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Spanish Tragedy

Thomas Kyd

Act III, scenes xiv–xvi

Act III, scene xiii

Act IV, scene i

Summary

Act III, scene xiv

The scene now shifts again to the Spanish court. The king, the Duke of Castile, Lorenzo, Balthazar, the Ambassador and Bel-Imperia have all congregated to greet the Viceroy of Portugal, who has arrived to see his son's wedding to Bel-Imperia. The king and Viceroy exchange speeches of welcome and praise. Everyone then leaves for a more private chamber in which to celebrate, except for Castile, who keeps his son Lorenzo behind as well.

Castile and Lorenzo then have a father-son talk, during which Castile tells his son that he is worried that Lorenzo's behavior might be endangering Bel- Imperia's marriage prospects. Specifically, Castile has heard rumors that Lorenzo has been denying Hieronimo access to the king and treating him unfairly; he pointedly reminds his son that Hieronimo has gained much admiration at the Spanish court, and it would be an embarrassment if the Knight-Marshal accused Lorenzo of wronging him. Lorenzo claims that these rumors have no foundation. Castile counters that he has seen it happen himself, but his son reassures his father that he was merely trying to prevent Hieronimo for embarrassing himself, in his madness, in front of the King. Lorenzo points out if Hieronimo has misconstrued his actions as hostile, it is only to be expected from a man who has gone out of his mind upon the murder of his son. Castile orders one of the servants to bring Hieronimo to them.

Balthazar and Bel-Imperia enter, with Balthazar speaking words of praise for his love, and Bel-Imperia, for once, returning them in kind. Castile greets both of the lovers and tells Bel-Imperia not to look sternly at him; he is no longer angry with her, he says, now that she is no longer in love with Andrea and instead engaged to the prince.

Hieronimo now enters with the servant, suspicious at having been summoned, fearful that his son's murderers may wish to tie up a loose end to their crime by finishing him off. But he immediately realizes this is not what will happen. The Duke informs him that he wishes to speak about the rumors that Lorenzo has been denying him access to the king and that Hieronimo now finds himself enraged at the Duke's son. Hieronimo dramatically insists this is not the case, drawing his sword and threatening to kill anyone who says otherwise. The Duke then asks Hieronimo and his son to embrace, which they do, exchanging words of friendship. As soon as the Duke is out of earshot, Hieronimo mocks both his and the Duke's words of friendship.

Act III, scene xv

Andrea is getting angrier and angrier; not only does Balthazar still live, but he is now engaged to Bel-Imperia. Moreover, Revenge has been sleeping all this time. Andrea wakes him up noisily, complaining that he has been neglecting his job. Hieronimo has now become friends with Lorenzo, seemingly having forgotten his son's murder. Revenge insists that Hieronimo has done nothing of the sort and that even though he may pretend to be at peace with Lorenzo, in fact his lust for revenge is simply slumbering, as the ghost was.

Revenge then stages a dumb show (a silent masque) for Andrea's sake, which shows a wedding party, at first happy, then descended upon by Hymen, god of marriage, who blows out their wedding torches and drenches them with blood. Andrea says that he understands the meaning of the masque and that the ghost can sleep if he wants to now, while he watches the rest of the play unfold.

Analysis

The juxtaposition of the rich, sophisticated, happy Spanish courtiers, arranging the wedding of a murderer (Balthazar) to the lover of the man he has murdered, makes a striking contrast with the grief of Hieronimo and the old man. The ornate speeches of the King and Viceroy can be seen as doubly ironic. First, they are based on the idea of Bel-Imperia and Balthazar's union being a happy one, whereas it is in actuality founded upon murder and the persuasion of the Duke of Castile. Secondly, their close friendship now stems from ulterior motives made plain in their speeches: the King treats the Viceroy nicely because he has beaten him in war, and the Viceroy is just happy that his son is alive. The Spanish court is a place where appearance and reality have a very sharp wedge driven between them. Even Bel-Imperia joins in on the act, professing her love for Balthazar, while revealing her true emotions with her tears. It is therefore understandable why Hieronimo enters in this scene fearing for his life: "Pocas palabras!(few words) mild as the lamb,/ Is't I will be revenged? No, I am not the man." The shifting alliances and appearances of the Spanish Court, along with the presence of Lorenzo at its center, make it difficult to know what to expect. The Machiavellian nature of the court thus helps justify Hieronimo's own Machiavellian behavior.

