowing his partiality, pleads for his son's case. The King ultimately takes a compromise position, giving Balthazar's weapons and horse to Lorenzo, while giving the ransom money Balthazar will bring from the Viceroy, as well as the prince's armor, to Horatio. He also deems that Balthazar will stay at Lorenzo's estate, since the estate of Horatio (and Hieronimo) being too small for a man of Balthazar's stature.

Act I, scene iii

The scene is now at the Portuguese court. The Viceroy and two Spanish noblemen, Alexandro, who is the Duke of Terceira, and Villuppo, enter, having received news of the Portuguese defeat. The Viceroy mourns his son, believing him to be dead, and blames himself for not having gone in Balthazar's place. Alexandro comforts the king, assuring him that the Spanish have probably taken Balthazar prisoner and are keeping him for ransom.

Villuppo then steps in and offers to tell the king the "real story" of what happened at the battle. According to Villuppo, Balthazar was engaged in combat with the Lord General of Spain when Alexandro came up behind him and shot him in the back with a pistol. The story is a complete fabrication, but the Viceroy believes it and asks Alexandro whether it was bribery or the hope of inheriting the Portuguese crown that made him betray the prince. He then sentences Alexandro to die the second he confirms that Balthazar is dead. After the other two characters leave, Villuppo confesses his deception to the audience, explaining that Alexandro is his enemy and that he hopes to gain by his death.


One characteristic of the First Act in general is the way in which the story of Andrea's death is continuously told and retold. The Lord General's version is the second of these, and it contradicts Andrea's own account in tone. For the Lord General, the battle is an almost unabashed success, a "victory, with little loss of life". The clash between Andrea's version and the version of the Lord General create irony, in this case situational irony; contrary to expectations, Andrea's death is not viewed as particularly regrettable at all by the Lord General or the King. Instead, he is just another one of the three hundred or so Spanish soldiers who perish during a glorious triumph for Spain. As the Ghost of Andrea never leaves the stage (or at least is never directed to leave in the text), we can easily imagine this deflation of Andrea's importance being reacted to by a disappointed facial expression in Andrea during the Lord General's speech. Also, the juxtaposition of the Viceroy's grief in scene iii, coming as it does right after the celebration of the Spaniards, adds to this sense of irony, casting the joy of the Spaniards in a bitter light, since it is founded upon the sadness of others. The Viceroy also explicitly introduces the idea of cruel, unkind, arbitrary Fortune. "Fortune is blind and sees not my deserts," says the grief-stricken Viceroy, believing that his son is dead. But we cannot wholly empathize with the Viceroy either, for his situation is founded upon dramatic irony: he believes his son to be dead, when in fact he is not, and is lead by this belief into wrongly condemning an innocent man (Alexandro) to death.

Kyd uses irony throughout The Spanish Tragedy to create a tension in the audience, a tension between the need to identify with the suffering and pain of the characters and the realization that the characters in question are limited or flawed in a way they cannot initially perceive, but one in which we can. He in particular uses dramatic irony to great effect, the irony created when a main character doesn't know certain facts that the audience and perhaps some of the other characters do. The tension arises from the fact that irony creates distance between us and the characters, such as when we see that a character's words don't mean what he intends in a certain context, that he is the subject of an ironic attack, or that because of a lack of information, his actions appear foolish. Despite the characters' ignorance of things which we may very well know, we are still able to identify on a deep level, especially if the character's limitation is one common to most human beings. In the case of Andrea, his limitation seems to be his mortality, his pride, and his lack of knowledge, which prevents him from recognizing that after he dies, he will eventually be forgotten in a world that will move on. In short, he is a limited, finite being, both in knowledge and in time—a condition that defines the human species.

Scene ii also introduces Kyd's fondness for antithesis. Antithesis is the development of contrast, usually in a parallel structure. A perfect example of this is contained in Balthazar's speech describing his capture by Lorenzo and Horatio. "To him in courtesy, to this perforce", says the young prince, referring to Lorenzo and Horatio respectively. He then begins a series of contrasts between the two, defining one as a fierce warrior, the other as a verbal manipulator. Kyd uses this passage primarily for the purposes of characterization, setting Horatio and Lorenzo off against each other as foils: both proud young men, but one prone to interact directly, honestly and fiercely while the other (Lorenzo) is prone to using verbal guile. These characterizations will prove true over the rest of the play. The ending, however, again provides a slight ironic commentary, this time on the proud Balthazar; for though the two warriors pursued radically different tactics, in the end it doesn't matter: he "yields [him]self to both."

Act I, scene iv–scene vi


Act I, scene iv

The scene switches back to Spain, where Bel-Imperia and Horatio are walking together in her garden. Bel-Imperia was Don Andrea's lover, and she asks Horatio to tell her how he died. So Horatio recounts the story of Andrea's death for the third time in the play, now emphasizing how Andrea was outnumbered by Balthazar's horsemen, thrown from his horse, and then quickly finished off by Balthazar. Then Horatio continues with how he took Balthazar prisoner and retrieved Andrea's corpse. He then describes how he took Andrea's lifeless corpse back to his tent, futilely attempting to revive his friend with his tears and then finally giving Andrea the funeral rites he deserved.

Horatio also recounts how he took a scarf from Andrea and now wears it in remembrance of his friend. Bel-Imperia reveals that the scarf was originally hers and that she gave it to Andrea when she last saw him before he went off to war so that he could wear it in battle as a keepsake. She asks Horatio to wear it now, for both her and Andrea. Horatio then tells her he must leave to go seek Balthazar. When he is gone, Bel-Imperia confesses that she now loves Horatio but still wishes to avenge the death of her first love Andrea. This she will do through her love for Horatio, since we now learn that Balthazar, the man who slew her husband, is in love with her.

That man, Balthazar, soon enters with Lorenzo, who asks his sister Bel-Imperia why she looks so glum, for the prince has arrived to see her. She then exchanges several lines with the prince, in which his love and her barely repressed hatred become apparent. Bel-Imperia finally tires of Balthazar and leaves, but as she does so, she drops a glove, which Horatio, coming in again, picks up off the ground. Bel-Imperia tells him to keep it. Lorenzo then consoles Balthazar, telling him that women are fickle. Horatio, Lorenzo, and Balthazar then leave to attend the feast being held at the Court for the Portuguese ambassador.

Act I, scene v

The King and Portuguese ambassador both enter. The Portuguese ambassador, upon seeing Balthazar, remarks how the Viceroy of Portgual mourns his son. Balthazar replies that the only thing he has been "slain" by is the beauty of Bel-Imperia. The King remarks upon his newfound goodwill for Portugal, now that they have paid their tribute to him. He then wonders aloud where Hieronimo, the Knight-Marshal was supposed to provide entertainment for the guests, is.

Hieronimo then enters, followed by actors who perform a masque that he has prepared. The masque consists of three knights, each with an escutcheon (a shield with armor). Hieronimo then brings in three kings, each of whom has their crown stolen by one of the knights. When the King asks what the scene is supposed to mean, Hieronimo explains that each king and knight represents a scene from Spanish and Portuguese history, in which either Portugal or Spain were defeated by "little England." The first knight represents Robert, Earl of Gloucester, who during the reign of King Stephen subdued the "Saracen" King of Portugal. The second knight re-enacts Edmund, Earl of Kent's conquest, during the time of King Richard, of the Christian king of Portugal. And the third represents John of Gaunt's capture of the King of Castile (the royal family that later went on to assume the monarchy of Spain). After each Portuguese defeat, the Spanish king makes patronizing remarks to the ambassador, to the effect that Portugal shouldn't be upset by its latest defeat at the hands of Spain, having already been defeated by "little England." After the third act, the Portuguese ambassador makes a remark that the Spanish should not be too arrogant in their victory, having also been defeated by England. The King then proposes a toast, and the guests leave to commence their feast.

Act I, scene vi

Don Andrea accuses the ghost of not fulfilling his promise; instead of witnessing Balthazar's brutal death, he instead has seen the prince feast and be merry. Revenge reassures Andrea that Balthazar and Lorenzo's current happiness will, before the play is over, turn into misery.


These scenes serve to introduce the heroine of the play, Bel-Imperia. They also mark the emergence of revenge as a theme of concern to the characters, specifically to the character of Bel-Imperia. Her mourning and grief over the death of Andrea provide motivation for her hatred of Balthazar (and possibly for her love of Horatio). This lust for revenge will set up the groundwork for the murder of Horatio in Act II and, thus, commence the main storyline of the work. The lust for revenge is symbolized by the bloody scarf that Bel-Imperia gives to Horatio, as it links both her and him to the vengeful ghost of Don Andrea, and will also come to symbolize the need for Hieronimo to avenge Horatio's murder.

Ironically enough, the scarf also symbolizes the love that Bel-Imperia and Andrea shared. And it now symbolizes both Horatio and Bel-Imperia's love, as well as the memories of their dead friend. The scarf is thus a multi-valenced symbol. In other words, it symbolizes many different things and intertwines them in so doing. The scarf is a symbol of an ironic fact: that love and memory easily become hatred expressed as a demand for revenge and justice, hatred of those who have killed the loved one, and in so doing, reduced him or her to just a memory. For Bel-Imperia, the emotions of love and hatred are so intertwined that she views her love for Horatio as a form of revenge, an expression of hatred, against Balthazar, the murderer of Andrea.

In Bel-Imperia, Kyd presents us with a complex heroine. She is at once loyal and devoted to her lost lover Andrea, yet already embarking upon a new love. And her motivations in her love are somewhat suspect as well, when she remarks that loving Horatio can be seen as a form of revenge against Balthazar. She is, however, aware of some of these contradictions within herself and always appears intelligent and strong, especially in her desires for revenge and justice. Kyd shows Senencan influence once again, in his use of the Senecan device of stichomythia, a line-by-line exchange between one character and another, in this case taking the form of a dialogue between Balthazar and Bel-Imperia. The device serves to do two things: 1) highlight Bel-Imperia's wit (enhancing her identity as a strong, likeable, interesting character) and 2) bringing out the conflict between Bel-Imperia and Balthazar. The contrast Kyd develops in these lines is clear: Balthazar is madly, foolishly in love with Bel-Imperia, while Bel-Imperia can scarcely conceal her loathing for him.

