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Category Archives: The Spanish Tragedy
Due to the rapidity of with which Bel-Imperia falls in love again, it is easy to doubt the degree of her love for Horatio and even for Andrea. Not long after Andrea’s death, Bel-Imperia was already interested in Horatio. Her servant Pedringano tells Lorenzo about her feelings towards Horatio “She loves Horatio.” (2.1.79) Once again, Bel-Imperia falls in love with someone of whom her father does not approve. It is questionable whether she loves these men, or loves the freedom these men can provide her since they are not in the same social class as her. The play does not clearly depict Bel-Imperia’s feelings clearly. It seems as though Bel-Imperia merely decides with whom she will fall in love with, but her psychological details are not provided. Bel-Imperia fought for Horatio’s revenge and ultimately ended her own life. Bel-Imperia even resented Hieronimo for believing he was not seeking revenge, even if revenge meant going against her own brother Lorenzo. She wanted to take revenge onto her own hands “And give it over and devise no more, / Myself should send their hateful souls to hell / That wrought his downfall with extremest death.” (4.1.27-29). She helped Hieronimo with his plays to seek revenge against Lorenzo and Balthazar. Bel-Imperia was loyal to Horatio, even after his death.
Similar to this is Beatrice- Joanna. It is questionable if she truly loved Alsemero or just wanted things to go her way. Although Bel-Imperia killed for revenge, Beatrice-Joanna killed to marry to Alsemero. It can also be questionable why Beatrice-Joanna did not love Alonzo. The play never goes in detail as to why she did not want to marry Alonzo, but instead quickly falls in love with Alsemero. Beatrice-Joanna does in fact later admit to Alsemero what she has done, and that she did it for him.
In Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, revenge is constantly visible on stage, both as a motif and a character. Kyd attempts to draw the line between justice and revenge in the various subplots that he introduces throughout the play. Revenge is simply the act of getting back at someone for wronging you whereas justice introduces the moral reasoning behind this act. Are all of the characters justified in their pursuit of vengeance? Are some more justified than others?
From the beginning of the play, Andrea seeks revenge against Balthazar, even in death. The audience never sees the actual fight between the two but discovers what happened through various accounts of the event. However, with deception being another prominent theme in this play, it is difficult to trust anyone’s word. It is never made clear if Andrea was in fact unjustly killed by Balthazar making it difficult to determine whether or not seeking revenge against him is justified.
After Horatio is murdered in his own garden, Hieronimo goes out of his way to make sure his pursuit of vengeance against Lorenzo is justified. He even distrusts a letter written in Bel-imperia’s blood and seeks more confirmation. Only after contemplating suicide and learning that the law will not help him does he decide to take matters into his own hands. Through the dialogue and action in the play, Kyd makes it a point that Hieronimo is justified in killing Lorenzo.
In the end it is evident that revenge is God’s job and people who decide to take it upon themselves must pay the ultimate price in doing so.
The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd encompasses many themes and motifs. One particular theme that stands out to me are the influential Machiavellian lessons. Niccolo Machiavelli was an influential Italian philosopher who’s work The Prince lists many political lessons that should be studied by state leaders. In The Spanish Tragedy these lessons are applied and used by the characters.
The one character who embodies Machiavelli’s lessons is Lorenzo. In class we discussed Lorenzo’s similarities to Iago from Othello. We considered these type of characters to be Machiavellian Villains. Generally a Machiavellian Villain is one who uses coercion and persuasion to manipulate others. They also would rather be feared than loved by their subjects. Lorenzo embodies these qualities. He is extremely calculated and almost always gets his way in the play. He is deceitful and kills of those in his way. He uses his advanced verbal skills to manipulate everyone to further advance his closed minded aims.
When Balthazar declares his love for Bel Imperia, Lorenzo is extremely disinterested and seemingly just would like to arrange the marriage. His clear display of a lack of morals shows how he is just really interested in the ransom and not his sister’s possible new suitor. He was extremely quick to call out Pedringano for his role in Bel Imperia and Don Andrea’s relationship. Instead of reprimanding him he turns him into an asset to further his goals. By threatening to use force with Pedringano he creates a fear factor. Pedringano’s fear of Lorenzo forces him to go along with his plan. He then quickly betrays Pedringano with no hesitation and consideration.
Presently we view Machiavelli’s work as a positive masterpiece. But in the Elizabethan era the people actually felt the results of the writings. They experienced the coercion and fear. The audience would have been quick to identify Lorenzo as the Machiavellian enemy.
Although the play cover a range of themes such as revenge and justice, one theme that sticks out to me is that of independence. Although it is quite obvious that Bel Imperia is afraid to lose her freedom if she dedicated herself to Balthazar or even one man in general, I see fear in Lorenzo as well when it comes to securing his independence. Before moving on further to analyze how fear comes from the loss of independence I would like to mention that my definition of independence circulates around the word power, simply for this play. Each character has a pride in the character they carry.
