The Spanish Tragedy

Free «The Spanish Tragedy» Essay Sample


Thomas Kyd is an accredited father of tragic stories in Elizabethan literature. It is widely believed that great playwrights like Shakespeare wrote plays that changed the opera and literature basing on plays by Thomas Kyd. He wrote several plays but the most famous one is The Spanish tragedy. In The Spanish Tragedy, Kyd captures the mood of the country of that time. During the war between England and Spain, the English hated the Spaniards especially their persistence increase in might. Hence, by writing a play that denies Spain a future because of the all its heirs death, Kyd endeared himself to the viewers. Therefore, he facilitated the success of The Spanish tragedy as a play. However, beyond the political scope, Kyd covered many themes and issues affecting the society. A distinctive feature of The Spanish Tragedy that made it stand out from the other plays of the time was its characterization. Kyd develops his characters to make readers love them, sympathize with them or despise them. This development of the characters makes the tragedy that befalls them even more intriguing to the audience. Proper development of characters enables Kyd to communicate his ideas properly and is central to the story. The playwright also used different linguistic devices to entertain, educate and develop the story. These linguistic devices, however, received conflicting reviews by some critics who claimed they deterred the audience from connecting with the story fully, for instance, the use of Latin. Kyd also made scenes in his play sufficient and complete mirroring the themes and motifs of the play. The work is captivating, each scene keeps the reader in suspense and a hunger for more. This essay discusses the characterization of the main characters in the play, the language used by Kyd, and the way the above-mentioned factors affected the play. The essay is based on the Norton Edition of the play, in particular on Scene Two of Acts Four and Five.

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Kyd uses characterization to develop his themes and the story. To develop specific behaviours of his characters he uses their thoughts, actions and interactions with other characters. In these acts, he incorporates several characters, who are discussed below.


In this act, Bel-Imperia is Horatio’s lover. She goes to visit him in their garden and they sit their chatting. Bel-Imperia is in love; this is seen in her interactions with Horatio, she calls him “my love” and says she will follow him as her soul is controlled by her heart. Her love is genuine and sincere. This is depicted when she begs her brother Lorenzo and the prince of Portugal to spare his life. She begs them, and realizing they were not listening to her, she calls out for help. Being portrayed as a proud person in the previous act, she begs the man whom she despises and wants to hurt and it shows that she indeed loved Horatio. She also claims that she loves Horatio but he does not love her as she pleads to have him released. Although her pleas are ignored, Bel-Imperia is clearly a loving woman (Simkin 87). Bel-Imperia’s love is the central theme in the story. This is because she believes vengeance is an act of love if one’s object of affection is killed. Dating Horatio, she, hence, takes vengeance for the death of her first lover Andrea against his murder Balthazar. Then she exacts vengeance for her second lover Horatio by killing Balthazar who was an accomplice in Horatio’s murder. Another character trait exhibited by Bel-Imperia is that she is trusting. She asks Pendringano to keep vigil so that no one walks in on them. She trusts him but he betrays her. She never doubts his loyalty and yet he is not faithful to her. She is too trusting.

Bel-Imperia is intuitive, as she is walking with Horatio in the garden she feels as if something was wrong, she even tells Horatio “ I not myself by heart foretells me a mischance” (Kyd), which is the death of Horatio. Horatio reassures her that everything is fine and she calms down. Bel-Imperia is selfless. She exhibits this trait when she offers to die for Horatio. She was willing to give her own life for Horatio (Simkin 64). Another character trait of Bel-Imperia is vengefulness. Bel-Imperia is courting Horatio to revenge against Balthazar for the murder of her former lover Andrea. Though Andrea’s death was justified as he died at war, she still takes vengeance against the Prince of Portugal. Bel-Imperia’s vengeance contributes to the theme of the story as she revenges for her lovers’ death.