At this point in the play, Andrea might very well seem to be an unsympathetic character. His complaint that revenge has not been served—that the living are, in other words, too happy and enjoying themselves too much—reeks of selfishness and pride. But he does currently represent two key emotions with which the audience can sympathize. First is the anger and despair at realizing that one's death matters very little in the grand scheme of things and that the world will go on, and may even improve, after one has left it. The second emotion is impatience. This is something the audience may very well feel in common with Andrea; we were promised with a tragedy, but instead we now seem to have a not-so-funny romantic comedy, played out against the story of diplomatic negotiations between sixteenth-century Spain and Portugal. Kyd certainly takes his time with exposition. But in Kyd's defense, he is setting up the dramatic machinery necessary for his play; the rising action preceding the first climax, or turning point, has already begun with these scenes and will continue up until Horatio's murder.

Act II, scene i–scene iii


Act II, scene I

Lorenzo and Balthazar enter, discussing Balthazar's affection for Bel-Imperia. Lorenzo consoles his friend, telling him that in time, he will succeed in winning Bel-Imperia's hand; Balthazar, however, professes that his case is hopeless. Lorenzo then informs him that he has begun investigating whether Bel-Imperia is in love with another knight and has summoned Pedringano, one of Bel-Imperia's close confidantes, to gather information on Bel-Imperia's thoughts and affections. Pedringano arrives, and Lorenzo begins questioning him. At first, Pedringano seems reluctant to tell Lorenzo about his sister's affections. At first he offers affection and reward (presumably in the form of money or advancement) for Pedringano's help; when Pedringano refuses, Lorenzo turns to threats of violence and death. These prove effective, and Pedringano reveals that his lady loves Horatio. Lorenzo then tells Pedringano to let him know the next time the two lovers meet and then sends him back to Bel- Imperia. When he is gone, Balthazar affirms that he will seek revenge against Horatio for "stealing" Bel-Imperia's love from him; Lorenzo then spurs him on.

Act II, scene ii

Horatio and Bel-Imperia now enter the scene, presumably somewhere else on the King's estate. As Pedringano, Lorenzo, and Balthazar watch on, Horatio asks why Bel-Imperia seems reticent, now that their love affair has started to become serious. She replies that she is simply lovesick for him, to the great disgust of Balthazar. The two lovers then begin to discuss the dangerous course of their secret affair (for, like Andrea's love for Bel-Imperia, it is still secret), and they exchange vows of love, to the increasing disgust of Balthazar. Bel-Imperia then suggests that they meet later, at sunset, in Horatio's father's garden. As they leave, Lorenzo vows that Horatio will be sent into "eternal night."

Act II, scene iii

The scene switches now to a meeting of the King of Spain, the Portuguese Ambassador, Don Cyprian (the Duke of Castile), and others. They discuss Balthazar's love for Bel-Imperia; the King asks Castile of Bel-Imperia's opinion of Balthazar. Castile replies that however she may act now, she will eventually love Balthazar, for he has threatened to revoke his own love for her if she does not. The King then tells the Ambassador that the diplomatic marriage has been decided and that all that rests now is to gain the Viceroy of Portugal's consent. To sweeten the deal, the king offers to release the Viceroy from his tribute if he agrees and stipulates that Balthazar and Bel-Imperia's children will be the heirs to the Spanish throne. The King reminds the ambassador that his offer does not, of course, include the ransom to be paid for Balthazar, which is a private matter to be dealt with between the ambassador and Horatio, the prince's captor. The ambassador replies that everything on that score has been arranged.

After the ambassador leaves, the King has a little talk with his brother the Duke, reminding him, in essence, that there will be trouble if Bel-Imperia does not consent to marry Balthazar, and, therefore, the Duke should make the utmost effort to ensure that she does.


We now enter the rising action that precedes the play's first crisis. Lorenzo and Balthazar's discovery of Bel-Imperia's love for Horatio has exactly the wounding effect on Balthazar that she hopes it will. But it ironically also creates the desire in him, thanks to the prodding of Lorenzo, for counter- revenge and thus threatens the life of the man she has come to love quite independently of any vengeful considerations. This irony thus sets up the tension that the rising action—the development of the love affair between Horatio and Bel-Imperia and the plots of the Lorenzo and Balthazar—serves to increase.

The rising action is marked by the emergence of Lorenzo as a truly Machiavellian villain. Niccolo Machiavelli was a sixteenth-century Italian political philosopher, whose name in Elizabethan England was synonymous with evil; many saw his philosophy as blasphemous, since it suggested that affairs of state were not subject to conventional morality—one should try to be both loved and feared, but feared if one could not be both. The Elizabethan Machiavellian villain applied this philosophy to a private sphere, as evidenced by Lorenzo's verbal and physical manipulation of Pedringano and Balthazar.

The eavesdropping scene neatly captures Lorenzo's Machiavellian dynamic. It also juxtaposes to great effect the bitterness of Lorenzo and Balthazar against the beauty of the lovers' love, and it captures the conflict between them (which right now forms the conflict of the play). The exchange of loving words between Horatio and Bel-Imperia are ironically juxtaposed against the threats of Balthazar and Lorenzo, making their poetic exchanges seem tragic. At one point, they surreptitiously participate in a stichomythia between Horatio and Bel-Imperia, inverting Horatio's sentences, ominously foreshadowing bad events for Horatio. The use of the oxymoron, "warring peace," and of a parallelism that develops an elaborate analogy between love and war also adds to the sense of paradox and irony attached to the scenes, where love and hatred seem to give birth to each other—Bel-Imperia's hatred for Balthazar gives rise to her love for Horatio, and Balthazar's love for her gives rise to his hatred for Horatio. The culmination of these ironic juxtapositions comes in the final lines of scene ii, where Horatio's remark, "dangerous suspicion waits on our delight," is, unbeknownst to him, confirmed by Lorenzo: "Ay, danger mixed with jealous despite / Shall send thy soul into eternal night," foreshadowing Horatio's eventual death.

The scene is thus rife with dramatic irony. Horatio makes arrangements for a lover's rendezvous, but Lorenzo knows (as we do) that he is in fact making arrangements for his death. Dramatic irony is a calling card of tragedy, since it helps create the mixture of necessity and free choice essential to the tragic mindset. That Horatio will be in his father's bower tonight is an expression of his free will and his love for Bel-Imperia. That he will meet his doom there is a product of forces beyond his control: the jealousy and hatred of Balthazar and Lorenzo. Another key irony, however, is that Bel-Imperia conceived her love, at least from one angle, as a revenge plot on Balthazar. This revenge is now about to backfire disastrously.

The juxtaposition of scene iii, in which the King and the Duke of Castile decide that Bel-Imperia should marry Balthazar, is an ironic juxtaposition. As the two old men decide Bel-Imperia's marriage, she is already rushing off into the arms of Horatio. The scene opposes Horatio and Bel-Imperia's love against the social order of the day. This makes the lovers seem more heroic, more significant, more tragic; the irony lets the audience know the social forces that are working against the young lovers. Horatio is not a prince, or even a Duke, and this is part of the reason that Lorenzo and Balthazar hate him, since, in loving Bel- Imperia, Horatio is usurping the position of the noble class. When Lorenzo hears that Bel-Imperia loves Horatio, he calls him "Don Horatio our Knight Marshal's son?" The Knight-Marshal could be considered something like the Attorney- General, or a Supreme Court Justice, the top lawyer and judge in the kingdom. But he is still merely a civil servant, far inferior in social rank to both Balthazar and Lorenzo, a prince and the son of a Duke. So Hieronimo's son is an upstart, who has humiliated them both on the battlefield, by capturing Balthazar and then gaining at least partial credit for it from Lorenzo. This partially explains their eagerness to avenge themselves for the perceived stain upon their honor.

Act II, scene iv–scene vi


Act II, scene iv

It is sunset and time for Horatio and Bel-Imperia's rendezvous. Horatio, Bel-Imperia, and Pedringano enter Hieronimo's garden. Bel-Imperia sends Pedringano to keep watch and alert the pair if anyone approaches; instead, Pedringano goes off to inform Lorenzo and Balthazar of the two lovers' whereabouts. While he does this, Horatio and Bel-Imperia talk, first flirtatiously, then seductively, about their growing love. However, just at the second the two are about to "stop talking", Pedringano returns with Lorenzo, Balthazar, and Balthazar's manservant Serberine, who hang Horatio up on a tree (or a tree-covered treliss, "arbour" can mean both) and then stab him several times for good measure. The drag Bel-Imperia away kicking and screaming, as she cries out for Hieronimo's help.

Act II, scene v

Hieronimo, awakened by screams, runs into his garden to discover a man hanging from one of his trees. Only after cutting the man down does he recognize him by his clothes as his son, Horatio. He cries out in anguish, begging his son to speak if he lives, soon realizing that he has died. His wife Isabella, disturbed by his absence from their bed, discovers the horrifying scene and begins to cry out in grief. Hieronimo takes a bloodstained handkerchief from his son and vows to wear it until he takes revenge on his boy's murderers. He and his wife then carry away their son's corpse, with Hieronimo briefly considering suicide, then rejecting it in favor of revenge.

Act II, scene vi

Andrea is now very upset with Revenge. Not only has he failed to see Balthazar killed, as he had hoped; he has instead been forced to witness the murder of his friend Horatio. But Revenge promises Andrea that he is premature in his condemnation and that, in due time, Balthazar will suffer vengeance.


