Lorenzo and Balthazar enter, discussing Balthazar's affection for Bel-Imperia. Lorenzo consoles his friend, telling him that in time, he will succeed in winning Bel-Imperia's hand; Balthazar, however, professes that his case is hopeless. Lorenzo then informs him that he has begun investigating whether Bel-Imperia is in love with another knight and has summoned Pedringano, one of Bel-Imperia's close confidantes, to gather information on Bel-Imperia's thoughts and affections. Pedringano arrives, and Lorenzo begins questioning him. At first, Pedringano seems reluctant to tell Lorenzo about his sister's affections. At first he offers affection and reward (presumably in the form of money or advancement) for Pedringano's help; when Pedringano refuses, Lorenzo turns to threats of violence and death. These prove effective, and Pedringano reveals that his lady loves Horatio. Lorenzo then tells Pedringano to let him know the next time the two lovers meet and then sends him back to Bel- Imperia. When he is gone, Balthazar affirms that he will seek revenge against Horatio for "stealing" Bel-Imperia's love from him; Lorenzo then spurs him on.
Horatio and Bel-Imperia now enter the scene, presumably somewhere else on the King's estate. As Pedringano, Lorenzo, and Balthazar watch on, Horatio asks why Bel-Imperia seems reticent, now that their love affair has started to become serious. She replies that she is simply lovesick for him, to the great disgust of Balthazar. The two lovers then begin to discuss the dangerous course of their secret affair (for, like Andrea's love for Bel-Imperia, it is still secret), and they exchange vows of love, to the increasing disgust of Balthazar. Bel-Imperia then suggests that they meet later, at sunset, in Horatio's father's garden. As they leave, Lorenzo vows that Horatio will be sent into "eternal night."
The scene switches now to a meeting of the King of Spain, the Portuguese Ambassador, Don Cyprian (the Duke of Castile), and others. They discuss Balthazar's love for Bel-Imperia; the King asks Castile of Bel-Imperia's opinion of Balthazar. Castile replies that however she may act now, she will eventually love Balthazar, for he has threatened to revoke his own love for her if she does not. The King then tells the Ambassador that the diplomatic marriage has been decided and that all that rests now is to gain the Viceroy of Portugal's consent. To sweeten the deal, the king offers to release the Viceroy from his tribute if he agrees and stipulates that Balthazar and Bel-Imperia's children will be the heirs to the Spanish throne. The King reminds the ambassador that his offer does not, of course, include the ransom to be paid for Balthazar, which is a private matter to be dealt with between the ambassador and Horatio, the prince's captor. The ambassador replies that everything on that score has been arranged.
After the ambassador leaves, the King has a little talk with his brother the Duke, reminding him, in essence, that there will be trouble if Bel-Imperia does not consent to marry Balthazar, and, therefore, the Duke should make the utmost effort to ensure that she does.
We now enter the rising action that precedes the play's first crisis. Lorenzo and Balthazar's discovery of Bel-Imperia's love for Horatio has exactly the wounding effect on Balthazar that she hopes it will. But it ironically also creates the desire in him, thanks to the prodding of Lorenzo, for counter- revenge and thus threatens the life of the man she has come to love quite independently of any vengeful considerations. This irony thus sets up the tension that the rising action—the development of the love affair between Horatio and Bel-Imperia and the plots of the Lorenzo and Balthazar—serves to increase.
The rising action is marked by the emergence of Lorenzo as a truly Machiavellian villain. Niccolo Machiavelli was a sixteenth-century Italian political philosopher, whose name in Elizabethan England was synonymous with evil; many saw his philosophy as blasphemous, since it suggested that affairs of state were not subject to conventional morality—one should try to be both loved and feared, but feared if one could not be both. The Elizabethan Machiavellian villain applied this philosophy to a private sphere, as evidenced by Lorenzo's verbal and physical manipulation of Pedringano and Balthazar.
The eavesdropping scene neatly captures Lorenzo's Machiavellian dynamic. It also juxtaposes to great effect the bitterness of Lorenzo and Balthazar against the beauty of the lovers' love, and it captures the conflict between them (which right now forms the conflict of the play). The exchange of loving words between Horatio and Bel-Imperia are ironically juxtaposed against the threats of Balthazar and Lorenzo, making their poetic exchanges seem tragic. At one point, they surreptitiously participate in a stichomythia between Horatio and Bel-Imperia, inverting Horatio's sentences, ominously foreshadowing bad events for Horatio. The use of the oxymoron, "warring peace," and of a parallelism that develops an elaborate analogy between love and war also adds to the sense of paradox and irony attached to the scenes, where love and hatred seem to give birth to each other—Bel-Imperia's hatred for Balthazar gives rise to her love for Horatio, and Balthazar's love for her gives rise to his hatred for Horatio. The culmination of these ironic juxtapositions comes in the final lines of scene ii, where Horatio's remark, "dangerous suspicion waits on our delight," is, unbeknownst to him, confirmed by Lorenzo: "Ay, danger mixed with jealous despite / Shall send thy soul into eternal night," foreshadowing Horatio's eventual death.
The scene is thus rife with dramatic irony. Horatio makes arrangements for a lover's rendezvous, but Lorenzo knows (as we do) that he is in fact making arrangements for his death. Dramatic irony is a calling card of tragedy, since it helps create the mixture of necessity and free choice essential to the tragic mindset. That Horatio will be in his father's bower tonight is an expression of his free will and his love for Bel-Imperia. That he will meet his doom there is a product of forces beyond his control: the jealousy and hatred of Balthazar and Lorenzo. Another key irony, however, is that Bel-Imperia conceived her love, at least from one angle, as a revenge plot on Balthazar. This revenge is now about to backfire disastrously.
The juxtaposition of scene iii, in which the King and the Duke of Castile decide that Bel-Imperia should marry Balthazar, is an ironic juxtaposition. As the two old men decide Bel-Imperia's marriage, she is already rushing off into the arms of Horatio. The scene opposes Horatio and Bel-Imperia's love against the social order of the day. This makes the lovers seem more heroic, more significant, more tragic; the irony lets the audience know the social forces that are working against the young lovers. Horatio is not a prince, or even a Duke, and this is part of the reason that Lorenzo and Balthazar hate him, since, in loving Bel- Imperia, Horatio is usurping the position of the noble class. When Lorenzo hears that Bel-Imperia loves Horatio, he calls him "Don Horatio our Knight Marshal's son?" The Knight-Marshal could be considered something like the Attorney- General, or a Supreme Court Justice, the top lawyer and judge in the kingdom. But he is still merely a civil servant, far inferior in social rank to both Balthazar and Lorenzo, a prince and the son of a Duke. So Hieronimo's son is an upstart, who has humiliated them both on the battlefield, by capturing Balthazar and then gaining at least partial credit for it from Lorenzo. This partially explains their eagerness to avenge themselves for the perceived stain upon their honor.