It’s day 4 of my 10 plays in as many days challenge having tackled Arden of Faversham, Locrine, and Edward III and now I’ve hit a well known play, The Spanish Tragedy. Well known not only in its only right but also because of the hand it had to play in the plotline of Hamlet well not so much the hand it had to play as the bits Shakespeare nicked to makeup Hamlet. But it’s not usually placed in the group of plays that Shakespeare may have written. As the introduction to the play notes, Kyd set a precedent and Shakespeare followed in his footsteps, it is just sadly with all this bardolatory stuff kicking about and Shakespeare on a pedestal that none can ever reach people like Kyd are forgotten, unless you’re really into the renaissance. But Kyd with Spanish Tragedy created “a taste for revenge drama that would set Shakespeare on the road from Titus Andronicus to Hamlet and beyond” (in true Buzz Lightyear fashion I trust..).
But in this play Kyd also “raised theatrical self-consciousness to a new level of sophistication, thus showing Shakespeare that one of the most effective things you can do in a play is to play with the idea of a play” so it is that “Titus orchestrating his bloody banquet, Peter Quince directing ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, Hamlet staging ‘The Mousetrap’, and Prospero conjuring up the wedding masque in The Tempest are all children of Hieronimo”. Anyway back to the play in question, The Spanish Tragedy. Before I go on I should note that the version of the play I’m reading from is from Shakespeare & Others which is, as the title indicates “The Spanish Tragedy (with Additions)” the extended edition or director’s cut if you will. It’s not the 1592 version but the revision of 1602 (though my copy of the original – 1592 – Spanish Tragedy says of the revised version “it is most unlikely” that that edition “was performed in its existing state, it is, for one thing, exceptionally long” – clearly they haven’t seen Branagh’s Hamlet). Some scholars have suggested that many of the additions may be attributed to Shakespeare, the jury’s out but with that in mind I set down to read the play.
It’s got quite the mouthful of a title,
THE SPANISH TRAGEDY containing the lamentable end of Don Horatio and Bel-imperia: with the pitiful death of old Hieronimo. Newly corrected, amended, and enlarged with new additions of the Painter’s part, and others, as it hath of late been diverse times acted
.. But unlike Arden or Locrine it doesn’t completely give the game away, but any play that has a character called Revenge in it and tragedy in the title, well it leaves little to the imagination.
The biggest problem I have to overcome with this play is the immediate urge to read Hieronimo as Geronimo and then yell it in true Dr Who fashion something like Hiroooonnnnniiiiimmooooooooooo! But that aside it’s a fast paced drama to get stuck into.
Before I carried on reading I will confess I took a brief sparkler break, well it is Bonfire Night after all, but back to the play!
The play opens with a ghost and revenge. The ghost of Andrea remembers his death and the journey to hell which ensued for this Spanish nobleman. Told “you shall not pass” until the funeral rites are performed, Don Horatio buries Don Andrea and lo and behold he may pass through to the “slimy strond” he craves “a passport for [his] wand’ring ghost.” Minos tells about his life and death, here’s a clue: love is crucial (in both).
“This knight,” quoth he, “both lived and died in love,
And for his love tried fortune of the wars,
And by war’s fortune lost both love and life”
And Aeacus concludes that Andrea may live in the “fields of love”. But then Rhadamanth pipes up complaining that Andrea died in war and condemns him to “martial fields” and to the “infernal king” which all sounds a bit Paradise Lost to me. Andrea is sent on a journey (just like the fall in Paradise Lost) but of course we couldn’t possibly imagine it, as the ghost tells us:
I saw more sights than thousand tongues can tell,
Or pens can write, or mortal hearts can think
But finally he reaches the “fair Elysian green”, Pluto and Passport Control. Prosperine begs to be given his doom (to save his skin), Pluto consents. Prosperine asks Revenge to lead Andrea through the gates of horn and bam seconds later he’s there off to find his killer with revenge personified. This scene also establishes the role of the ghost of Andrea and Revenge in the play, as the final couplet of Revenge’s speech indicates, they are at once in and outside the play. It’s a bit like A Christmas Carol and Scrooge as he looks back with the Ghost of Christmas Past (though that of course is slowly but surely with repentant spirit, minus the revenge).
Here we sit down to see the mystery,
And serve for Chorus in this tragedy
Cue King, General, Castle and Hieronimo and the general comes out with a cracker, asked by the king how the army is doing, the General says, oh they’re great except for the ones who are dead, “deceased by fortune of the war” – Well really! But it’s ok they are victorious and the General gives a comprehensive lowdown on the battle itself. This was a gruesome affair and the General holds little back (preparing us for the blood and gore to follow later in the play, it is a tragedy after all).
