William Shakespeare 's Play, Kyd 's The Spanish Tragedy And Punishment

Decent Essays

Early Modern drama criticism has been concerned with the parallels between punishment on-stage, performed for an audience in plays such as Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy; and punishment as it was enacted on the scaffold. In his play, Kyd aligns this parallel with another: that between revenge and justice. Though separate in one sense, revenge can be understood in terms of justice, and justice therefore seemingly has some qualities in common with its presumed opposite. On top of this, Kyd superimposes the tension between Catholicism and Protestantism. The Spanish Tragedy, then, sets up and destroys a three pronged opposition: the opposition between judicial punishment and theatrical punishment; the opposition between rival forms of Christianity; and the opposition between the public and private revenger. I will discuss each of these oppositions in turn and it is through this lens that I will examine the representation of punishment in the play. Executions are rare, even taboo, as visual representations on the Elizabethan stage. As Foucault explains, ‘the public execution [was] more than an act of justice; it was a manifestation of force, or rather, it was justice as the physical, material and awesome force of the sovereign deployed there.’ Condoning theatrical reconstructions of the public execution could potentially destabilize the officially sanctioned terror of the monarch by, as James Shapiro puts it, ‘showing it often enough to make familiar or by resituating it

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