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Spanish Tragedy


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Hamlet

revenge tragedy

Thomas Kyd (1558—1594) playwright and translator

Ben Jonson (1572—1637) poet and playwright

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A tragedy mostly in blank verse by Kyd, acted and printed 1592.

The political background of the play is loosely related to the victory of Spain over Portugal in 1580. Lorenzo and Bel‐imperia are the children of Don Cyprian, duke of Castile (brother of the king of Spain); Hieronimo is marshal of Spain and Horatio his son. Balthazar, son of the viceroy of Portugal, has been captured in the war. He courts Bel‐imperia, and Lorenzo and the king of Spain favour his suit for political reasons. Lorenzo and Balthazar discover that Bel‐imperia loves Horatio; they surprise the couple by night in Hieronimo's garden and hang Horatio on a tree. Hieronimo discovers his son's body and runs mad with grief. He discovers the identity of the murderers, and carries out revenge by means of a play, Solyman and Perseda, in which Lorenzo and Balthazar are killed, and Bel‐imperia stabs herself. Hieronimo bites out his tongue before killing himself.

The play was the prototype of the English revenge tragedy genre. Jonson is known to have been paid for additions to the play, but the additional passages in the 1602 edition are probably not his. The play was one of Shakespeare's sources for Hamlet and the alternative title given to it in 1615, Hieronimo Is Mad Againe, provided T. S. Eliot with the penultimate line of The Waste Land.

Subjects: literary studies (plays and playwrights).


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