On every side drop captains to the ground,
And solidiers, some lie maimed, some slain outright:
Here falls a body sundred from his head
Three legs and arms lie bleeding on the grass.
Mingled with weapons and unbowelled steeds
That scatt’ring overspread the purple plain
This speech is almost morbidly comic as the mass destruction is described in an almost cartoonish manner, headless bodies drop like flies and you can almost imagine the felt-tip coloured in purple background of a comic strip. But whilst this chaos ensured Don Andrea stepped up, he dies, but at least he helped them win the battle. Though he was brave, he was weak in strength to Balthazar. Horatio (son of Hieronimo) then took on the prince (Balthazar) singlehandedly and knocked him off almost immediately and capturing him, then victory was in sight and they even got the Viceroy to sign some submission paperwork to prove it, and this isn’t like Chamberlain just wafting a piece of apparent “peace” about. This is the real deal.
Hieronimo is finally pleased with his son because he helped win the battle, but apparently this is the first time he’s felt that way Horatio “never pleased his father’s eyes till now.” King happy and vows to reward all richly for the part they played in the battle. Balthazar, as predicted, is not happy. Lorenzo and Horatio fight over who got to Balthazar first but he clears things up and said he yielded to both, Hieronimo pleads for his son to claim the honour but King decides to award them both. Lorenzo is given the job of keeping Balthazar prisoner but Balthazar wants to spend time with the chivalrous Horatio too – who wouldn’t?!
Flick to Portugal where enter the Viceroy and Alexandro. Viceroy moans and throws himself to the ground, debasing himself and crying out at the injustices of fortune. Clearly he’s a poor loser. But no longer besotted with selfish worry, as he says “fortune may bereave me of my crown” and dressed in mourning gear the room is filled with sighs and cries for the lost troops at battle, but most of all his son. Worse still he knows it was his fault to sparking such “bloody wars” and so spilling the blood of his son, wishes he’d fought instead. You see, Edward (from Edward III – yesterday’s play) sometimes it’s not the brightest idea to send your son off to battle in your place (poor Ned). But he’s mistaken Balthazar isn’t dead only a POW. Cue talk of “foul revenge” fuelled deaths. Much confusion as to whether Balthazar is dead or not but then the Viceroy (in the words of Basil Fawlty) “states the bleeding obvious” with the words “If Balthazar be dead, he shall not live”.
Back to Spain and Bel-Imperia wants to hear all about Don Andrea’s death. Horatio agrees but might not manage it without breaking down. She’s saddened but also entranced by his tale and we begin to see the first blossoming’s of love, his chivalry is the icing on the cake.
Ambassador from Portugal arrives and is shame-faced at the good treatment Balthazar is receiving, and Spain’s attitude which is, as the King says, to “pleasure more in kindness than in wars.” Balthazar jokes about how he has been “slain by beauty’s tyranny” his punishment is terrible he must see people, feast, enjoy the life of the country. What awful imprisonment!
After Hieronimo’s battle-praising speech Ghost and Revenge re-enter, in despair at the feasting and forgiveness between Spain and Portugal, Revenge plots to turn them back to hatred of each other and stir up everything opposite to the happiness and peace they indulge in currently.
Balthazar tries to woo Bel-Imperia, but all his “labour’s lost” in love as he fears “she cannot love at all” Lorenzo promises to look into it for him, sends off Pedringano to find out who take’s Bel-Imperia’s fancy now Don Andrea her man is dead. After some prodding, he reveals she loves Horatio. She’s sent him love letters and everything. Lorenzo wants all the date details and sends Pedringando on a mission.
Balthazar is torn, wants to take revenge because he’s in love but also knows that’s dangerous territory. He’s already yielded once to Horatio, in battle, this time his sword shall conquer..
Lorenzo spurs him on, “her favour must be won by his remove”. But if she’s not in love for goodness sake don’t force anything Balthazar.
Horatio and Bel-Imperia while Balthazar, Pedringano and Lorenzo all watch like creeps from above, thus the speech between Horatio and Bel-Imperia is interspersed with lines spoken from above between the secret onlookers.
Meanwhile King arranges, unbeknown to Bel-Imperia, her marriage to Belthazar (to secure alliance), if the Viceroy is to agree. King of Spain urges Castile to persuade and win his daughter over. Not again! First Edward III now in this play.
