Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Royal courts

Royal courts. The play opens by alternating scenes between the court of Spain and the court of Portugal—with the only perceptible difference between the two royal courts being the individual people found at each. Typical directorial practice would be to place props on stage to indicate one or the other court. The lack of distinguishing characteristics at these two courts reflects the lack of differences between the two sides in the war that is keeping them apart. Neither Spain nor Portugal occupies a morally superior ground; however, English attitudes toward both Spain and Portugal in the 1580’s tended to be negative, as both Roman Catholic countries were at odds with England.

Hieronimo’s garden

Hieronimo’s garden. Outdoor area at the home of the Spanish general Hieronimo. It is a refreshing area, but one warped by envy, lust, and murder. The garden is the play’s first outdoor setting, and it is there the crime of Horatio’s murder occurs. The tension here resides in differences between the human menace and what would otherwise seem a place of sweetness.

Before stabbing herself to death near the end of the play, Hieronimo’s wife, Isabella, hacks at the garden arbor with a sword, unable to bear its promise in the face of her son’s death. Hieronimo and his wife make extensive reference to the irony of the garden’s symbolization of growth and life, while it is also the place where the crime takes place. Audiences are presumably left to infer that the despoiled garden represents a post-Fall world.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

The Revenge Play After Kyd had shown the way with The Spanish Tragedy, the revenge play became extremely popular on the Elizabethan...

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Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Dramatic Irony
The play consistently employs dramatic irony, a situation in which one or more characters act without full...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1580s: Spain is the leading world power. In 1588, the English fleet defeats the Spanish Armada, and so prevents an invasion by...

(The entire section is 244 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Research the English attitude towards Spain in Elizabethan times. Analyze ways in which this attitude sheds light on the play.


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What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

The plays collected in Four Revenge Tragedies: ‘‘The Spanish Tragedy,’’ ‘‘The Revenger’s Tragedy,’’...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Bowers, Fredson Thayer, Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy, 1587–1642, Princeton University Press, 1940, pp. 3–100.

Broude, Ronald, ‘‘Time, Truth, and Right in The Spanish Tragedy,’’ in Studies in Philology, Vol. 68, 1971, p. 131.

Burrows, Ken C., ‘‘The Dramatic and Structural Significance of the Portuguese Sub-plot in The Spanish Tragedy,’’ in Renaissance Papers, Fall 1969, p. 30.

Edwards, Philip, Thomas Kyd and Early Elizabethan Tragedy, Longmans, 1966, p. 6.

———, ‘‘Thrusting Elysium into Hell: The Originality of The Spanish Tragedy,’’ in The Elizabethan Theatre XI, edited by A. L....

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Ardolino, Frank R. Thomas Kyd’s Mystery Play: Myth and Ritual in “The Spanish Tragedy.” New York: Peter Lang, 1985. Argues that the play is a combination of murder mystery, allegory, and religious ritual. Heironimo chooses pagan vengeance over Christian forgiveness because the latter does not seem to offer justice.

Barber, C. L. Creating Elizabethan Tragedy: The Theater of Marlowe and Kyd. Edited with an introduction by Richard P. Wheeler. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. Argues that Lorenzo’s murder of Horatio violates the social order and disrupts Heironimo’s belief in an ordered universe. Heironimo’s violence is at first improperly directed but finds a proper focus at the end of the play.

Bowers, Fredson T. Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy, 1587-1642. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1940. Still useful, tracing the origins of revenge tragedy to Senecan drama. Shows how The Spanish Tragedy follows Senecan patterns closely.

Edwards, Philip. Thomas Kyd and Early Elizabethan Tragedy. New York: Longmans, Green, 1966. Analyzes Elizabethan tragedy from the 1560’s to the 1580’s. Gives a brief biography of Kyd.

Murray, Peter B. Thomas Kyd. New York: Twayne, 1969. Puts The Spanish Tragedy in its cultural context. Explores the play’s influence on later authors. He examines the play sequentially, explaining how its central theme is the corruption of love.