One way in which the Elizabethan audience differed from a modern audience is the immediate negative connotations that Spain and Portugal, but especially Spain, would have for them. Spain was England's chief enemy, and they were hated with a religious intensity. Understandably so, since the conflict (at least for the general public) was essentially a religious one, between Catholic Spain and Protestant England. Never had anti-Spanish sentiment been so strong as in the late 1580's, roughly during the time Kyd wrote The Spanish Tragedy. 1588 was the year the Armada, an invasion fleet of Spanish warships, left Spain for England. The years before this invasion were filled with anxiety about Spanish conquest, and Englishmen viewed the defeat as a sign from God, a victory of the true religion (Protestantism) over Catholicism.

So such an audience would take it as a given that the Spanish court was evil, making them more ready to sympathize with Hieronimo's Machiavellian behavior. They would easily accept the claim that the Spanish king and nobles were unjust. Since the king controlled the law, justice would have to be found through illegal means. And Hieronimo's behavior is unquestionably Machiavellian at this point. His profession of friendship for Lorenzo is laced with verbal irony: "For divers causes it is fit for us/ That we be friends", says Hieronimo, and we know (though Lorenzo doesn't) that what they both have their reasons for appearing to be friends. And when Lorenzo hopes that "old grudges are forgot," Hieronimo will reply that "it were a shame it should not be so." And it will be a shame, because Hieronimo will not forget his grudge. Hieronimo here foreshadows the destruction he is going to bring, while making a false show of friendship similar to the one Lorenzo displayed to Pedringano in III.ii.

Andrea and Revenge by this time seem particularly nasty characters. Their only function in the plot seems to be foreshadowing Balthazar's ultimate doom. But Kyd makes the characters interesting in the following sense: he makes them human. The human traits he emphasizes are unattractive ones, though—Andrea seems bloodthirsty, and Revenge seems extremely lazy. But it is precisely this laziness, this "slumbering," that makes Revenge an interesting character. At this point in the play, we might very well wonder with Andrea whether Balthazar will see any punishment, and if so, how Hieronimo could possibly effect that punishment. Revenge's dumb show provides a cryptic foreshadowing, a "code" or puzzle for which the next Act will provide the solution. Revenge's ambiguity, his need to speak in code, his refusal to say anything concrete, draws the audience along, keeping them interested yet still guessing, like a movie trailer that reveals just enough yet not too much of the plot to get people interested. It also serves as a practical demonstration of the play's hopeful thesis enunciated by Isabella in II.v, which is that Time will eventually reveal the truth. In Time, we will see what Revenge means by the dumb show, and whether he speaks the truth or not.

An interesting and hard to answer question is how much time has elapsed so far during the course of the play. The idea that there has been enough time for rumors to have spread of Lorenzo's behavior suggests that it has been at least several days, perhaps a week or more, since Lorenzo's murder. The traveling back and forth between the Spanish and Portuguese courts also suggests a time frame of perhaps several weeks. There are two problems with such a time frame. First, the king has not yet heard of Horatio's death. We have to accept that the king is very unaware of the events that are happening around him, if we are to believe that a murder on his estate could escape his notice for so long. Second, there is the fact in IV.iv, Hieronimo unveils the dead body of his son. If several weeks had passed since Horatio's murder, one would expect his body to reek at that point and already be significantly decomposed. But in this case, Kyd may have sacrificed logical consistency for dramatic effect.

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the actual author is philip sidney

by thomashalbrook, July 09, 2014

this play, Julius Caesar and the massacre at paris are by Philip sidney

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