Spanish Tragedy

by: Thomas Kyd

Study Questions

Further study Study Questions

Discuss the importance of kingship in The Spanish Tragedy. Do the King and Viceroy appear as good, just rulers? What are their flaws? What is the relationship between these flaws and the tragedy that eventually unfolds?

This question requires culling evidence about the royalty, by reading over the scenes in which they appear. Upon a review of such evidence, we should notice any recurrent patterns in the behavior of the rulers. The King and Viceroy are to a certain extent portrayed sympathetically; indeed, at the end, modern viewers would most likely feel pity for them. Most noticeable is the fact that the Kings are continuously being misled. The Viceroy is misled by Villuppo into condemning Alexandro, and the King of Spain is misled by Lorenzo about the true nature of Hieronimo's mental disturbance. So to a certain extent, royalty is portrayed as gullible. Not only that, but this gullibility is directly related to the plot. The fact that the King does not even know Hieronimo is dead means that Hieronimo cannot seek justice from the King, as he had intended to. Had the King been more aware, more just, than Hieronimo might not have had to have taken matters into his own hands. In answering this question, one might also wish to discuss the Underworld King Pluto and Proserpine, who put the entire revenge tragedy into motion when they send Andrea and Revenge into the world after Andrea arrives at their palace.

Discuss the representation of the supernatural in the play. What does he choose to describe, and what does he leave out of his description? Is the supernatural a place like the natural world, or someplace entirely different?

The passage to focus on here is primarily the opening scene (I.i)i, as well as the "chorus" scenes that appear at the end of each Act. In Andrea's initial description of his journey into the underworld, images of geography figure prominently. Andrea must cross a river; the underworld is divided into fields, with a path leading down a ridge into a palace. But Kyd does not have Andrea describe the afterlives of the dead souls themselves, referring to them only indirectly. Something to note about this scene also is the way in which bureaucratic language keeps recurring. Andrea has to sit at a tribunal, where he is judged ineffectually by a committee; they cannot place him into the appropriate category. They then refer him to a higher authority. To go there he needs a passport. Even when he arrives at the river Acheron, he cannot pass because the proper funeral rites have not been performed. All these details suggest that though the world of the dead, in Kyd's imagination, possesses wonders and terrors beyond imagination, but also the same mundane problems as everyday life, and the same bureaucratic fussiness. Further reinforcing this impression of the mundane in the supernatural is the nap Revenge seems to take halfway through the play. The mixing of the mundane in with the supernatural gives the supernatural-the world of the dead with the concerns of everyday life-undermines the barrier between the world of the dead and the world of the living-in a parallel manner to the way Kyd undermines the relationship between the world of the theatre and the world of the audience.

The motivations of the characters are not always clear in the play, even to the characters themselves. Pick one soliloquoy in Acts I, II or III, and analyze the way in which Kyd creates ambiguity as to the characters' motivation. What effect does this have on our reaction to the character and the play?

A good soliloquoy to choose here would be Bel-Imperia's initial soliloquoy, in Act I scene iv, where she discusses her mourning for Andrea and her growing love for Horatio. Syntactically, Kyd uses three questions in order to convey a sense of uncertainty. Furthermore, the first question is not rhetorical questions, but it is not answered either; they are open-ended questions that leave the audience hanging. As Bel-Imperia progresses through the soliloquoy, she becomes more certain; the last question she asks is rhetorical. The shift towards certainty can actually be marked off by a similar shift imagery and language, Bel-Imperia makes a sharp turn in lines 64–65, from thoughts of love-about which she is unsure-to thoughts of revenge, about which she is dead sure. She asks herself how it is possible for her to love without first revenging her love; her love for Horatio makes her unsure about her mourning for Andrea (l.60–61),about whether or not she is forgetting Andrea. She resolves this, however, by uniting both her love for Horatio and her need for revenge into one: her love will be a form of revenge. Though this does provide a temporary solution, it does raise some questions. The audience may wonder at what the true source of Bel-Imperia's affection for Horatio is, true love or revenge: indeed, she does not seem clear on this point either, given the way all talk of love is immediately dropped in favour of revenge after line sixty-five, and in line sixty-one she professes total ignorance of her true love's source.