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Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy as a revenge play (Paper 102)

The Spanish Tragedy

Thomas Kyd

a revenge play

Thomas Kyd's  The Spanish Tragedy as a revenge play

Thomas Kyd's  The Spanish Tragedy as a revenge play

The Spanish Tragedy is an Elizabethan tragedy written by Thomas Kyd between 1582 and 1592. The play contains several violent murders and includes, as one of its characters, a personification of revenge. The play is often considered to be the first mature Elizabethan drama, a claim disputed with Christopher Marlowe's Tamberlaine and has been parodied by many Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights including Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson.

 As usually happens in Senecan plays, all the characters think that if they take revenge upon the killers who have murdered their dearest persons, it can never be a sin. Rather it's a sacred duty. Because by killing the murderers they're going to be ready to get proper justice. Exact same tendency we observe in the character of Bel-Imperia and Hieronimo. We see Bel-Imperia uttering: 

 “But how can love find harbor in my breast, 

Till I revenge the death of my beloved?” (1. 4. 64-65).

 However, Description of Underworld is a major element in Senecan plays. Kyd has also used reference of Hell in this play. Here we get Pluto, the king of Underworld, Proserpine, the queen of Pluto. We also get Charon, the ill-tempered boatman of the river of Underworld Acheron. there were also three judges of Hell: Minos, Aeacus and Radamanth. Kyd has also mentioned the foul waters of the hellish lake Avernus, and therefore the monstrous three headed dog Cerberus.

Again, Melodramatic elements, like declamatory speech, excessive passion, musically acted, cured appeal to poetic justice, all of such qualities were employed by Seneca in his plays. Similarly Kyd in this play has employed such elements too. we find declamatory speech in Hieronimo’s soliloquies and excessive passion in Bel-Imperia’s dialogues. In Melodrama good characters are rewarded and bad characters are punished. The Spanish Tragedy does not maintain this rule of Melodrama properly.

 Seneca used horror elements, blood-shed, violence and terror, bloody atmosphere in his plays, so does Kyd. The brutal killing of Horatio, the preparation of the upcoming burning of Alexandro, the killing of Serberine, the stabbing scene of Isabella, the killing of Lorenzo, Balthazar, and Don Cyprion, the biting of Hieronimo’s tongue himself, all these elements of horror incidents, of blood-shed, create an environment of terror and violence in the mind of the readers.

In the revenge plays of Seneca, we find an introduction to ghost. And in the same way Kyd in The Spanish Tragedy has also introduced some supernatural machinery, like The Ghost of Andrea and the Spirit of Revenge, who serve the purpose of chorus. Beside a pantomime that takes place in Act 3, Scene 15 is additionally a component of supernatural mystery.

In Senecan tragedies like Phaedra and Medea we find that the heroines are very beautiful, but they are very lustful and unchaste. in this play we see the character of Bel-Imperia who is incredibly beautiful, but furthermore she has more than one lover. Though she wants to avenge upon her first lover’s death, Andrea, still she falls in love Horatio and that they spend amorous moments like lustful lovers. We got Bel-Imperia saying to Horatio: 


“Sitting safe, to sing in Cupid’s choir 

That sweetest bliss in crown of love’s desire.” (2. 2. 16-17).


This play of Kyd, as in Senecan plays, we discover loose characterization. A hero must have an active role throughout the play, but we do not find even a single one here. Before the play starts, Andrea was murdered, Horatio too was murdered soon. Hieronimo is not to be considered as hero. On the other hand Bel-Imperia had quite one beloved, so she is not a perfect heroine. Her character is flawed . And there is not any other strong female character during this play without her.

Some villainous character we see in Senecan plays. in this play we see the character of Lorenzo who make all the foul conspiracies. He also makes Balthazar, Pedringano and Serberine to act according to his will. We witness how Lorenzo makes a grim plan and says to Balthazar when they find out Horatio as Bel-Imperia’s beloved: 

“Do you but follow me, and gain your love: 

Her favour must be won by his remove.” (2. 1. 137-138).

Out of frustration in Senecan plays we find the tendency to commit suicide. in this play we also see that three characters: Isabella, Bel-Imperia and Hieronimo commit suicide. Though Hieronimo and Bel-Imperia have already completed their revenge upon Lorenzo and Balthazar yet they commit suicide, because without their dearest persons they do not want to survive in this world.

In fine, from the light of the above discussion it has been cleared that Thomas Kyd is the pioneer of revenge tragedy following the traditions of Seneca, though Senecan plays were only for reading out not for enacting. in this play The Spanish Tragedy, he has used elements of Seneca profoundly. As Kyd indiscreetly followed the elements of Seneca is his play, so his has rightly been called the English Seneca. Overall, many elements of the play, such as the 'paly-within-a-paly' used to trap a murderer and a ghost intent on vengeance as appeared in Shakespeare's Hamlet.


Also Read:

* The Faerie Queene - the portrayal of Good vs. Evil

* The Faerie Queene - as an allegorical poem

* The Spanish Tragedy - as a Revenge Play

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