The murder of Horatio is the play's first turning point and the culmination of the initial rising action we have just seen. In effect, the main plot up until this point has centered around Bel-Imperia's desire to revenge Andrea against Balthazar, and Balthazar's counter-desire to revenge himself against both Bel- Imperia and Horatio. From now on, these revenge motives will disappear, and the main plot will now be driven by Hieronimo's desire to seek justice for his son, his increasing madness, and his eventual bloody revenge. This shift in protagonist also reflects a shift in the play's central theme, from that of simple revenge to revenge as a form of justice.

The tragic protagonist is characterized by psychological complexity or an interiority that is frequently conflicted both with itself and with the world around it. This interiority often expresses itself in a question or series of questions that the protagonist must address, a series of internal struggles with which the protagonist must deal. Kyd uses a series of soliloquies to give us access to this interiority, and the first one comes in II.v, with the discovery of his son's body. His question is simple and direct: how can the world be so unjust as to let his son be murdered and to let the murderers of his son go unpunished? Hieronimo expresses his anguish over the seeming injustice of the world by using apostrophe (the addressing of inanimate objects) in succeeding rhyming couplets: "'O heavens, why made you night to cover sin? … O earth, why didst thou not in time devour / The vild profaner of this sacred bower?" But Hieronimo's anguish is answered by Isabella's faith that the murderers will be exposed: "The heavens are just, murder cannot be hid, / Time is the author both of truth and right," she says, and this could be taken as the play's optimistic premise, the hope that with the passage of time, justice will be done.

The equation between revenge and justice on the one hand and simple relief on the other also becomes important. "To know the author were some ease of grief, for in revenge my heart would find relief." But another source of relief is readily available: that of suicide. Hieronimo only explicitly mentions this possibility in the Latin section at the end of the scene: "Emoriar tecum: sic, sic juvat ire sub umbras./At tame absistam properato cedere letho," (I will die with you: thus, thus it will please me to go to the shades below / But however I will refuse to hasten my death). He refuses the option of suicide because to do so would mean that Horatio's death would pass unavenged. Revenge is thus not a means solely for Hieronimo to satisfy his own longing for retribution: it is something necessary because it is only just that Horatio's death should be revenged. This emphasis on justice is not something that was present in Andrea's vengeful speeches or in Bel-Imperia's.

Hieronimo's removal of the "bloody handkercher" off of his dead son signifies the transfer of revenge from Andrea to Horatio. This may very well be the same "scarf" Andrea rode into battle and which was then given to Horatio. It now becomes a symbol of Hieronimo's love for his son and commitment to avenge him. Having been linked to two separate deaths and two separate revenges, it now clearly takes on the status of a universal symbol; not just a symbol of Andrea's death and his revenge, but of love, memory, and revenge in general. Now, in addition, through its association with Hieronimo (a judge, and just man), it becomes a symbol of justice as well.

Contrast this emphasis on justice with the words of Lorenzo and Balthazar at the murder of Bel-Imperia. When Horatio is hung and killed, Bel-Imperia pleads for his life, humiliating herself as a scorned woman in an attempt to save her lover: "I loved Horatio, but he loved not me." Note the irony; the proud Bel- Imperia, who was determined to seek revenge on Balthazar, now forced to grovel in front of him and her brother. Balthazar complains that he loved Bel- Imperia, indicating his self-centeredness. Lorenzo's reply is a cynical joke: "Although his life were still ambitious proud, / Yet is he at the highest now he is dead," jokingly referring to Horatio's "height" now that he has been hanged from a tree. The image also reminds an Elizabethan reader of "Fortune's wheel," the conventional symbol for Fortune (which we might wish to call "chance" or "contingency"). The wheel of Fortune was conceived as being indifferent to the hopes and aspirations of humanity. Balthazar's and Lorenzo's rhetoric effectively identifies each as a similarly inhuman mechanism, indifferent to the loves and hopes of others and to justice, and solely concerned for their own ambitions. As such, they take on both a superhuman and subhuman quality—superhuman in that they seem not to be affected by the weaknesses with which ordinary humans are affected (weakness of will, sentimentality), but subhuman in that they are incapable of normal human emotion. They are the injustice that Hieronimo must eliminate if he is to find justice. And their inhuman nature serves, by contrast, to highlight Hieronimo's anguished humanity, encouraging us to identify with him even further.

Act III, scene i–scene ii


Act III, scene I

At the Portuguese court, the time of Alexandro's execution has arrived. The King, several nobles, and Villuppo enter, discussing the unexpected nature of Alexandro's treason. The Viceroy soon orders Alexandro to be brought in. The condemned nobleman arrives, still protesting his innocence. The King orders him to be quiet, and, at the king's orders, Alexandro is then bound to the stake, where he is to be burnt. Just before the fire is lit, however, the Ambassador arrives from the Spanish court, with news that Balthazar still lives and that Villuppo has been deceiving the Viceroy. He provides proof of this fact to the Viceroy in the form of letters. The Viceroy, realizing his mistake, orders Alexandro to be released and asks Villuppo why he falsely accused Alexandro; Villuppo admits he did so only out of greed and hope for advancement. The King then condemns Villuppo to a horrible death, ignoring Alexandro's pleas for mercy on behalf of his tormentor. The Viceroy then, while not apologizing to Alexandro for nearly executing on completely baseless grounds, nevertheless seems eager to renew his friendship with the young nobleman.

Act III, scene ii

The setting returns to Spain, where Hieronimo mourns the death of his son in an extended soliloquy. Suddenly, a letter drops, seemingly from the sky, written in blood. The letter has been written by Bel-Imperia and is addressed to Hieronimo. In it, she states that Lorenzo and Balthazar murdered Horatio and then hid her (presumably somewhere in the royal palace) from society so that she could not inform on them. She then urges Hieronimo on to avenge Horatio's death. Hieronimo does not entirely believe the letter at first, suspicious of being led into a trap and resolves to wait for further evidence. Spotting Pedringano, he asks him where Bel-Imperia can be found; Pedringano says that he does not know. Lorenzo arrives, and Pedringano informs him of Hieronimo's question. Lorenzo says that his father, the Duke of Castile, has "removed her hence" because of some "disgrace" and offers to give Bel-Imperia whatever message Hieronimo might have for her. Hieronimo declines, confusedly explaining that he desired Bel-Imperia's help with something (a thing which he does not specify) and then rejects Lorenzo's offer to help in his sister's place. When Hieronimo leaves, Lorenzo reveals his alarm at Hieronimo's question and immediately assumes that Serberine (Balthazar's manservant) has confessed the details of Horatio's murder to Hieronimo. Pedringano objects that Serberine could not possibly have done this, because the manservant had not been out of his sight since the murder. But to be on the safe side, Lorenzo decides to have Serberine killed and offers Pedringano gold if he will do so, which Pedringano accepts. Lorenzo tells Pedringano to be at St. Luigi's Park, assuring him that Serberine will also be there. Pedringano then leaves, and Lorenzo sends a page to Serberine, with the message that the manservant should meet him and Balthazar at St. Luigi's Park at eight o'clock. After the page leaves, Lorenzo reveals in soliloquy that he intends to have the park heavily guarded that night, so that Pedringano will be apprehended upon killing Serberine and most likely executed himself. In other words, Lorenzo is cutting of all the loose ends that connect himself and the Prince to the murder of Horatio.


Scene III.i functions as an ironic reversal of the final scenes of Act II. The ambassador arrives in time to save Alexandro's life, whereas Hieronimo arrives too late to save Horatio's. The grieving Viceroy learns that his son is still alive, whereas the proud Horatio learns that his son is dead. And whereas scenes iv and v of Act II show the commission of a grave act of injustice, Act III shows the remedy of injustice and the commission of justice.

Such an ironic reversal has several effects. First, it allows us some "emotional breathing room" within the play, relieving the unrelenting horror of Act II. Kyd places a hopeful event right after a hopeless event. In doing so, he indicates that in the world of the play, justice is indeed possible. This keeps alive our interest by holding out the possibility of redemptive justice for Hieronimo. Yet the juxtaposition of justice right after an act of injustice also serves to bring out, by contrast, the injustice of Hieronimo's death, the element of unfortunate accident involved in it (that Hieronimo was too late in arriving to save his son or apprehend his murderers and that Bel-Imperia and Horatio had no one to defend them from Pedringano), and the terrible grief now suffered by Hieronimo. And finally, at the Portuguese court, reality and truth are revealed. In Hieronimo's garden, they are hidden from him; he is unable to reach the reality of his son's murder and instead can only perceive the horrible appearances afterwards. So these scenes heighten, in the minds of an attentive viewer or reader, the pathos of Horatio's murder.

The question of justice is taken up by Hieronimo again in his soliloquoy in scene ii. "How should we term your dealings to be just / If you unjustly deal with those that in your justice trust?" asks Hieronimo, directing his questions to the "sacred heavens." His soliloquoy indicates internal struggle, over two key questions. First, he agonizes over his need for evidence as to the identity of his son's murderers. This is framed as a conflict between him and an unjust world that refuses to provide him with any clues, but once he receives the letter from Bel-Imperia, written in her blood, that identifies the killers as Lorenzo and Balthazar, his conflict becomes internal. Will he believe the letter or not? "Hieronimo, beware, thou art betrayed, / And to entrap thy life this train is laid." In giving himself advice, Hieronimo indicates that he himself is divided on this issue, between the advice-giving self and the self that wishes to seek out justice swiftly. A similar division can be seen in his vague references to "dire visions" that "plague his soul": "The ugly fiends do sally forth of hell, / And frame my steps to unfrequented paths." Here, the Christian imagery of temptation is used to express Hieronimo's horror at what must be visions of bloody revenge; yet the fact that he experiences such visions indicates the violent urges and impulses that are growing within Hieronimo's mind.

