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.
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.
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.)