Essay on Revenge in Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy

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Revenge in Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy

Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy (c. 1587) is generally considered the first of the English Renaissance "revenge-plays." A rich genre that includes, among others, Hamlet. These plays tend to be soaked in blood and steeped in madness. The genre is not original to the period, deriving from a revival of interest in the revenge tragedies of the Roman playwright Seneca. Nor is it exclusive to the past, as anyone who has seen the "Death Wish" or "Lethal Weapon" films can attest. The revenge-play satisfied a deep longing in its audience for simple black-and-white rough justice that seems to be universal. (Watson, 317)
While the brutal quest for vengeance drives Kyd's play, justice is ultimately its
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The murder of Horatio in the arbor is abhorrent and terrible, but it is also quizzical. He is hanged and stabbed by Lorenzo, Balthazar, Pedringano, and Serberine. It seems that stabbing him would be not only sufficient but more expedient to the killers than what must be the arduous task of subduing him and hauling him up on the tree branch, a curious way to kill a man unless one considers that Lorenzo and Balthazar are making a point. Horatio is the son of Hieronimo, the Knight Marshal, functionally a civil servant; Lorenzo is the son of the
Duke of Castile, and Balthazar the Prince of Portugal. Early on in the play, the King of Spain notes the difference in portfolio:

But nephew, thou shalt have the prince in guard, For thine estate best fitteth such a guest: Horatio's house were small for all his train. (I.ii. 185- 7)

Once the conspirators discover that Horatio is Bel-imperia's suitor, Balthazar comments, "Ambitious villain, how his boldness grows!" (II. ii. 41) Horatio had earned the enmity of both of these men, Balthazar by subduing him in battle, and Lorenzo by contesting his claim to Balthazar's capture. These reasons, coupled with Balthazar's desire for Bel-imperia, drive them to murder Horatio, but they hang him for the crime of reaching beyond his station. Bel-imperia pleads for his life, claiming that she bore him no love, to which
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