Study Guide

The Spanish Tragedy

by Thomas Kyd

The Spanish Tragedy Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Don Andrea, a Spanish nobleman, has been killed in battle with the Portuguese. After his soul arrives in the underworld, Pluto sends it and the Spirit of Revenge back to the world of the living to learn what happened after Don Andrea’s death. At the Spanish court, Don Andrea’s ghost hears that the Portuguese have been defeated in war and that Balthazar, prince of Portugal, has been taken prisoner. Balthazar, Don Andrea learns, is the man who killed him. A quarrel has developed between Lorenzo and Horatio, each claiming the honor of capturing Balthazar.

Meanwhile, at the Portuguese court, Villuppo tells the viceroy that his son, Balthazar, is dead, having been killed by the traitorous Alexandro. Alexandro is then sentenced to death.

Balthazar, while a prisoner, falls in love with Bel-Imperia, as does Horatio. Bel-Imperia, who had been the fiancé of the slain Don Andrea, falls in love with Horatio. Plans are proposed for a treaty of peace between Spain and Portugal. These events are all distasteful to Don Andrea’s ghost. He is comforted, however, by the Spirit of Revenge’s promise that grim fate will overtake all concerned.

Balthazar, aided by Lorenzo, plans to win the love of Bel-Imperia. Lorenzo sends a servant to spy on Bel-Imperia and to discover whom she loves. When the servant returns to tell his master that Bel-Imperia is in love with Horatio, Lorenzo and Balthazar plot Horatio’s death.

The king of Spain plans to make diplomatic use of Bel-Imperia, who is his niece, by marrying her to the Portuguese prince, Balthazar, thus cementing the friendship of the two countries. The king warns her that she must do as he commands. One night, when Bel-Imperia and Horatio meet in the garden, Horatio is set upon by Balthazar and Lorenzo; they kill Horatio by hanging and then take Bel-Imperia away. When Horatio’s body is discovered, Hieronimo, Horatio’s father, goes mad, as does his wife. Seeing these events, Don Andrea’s ghost becomes even more bitter, but the Spirit of Revenge tells him to be patient.

The ambassador to Spain, returning to the Portuguese court, arrives in time to prevent the death of Alexandro, because the ambassador brings word that Balthazar still lives. Villuppo, who had plotted Alexandro’s death in the hope that he could gain advancement from it, is sentenced...

(The entire section is 959 words.)

The Spanish Tragedy Extended Summary

Act 1
The Spanish Tragedy begins with the ghost of Andrea, a Spanish nobleman, and the personified abstraction of Revenge. Andrea explains that he was killed in battle against the Portuguese. This deprived him of his secret love, Bel-Imperia, and his ghost has now emerged from the underworld to seek revenge. Revenge promises the ghost of Andrea that he will witness his killer, Prince Balthazar, killed by Bel-Imperia. These two characters remain on stage throughout the play.

At the Spanish court, a general explains that during the battle, Balthazar was defeated in single combat by Horatio and taken prisoner. This ensured Spain’s victory, and Portugal has agreed to pay Spain tribute. Balthazar is treated leniently, being merely detained in Spain as the guest of Lorenzo.

At the Portuguese court, the viceroy of Portugal is deceived by Villuppo into believing Balthazar is dead.

Back in Spain, Horatio tells Bel-Imperia of the circumstances of Andrea’s death, and she transfers her affections from Andrea to Horatio, who was Andrea’s friend. She also vows to have vengeance on Balthazar. Balthazar, encouraged by Lorenzo, declares his love for Bel-Imperia, but she rebuffs him.

The king of Spain holds a banquet, attended by the Portuguese ambassador, to celebrate the new alliance between the two countries. The ghost of Andrea complains to Revenge at seeing Balthazar so well received at the Spanish court. Revenge tells him that friendship will soon turn into enmity.

Act 2
Lorenzo, trying to advance Balthazar’s cause with Bel-Imperia, gets her servant Pedringano to admit that she is in love with Horatio, because he has seen letters she sent to him. Lorenzo promises Balthazar that he will get rid of Horatio, leaving Balthazar free to win Bel-Imperia’s love. In scene 2, Balthazar and Lorenzo, helped by Pedringano, spy on Bel-Imperia as she and Horatio discuss their love for each other. The new lovers arrange to meet in secret at night, in a garden on Horatio’s father’s land, where they will not be disturbed.

After a scene in which the duke of Castile agrees to the marriage of his daughter to Balthazar, Lorenzo and Balthazar, informed by Pedringano, surprise Horatio and Bel-Imperia at their secret meeting. They hang and stab Horatio and abduct Bel-Imperia. The disturbance arouses Hieronimo from his bed, and Hieronimo cuts down Horatio and laments his murder. Isabella, his wife, joins him, and he vows revenge. Meanwhile, the ghost of Andrea is again irritated, because he has seen his friend Horatio rather than his enemy Balthazar killed. Revenge replies that he only has to wait, and he will see Balthazar brought low.

Act 3
At the Portuguese court, Alexandro is about to be put to death when the ambassador arrives with the news that Balthazar is alive. The viceroy releases Alexandro and condemns Villuppo to death because of his false claims that Balthazar was dead.

In Spain, Hieronimo, mourning for his son, receives a letter from Bel-Imperia in which she tells him that Horatio was murdered by Lorenzo and Balthazar. She calls on him to take his revenge. Hieronimo, suspicious...

(The entire section is 1309 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear