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10 thoughts on “The Spanish Tragedie: or, Hieronimo is Mad Againe

  1. says:


    This strange, lumpy drama is oddly effective in its own discursive way, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves Elizabethan theatre in general or Hamlet in particular or who is fascinated by the theme of revenge.

    The exposition (political rivalry between Spain and Portugal, events leading up to Horatio's murder) is well executed, but after that Kyd's passion for powerful effect (particularly in Hieronimo's mad scenes) overshadows and occasionally confounds coherent plot development. Who in the court knows Horatio has been murdered and when do they know it? Clear answers to these questions might have clarified motivations and illuminated dialogue--both of which are occasionally baffling.

    Yet the individual scenes--Hieronimo discovering his son hanging in the garden, Hieronimo and the painter, Hieronomo with a book, Hieronimo surrounded by legal suitors, Hieronimo's direction of the play-within-a-play--are all very powerful and make reading the play worthwhile. In addition, the influences of "The Spanish Tragedy" on Hamlet are many, and it is fun to spot them as they arise.


  2. says:

    An arranged marriage between the Spanish king’s niece, Bel-Imperia, and the Portuguese viceroy’s son, Balthazar, brings an end to a war between Spain and Portugal. However, Lorenzo, Bel-Imperia’s brother, is outraged when he discovers she loves Horatio, the Spanish Marshall’s son. With Balthazar, Lorenzo plots to make things right, it involves murder. Lorenzo is cunning and lies easily, ready to cross anyone who gets in his way, but he’s unaware a Ghost of a man who was murdered is waiting and watching with Revenge.

    The Spanish Tragedy is written by Thomas Kyd, a contemporary of Shakespeare and who wrote this play roughly one and half decades before Shakespeare’s Hamlet is performed. Some refer to this as the lost Ur-Hamlet play. Reading it, I can understand why as there are a lot of similarities aside from the revenge tragedy.

    Both plays have a play in a play, in Hamlet it’s to prod a king’s guilty conscience, in The Spanish Tragedy it’s to expose a big lie and highlight a murder.

    Both plays have a character who is perceived by others to be losing their mind, in Hamlet it’s Hamlet, in The Spanish Tragedy it’s Heironimo, Lorenzo’s father.

    In both, these scenes provide a comical break from the dramatic tension. The character Hamlet and Heironimo are both driving the action by plotting vengeance on the ones who robbed them of a loved one with murder. Like Hamlet, death runs hand in hand with revenge with a big body count at the end.

    What makes this different from Hamlet is Kyd faintly structures it like a Greek drama, where the scenes with Ghost and Revenge are a chorus that bridge the action. Kyd also personifies revenge, not letting the reader/viewer forget what’s behind the fate of those who’ve done wrong.

    I liked reading Hamlet but some of the main characters came across as a function to help Hamlet move the action of the play along, in The Spanish Tragedy this responsibility is distributed between several characters. I thought this made the characters rounder making the drama stronger. I also found Kyd’s scene with how the play in a play was being watched realer. But what I liked the most about this play, aside from the language and its poetry, is the fusion of Elizabethan and Greek tragedy. Just thinking about it it sounds strange but in this play it works and works brilliantly. It was good to finally read this play.


  3. says:

    Love it. Of course the language is more patterned than Shakespeare, but if you can enjoy that, it's well-done. I read it (again) for Titus Andronicus background; and it has a similar effect of horror-farce (... more funny. I can't help but laugh through the last scene, whether I'm meant to or not. Heironimo's mad grief speeches, though, have serious pathos); but so much else seems to have begun here.

    Proper title: The Spanish Tragedie: Or, Heironimo is mad againe. I read a nifty ebook with original spelling and title page/frontispiece, along with other material: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01...


  4. says:

    «O eyes! no eyes, but fountains fraught with tears;
    O life! no life, but lively form of death
    O world! no world, but mass of public wrongs,
    Confus'd and fill'd with murder and misdeeds!»

    Review in English | Reseña en español (abajo)
    The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd (1582-1592) is one of the touchstones of the Drama of the English Renaissance and the play is notable in the history of English drama in being the first innovative model of the “revenge or blood tragedy” genre.

    Being completely honest, if this hadn’t been a compulsory reading for the subject of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature, I never would’ve read it. Mainly because I am always afraid to face classic texts in English and also because, among all literary genres, drama is the one I like least to read. I always conceive it with the function of seeing the work played and not read; and I always felt I’m reading a film script. All in all, I liked it a lot more than I’d expected and I appreciate having 'forced' myself to read it, because there are wonderful passages -especially Hieronimo’s soliloquies– and a sublime characters' development. Besides, I truly enjoyed all the classical influences and references to Ovid, Virgil and Seneca, among others.

    I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves Elizabethan theatre in general or Hamlet in particular or who is fascinated by the theme of revenge.