There is a parallel in the two scenes, in that they are both scenes involving a revelation. In the first, the revelation comes in the form of the arrival of the Portuguese ambassador, who brings news of Balthazar's survival. In the second, it is the blood-written letter of Bel-Imperia that serves as the source of revelation. In the first scene, this revelation is a source of salvation. It saves Alexandro's life and prevents injustice from being done. In the second scene, the revelation does nothing of the sort, since the injustice it seeks to rectify has already been committed. Furthermore, it is not trustworthy, at least not to Hieronimo, though the audience knows that it is indeed truthful. Kyd again creates dramatic tension by placing the truth in front of his protagonist's eyes but only in such a way as to make him suspicious of it. The dramatic irony of Hieronimo's suspicion that someone is deceiving him lies in this: the letter he doubts is actually the true revelation of exactly such a deception, perpetrated by Lorenzo and Balthazar on the entire royal court.

Act III, scene iii–scene v


Act III, scene iii

Under Lorenzo's orders, Pedringano enters Saint Luigi's park with a pistol. He is intent on killing Serberine and hopes for good luck (literally, he asks Fortune to look kindly upon him). Unbeknownst to him, three watchmen enter the park nearby. Serberine then arrives for what he believes to be his eight o'clock rendezvous with Lorenzo. Pedringano sees him and shoots him dead. The watchmen hear the shot and quickly find and apprehend Pedringano, and they decide to take the murderer to the Knight-Marshal's house. He speaks defiantly to them, believing that Lorenzo will protect him from any possible harm.

Act III, scene iv

Lorenzo and Balthazar have awoken early the next morning, and Balthazar wonders why Lorenzo seems so nervous. Lorenzo reveals his fear that both he and the prince have had their role in Horatio's murder exposed to Hieronimo. Balthazar chides him for being silly. A Page enters with news of Serberine's death the previous night. Balthazar is shocked and grieved by the news, for Serberine was his personal servant. When the page reveals that Pedringano committed the murder, Balthazar becomes enraged. Lorenzo assured Serberine that he will help Balthazar seek revenge against Pedringano, in a legal manner; Balthazar agrees that Serberine must be put to death for his crime and leaves to summon the meeting of Hieronimo's court so that the sentence can be carried out quickly. After Balthazar has left, Lorenzo reflects how well his plan is working; he will rid himself of both Serberine and Pedringano. A messenger then arrives with a letter from Pedringano, asking for Lorenzo's help now that he, Pedringano, has committed the murder that the Duke of Castile's son requested. Lorenzo tells the messenger to return to Pedringano and reassure him. After the messenger leaves, Lorenzo then gives the page (who announced Serberine's death) a box and tells the page to inform the murderer that the box contains his official pardon, already signed. But, says Lorenzo, the young boy must not look in the bo, and in fact must not open the box for anyone on pain of death, even when Pedringano stands on the gallows. The page runs off, and Lorenzo congratulates himself on how only he knows the true intentions of his plans.

Act III, scene v

The page from the previous scene enters and speaks directly to the audience. He has, of course, opened the box and looked inside. And he has, of course, found nothing—the box is empty and contains no pardon. He believes that his lord's actions are dishonourable and reflects on how odd and it will be to stand at the gallows, pointing at the box as if there were a pardon inside, while Pedringano mocks the proceedings, right up until the point he is hanged. But he still will go along with his master's deception, because he realizes that if he does not, then Pedringano will still die and he will die along with him.


These scenes present an interesting dramatic situation: the opposing action, in the form of Lorenzo's plot to eliminate all possible connections between him and the crime, becomes dominant, and Hieronimo, now clearly identified as the play's protagonist, fades into irrelevance. In fact, the only mention of Hieronimo in these scenes is in III.iv, when he is mentioned as the judge who will carry out the sentence on Pedringano. Again, the protagonist is entrapped in an ironic situation: he will be the agent of "justice" who will in fact enable Lorenzo to safely carry through his unjust plans.

These scenes also serve to confirm that Lorenzo, not Balthazar, is the main antagonist of the play. It is he who both devises and carries out his plans, alone, manipulating the emotions of others (even his accomplices in Horatio's murder) to serve his own ends. This can be seen in his dealings with Pedringano (whom he fools into killing Serberine) and Balthazar (whose outrage he uses against Pedringano). Lorenzo fits the character type of a Machiavellian villain, a private-sphere version of Machiavelli's ideal prince, as described in The Prince (1513). He utilizes the emotions of others to his own ends and never lets his own emotions get in the way of his plans and actions, which are motivated out of pure, calculating self-interest. To the English of Elizabethan times, Machiavellianism was a synonym for evil, so they would have been filled with the appropriate disgust for Lorenzo's actions. This is not to say that on a certain level they would not admire his cleverness: indeed, Kyd again seems to exploit the nature of the stage-audience relation to create ambivalence between audience and character, a "double perspective", in which Lorenzo is both someone to be scorned for his evil, yet admired for his wit and decisiveness. This very decisiveness and action contrasts with Hieronimo's indecisiveness and inaction at this stage, increasing the dramatic tension as we wonder whether Hieronimo will ever find the justice he deserves and whether Lorenzo and Balthazar will not simply manage to escape unpunished.

But even Lorenzo is not free from dramatic irony. His entire plan is based on the false belief that Serberine informed Hieronimo about the identity. This is an important fact, because it indicates that Lorenzo is fallible, and human: he lacks complete information. And this lack will eventually prove his downfall.

Much critical interpretation of this scene has focused around the symbolism of Lorenzo's empty box. G.K. Hunter interprets the box as a cynical symbol of man's hope for justice. This fits in nicely with the current thematic emphasis of the play, which focuses around Hieronimo's search for justice: Pedringano believes that he has found his justice in the black box. The emptiness of the box not only proves Pedringano wrong on a literal level, it can be seen to express metaphorically Hieronimo's doubts about the possibility of justice ever being achieved. Frank Ardolino has seen the box as a type of inverted Pandora's box, out of which evil comes in the form of nothingness (as opposed to the plethora of things—including hope, disease and suffering—that came out of the box in the Greek legend).

Whatever the box may symbolize, it sets up a situation again full of dramatic irony. Lorenzo has plotted carefully to have Pedringano condemned to death, but Pedringano still looks to his lord as a possible source of salvation; Lorenzo now cruelly uses this false belief to ensure that Pedringano will stay silent in front of Hieronimo. And Pedringano's silence places Hieronimo in the position of carrying out "justice" upon Pedringano in the form of an execution. This situation is doubly ironic, first since Hieronimo himself is unable to find justice in his own life, yet is now charged with carrying out justice upon others. But it is also ironic because, in believing that he carries out justice, Hieronimo actually carries out an injustice that, by destroying the last living link between Lorenzo and the crime (besides Balthazar), may prevent him from ever finding the justice he seeks. This is a situation that, like most instances of dramatic irony, is rife with both tension and a grim sort of humor, as the audience watches while a sympathetic character unwittingly brings about his own failure, observing how easily the best intentions of men are turned against themselves.

A small formal note: Lorenzo's page speaks entirely in prose. The Elizabethan literary convention was that "low" characters (low in social standing) would often speak prose, while their social superiors spoke verse. In the page, the prose can also be seen to indicate a low moral character, as he almost seems to laugh at the deception being played on Pedringano.

Act II, scenes vi–viii

Act III, scene vi

The time has come for Pedringano's execution for the murder of Serberine. Hieronimo and a deputy enter. Hieronimo reflects on the irony of his situation, since in carrying out his official role as a judge by executing Pedringano, he will do justice for others, while still completely unable to find justice for himself or his son. Pedringano soon enters, along with some officers and Lorenzo's page. He reveals that he had written another letter asking for Lorenzo's help, but after the arrival of Lorenzo's page, realized that that letter was redundant. His attitude is now one of joviality and defiance, for he believes (wrongly) that the box contains his pardon. The Hangman asks Pedringano to step onto the gallows; Pedringano does so, confesses to his crime, but instead of showing repentance and remorse, begins to joke with the Hangman, trading witty insults, and continually dropping hints that he does not expect to be hanged; all the while, the page is continually pointing to the box, leading Pedringano on. The Hangman soon becomes annoyed, and Hieronimo is eventually forced to leave in disgust at Pedringano's impudence. The Hangman finally asks Pedringano directly whether he hopes to live; Pedringano says yes he does, by his pardon from the king. But the boy does not reveal the pardon, because it does not exist, and the Hangman immediately carries out the execution. The deputies take away Pedringano's body.

Act III, scene vii

Hieronimo, having left the execution, now wanders around his estate, mourning his son. He asks where he can possibly find relief from his grief and concludes that his grief is inescapable and that it demands that he finds justice for his son's murder. The Hangman finds him and tells him that a letter was recovered from Pedringano's body, which indicates that in fact Pedringano was operating under the orders of a superior and was therefore executed injustly. Hieronimo assuages the Hangman's fear of punishment for the hasty execution and takes the letter from him. Hieronimo then reads the letter aloud. The letter is addressed to Lorenzo, and it restates Pedringano's request for help from his lord. It also contains a threat: that Pedringano will, if not aided by Lorenzo, reveal that Lorenzo ordered him to kill Serberine and also that Lorenzo and Balthazar killed Horatio with their servants' help. Hieronimo, upon reading the letter, finds confirmation for the first letter he received (from Bel-Imperia). He becomes enraged, realizing the truth of the allegations, finally convinced of the identity of his son's murderers. He resolves to seek justice from the king and heads directly toward the court.

Act III, scene viii

At the Knight-Marshal's house, Isabella circles with her maid, discussing different medicines. Complaining that there is no medicine that will restore the dead to life, she has a fit, running wildly across the room. Her maid attempts to console her, but she will not be consoled; the only thing that seems to help is the thought of her son sitting happily in Heaven "backed with a troop of fiery cherubins," singing and dancing in perfect bliss. But then the thought of his murder returns to her, and she again screams out a demand for justice against the murderers of her son.


These scenes show two important developments: the increasing mental disturbance of Horatio's parents over their son's unrevenged murder, and the culmination (and simultaneous foiling) of Lorenzo's plans. These developments indicate a shift in the action, away from Lorenzo's opposing plans (which he believes, falsely, to be successful) and toward Hieronimo's plans for revenge. In other words, Hieronimo's actions now control the direction of the play.