Starting with the obvious character, Bel Imperia openly admits her fear in act three and scene ten. When Lorenzo tries to make Balthazar her new knight in shining armor for trying to protect her she merely replies that she has a fear of losing the independence she has. Even when she meets up with Horatio, she would set the date, time and place as if she ran the relationship. In a way it is as if she does not like to be a woman traded to another man, but would like to keep her power from being able to make her own choices and decisions. She has succeeded in doing so for some time, for example the way she would not marry although it was a concern for the King.
Moving away from the stated actor, Lorenzo also has a great deal of fear. His power comes from the way we characterize him. From class discussions he is seen as manipulative and self interested. He only takes part in activities that would benefit him. He helps the Duke of Portugal, Balthazar but instead kill Horatio. In act two scene one he offers to protect Pedringano in exchange for him giving up his sister’s secrets. All the helps he offers is not with a good heart ot a good intentions. It is a means of control over the people around him. He uses Pedringano as a puppet when he needs information; when Bel Imperia’s servant does not work with him, Lorenzo threatens him with the promise of protection.
The need for power leads to the need to always feel independent from the people around you. This can have a good or bad outcome. In Bel Imperia’s case she did not want to be a trade off from one kingdom to the next, she enjoyed her power because at the time it was limited and with marriage would become even more limited. In Lorenzo’s case the need for power and independence works in an evil way that harms the people around him.
One thing that really stuck out to me while reading this play was the value of life, or the lack thereof. Death seems to be such a common occurrence that it becomes the “quick fix” to many of the issues the characters face. Almost makes it seem like the characters in this play don’t fully understand how permanent and extreme death is. We can observe this through several characters actions. It all starts when Lorenzo finds out that Bel-Imperia rejects Balthazar because she’s in love with Horatio. His first and immediate thought is that he simply must be disposed of. This then leads to Lorenzo telling Pedringano to kill Serberine because of mere suspicion (mind you, no questioning or further investigation was done in order to confirm this). Pedringano performs this duty without a doubt in mind, and this leads to Pedringano’s death sentence.
We observe a death trend after Horatio’s death, including the suicide of three characters. Hieronimo kills himself after he gets his son’s revenge, Isabella goes mad and kills herself after Horatio’s death, and Bel-Imperia commits suicide after she murders Balthazar. There’s very little value of life in this book, possibly due to the culture of war at this time and also because death isn’t a concept that’s fully understood. These people obviously know HOW to kill, but haven’t grasped the concept and permanence of death; no longer existing. They’re desensitized to death from the constant killings that occur as a way to “right a wrong” or punish those who have committed crimes.
Thomas Kyd’s play, The Spanish Tragedy, portrays an immense amount of revenge and justice. These two themes harbor an intense desire within a majority of Kyd’s characters. Firstly and importantly, the audience is immediately introduced to Don Andrea, and the character of Revenge. Don Andrea relies primarily on Revenge to vindicate his murder. Bel-Imperia, the play’s strong willed female character, seeks a form of revenge and justice for the wrongs that have been done to her. She has loved and lost both Andrea and Horatio at the hands of a murderous act and therefore seeks revenge on Balthazaar that ultimately backfires. Kyd’s Act II opens up a new realm for revenge and justice upon the discovery of Horatio’s murder and lifeless body by his father, Hieronomo. Hieronomo vows to seek revenge on the person who committed this heinous crime and seek justice in the name of his son. At one point in time, Hieronomo considers joining his son in death and committing suicide, but ultimately decides against it in the name of revenge and justice.
Kyd portrays revenge and the act of justice as two pivotal themes in his play, but also in life. Elizabethans, and the readers of the twenty- first century, are both enraptured and familiar with these feelings of revenge and the urge for justice that so easily can harbor within ourselves.
The Spanish Tragedy is clearly a revenge play, with Revenge even being a character in the play. A question that has long been debated concerning the play and outside of the context of the play is whether Hiernonimo is morally just in seeking revenge. One can argue that Hiernomino really had no choice in seeking revenge for his son’s death, since the court would not offer him any help, granted his class status (another theme of the play).
We see Hieronimo’s inner conflict in deciding if he should choose “this way or that way” in Act III, scene xii, when Hiernomino grapples with the options of either taking his own life, or taking the way of revenge and justice for his son’s death. We see the negative connotations that are ascribed to taking the matter of revenge in one’s own hands in Hieronimo’s soliloquy, where he describes the path of revenge as a path through hell. Horatio cannot simply take these matters to the king since there are several obstacles in his way, such as his social class and diplomacy. Lorenzo is nephew of the king of Spain and Balthazar is a prince of Portugal who is a key figure in the negotiation between the two nations, so the possibility of Hieronimo finding justice by the way of the king seems unlikely.
In Act III, scene xiii, again we see Hieronimo struggling with the matter of vengeance. He exclaims, “Vindicta mihi!” or “vengeance is mine,” and considers leaving the matter of revenge to God. However, he comes to the conclusion that it is his destiny to find his revenge against his son’s murderers.
Hieronimo is a Knight-Marshal, hence carrying out justice is a part of his job. Although committing murder is an un-Christian thing to do, it seems to be Hieronimo’s only choice in a society where you cannot depend on the Crown for justice.