    P. S. I'm not English, so if you see any mistakes let me know so I can correct them, please

    The Spanish Tragedy (1582-1592) de Thomas Kyd es una de las piedras angulares del la Tragedia renacentista inglesa y se considera como el primer modelo innovador del género de la 'tragedia de venganza’.

    Siendo sincera, si esta no hubiese sido una lectura obligatoria de la asignatura de Literatura Inglesa Medieval y Renacentista, creo que nunca lo hubiese leído. Principalmente porque siempre temo enfrentarme a textos clásicos en inglés y porque, entre todos los géneros literarios, el dramático es el que menos me gusta leer. Siempre lo concibo con la función de ver representada la obra y no leída; y ante un texto dramático me siento como si estuviese leyendo un guión. Con todo, me ha gustado mucho más de lo que pensaba que llegaría a gustarme y agradezco haberme 'forzado' a leerlo, porque hay pasajes maravillosos –especialmente los soliloquios protagonizados por Hieronimo– y una construcción de personajes sublime. Además, he de reconocer que disfruté muchísimo todas esas influencias y referencias clásicas a Ovidio, Virgilio o Séneca, entre otros.

    Se lo recomendaría a cualquiera que le guste el teatro isabelino en general, o Hamlet en particular, o que esté fascinado por el tema de la venganza.


  5. says:

    During a battle for independence, Spanish officer Andrea is killed by the Viceroy of Portugal's son Balthazar, who in turn gets captured by Lorenzo and Horatio. Horatio comforts Lorenzo's sister Bel-imperia over Andrea's death, but she wants revenge. Balthazar and Horatio both fall in love with Bel-imperia and bloodshed is inevitable, but it's not what you'd expect.

    On top of that, Andrea is now a ghost and watches events unfold with the spirit of Revenge (present onstage throughout the entirety of the play). This really is the ultimate revenge play, Shakespeare did well in taking inspiration from it for Hamlet.


  6. says:

    The first revenge play.
    Influenced by Seneca. Shakespeare and specially Hamlet was influenced by it.
    How can one explain Hieronimo’s doubt to get his revenge?
    In the absence of god in a newly renaissance play, the tragedy keeps its connection to the metaphysics by portraying a ghost and going to noble blood families.
    The two to-be-called protagonists, Andrea and Hieronimo are not of noble blood. The personification of Revenge and having another play within the play are other interesting aspects of this play.


  7. says:

    FROM THE WORLD LITERATURE FORUM RECOMMENDED CLASSICS AND MASTERPIECES SERIES----ROBERT SHEPPARD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

    The Spanish Tragedy of Thomas Kyd (1587) is one of the touchstones of the Drama of the English Renaissance and well worth reading for anyone with an interest in Shakespeare, the evolution of English Drama and Literature and in the history and culture of the Renaissance and Elizabethan Age. The play is notable in the history of English drama in being the first innovative model of the genre of the "Revenge Tragedy," and as such a precursor of better known works, most particularly Shakespeare's Hamlet.

    But why is such a Renaissance Revenge Tragedy of continuing interest to us today?

    I would answer and positively recommend your reading of this compelling work by first observing that such revenge tragedy is about much more than revenge. It is laced with the acid and very modern existential consciousness of an underlying world in which the cant of both human and divine law, order and justice is found wanting at best, and which presents persons injured and abused with the dilemma of turning alternatively to either vengance, protest, faith in a continuously deferred questionable karmic or divine retribution, or quietest acceptance of a violently absurd and meaningless world.

    The "Revenge Hero" is also a precursor and brother to our own modern and post-modern "anti-heroes" in books and cinema from Batman to film noir to Django, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Oblivion, who finding that corrupt institutions and the absent or impotent hand of a divine or natural order, feel called upon to rebel and take justice into their own hands. Even the modern Jihadist paints himself as a "revenge hero" against a perceived unjust social order of militarist repression from the West and Israel or a soulless and corruptive materialist modernity.

    The Revenge Tragedy thus is of continuing interest, not only as a moving drama of crime and punishment, but also in its ability to call into question the wider functioning of social order and its relation to the individual as well as presenting to our mind the question of the existence or non-existence of any divine, natural or human order or justice in the universe and the consequence of such for our lives.

    In Kyd's tragedy, the revenge hero is Heironimo, a humanistic, educated judicial officer of the Spanish court and a loving husband and father who would be the last person one could imagine as possessed with the violent passion of blood vengeance. He, and the generic revenge hero of latter works such as Hamlet, contrary to expectation is not any kind of "blood" out for violent pay-back, but is the most reluctant of seekers of retribution. He is only driven to take action by the perfidious murder of his beloved son Horatio, a returned war-hero in the battles against the Portugese, a crime perpetrated by the corrupt royal princes of both warring nations out of lover's jealousy and corrupt political expediency, resulting in his society's betrayal and corrupt failure, particularly of its ruling class, to grant him and his dead son any form of justice. Like Hamlet he hesitates, questions and doubts himself, doubts the evidence, and pushes himself to the brink of madness arising from his dispair before in the end turning to reluctant action. As in Shakespeare's Hamlet, he also uses the convoluted device of a "play within a play," a court masque performed by noble personages, to bring about the undoing of the villians through his participation as writer, director and actor, leading in the end to their death by his hand.