Horatio is Bel-Imperia’s second lover. He takes her for a walk in his garden where Lorenzo and Balthazar find him and kill him. Horatio is a minor protagonist; his death marks the turning point of the play and strengthens the theme of revenge. It also helps Kyd satirize the society as it tries to find the balance between justice and revenge. Horatio has several character traits, for example he is a romantic. He invites his love, Bel-Imperia to a date in the garden at night which ia a romantic gesture. Horatio is poetic, this is illustrated by the words he tells Bel-Imperia “the stars are holding back their shine and lunar is hiding itself to give them pleasure” (Kyd 59)

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Horatio is brave and courageous. He shows these qualities when he does not plead for his life he inquires if they are going to kill him and upon learning of his fate, he keeps quiet and submits to it. Lorenzo’s motive for Horatio’s murder stems from the fact that he is in a duel with him for the capture of Balthazar in war, so he is a brave man. Horatio was also a proud and ambitious man, which is proved by Lorenzo’s words (Kyd 63)


Pendringano is another character featured in these acts. He is Bel-Imperia’s servant. Bel-Imperia trusts him to be their watchdog but he is greedy. He wants more gold and so he goes on to alert Lorenzo of Horatio and Bel-Imperia’s rendezvous which leads to Horatio’s death. Pendringano displays some character traits.  He is greedy; he gets paid by Bel-Imperia to be her servant but he wants more, because of his love for money he betrays her, this is depicted when he says “instead of watching ill deserve more gold if I fetch Don Lorenzo to this match” (Kyd 21) his greed surmounts his loyalty and humanity.

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Pendringano is also a murderer. This is depicted when he takes part in the killing of Horatio; to keep it secret, he goes on to kill Cerberin, so he is inhumane, selfish and disloyal. Pendringano helps in the development of the story as he helps in the murder of Horatio, which makes Hieronimo launch his revenge plan. Moreover, he also helps in building the Lorenzo’s character, being Lorenzo’s puppet who executes his wicked plots. In the end, Lorenzo betrays him; thus Kyd portrays greedy people overwhelmed with their wickedness.


Another character present is Lorenzo. Lorenzo is Bel-Imperia’s brother and the son of a Duke. He murders Horatio hanging him and then stabbing him severely. He is the main villain in the story. Lorenzo shows several character traits.

He is merciless; this is depicted when he kills his sister’s lover in cold blood despite her pleas. After killing Horatio, he even goes on to ridicule him saying that he has reached the highest point in his life when was hanged on a tree (Erne 41). Horatio goes on to say that his death is the fruit of his love. Lorenzo not only kills his sister’s lover before her eyes he also imprisons her to cover up his own sins. He kills Horatio in his own garden where his parents find him; he could at least kill him somewhere else. Only a merciless person is capable of such inhumane acts. Lorenzo is also corrupt; he bribes Pendringano with a gold necklace to betray his master, he is willing to use his power and influence to achieve what he wants in life. He manipulates people’s lives. Lorenzo is also a killer; he kills Horatio to prevent him from having an affair with his sister. He orders Pendringano and Cerberin to seize Horatio, hang him on a tree and stab him to death. In addition to all the above said, Lorenzo is vain (Kyd 56). He believes that a person is evaluated by the amount of money he has and the class he belongs to. He dislikes Horatio, as he is not a noble man. For that reason, he does not want to share glory with him. He does not want Horatio to communicate with his sister for the same reason. This is despite the fact that Horatio is Bel’s personal choice. Lorenzo is also deceitful; he lies to Pendringano that he will pardon him but leaves him to die. He also deceives the King about Hieronimo’s condition and denies any involvement in Horatio’s murder being its mastermind.  Lorenzo as the chief villain helps the story develop as Horatio’s murder, leads to Hieronimo’s grief and anger resulting in his revenge and hence the whole story. Lorenzo represents the followers of Machiavelli principles who care for no one other but themselves and will do anything to achieve their goals. They abuse power to satisfy themselves and deceive to get people on their side. His murder of Horatio is a personal vendetta he pursued against him, as despite the fact that Lorenzo is the King’s nephew and heir, the King allowed Horatio to share the glory winning the battle and capturing Balthazar.

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Balthazar is the Prince of Portugal captured by Spain in war after killing Andrea.  He is in love with Bel-Imperia and plans to marry her to unite Portugal and Spain. He exhibits several character traits discussed below. Balthazar is selfish and self-centred. This is depicted in one of the scenes. As Bel-Imperia is pleading for Horatio’s life saying that it was she who loved Horatio and not the other way around, Balthazar claims that he is in love with Bel-Imperia thinking about himself only (Erne 35).  Balthazar is an unjust man. He is willing to use injustice to get what he wants. He and Lorenzo plot to kill Horatio and when it is done Balthazar can marry Bel-Imperia. He represents the ruling class of the society who are used to satisfying their needs regardless of what or whom they abuse. Such people believe that they are better than others and often take their privileges for granted. They also let other people do the dirty work for them as they enjoy the results.

