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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