    The Spanish Tragedy ends bathed in an orgy of blood, and on such a note of pessimism as to human or divine order and justice, that it may have contributed to the historical Kyd himself at a later time being arrested and charged with "atheism and heresy," along with his friend and colleague Christopher Marlowe, author of Faustus. Who in our modern time can view the savage and bloody videos of the mass slaughters, beheadings and mutilations of the Zetas and drug cartels in Mexico, the genocide in Rwanda, the ceaseless sectarian bombings and retributions from Boston to Chechnya to Syria, Palestine and Bombay without some visceral questioning of their faith in any human or divine justice on earth? It is a commonplace of Rennaissance scholarship to invoke the terminology of "Early Modern" in discribing Kyd's age, and Kyd's tragic vision and pessimism in retrospect do look increasingly "Modern" far before its time.

    For most of us, we come to Kyd through Shakespeare, and my initial attention in reading Kyd's drama was focused on the many similarities and influences of the play on Hamlet. Though we romanticize Shakespeare as one of, or perhaps the ultimate original genius of English and World Literature, by reading Kyd's play we can also recognize how Shakespeare was a shameless borrower of stories, content and treatment in producing his own works. Indeed, not only was the Spanish Tragedy a powerful model from which The Bard drew, but Kyd had also produced his own version of Hamlet years before, of which the text was unfortunately lost to modern scholars, lending him the very subject matter itself. But any modern reader of Kyd's play will be forcefully struck by such similarities as Heironimo's "Hamletian" hesitation and madness, the "play within a Play," the corruption in the fabric of society, especially in the ruling class and the catharsis and purgation of sin by blood which are common with Shakespeare's work. One is forced to rethink what was original to Shakespeare and what derived from the conventions of the genre itself. T.S. Eliot also wrote on Kyd's work, and it is well to call to mind his invocation of "The Tradition" from his essay "Tradition and the Indivudual Talent" even with regard to so great a talent as Shakespeare himself. Shakespeare visibly borrowed from and added force to his work from prior models including Kyd as well a classical precursors such as Seneca.

    I and World Literature Forum thus positively recommend looking into Kyd's cathartic tragedy of blood and anomie as a moving read, a re-perspectiving of Shakespeare, and as a revisiting of the early roots of Modernity.

    Robert Sheppard
    Editor-in-Chief
    World Literature Forum
    http://robertalexandersheppard.wordpr...
    Author, Spiritus Mundi Novel
    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17...

    Copyright Robert Sheppard 2013 All Rights Reserved


  8. says:

    This revenge play, the finest and most popular of the Elizabethan era, possesses an admirable structure and many finely wrought, though often over-labored, phrases and rhythms. The words spin out successfully and appropriately (except for those terrible, and long, dips into Latin!); yet are they one and all lacking the necessary passion that undergirds Shakespeare's and Marlowe's greatest exchanges. Although the words each fall with a grace, they, like the notes in a Steely Dan song, in the aggregate, only serve to annoy. As a result, the revenge in question is a little too long in coming. The moral of the story, about justice being subject to freak circumstance, long before Camus bored us, is ultimately unconvincing, partly because the freak circumstance in question is in fact a very elaborate and planned conspiracy, unlike the mini Portuguese side-plot, which does indeed depend on chance, and only serves to confuse the perspicacious reader; yet, in the theater, one suspects it appears a smooth contrast. To relent, then, a great play is not for the overly bookish, and no doubt Kyd's masterpiece is to be seen rather than read.


  9. says:

    One of the Goriest texts I've ever read!


  10. says:

    BALTHAZAR
    Hieronimo, methinks a comedy were better.

    HIERONIMO
    A comedy?
    Fie, comedies are fit for common wits:
    But to present a kingly troupe withal,
    Give me a stately-written tragedy,
    Tragedia cothurnata, fitting kings,
    Containing matter, and not common things.

    (IV:i, ll. 155-161)


    The Spanish Tragedy is one of those plays that shows up very frequently on college courses and Shakespeare-related reading lists. Yet despite its popularity with Theatre Studies professors the world over, it's very rarely the first thing to pop into someone's head when they think of Elizabethan theatre. Or the second thing, for that matter.

    I have to admit, this puzzles me a little. After all, The Spanish Tragedy pretty much does exactly what it says on the can: it's set in Spain; it's about revenge; and there's enough tragedy to make even Romeo and Juliet take a break from their incessant adolescent whining to sit up and take notes.

    The Spanish Tragedy tells the very tragic story of the tragic death of Don Andrea, and of his lover Bel-Imperia, who tragically vows to revenge herself on Andrea's murderer. She's aided in her plan by Hieronimo, whose son Horatio is murdered in truly tragic circumstances. (view spoiler)

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