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Hieronimo is Horatio’s father; he is the king’s friend and the Judge of Spain. He is a just man. In this excerpt, he exhibits several character traits. He is a loving father. He reveals this when he mourns sorrowfully for his son. He says, “I have lost my joy in losing my Horatio my sweet boy” (Kyd). Hieronimo is brave, this is depicted when he runs into the garden ready to rescue the woman, who screamed out his name, despite admitting to himself that he was in danger, the feeling he had never had before (Simkin 29). Hieronimo is emotional. He weeps for his son’s death. He also contemplates suicide but rules it out. Later in the play, we see that he has episodes of insanity; his emotions are too much for him to handle. Hieronimo is vengeful; this is depicted when after absorbing the initial shock of his son’s death he vows not to bury him until his murder is avenged. He claims that he will only find relief after he has avenged his son’s death (Baker 89). Hieronimo is pessimistic, after finding his son’s body in the garden he is quick to believe that the murderers have run away and hence escaped justice. His wife tries to reassure him but she fails to encourage him. Hieronimo represents the ordinary people who work hard and believe in justice and other values which are ignored. This disappointment drives them to resort to unfair or uncouth means to try to achieve their desired objectives. In this play, after his son’s death and the failure to get justice through the legal channel, Hieronimo uses a clever plot to avenge Horatio’s death. His desire for revenge contributes to the main theme of the story and his plotting forms its centre, as Hieronimo is the main protagonist.


She is Horatio’s mother, who loves her son so much that the grief over his death makes her go mad. Eventually she kills herself. She exhibits several character traits in Scene Two as discussed below. She is optimistic, as when they find her son’s body and her husband believes that they have gone free, she assures him that justice will prevail. She represents mothers and wives who love their children very much and support and encourage their husbands. Her insanity contributes to the theme of insanity in the play and her suicide foreshadows her husband’s suicide (Kyd 49).


In his play, The Spanish Tragedy Kyd uses the language cleverly to come up with a spell bounding play. He uses dialogue between the characters. The dialogue makes the play interesting to read as it keeps it lively. The direct dialogue also enables the reader to relate directly to the characters, hence the play has profound effect on them. Kyd also uses monologue, for instance, when Hieronimo is mourning for Horatio, his son. The monologue helps to understand the play better as it gives an in-depth understanding of the characters. Hieronimo’s monologue enables one understand the extent to which his son’s death has made him aggrieved. He thinks of committing suicide but later rules it out in favour of revenge. Through soliloquy, the reader can understand what might come next. This creates suspense as one waits to see the just Hieronimo exert revenge; the reader also knows his state of mind and hence is able to sympathize with him (Simkin 89).

Kyd also uses symbolism. In this act, one of the symbols used is the handkerchief that has blood on. Hieronimo takes it from his son to use it to remind himself of his son. The handkerchief is a symbol of vengeance for a loved one. This is seen earlier in the play when Horatio took it from his friend Andrea after his death on the battlefield and he was able to catch his killer Balthazar. The fact that Hieronimo takes the handkerchief symbolizes that he has started a war to get justice or revenge for his son’s death and that he would get it.

Another stylistic device employed by Kyd in The Spanish Tragedy was foreshadowing. In this excerpt, Hieronimo contemplates suicide, though he discredits it in Scene Two; at the end of the play he does commit suicide (Erne 61). Hence that thought foreshadows his suicide. In the same scene, after witnessing the death of his friend Horatio and the maltreatment of his love Bel-Imperia, the ghost of Andrea wonders why Revenge brought him there, as what he wanted was actually the opposite. Revenge tells him not to worry and assures him that in due time he would get the justice he seeks (Baker 49). It foreshadows the coming deaths of Lorenzo and Balthazar at the hands of Hieronimo and Bel-Imperia.

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In the play The Spanish Tragedy Kyd introduced a new genre that involved protagonists in pain and suffering and even deaths unlike the other plays at that time. While the storyline was unique, refreshing and different, his characterization actualized his plot making it a success. The careful development of each individual character was essential to making the play understandable, enjoyable and acceptable to the audience. All the above-mentioned factors were relevant and important but it was through his use of language, cleverly, keenly and well decorated that the characters we loved or hated came to life. Hence, his language use also played a big role in the success of the play. Kyd teaches a great lesson to all playwrights today. All aspects of a play should be good to achieve success: the plot, the characters and even the language used.


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