Horatio and Bel-Imperia take a walk, Pedringano dashes off, his heart full of greed for gold, to tell Lorenzo these fair tidings. Bel-Imperia is nervous and unsure but Horatio reassures her, plenty of wooing words batted about, and then talk of death (complete, of course, with the proper renaissance pun in mind) as Horatio entreats Bel-Imperia to “stay awhile” and he will “die with thee”.
Pedringando (in disguise) betrays them and Lorenzo urges murder. Horatio is taken aback but as he hung and then stabbed Lorenzo claims with each stab that “these are the fruits of love”. Just as Horatio and Bel-Imperia are surprised by these murderous men, so are we, or at least I was I don’t think I expected instant stabbing with only a line before warning of a quick despatch. Bel-Imperia cries for them to stop urging her brother Lorenzo to save him, she tells Balthazar (all to late) “I loved Horatio but he loved not me”. She screams for help from Hieronimo but they muffle her cries and carry her away from the scene of the crime.
Great stage direction opens the next scene “Enter Hieronimo in his shirt” well at least he’s wearing one I suppose since he’s just stirred from his “naked bed” he heard Bel-Imperia’s cries. Out into the garden where he discovers his hung and stabbed son, determined to know which “wicked butcher” killed his “sweet boy” in a long tortured soliloquy cries at the injustice of it all. Enter Isabella (his wife), just as well as he’s all out of tears and needs her to cry for him. She convinces him it must be a dream with someone else dressed in Horatio’s clothing dead, servants are consulted and it becomes clear that this really is Horatio, dead a “sweet lovely rose, ill-plucked before” his time. Hieronimo grabs the blood-stained handkerchief and vows to retain it until he has had revenge. The latin lines of Hieronimo are full of grief:
I shall die with you, and thus, thus it is a pleasure to pass to the shadows below. Nevertheless, I shall not depart hastily lest there should be no revenge following your death
Ghost of Andrea even more depressed having just seen his friend die. Revenge urges patience.
Back to Portugal where the Viceroy laments the “infortunate condition of kings”, the Villuppo brands Alexandro a traitor. Alexandro (who knows his innocence) is about to be burnt at the stake, though he claims his “guiltless death will be avenged” and given all this talk of revenge I don’t doubt it. But the Ambassador comes at the last minute with news that Balthazar lives, Viceroy realises Villuppo is false and treacherous and Alexandro is unbound.
Switch to a distraught Hieronimo who has not “eyes, but fountains fraught with tears” in anger, confusion and despair he desires to be driven “forth to seek the murderer” he demands a sign and lo and behold a letter appears in bloody red. Written by Bel-Imperia, it reveals the murderers of Horatio as Balthazar and Lorenzo and urges revenge:
Revenge thyself on Balthazar and him,
For these were they that murdered thy son.
Hieronimo, revenge Horatio’s death.
But he doubts its veracity, thinking it is penned to betray him and his vengeful desires.
Lorenzo appears and Hiernonimo behaves as though he is somewhat indifferent about the death of his son. Trying to be manly perhaps? Which reminds me of the discussions of manhood I encountered earlier this week in Arden of Faversham and Locrine.
In troth, my lord, it is a thing of nothing,
The murder of a son
Lorenzo, hungry for murder or paranoid that he may be discovered, gives Pedringano money to do away with Serberine behind the house. He thinks Serberine has revealed that Lorenzo had a hand in the murder of Horatio.
Pedringano knows he must do it, or he will be less of a man
Here comes the bird that I must seize upon:
Now, Perdringano, or never, play the man!
So shoot him with a dag he does. He’s caught red-handed by the watchmen who prepare him for death. When queried as to why he killed him, Pedringano blames Serberine for walking outside so late at night (really?!) to which they reply it would’ve been better if you’d stayed in bed! They carry him off to Hieronimo’s.
Switch to Lorenzo and Balthazar who are told the news of Serberine’s death, Lorenzo feigns ignorance. He receives a letter from the imprisoned Pedringano and sends off the messenger with money to deliver (in secret) Pedringano to buy his pardon. But he has to be really careful. With a great line about how dangerous the ground he’s standing on is he says, “Now stands our fortune on a tickle point”.
Hieronimo as man of justice must deal with the murder of Serberine, Pedringano, his death must be avenged and Pedringano must be punished “blood with blood, while I sit as judge” he is condemned to be hung. Hieronimo despairs at this turn of events, and it reminds him of the death of his son.
Murder! O bloody monster! God forbid
A fault so foul should scape unpunished
Hieronimo mopes at the death of his son, soliloquising in painful memory, before the hangman reveals the contents of the letter vouching for Pedringano. Hieronimo agrees to accept the consequences but is secretly pleased that his murderous plans have begun. Though there are still many to cut off the list. Certain that Bel-Imperia was right, “naught but blood will satisfy [his] woes.”