We can see this in a change in the situations of Lorenzo and Hieronimo, regarding their respective knowledge. Lorenzo has had privileged access to the real significance of recent events. Whereas everyone else, including Hieronimo, believed that the murder of Serberine was a simple, hot-blooded killing, Lorenzo knew that it was all part of his plan. But now it is Lorenzo who is in the dark, and Hieronimo who is in the know, thanks to Pedringano's letter. And Hieronimo has now achieved certainty, thanks to yet another revelation (this time from a reliable source) as to the identity of his son's true killers.

The fact that Hieronimo was made a dupe of Lorenzo does provide some ironic distance between us and the tragic protagonist. When he condemns Pedringano to death and leaves the execution, his disgusted comments are a perfect example of dramatic irony: he consciously believes that he refers both to Serberine's and his son's murder, and he does not know that he is in fact about to hang one of his son's murderers or that in doing so he is helping his son's chief murderer escape punishment. Again, our feeling of tension and pity for Hieronimo is increased by the lack of information that propels him into this unfortunate act.

But the irony reverses back onto Lorenzo with the discovery of Pedringano's letter. It is situational irony, in which Lorenzo's intentions backfire: instead of hiding his identity from Hieronimo, his plot to trick Pedringano into murdering Serberine, and then having Pedringano executed, actually reveals his identity to the Knight Marshal. This reversal of information also presages a reversal in the respective characters of Lorenzo and Hieronimo: from now on it will be Hieronimo who behaves in a Machiavellian manner and Lorenzo who will become his innocent dupe.

Hieronimo's eventual decline is also foreshadowed in the fracturing of his mind under the strain of Horatio's murder and his inability to find justice for his son. "Where shall I run to breathe abroad my woes, / My woes whose weight hath wearied the earth?" Justice and revenge—the two are explicitly linked on line 14—have become something unreachable, locked behind the "windows of the brightest heavens." Again, we experience his anguish and frustration vicariously as dramatic tension. We empathize with his suffering, but also wish him to discover what we already know: that Lorenzo and Balthazar murdered his son. His suffering and our tension finds a momentary release when he confirms the identity of his son's murderers: now there is the possibility of action. And for the spectators, there is the possibility of a plot. Had Horatio remained in the dark, the play would have soon become uneventful and boring. Again, the idea of a double perspective is useful: on the one hand, we see Hieronimo as a dramatic character in a play and therefore know more than he does and are separated from him. But on the other hand, we view him as a human being, very much like ourselves, and thus empathize with him. This empathy creates our tension and unease at his suffering and our identification with his desire to find justice.

But in case we doubted the severity of his parental grief, and how close Hieronimo had come (and may still be) to madness, we can look to Isabella, whose "running lunatic" in scene viii illustrates what happens when this grief goes unrelieved. Isabella has nothing to console herself with, not "physic" (potion) to bring the dead back to life, and she does not know the identity of Horatio's murderers. Her only consolation is a vision of Horatio in heaven, "Backed with a troop of fiery cherubins, / Dancing about his newly-healed wounds." The backbreaking grief she experiences contrasts with the solace Hieronimo finds in thoughts of revenge. Furthermore, her madness foreshadows his, but will contrast with it as well: whereas Hieronimo is obsessed with evil thoughts of revenge, Isabella retreats into a world of the imagination where Hieronimo is alive and happy.

Act III, scene xii


Hieronimo enters with a dagger and a piece of rope. He has come to see the king in order to demand justice for Horatio. The implements he has in his hands, however, are those commonly used for suicide, and he seems to contemplate taking his own life. But he decides that if he does not avenge Horatio, no one will.

The King of Spain then arrives, along with the Ambassador, the Duke of Castile, and Lorenzo; Hieronimo hopes that his king will help avenge Horatio's death. But the king is preoccupied with affairs of state, since the Portuguese ambassador has returned. He brings the news that the Viceroy has accepted the marriage arrangement first proposed by the king in Act II, scene iii: that Balthazar and Bel-Imperia be wed, thereby uniting the royal lines of Spain and Portugal. The wedding ceremony will be held at the Spanish court, and the Viceroy will attend in person. Furthermore, as soon as the rites are performed, the Viceroy will abdicate his kingship so that Balthazar may take his place, and Bel-Imperia will become queen. As mentioned before, their offspring would then become the royal line of both Spain and Portugal.

The Ambassador also mentions that he brings the ransom to be paid to Horatio for the release of Balthazar. Upon the mention of his son's name, Hieronimo seems to go into a fit: he begs the king for justice, but the king, not knowing that Horatio has been murdered, does not understand what his Knight-Marshal is talking about. The king demands an explanation; Hieronimo leaves in a fury, and Lorenzo explains that Hieronimo is filled with such pride for his son, and such excitement about the prospect of the huge ransom, that he has gone insane as a result. The king is full of pity for Hieronimo and tells the Duke of Castile to go and give Hieronimo the ransom. When Lorenzo suggests that Hieronimo be removed from his post, the king refuses, saying that such an action would only increase Hieronimo's instability and that he will carry out his Knight-Marshal's judiciary functions until Hieronimo's mental health improves.


Again, Hieronimo's soliloquies give us access to his troubled interiority. And this interiority is again wracked, by a question. "This way or that way?" he demands, and the two paths are clearly defined. The first is the path of suicide, as symbolized by the "poniard" (dagger) and rope he carries in his hand. The dagger and rope were the traditional instruments of suicide in Elizabethan times, and thus the recognized symbols for the act. His tossing aside of them physically represents his rejection of suicide as an option. For an Elizabethan audience, this tossing aside would be a moment of great psychological importance. It is Horatio's decision to take "that way", the way of revenge, and "justice for Horatio's death."

But the path of revenge and justice has suddenly acquired horrific attributes. It is a path through hell, "down by the dale that flows with purple gore," a path that leads to a judge who sits "upon a set of steel and molten brass, / And twxit his teeth he holds a fire-brand, / That leads unto the lake where hell doth stand." Kyd's ornately rhetorical style, full of alliteration may seem artificial when used to represent Hieronimo's sense of growing madness, counteracting the impression of Hieronimo as someone driven to his wit's ends. But it may help to convey the danger and seriousness of the task Hieronimo is undertaking. We may ask why Hieronimo finds this path so dangerous and difficult, and why he does not simply run to the king with his information.

But there are severe obstacles to such an easy resolution of his problem, obstacles presented by social class and of diplomacy. Lorenzo is the son of the Duke of Castile, the King's brother, and so is the nephew of the king. Balthazar is the son of the Viceroy of Portugal, with whom the king is negotiating an important diplomatic treaty. The king's own interests and familial relations make the possibility of Hieronimo finding justice seem remote, especially to an Elizabethan audience, who would be much more conscious of the importance of class differences.

To emphasize the king's interest in matters other than justice for Hieronimo's son, the king is shown entering with the Portuguese ambassador, arranging the details for Balthazar's wedding to Bel-Imperia. He does not know (implausibly, since he is the only one) that Horatio has been murdered and does not even see Hieronimo. Lorenzo keeps Hieronimo out of the King's sight, just as he has kept Horatio's murder out of sight. In effect, Lorenzo has placed a veil between the king and Hieronimo. This veil is only pierced by Hieronimo's sudden descent into madness upon hearing his son's name. Ironically enough, it is the king who speaks it, believing Horatio to still be alive and ordering that Balthazar's ransom money be sent to him. But this madness is real, not contrived, and so Hieronimo loses the self-control necessary to make his case. Lorenzo is again easily able to shield the king from the knowledge of Horatio's death and his own complicity in it.

But the king is not completely insensitive to Hieronimo, and in fact has great affection for his Knight-Marshal. He demonstrates this by rejecting Lorenzo's suggestion that Hieronimo be dismissed from his post. It makes one wonder what the king would have done if Hieronimo had been able to speak to him coherently. Again, notice the irony of the situation: the king unwittingly prompts Hieronimo's madness and then forgives him for it, preventing himself from learning of his friend's real problem. This is one of those ironies that will contribute to the eventual tragedy by convincing Hieronimo that he has no recourse to the law. The law is embodied in the king, and the king cannot, will not, or simply does not hear him

Act III, scene xiii


Again, Hieronimo is alone in his house, and now he has realized that he will not find justice with the king. He briefly considers leaving the matter of Horatio's revenge to God, as the Bible suggests. But he then considers that Lorenzo will probably have him killed to eliminate the threat of revenge, no matter what Hieronimo decides to do.

These considerations seem to prompt the Knight-Marshal to consider his vengeance against Lorenzo as part of his destiny, something fated by Heaven to happen. Now viewing himself as an instrument of divine vengeance, Hieronimo hatches a plan to pursue his revenge through subterfuge. Since both Lorenzo and Balthazar are of much higher rank than he, and could crush him easily if they knew his intentions, he will pretend to be grieving. If he acts unaware of Lorenzo's crimes and is friendly towards both of his son's murderers, when an opportune time comes for revenge, the two will not suspect him of seizing it.

A servant informs him that several petitioners are at the door, asking that Hieronimo plead on their behalf to the king. Hieronimo lets them in; they number four in total, and one of them is an old man. As they enter, the first speaks of Hieronimo's reputation as the most educated, skilled, and fair legal official in all of Spain. Hieronimo asks the men to plead their cases. The first three citizens all do so: the first case related to a debt, the second concerning some undetermined financial dealing, and the third an appeal of an eviction notice. The men provide Hieronimo with written documents and evidence, after which Hieronimo asks the old man to speak. The old man proclaims himself unable to speak his case, because it is too terrible; he instead provides Hieronimo with a document entitled "The humble supplication of Don Bazulto for his murdered son." Hieronimo is immediately moved into a fit of grief and shame over his own dead son and his inability to avenge Horatio's death. He offers the old man, who has been crying, a handkerchief, then realizes that it is the same handkerchief he pulled from Horatio's dead body.

