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Spanish Tragedy

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Senecan elements in The Spanish Tragedy
The Spanish Tragedy belongs to a class of drama known as the revenge play, which comes from the pen of Thomas Kyd (1558-1594). Almost all the English playwrights of that time followed the Classical playwrights, Classical tragedies. Kyd also did the same. Especially he followed Roman playwright Lucius Annaneus Seneca (4BC-65AD) blindly. So he is called The English Seneca.

Seneca was also a Roman Stoic philosopher. Primly he wrote tragic dramas. His dramas were full of melodramatic elements, such as, blood-shed, killing, assassination, horror scenes, etc. For these reasons his dramas are suitable for only to read in chamber or in closed room. Let us now have a brief discussion about the elements of Seneca used by Kyd in his play The Spanish Tragedy.

In all the plays of Seneca we find the revenge theme. Revenge was the main plot, main motive in his plays. Like him, Kyd also used the revenge theme. As we find The Ghost of Andrea, Bel-Imperia, Horatio, Isabella and Hieronimo all the characters want to take revenge. Though we see that the climates are different, but their motive is same. We find Hieronimo saying after the death of his son, Horatio: “See’st thou this handkerchief besmeared with blood? / It shall not from me till I take revenge.” (2. 5. 51-52).

In Senecan plays, all the characters think that if they take revenge upon the killers who have murdered their dearest persons, it can never be a sin. Rather it is a sacred duty. Because by killing the murderers they will be able to get proper justice. Very same tendency we observe in the character of Bel-Imperia and Hieronimo. We see Bel-Imperia uttering: “But how can love find harbor in my breast, / Till I revenge the death of my beloved?” (1. 4. 64-65).

Description of Underworld is a major element in Senecan plays. Kyd has also used reference of Hell in this play. Here we get Pluto, the king of Underworld, Proserpine, the queen of Pluto. We also get Charon, the ill-tempered boatman of the river of Underworld Acheron. There were also three judges of Hell: Minos, Aeacus and Radamanth. Kyd has also mentioned the foul waters of the hellish lake Avernus, and the monstrous three headed dog Cerberus.

Melodramatic elements, such as declamatory speech, excessive passion, musically acted, cured appeal to poetic justice, all of such qualities were used by Seneca in his plays. Similarly Kyd in this play has employed such elements too. We find declamatory speech in Hieronimo’s soliloquies and excessive passion in Bel-Imperia’s dialogues. In Melodrama good characters are rewarded and bad characters are punished. The Spanish Tragedy does not maintain this rule of Melodrama properly.

Seneca used horror elements, blood-shed, violence and terror, bloody atmosphere in his plays, so does Kyd. The brutal killing of Horatio, the preparation of the upcoming burning of Alexandro, the killing of Serberine, the stabbing scene of Isabella, the killing of Lorenzo, Balthazar, and Don Cyprion, the biting of Hieronimo’s tongue himself, all these elements of horror incidents, of blood-shed, create an atmosphere of terror and violence in the mind of the readers.

In the revenge plays of Seneca, we find an introduction to ghost. And in the same way Kyd in The Spanish Tragedy has also introduced some supernatural machinery, such as The Ghost of Andrea and The Spirit of Revenge, who serve the purpose of chorus. Beside a Dumb Show that takes place in Act 3, Scene 15 is also an element of supernatural mystery.

In Senecan tragedies such as Phaedra and Medea we find that the heroines are very beautiful, but they are very lustful and unchaste. In this play we see the character of Bel-Imperia who is very beautiful, but furthermore she has more than one lover. Though she wants to avenge upon her first lover’s death, Andrea, still she falls in love Horatio and they spend amorous moments like lustful lovers. We got Bel-Imperia saying to Horatio: “Sitting safe, to sing in Cupid’s choir / That sweetest bliss in crown of love’s desire.” (2. 2. 16-17).

This play of Kyd, as in Senecan plays, we discover loose characterization. A hero must have an active role throughout the play, but we do not find even a single one here. Before the play starts, Andrea was murdered, Horatio too was murdered soon. Hieronimo is not to be considered as hero. On the other hand Bel-Imperia had more than one beloved, so she is not an ideal heroine. Her character is defective. And there is not any other strong female character in this play without her.

Some villainous character we see in Senecan plays. In this play we see the character of Lorenzo who make all the foul conspiracies. He also makes Balthazar, Pedringano and Serberine to act according to his will. We witness how Lorenzo makes a grim plan and says to Balthazar when they find out Horatio as Bel-Imperia’s beloved: “Do you but follow me, and gain your love: / Her favour must be won by his remove.” (2. 1. 137-138).

Out of frustration in Senecan plays we find the tendency to commit suicide. In this play we also see that three characters: Isabella, Bel-Imperia and Hieronimo commit suicide. Though Hieronimo and Bel-Imperia have already completed their revenge upon Lorenzo and Balthazar yet they commit suicide, because without their dearest persons they do not want to survive in this world.

In fine, from the light of the above discussion it has been cleared that Thomas Kyd is the pioneer of revenge tragedy following the traditions of Seneca, though Senecan plays were only for reading out not for enacting. In this play The Spanish Tragedy, he has used elements of Seneca profoundly. As Kyd indiscreetly followed the elements of Seneca is his play, so his has rightly been called The English Seneca.
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