Isabella begins to rave in madness in her grief – this causes her maid much concern. Bel-Imperia wants to know what’s taking Hieronimo so long, “why art thou so slack in thy revenge?” Meanwhile conniving Lorenzo summons his sister and makes excuses (badly) for his hand in the murder of Horatio, then pitches Balthazar to her again and Balthazar produces ready romantic spiel, Bel-Imperia is not impressed.
Hieronimo is talking about his Horatio’s slippers and what it means to have and then lose a son. Lorenzo is sought by Portingales at Hieronimo’s door. They think he’s good absolutely balmy. His turn of phrase “unto a forest of distrust and fear” encapsulates the atmosphere of the play brilliantly.
Hieronimo contemplates suicide, “to be or not to be” before concluding he must not yet before he has had revenge for Horatio’s murder. He’s thrust into the role of murderer in many respects because if not him then who? He’s interrupted by the King, Lorenzo the Ambassador & Co who are discussing the proposed marriage of Bel-Imperia and Balthazar. They speak of Horatio and Hieronimo’s ears prick up, he turns on Lorenzo but they conclude, thanks to Lorenzo’s lies that he is mad. Lorenzo suggests he should be sacked but the King wants to see how Hieronimo is again before he decides.
Even his servants think he’s gone mad
With extreme grief and cutting sorrow
There is not left in him one inch of man
He tells them to put out the lights calling night “a murderous slut” in which dirty deeds are hid. Isabella begs him come inside he claims he’s making merriment – just by the tree where Horatio died no less. Perhaps an inversion of the garden of Eden tree encounter with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.
But fear not “the end is death and madness!” Hieronimo cries to the painter who has just knocked on their door. Before he cries “Vindicta mihi” (Vengence is mine) he says having beaten the painter in.
Hieronimo asked to plead for poor people to the King, on the news of one of the people that their son is dead he empathises and offers them the blood handkerchief, forgetting himself. He finds another and gives it with money, before tearing up the requests with his teeth, the figures appear ghostly to him as “the lively image” of his grief.
King welcomes the Viceroy, Castle disciplines and questions his son Lorenzo on his wronging of Hieronimo, invites Hieronimo to his “homely house” to make amends.
Revenge has fallen to dreaming and Ghost of Andrea rouses him. Cue a dumb show. Ghost agrees to stay and watch the rest.
Bel-Imperia wants to know why Hieronimo is still procrastinating she offers him her help.
Hieronimo asked to entertain he suggests a performance of a tragedy of his own devising, he wants Lorenzo, Bel-Imperia, and Balthazar to play parts in it. He tells them the plotline. Balthazar would prefer a comedy but that’s not high-brow enough for Hieronimo’s liking.
Isabella starts hacking down the tree where Horatio died and then stabs herself.
Play about to begin, and Balthazar is having difficulty with his beard and Hieronimo goes on a revenge rampage speech:
The plot is laid of dire revenge
On then, Hieronimo, pursue revenge,
For nothing wants but acting of revenge
Let the play commence! At the end of the play, Hieronimo enters and tells of his lost son, wheeling out the body for all to see. The other deaths in the play were the real deal too thanks to Hieronimo, “author and actor in this tragedy”. Hieronimo dashes off to hang himself but they catch him. He’s glad nonetheless that he may declare “Am I at last revenged thoroughly.” Hieronimo then bites out his tongue. As they fumble to find a knife for him to mend his pen he stabs himself and the Duke.
At a death head count that’s quite the figure, very few have survived. But these “were spectacles to please” the soul of the Ghost of Andrea. Now he is satisfied revenge has been had and he can guide the deceased to their respective deaths as they enter the next world. To show hate, some will be sent “down to deepest hell.” Ghost begs to be judge and dictates how those who have wronged him will suffer. Revenge agrees, and off they both trot to meet the recently deceased and “begin their endless tragedy”. And on that cheery note, the play ends.
The extended edition was well worth a read, and the additions add much to the original text. It is a tragedy full of bloody murder, guts, gore the whole lot. In fact the following lines from The Witch of Edmonton could equally be summing up Spanish Tragedy:
Forc’d marriage, murder;
Murder blood requires
Revenge hell’s help desires
Perhaps the bloodiest of the plays I’ve read this week so far. Tomorrow drop by for the next play, it’s Thomas Lord Cromwell and don’t worry it’s no where near as long as The Spanish Tragedy!