Whatever is said of Thomas Kyd’s other works, The Spanish Tragedy is an enduring achievement. Kyd adapted to his own purposes the horrors, the theme of revenge, the trappings of ghosts and chorus, the long speeches, and the rhetoric of Senecan drama. He pointed the way to a new form merging the impulses of the popular drama with the structure and methods of classical drama—both tragedy and comedy. He demonstrated that what gives life to a play is not argument or idea so much as psychological reality—characters that develop naturally out of the action of the play. He brought together in one play, perhaps not with perfect success, a variety of styles ranging from the sententiousness of his Senecan models to the lyric love combat between Bel-imperia and Horatio and the anguished cries of a distraught father. The extravagance Kyd permitted himself in Hieronimo’s raving (“O eyes! no eyes, but fountains fraught with tears. . . .”) made the play a byword in Ben Jonson’s day, but Kyd’s sense of dramatic propriety helped rescue blank verse from monotony for use in genuine dramatic expression. Kyd’s flair for the theatrical allowed him to pave the way for an exciting and meaningful use of the stage; later developments in stagecraft may have proved more subtle, but few have surpassed the power of the final scene of The Spanish Tragedy. If the play could be dated with exactness, The Spanish Tragedy might well prove to be historically...
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