He gives the old man coins and then goes into a diatribe in which he accuses himself of not grieving enough for his murdered son, not being a "loving father" as the old man has been. He vows horrible revenge, invoking the name of Proserpine, then runs off and tears up the legal documents of the various petitioners. They protest that he has gone mad. He runs out, only to return to speak to the old man. He asks the old man whether he is Horatio, returned from the dead to spur his father on to vengeance; the old man says no. He then asks the old man whether he is a Fury, come from the underworld to torment Hieronimo for not avenging his son. The old man replies that he is not a Fury either, but simply a distraught old man seeking justice for his murdered boy. Hieronimo then says that he knows what the old man is; he is the embodiment of Hieronimo's grief. The Knight-Marshal then asks the old man to accompany him into his house to meet Isabella, where all three of them will "sing a song" of the grief they all share over their lost sons.


Scene xiii gives a detailed portrait of Hieronimo's interiority—his inner psyche—that is both disturbing and profoundly moving. On the one hand, Hieronimo seems to accept his role as a Machiavellian villain. On the other, we are presented with an image of Hieronimo as an essentially just and kind human being, almost destroyed by grief for his son. And so the scene presents us with several questions of interpretation: these questions ponder whether Hieronimo is a hero or a villain; whether he freely chooses to act the way he does, or is forced into it by uncontrollable grief; and whether his act repudiates Christianity, or acts within it.

These questions are interrelated, especially for an Elizabethan audience. When Hieronimo enters and suddenly declares "Vindicta mihi!", he is quoting the bible: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, sayeth the lord" (from Romans). Elizabethan preachers used this phrase to demonstrate how vengeance was something that should be left for God to invoke and not humankind. Hieronimo elaborates upon this Christian sentiment but then appears to reject it. The quotations he uses to explain his decision all draw from Seneca, and the book he holds is presumably a copy of the ancient Roman writer's works. But his reasoning is somewhat unclear. He proposes that Lorenzo will kill him to eliminate the threat of an avenger, if he does not kill him first. Another premise he states is that the worst that can happen to him if he acts boldly is death, which (since "Heaven covereth him that have no burial") is nothing to fear. But it is a logical leap from those two premises to the conclusion that he should reject the Christian injunction against revenge. Francis Bowers has suggested that we read this passage not as providing justification for Hieronimo's decision, but instead as an illustration of how he has turned from hero to villain. In other words, it shows his rejection of the Christian ideal of letting God decide and his adoption of the pagan idea of personal vengeance, as symbolized by the pagan writer Seneca. For an Elizabethan audience, the choosing paganism over Christianity and choosing evil over good were the same thing.

But this interpretation is somewhat inconsistent with the events that follow. These events emphasize Hieronimo's goodness—for example, the three citizens who praise Hieronimo's justice and fairness—and his anguish not only over his son's death but also over his reluctance to seek revenge for his son's death (as revealed by his conversation with the old man). An Elizabethan audience would undoubtedly feel discomfort with Hieronimo's decision, most likely believing it to be wrong. But it would also empathize with Hieronimo's suffering and his need to seek justice for his son. It must be remembered that all legal means to this justice have, at least in the eyes of Hieronimo, been exhausted after his failed meeting with the king. To Hieronimo, Lorenzo and Balthazar now have the law on their side, whereas Hieronimo has justice on his. Furthermore, private revenge had a long history in England, which had only fallen out of favor in the previous 100 years; no doubt Hieronimo was expressing an ambivalence probably felt by many in the audience. That they might not agree with the way he resolved his ambivalence does not mean that they would not sympathize or agree with his decision.

Furthermore, his decision does not amount to a wholesale rejection of Christianity. His reference to "Heaven" is an indication that he does not consider his actions as contradictory to Christian salvation. The stealth and deceptiveness he says he will pursue of course have a Machiavellian tinge. But they can also be interpreted as the patience of the righteous Renaissance man, as noted by Ronald Broude, or as the slow, patient revenge of God, described by the Protestant Theologian John Calvin, whose theology deeply influenced the English church. Hieronimo thus has an ambiguous relation to Christianity, where he may be usurping God's role or acting as God's agent. Even if he acts as God's agent, this is no guarantee that he acts justly.

It may be tempting, in the face of all this ambiguity and contradiction, to declare Hieronimo insane, and view his actions as those of a madmen. As for his sanity, Hieronimo seems to be hanging onto it by a thread, if at all, as demonstrated by his running away from the citizens and his hasty reasoning in his soliloquy. When he demands of the old man whether or not he is Horatio, or a Fury from Hell, the audience may feel that Hieronimo has lost it, but this tension is relieved in his final speech to the old man, where he describes him as "the lively image of my grief" and asks him to come and grieve with him and his wife, to sing a song "[t]here parts in one, but all in discord framed." It is an act of profound understanding and compassion, which encourages us to see Hieronimo not as a bloodthirsty villain, but as a noble man under a great deal of strain, who we find it difficult to condemn, even though he makes what audiences both Elizabethan and modern would mainly regard as the wrong decision. Again, we are forced into a double perspective, unable to either condemn Hieronimo or support him, instead both sharing his pain and recoiling from the action he is about to undertake.

Act III, scenes xiv–xvi


Act III, scene xiv

The scene now shifts again to the Spanish court. The king, the Duke of Castile, Lorenzo, Balthazar, the Ambassador and Bel-Imperia have all congregated to greet the Viceroy of Portugal, who has arrived to see his son's wedding to Bel-Imperia. The king and Viceroy exchange speeches of welcome and praise. Everyone then leaves for a more private chamber in which to celebrate, except for Castile, who keeps his son Lorenzo behind as well.

Castile and Lorenzo then have a father-son talk, during which Castile tells his son that he is worried that Lorenzo's behavior might be endangering Bel- Imperia's marriage prospects. Specifically, Castile has heard rumors that Lorenzo has been denying Hieronimo access to the king and treating him unfairly; he pointedly reminds his son that Hieronimo has gained much admiration at the Spanish court, and it would be an embarrassment if the Knight-Marshal accused Lorenzo of wronging him. Lorenzo claims that these rumors have no foundation. Castile counters that he has seen it happen himself, but his son reassures his father that he was merely trying to prevent Hieronimo for embarrassing himself, in his madness, in front of the King. Lorenzo points out if Hieronimo has misconstrued his actions as hostile, it is only to be expected from a man who has gone out of his mind upon the murder of his son. Castile orders one of the servants to bring Hieronimo to them.

Balthazar and Bel-Imperia enter, with Balthazar speaking words of praise for his love, and Bel-Imperia, for once, returning them in kind. Castile greets both of the lovers and tells Bel-Imperia not to look sternly at him; he is no longer angry with her, he says, now that she is no longer in love with Andrea and instead engaged to the prince.

Hieronimo now enters with the servant, suspicious at having been summoned, fearful that his son's murderers may wish to tie up a loose end to their crime by finishing him off. But he immediately realizes this is not what will happen. The Duke informs him that he wishes to speak about the rumors that Lorenzo has been denying him access to the king and that Hieronimo now finds himself enraged at the Duke's son. Hieronimo dramatically insists this is not the case, drawing his sword and threatening to kill anyone who says otherwise. The Duke then asks Hieronimo and his son to embrace, which they do, exchanging words of friendship. As soon as the Duke is out of earshot, Hieronimo mocks both his and the Duke's words of friendship.

Act III, scene xv

Andrea is getting angrier and angrier; not only does Balthazar still live, but he is now engaged to Bel-Imperia. Moreover, Revenge has been sleeping all this time. Andrea wakes him up noisily, complaining that he has been neglecting his job. Hieronimo has now become friends with Lorenzo, seemingly having forgotten his son's murder. Revenge insists that Hieronimo has done nothing of the sort and that even though he may pretend to be at peace with Lorenzo, in fact his lust for revenge is simply slumbering, as the ghost was.

Revenge then stages a dumb show (a silent masque) for Andrea's sake, which shows a wedding party, at first happy, then descended upon by Hymen, god of marriage, who blows out their wedding torches and drenches them with blood. Andrea says that he understands the meaning of the masque and that the ghost can sleep if he wants to now, while he watches the rest of the play unfold.


The juxtaposition of the rich, sophisticated, happy Spanish courtiers, arranging the wedding of a murderer (Balthazar) to the lover of the man he has murdered, makes a striking contrast with the grief of Hieronimo and the old man. The ornate speeches of the King and Viceroy can be seen as doubly ironic. First, they are based on the idea of Bel-Imperia and Balthazar's union being a happy one, whereas it is in actuality founded upon murder and the persuasion of the Duke of Castile. Secondly, their close friendship now stems from ulterior motives made plain in their speeches: the King treats the Viceroy nicely because he has beaten him in war, and the Viceroy is just happy that his son is alive. The Spanish court is a place where appearance and reality have a very sharp wedge driven between them. Even Bel-Imperia joins in on the act, professing her love for Balthazar, while revealing her true emotions with her tears. It is therefore understandable why Hieronimo enters in this scene fearing for his life: "Pocas palabras!(few words) mild as the lamb,/ Is't I will be revenged? No, I am not the man." The shifting alliances and appearances of the Spanish Court, along with the presence of Lorenzo at its center, make it difficult to know what to expect. The Machiavellian nature of the court thus helps justify Hieronimo's own Machiavellian behavior.

One way in which the Elizabethan audience differed from a modern audience is the immediate negative connotations that Spain and Portugal, but especially Spain, would have for them. Spain was England's chief enemy, and they were hated with a religious intensity. Understandably so, since the conflict (at least for the general public) was essentially a religious one, between Catholic Spain and Protestant England. Never had anti-Spanish sentiment been so strong as in the late 1580's, roughly during the time Kyd wrote The Spanish Tragedy. 1588 was the year the Armada, an invasion fleet of Spanish warships, left Spain for England. The years before this invasion were filled with anxiety about Spanish conquest, and Englishmen viewed the defeat as a sign from God, a victory of the true religion (Protestantism) over Catholicism.

