The Spanish Tragedy (New York: W. W. Norton, revised edition, 1989), a play by English dramatist Thomas Kyd, was written between 1582 and 1592, when the first known performance took place. Kyd was a popular dramatist in his day, although most of his plays have been lost. The Spanish Tragedy is one of very few extant plays that can with certainty be attributed to him. The play is important not only for its own merits but also because it is the first example of a revenge tragedy, a type of play that was to become extremely popular on the Elizabethan stage during the last decade of the sixteenth century and beyond. The most famous of all revenge tragedies is Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and some of the plot devices in The Spanish Tragedy, such as the protagonist’s hesitation in carrying out his revenge, are echoed in Shakespeare’s play.
Kyd based The Spanish Tragedy on the tragedies written by the Roman playwright Seneca, whose plays focused on murder and revenge. The emphasis was on a malignant fate that led inevitably to a bloody and horrific catastrophe.
Although The Spanish Tragedy is not performed in the early 2000s, its intricate plot, full of intrigue and even containing comic incidents, its swift-moving and sensational action, the questions it poses about the nature of justice and retribution, and the well-developed character of the revenger, Hieronimo, make it a rewarding play to read.