The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd.

1633 title page.
The Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronimo is Mad Again is a revenge tragedy play by Thomas Kyd and was entered into the Stationers' Register in 1592. It's one of the first revenge plays (not counting the Ancient Greeks) that would become so popular in the late Elizabethan early Jacobean era. 

It begins with a prologue by a ghost, the Ghost of Andrea:
When this eternal substance of my soul
    Did live imprison'd in my wanton flesh,
    Each in their function serving other's need,
    I was a courtier in the Spanish court:
    My name was Don Andrea; my descent,
    Though not ignoble, yet inferior far
    To gracious fortunes of my tender youth.
    For there in prime and pride of all my years,
    By duteous service and deserving love,
    In secret I possess'd a worthy dame,
    Which hight sweet Bellimperia by name.
    But, in the harvest of my summer joys,
    Death's winter nipp'd the blossoms of my bliss,
    Forcing divorce betwixt my love and me.
    For in the late conflict with Portingal
    My valour drew me into danger's mouth,
    Till life to death made passage through my wounds.
    When I was slain, my soul descended straight
    To pass the flowing stream of Acheron;
    But churlish Charon, only boatman there,
    Said that, my rites of burial not perform'd,
    I might not sit amongst his passengers...
The Ghost is accompanied by Revenge, who replies:
Then know, Andrea, that thou art arriv'd
    Where thou shalt see the author of thy death,
    Don Balthazar, the prince of Portingal,
    Depriv'd of life by Bellimperia.
    Here sit we down to see the mystery,
    And serve for Chorus in this tragedy. 
As the ghost explains, he is Don Andrea and he was killed in war by Prince Balthazar of the Portuguese army. Ultimately however the Spanish won the war, and Horatio, Don Andrea's friend, captured Balthazar and presented him to the Spanish king. However, Don Lorenzo, the king's uncle, falsely claimed he had a hand in the capture and so Horatio must share his reward. And so, Balthazar is kept prisoner until the Portuguese Viceroy, who is also Balthazar's father, pays the ransom, and during this time Lorenzo and Balthazar become friends.

Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1873-77).
Meanwhile, Horatio informs Bel-Imperia, Lorenzo's sister and lover of Don Andrea, that Don Andrea was murdered by Balthazar. When he leaves, she says:
Yet what avails to wail Andrea's death,
  From whence Horatio proves my second love?
  Had he not lov'd Andrea as he did,
  He could not sit in Bellimperia's thoughts.
  But how can love find harbour in my breast,
  Till I revenge the death of my belov'd?
  Yes, second love shall further my revenge!
  I'll love Horatio, my Andrea's friend,
  The more to spite the prince that wrought his end.
  And where Don Balthazar, that slew my love,
  Himself now pleads for favour at my hands,
  He shall, in rigour of my just disdain,
  Reap long repentance for'his murd'rous deed.
  For what was't else but murd'rous cowardice,
  So many to'oppress one valiant knight,
  Without respect of honour in the fight?
  And here he comes that murder'd my delight...
To complicate matters yet further, Balthazar falls in love with her, and when Lorenzo discovers Horatio is now her lover he brutally murders him by hanging him and stabbing him to death as Bel-Imperia is forced to watch. When Horatio's father Hieronimo discovers his body, he vows revenge, and though now imprisoned, Bel-Imperia manages to write to him (in her own blood) that Lorenzo and Balthazar are responsible.

As Hieronimo takes his time to carefully plan his revenge, Bel-Imperia is to be forcefully married to Balthazar, and meanwhile Isabella, Hieronimo's wife and Horatio's mother, kills herself. Finally, however, Hieronimo does get his revenge: at the wedding of Balthazar and Bel-Imperia, he plans to act a play (an idea Shakespeare would use in Hamlet, 1603). He explains to Lorenzo and Balthazar:
Marry, my good lord, thus:
   (And yet, methinks, you are too quick with us)—:
  When in Toledo there I studied,
  It was my chance to write a tragedy:
  See here, my lords— [He shows them a book.]
  Which, long forgot, I found this other day.
  Now would your lordships favour me so much
  As but to grace me with your acting it—
  I mean each one of you to play a part—
  Assure you it will prove most passing strange,
  And wondrous plausible to that assembly. 
When it comes to their characters being killed in the play, Hieronimo and Bel-Imperia really do kill them. The king, not surprisingly, is furious: "Fetch forth the tortures: traitor as thou art, / I'll make thee tell", but to avoid being forced to speak Hieronimo literally bites out his own tongue. When the king and his men try to force him to write down his confession, he tricks them into giving him a knife to sharpen the pen, then kills the duke and then himself. The Ghost of Andrea may then rest in peace, and is taken down to the Underworld by Revenge who speaks the final words of the play:
Then haste we down to meet thy friends and foes:
  To place thy friends in ease, the rest in woes;
  For here though death hath end their misery,
  I'll there begin their endless tragedy. 
It is indeed a bloody play on revenge and justice, and the ethics of acting out of revenge, something prohibited by God but in the play, the gods of the play are Proserpine and Pluto, the king and queen of the Underworld who demand that Don Andrea sees that his killers get their comeuppance. It's a tough play to read but nonetheless entertaining, and we're left with the question: is revenge natural, and was Hieronimo right to do what he did, or was he simply mad?

Comments

  1. Ah, thank you. As I was reading I knew there was a Shakespeare connection and Hamlet it is! I also saw a connection to Don Quixote, but probably simply because I'm reading it at the moment. These plays must give a certain satisfaction as you familiarize yourself with more of them, not to mention they would be short reads. Sigh! Oh, for a short read! I seem to have chosen long ones this year.

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    1. It is actually quite satisfying, but they don't seem to get any easier. Short though, certainly! I'm looking forward to finishing the Elizabethan / Jacobean section on my CC list - a few months away yet, though! Next up is another Marlowe play (I love Marlowe!).

      I'm not necessarily reading long works (though there have been a few!), but there's a lot of the heavy stuff. That's actually why I'm enjoying Finnegans Wake - I can read it and before I even begin accept I won't get it, and enjoy the bizarre experience of reading random words on a page!

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