So such an audience would take it as a given that the Spanish court was evil, making them more ready to sympathize with Hieronimo's Machiavellian behavior. They would easily accept the claim that the Spanish king and nobles were unjust. Since the king controlled the law, justice would have to be found through illegal means. And Hieronimo's behavior is unquestionably Machiavellian at this point. His profession of friendship for Lorenzo is laced with verbal irony: "For divers causes it is fit for us/ That we be friends", says Hieronimo, and we know (though Lorenzo doesn't) that what they both have their reasons for appearing to be friends. And when Lorenzo hopes that "old grudges are forgot," Hieronimo will reply that "it were a shame it should not be so." And it will be a shame, because Hieronimo will not forget his grudge. Hieronimo here foreshadows the destruction he is going to bring, while making a false show of friendship similar to the one Lorenzo displayed to Pedringano in III.ii.

Andrea and Revenge by this time seem particularly nasty characters. Their only function in the plot seems to be foreshadowing Balthazar's ultimate doom. But Kyd makes the characters interesting in the following sense: he makes them human. The human traits he emphasizes are unattractive ones, though—Andrea seems bloodthirsty, and Revenge seems extremely lazy. But it is precisely this laziness, this "slumbering," that makes Revenge an interesting character. At this point in the play, we might very well wonder with Andrea whether Balthazar will see any punishment, and if so, how Hieronimo could possibly effect that punishment. Revenge's dumb show provides a cryptic foreshadowing, a "code" or puzzle for which the next Act will provide the solution. Revenge's ambiguity, his need to speak in code, his refusal to say anything concrete, draws the audience along, keeping them interested yet still guessing, like a movie trailer that reveals just enough yet not too much of the plot to get people interested. It also serves as a practical demonstration of the play's hopeful thesis enunciated by Isabella in II.v, which is that Time will eventually reveal the truth. In Time, we will see what Revenge means by the dumb show, and whether he speaks the truth or not.

An interesting and hard to answer question is how much time has elapsed so far during the course of the play. The idea that there has been enough time for rumors to have spread of Lorenzo's behavior suggests that it has been at least several days, perhaps a week or more, since Lorenzo's murder. The traveling back and forth between the Spanish and Portuguese courts also suggests a time frame of perhaps several weeks. There are two problems with such a time frame. First, the king has not yet heard of Horatio's death. We have to accept that the king is very unaware of the events that are happening around him, if we are to believe that a murder on his estate could escape his notice for so long. Second, there is the fact in IV.iv, Hieronimo unveils the dead body of his son. If several weeks had passed since Horatio's murder, one would expect his body to reek at that point and already be significantly decomposed. But in this case, Kyd may have sacrificed logical consistency for dramatic effect.

Act IV, scene i


Act IV, scene i

Bel-Imperia and Hieronimo enter the scene. Bel-Imperia upbraids Hieronimo for his failure to seek vengeance for his son and questions where his grief has gone. She tells him that if he doesn't avenge Horatio, she will be forced to do so herself. Upon hearing this, Hieronimo realizes that he has an ally. He begs her forgiveness for not acting sooner but resolves, in front of her, that he will kill those who murdered his son. She pledges to help him in any way she can. He simply instructs her to go along with the plan he is about to put into action.

Just at that moment, Balthazar and Lorenzo arrive, and Hieronimo begins to enact his plan. The two ask for Hieronimo's help. Apparently, Hieronimo's entertainment at the feast for the Portuguese Ambassador was such a success that he has been asked to provide the entertainment for the approaching royal wedding. Hieronimo agrees wholeheartedly and says that he has just the play: a tragedy he wrote in his student days at the University of Toledo. He asks each person present (Balthazar, Lorenzo, and Bel-Imperia) to act one of the parts. Balthazar seems initially shocked that Hieronimo suggests they play a tragedy, but eventually he and Lorenzo go along.

Hieronimo then explains the play's plot, which revolves around a knight of Rhodes (Rhodes-or Rodos is a small Greek island in the Mediterranean, conquered by the Turks near the turn of the sixteenth century) and his bride, Perseda. This bride was so beautiful that she drew the love of Soliman, the ruler of Rhodes. Soliman then decided to have the knight killed by his bashaw (a nobleman, or courtier) so that he could marry Perseda. Perseda, instead of marrying Soliman, killed him in revenge and then killed herself.

Lorenzo is utterly impressed by the plot, which ends with the pasha killing himself on a mountaintop. Hieronimo assigns the parts: he will be the murderer, Balthazar will play Soliman, Lorenzo will be the knight of Rhodes, and Bel-Imperia will play Perseda. He then hands out descriptions of each character to the respective actor, descriptions which detail which props and costumes each must wear: Balthazar, a Turkish cap, black mustache and broad, curved sword (falchion); Lorenzo, a cross like a knight of Rhodes; and Bel-Imperia must simply dress herself. Balthazar suggests that a comedy might be better material for a wedding, but his suggestion is spurned by Hieronimo.

Furthermore, Hieronimo dictates that each actor will have to improvise their lines and do so in a foreign language: Lorenzo in Latin, Hieronimo in Greek, Balthazar in Italian, and Bel-Imperia in French. Balthazar reasonably objects that no one will understand the play if they do this, but Hieronimo says that he will explain everything in a concluding speech.

Balthazar remains suspicious, but Lorenzo advises him to appease Hieronimo by going along with his plan. After they leave, Hieronimo contemplates the revenge he is about to obtain.

Act IV, scene ii

Isabella enters Hieronimo's garden with a dagger. She is railing against the injustice of her son's murder. She then cuts down the trellis or tree from which Horatio was hanged, hoping to destroy the memory of her son's death. Unable to be apart from her boy any longer, she pleads with Hieronimo to join her in death. She then stabs herself and dies.


We are now in the rising action before the final crisis, or climax, of the play (the first crisis came in II.v, with the murder of Horatio). In other words, the central problem of the play since Act II scene v, Hieronimo's need to revenge of his son, now comes close to a resolution. The situation is almost an exact parallel of the rising action that preceded the first climax, except now roles have been switched. Lorenzo and Balthazar now play the roles of "innocent dupes." Hieronimo and Bel-Imperia are, by contrast, Machiavellian villains, plotting their revenge. As Hieronimo says when Lorenzo and Balthazar approach, "the plot's already in mine head." He then convinces Balthazar and Lorenzo to play a tragedy against the will of Balthazar, keenly manipulating Lorenzo's natural enthusiasm for a good play to his own ends.

The reversal of roles poses some problems in terms of the audience's sympathy for the characters. Machiavellian behavior has never been endearing, especially not in Elizabethan England. We must ask what the difference is, then, between Lorenzo and Balthazar's revenge and Hieronimo's revenge. For the murder of Horatio was also driven by revenge. One might say that that Hieronimo and Bel- Imperia are driven by love: Bel-Imperia's first question to Hieronimo is "Is this the love thou bear'st Horatio?" and she insists that she loves Horatio enough that she will kill his murderers if he won't. But if love were an adequate excuse, then Balthazar could be excused as well, because he committed his crime out of love for Bel-Imperia.

Hieronimo does however use the language of justice to describe his and Bel- Imperia's cause. "I see that heaven applies our drift / And all the saints do sit soliciting / For vengeance on those cursed murderers." The murders of Lorenzo and Balthazar, in Hieronimo's eyes, have heaven's approval on their side; the murder of Horatio was, by contrast, "causeless," unjustifiable. That Hieronimo feels his revenge to be a form of divine justice is clear, and it is also clear that the injury done to his son was much worse than any injury Horatio could have done to his murderers. Horatio's wrongs were merely personal slights, exacerbated by the murderers' keen sense of pride. So we have reason to distinguish between the two cases for revenge, even if the Machiavellian behavior of Hieronimo and Bel-Imperia makes us uncomfortable.

Hieronimo's deception has even fooled his wife, and this results in one of the play's saddest moments. Isabella's suicide is full of apocalyptic imagery: "I will leave … not an herb within this garden-plot / Fruitless for ever may this garden be!" According to S.F. Johnson, her toppling down of the arbour (the tree from which Horatio was hanged) is an allusion to Hieronimo's prediction in IV.i: "Now shall I see the fall of Babylon, / Wrought by the heavens in this confusion." Her apocalyptic imagery has a common theme: the complete and total rejection of life, whether it be the life of the orchard, her own life, or the lives of any children she may have. This rejection is in effect a rejection of the future for the past, as shown by the juxtaposition of her suicide with the memory of her dead son: upon stabbing her breast, she describes it as "The hapless breast that gave Horatio suck." Her breast, and by extension her life, is given its meaning only by the memories of Horatio attached to it, not by anything that could happen in the future.

Act IV, scene iii–scene iv


Act IV, scene iii

Hieronimo begins building the stage for the play. The Duke of Castile walks by and asks him why he is building the stage by himself (literally, he asks where are his helpers). Hieronimo replies that it is important for the author of a play to ensure all aspects of its performance run smoothly. Hieronimo then asks Castile to give the king a copy of the play and to throw a key onto the floor for him when the audience has been seated. Castile consents and leaves. Balthazar comes along, with his beard half-on and half in his hand. Hieronimo scolds him for being unprepared. Then, along again, Hieronimo reminds himself of the reasons for his revenge: the death of his son and the recent suicide of his wife. He again resolves aloud to get revenge.

Act IV, scene iv

The time has arrived for the wedding festivities. The King, the Viceroy, the Duke of Castile, and their entourage sit down in front of the stage. The King hands the Viceroy the night's program, which summarizes the play's plot. Then, the play begins.

