Thomas Kyd Biography


What is known of Thomas Kyd is based on a very few public documents and a handful of allusions and references to him, most of them occurring after his death. Contemporary biographical accounts of Kyd are indebted to Arthur Freeman’s careful investigation of Kyd’s life in Thomas Kyd: Facts and Problems (1967). Records show that Kyd was baptized in London on November 6, 1558. Though there is no documentary identification of his parentage, scholars generally believe that his father was Francis Kyd the scrivener. If one may judge by other scriveners ( John Milton’s father was a scrivener), Francis Kyd would have been educated and reasonably well-to-do. Records also show that Kyd was enrolled at the Merchant Taylors’ School in October, 1565. There—like Edmund Spenser, who was an older pupil in the school when Kyd entered—Kyd came under the influence of the school’s well-known headmaster, the Humanist Richard Mulcaster. The date of Kyd’s leaving the Merchant Taylors’ School is not recorded; indeed, nothing is known with any certainty about Kyd for the decade after he should have left school. Although some have conjectured that Kyd may have entered a university or traveled abroad, there is no evidence for either. The curriculum of the Merchant Taylors’ School was sufficient to have taught him the Latin he used in The Spanish Tragedy and in the translations he made.

In a tantalizing allusion that most scholars have interpreted as a reference to Kyd, Thomas Nashe, in his preface to Robert Greene’s Menaphon (1589), complains of someone who has left the trade of scrivener, to which he was born, and is busying himself with the “indevors of Art,” apparently writing imitations of Senecan tragedy and dabbling in translations. Though much has been made of this passage, especially in an effort to link Kyd with an early version of Hamlet (also mentioned in the passage), the allusion, if it does in fact refer to...

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Thomas Kyd (kihd) was born in London in 1558. Son of a scrivener, he was educated at the Merchant Taylors’ School, where he was probably contemporary with Edmund Spenser. He did not proceed to a university, and little is known about the rest of his life, except that in the early 1580’s he probably was associated with a London theater company and in 1593 he was arrested and charged with libel against the state. When his rooms were searched and allegedly atheistical papers were found, he claimed, under torture, that they belonged to Christopher Marlowe. He died in 1594, apparently in penury and disowned by his parents.

The Kyd canon is hopelessly indeterminate. Certainty attaches to two translations, The Householder’s Philosophy and Cornelia, and it is highly probable that The Spanish Tragedy is wholly his. A sensational pamphlet, The Murder of John Brewen, has been ascribed to Kyd on ambiguous evidence; he may have written the tragedy Soliman and Perseda; one critic regards him as at least part author of the domestic tragedy Arden of Feversham. A punning allusion by Thomas Nashe in 1589 suggests that Kyd wrote a play about Hamlet from which William Shakespeare derived his tragedy.

The Spanish Tragedy, on which Kyd’s reputation and importance alike depend, was frequently revived, and Hieronimo became the most popular tragic character on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stages. It...

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The exact date on which Thomas Kyd was born is unknown, but he was baptized on November 6, 1558, at a church in London. His father, Francis...

(The entire section is 447 words.)