In the text of The Spanish Tragedy, a note is included to any readers (or perhaps audience members) explaining that the play was transcribed in English for the benefit of the general public; so the characters are comprehensible to English-speakers, despite Hieronimo's instructions to the contrary. Balthazar opens the production by entering—along with Hieronimo and Bel- Imperia—and giving a speech in the character of Soliman (the Turkish emperor), describing his pleasure at the conquest of Rhodes and his love for the beautiful Perseda. The king praises Balthazar's acting, and both the Viceroy and Castile note that he draws on his real-life love for Bel-Imperia. Hieronimo and Bel-Imperia, meanwhile, act the parts of the bashaw and Perseda. Soliman professes his affection for his friend Erasto, but when Lorenzo enters in the part of the knight Erasto, Erasto and Perseda exchange professions of love to Soliman's dismay. Hieronimo then persuades Soliman to have Erasto killed, against Soliman's initial reluctance to kill a friend. He then stabs Erasto. When Soliman tells the grieving Perseda that she can have his love to replace the loss of Erasto, she angrily rejects him, stabs him, and then stabs herself.

The watching nobles are all extremely impressed by the play. The King congratulates Hieronimo, and the Viceroy remarks that Bel-Imperia would have treated his son better had the play been reality. But then Hieronimo goes on to provide his promised conclusion, revealing that the murders that were just enacted were in fact committed, the stabbings were real, and all the other actors are now, in fact, dead. Hieronimo graphically provides the reason for his revenge by revealing his dead son's body from behind a curtain where it has been hidden. He describes the cruel murder of his own son and then directly addresses the Viceroy whose own son Hieronimo has just killed, telling the Portuguese ruler that he understands his grief, having felt it himself. He reveals that he constructed the play specifically as a device of revenging himself on the murderers of his son and also notes that he rewrote Bel-Imperia's part so that she would not have to die at the end but that she decided to take her life anyways, out of despair for the loss of Horatio.

Hieronimo then runs off to hang himself, but the King, Viceroy and Castile, now enraged and confused by the sudden disaster, manage to find him and stop him. Hieronimo curses them, as they angrily demand his reasons for killing the Viceroy's son and Castile's children. Hieronimo repeats the fact (previously explained) that Lorenzo and Balthazar killed his son. The Viceroy realizes that Bel-Imperia must have been Hieronimo's accomplice, since she stabbed Balthazar. The king then berates Hieronimo for not speaking (even though he has already told the king everything he needs to know), at which point Hieronimo vows silence, perhaps intending to never reveal (though the Viceroy has already guessed it) the fact that Bel-Imperia helped him. He then bites out his tongue. The King, Viceroy and Castile are disgusted as the tongue plops to the floor. They then insist that Hieronimo write down his confession (though he has already spoken it), and Hieronimo then asks, using signs, for a knife with which to sharpen his pen. They provide him with one, allowing Hieronimo to immediately stab the Duke and then himself. The king, surrounded by the bodies of the dead, realizes and laments the fact that the heirs to the Spanish monarchy have been destroyed. The Viceroy echoes his grief, voicing a desire to sail across the world weeping for his dead son.


This scene is both ingenious and problematic. The ingeniousness lies in the way Kyd constructs the ironic deaths of Balthazar and Lorenzo. Believing that they are acting out a play to celebrate a wedding—a new beginning to life—they in fact act out their own, very real deaths. In a piece of grim wordplay, the "plot" Hieronimo spoke of in IV.i becomes the plot of the play. And the plot results in Hieronimo's long-awaited revenge.

The central irony of the act, however, is that even in revenge, Hieronimo does not find relief from his pain. First of all, Bel-Imperia is dead, needlessly, by her own hand, overcome by grief. And the murder of his son's murderers does not even relieve Hieronimo's grief. When Hieronimo agonized over how his grief felt oppressive and inescapable in the opening lines of Act III, scene vii, revenge was then held out as a possible relief. Instead, Hieronimo finds only more grief after the death. "Here lay my hope," says Hieronimo, and the repetition of the words "Here lay" at the beginning of his next four lines (an example of anaphora), echoes the words "Here lies … ", the introduction to many epitaph inscription. And Hieronimo does recite an epitaph, both for himself and his son. The two deaths are in fact linked as the same death. Those who murdered Horatio "murdered me", says Hieronimo, and the corpse that lies on the stage is not only Horatio's corpse but also the corpse of Hieronimo's "hope" his "heart", his "treasure", his "bliss." In short, it is his own corpse, the corpse of everything he found valuable in life. And as the long description of Horatio's murder and his plot for revenge makes clear, there is no joy attached to the act. Hieronimo only wishes for silence: "I have no more to say" are his final words before running off and attempting to hang himself, to silence himself forever.

And Hieronimo is conscious of the new grief he has created on top of the old. "Speak Portuguese," he demands, "whose loss resembles mine: / If thou canst weep upon thy Balthazar, / 'Tis like I wailed for my Horatio." Hieronimo still uses the language of justice to describe his act: night covers "accursed crimes," the murderers were "traitors," he took a "vow" to revenge Horatio when he dipped the bloody handkerchief in his wounds, a handkerchief that now makes its final appearance. But this consciousness of the suffering in others, and its similarity to his own pain, demonstrates that Hieronimo still has empathy for others. Indeed he seems to feel the pain of others as well.

In classic Greek tragedy, there was often a defining moment in a play where the tragic hero would realize his folly, his fatal error or hamartia. This moment was called the hero's anagnoresis. Tragedies do not need such a moment to be tragic (Shakespeare's plays often didn't possess such a moment), and Hieronimo does not seem to have a moment of self-recognition here. He doesn't consciously renounce revenge or reflect on the futility of replacing death with death. But Kyd has created a very poignant image of that futility in this scene, and if Hieronimo cannot realize it, then the audience can. At this moment, Hieronimo is the closest he has come to being a true tragic protagonist, destroyed by evil forces beyond his control yet still recognizably human. It is a terrible moment but also a profound one.

In the rest of the scene, though, it seems that Kyd loses control of his play. Hieronimo's speech already pushes the edges of sensationalism, and his biting out of his tongue only makes the action more sensational. It is a fairly obvious symbol of his already stated desire to be silent, to have no more words. It must, of course, be theatrically effective; but it also paints Hieronimo as completely insane. And when Hieronimo stabs the Duke of Castile, we are much more likely to feel pity for Castile and his friends than we are for Hieronimo. Castile was innocent of any crime and actually spoke highly of Hieronimo in III.xiv. In short, this scene wipes out Hieronimo's ambiguity (the conflict between a good man driven to Machiavellian means and a murderer who understands the grief his victims feel) and replaces it with lunacy.

The scene does heighten the ambiguity and tension that have existed in the entire play, between the "play" world and the real world. This tension is related to the double perspective in which the play encourages us to view Hieronimo. If we watched the Soliman and Perseda playlet within IV.iv as a member of an audience, we would be a viewer watching two viewers (Revenge and Andrea, who, remember, never leave the stage) watching several other viewers (the assembled nobles) watching a play. Several levels of reality separate us from the world of Soliman and Perseda, and on one level we are very isolated from this action. But if we look into the world of The Spanish Tragedy, we see an exact mirror of ourselves—spectators in the middle of watching a tragic play. This increases the viewer's sense of identification with the world of the play, as does the sudden collapse of the distinction, of the real world and the world of Soliman and Perseda. The murders are real, the actors are really dead, and so the boundaries between real world and play world are revealed to be, from one perspective, unbreakable, but fluid, and collapsible when we look at it another way.

Act IV, scene v


Andrea has finally achieved satisfaction, having seen his killer and his friend Horatio's murderers receive violent ends. He sums up the violence that has been committed in the play (nine deaths in total, ten if one counts Andrea's death), and then he describes the various paradises awaiting the heroes of the story, who will spend the rest of eternity in Elysian fields. Horatio will rest with the warriors, Isabella with those who grieve, Bel-Imperia with the vestal virgins, symbols of chastity and purity, and Hieronimo with the musician Orpheus. And as for his enemies, they will all be sent to the deepest pits of hell. The Duke of Castile will take Tityus's place in the talons of a giant vulture; Lorenzo will be spun about on the wheel of Ixion for eternity; Balthazar will be hung from Chimaeara's neck, Serberine will take Sisyphus' place rolling a stone up a giant hill only to watch it fall down again, and Pedringano will be dragged through the boiling river of Acheron. Revenge has the final speech of the play, vows to make the after-lives of the villains of the play a never ending tragedy.


The decision on the part of Kyd to literally give Revenge the last word in the play reflects the thematic message of the final scenes of The Spanish Tragedy: revenge does have the last word, crowding out mercy and all other human emotions, seeking its inexorable satisfaction in an orgy of bloodshed and violence. The final scene implies that Hieronimo's action serves as the fulfillment of justice, but the blood, waste, and carnage of the penultimate scene works against this presumption, seeming to deny the possibility of justice in a world where the machinations of class and power determine the course of men's lives.

The theme of judgment also makes an explicit appearance. Andrea effectively sets up a tribunal of his own, sentencing his friends to heaven and his enemies to hell. What changes this appearance of justice from previous appearances is the fact that justice is served. It is not delayed or deferred, as it was for Andrea, Isabella, Hieronimo, and all the other characters throughout the play. Instead, it is simply dispensed, at no cost, by Andrea.

The ending, then, is not tragic at all. Hieronimo is not annihilated in his quest for vengeance and justice: instead, he will enjoy an eternity of peace and happiness. The wicked will pay for their crimes. It is true that the King and Viceroy have had their royal lines wiped out, but for an Elizabethan audience, this would be a cause for celebration, not sadness. In other words, the scene attempts to completely undo the tragic implications of the play's action, by giving all the good characters happy endings and giving the bad ones sad endings, while wiping out the ambiguities that made Hieronimo and Bel-Imperia such engaging characters.

1 comment:

  1. Kyd uses several soliloquies to develop Hieronimo's character. How does Kyd use rhetoric and imagery to develop Hieronimo as a character? Is there a change in this rhetoric over the course of the soliloquies, and if so how does this affect Hieronimo's characterization?