The Spanish Tragedy | Study Guide

Thomas Kyd

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The Spanish Tragedy | Act 1, Scene 2 | Summary



At the Spanish camp on the field of battle, the King of Spain arrives with his retinue to ask the general of the Spanish Army which side has emerged victorious. When told by the general that Spain has triumphed over the Portuguese forces, the king and his brother the Duke of Castile rejoice, as the duke observes in Latin that, "Victory is the sister of true justice." Ignoring the general's comment on the loss of life sustained by both sides that so dearly purchased the win, the king is most eager to secure tribute and homage from the vanquished Portuguese and get on with making awards to the heroic warriors of the Spanish forces.

The king presses the general to relate the points of battle. In his description, the general parallels the rival forces of both sides, starting with the face-off between the equally equipped squadrons of the Spanish and the Portuguese. He describes how the brother of the Portuguese Viceroy, Don Pedro, fought toe-to-toe with Don Rogero, his counterpart in the Spanish Army, resulting in Don Rogero putting a stop to the Portuguese advance. Working his way down through the ranks on both sides, the general comes last to the foot soldiers, who, along with the horses, seem to have gotten the worst of it. The general explains that the battle wore on for three hours with no sign of advantage on either side until the fight between the knight Andrea and Balthazar, Prince of Portugal, in which Balthazar killed Andrea. But while Balthazar was boasting over Andrea's corpse, Horatio, Deputy to the Knight Marshall of the Spanish forces, took on the dark prince, unhorsed him, and took him prisoner. At the sight of their prince captured, the cowardly Portuguese fled, routed by the Spanish.

Very pleased with this account, the King of Spain gives the general a gold chain and asks him if peace has been secured. The general answers that a conditional peace has been offered and gives the king a paper to that effect; that is, the Viceroy of Portugal has written a solemn vow of homage and payment of tribute without fail. Turning to his trusted Knight Marshall Hieronimo, the king invites him to a party, praising Hieronimo's son Horatio for having turned the tide of battle. But, before they leave, trumpets announce a parade of arms and prisoners before the King of Spain. Balthazar appears as a prisoner not only of Horatio, but also of the king's nephew, Lorenzo. When the king asks them to parade again before him, he dismisses everyone with coin rewards and asks Balthazar and his two guards to remain.

Promising humane treatment at the hands of the Spanish, and pleased with the noble answer Balthazar gives him, the king asks the prince which one of the two of his guards captured him. This occasions an argument between Horatio and Lorenzo, in which it is clear that Horatio carried out the action, while Lorenzo took advantage of the opportunity to seize both the horse and lance of the fallen prince; a point which Hieronimo makes mention to the king. The king again asks Balthazar which one of the two made him yield. Balthazar answers in parallel phrases that it was both the kindness of Horatio and the threats of Lorenzo that caused him to yield. The king has to make a ruling. Since Lorenzo took horse and lance, they are his to keep, but Horatio will be paid the ransom money. And, although Balthazar clearly indicates that he would prefer to be in Horatio's keeping, the king gives charge of the prisoner to his nephew, since his "estate best fitteth such a guest."


It is in this very first scene that various characters define themselves in word and deed. Almost as soon as he speaks, it is clear that uppermost in the King of Spain's mind is securement of tribute and homage from the vanquished Portuguese, as he brushes aside or ignores the more morbid commentaries of the general in describing details of the battle. The king is also most interested in getting on with the public relations opportunities inherent in the parade of the army and prisoners. He wants to make sure everyone sees him as a generous monarch in giving the general a gold chain, in praising the valor of Horatio for turning the tide of battle, and in offering the captive prince a comfortable captivity while waiting for his ransom to be paid. Desiring to be viewed as magnanimous, the King of Spain is eager to dispense with unpleasant details and get on with merging Portugal with Spain under the unity of his supreme rank and crown at a victory feast.

A skilled politician, the king embeds a reminder to both Horatio and Hieronimo of their lower rank even in his warm praise for their valor. While reminding his Knight Marshall that favoring a family member would look bad, the king does not hesitate to favor his own nephew to please his brother, the Duke of Castile—despite the fact it is obvious (as Hieronimo gently observes) Lorenzo merely seized the trappings (horse and lance) of valor, while Horatio did the actual fighting to overcome Balthazar. In other words, the restrictions against nepotism do not apply to the king. However, as a faithful courtier, Hieronimo responds to the king's hypocrisy with deference and respect, saying only that he is proud of his son Horatio within the context of having brought glory to the king, whom both father and son serve with complete loyalty.

The first exchange between Horatio and Lorenzo reveals parallels of their opposing characters, to which they will adhere throughout the play. Once Balthazar has been subdued, Horatio treats his noble prisoner with courtesy and respect—a feature appreciated by the defeated Balthazar. Horatio's deeds and words speak for his good character on the battlefield. Lorenzo, in contrast, demonstrates not only cowardice in seizing the trappings of valor, but an ungracious tendency toward bullying in loudly threatening the captive. The difference between the two young men is clear. Lorenzo, as the king's nephew, enjoys the privileges of rank that allow him to assume the appearance of valor supported by the flattery of underlings, while Horatio must actually demonstrate his valor.

The privileges of rank have had similar effects on both Balthazar and Lorenzo, which inclines them to bond later in the play. Just as Balthazar had boasted loudly over the body of Andrea (which evidently distracted him so much that Horatio was able to overcome him), so Lorenzo also bullied the defeated Balthazar. This immature behavior on the battlefield is revealed in stark contrast to the conscientious military professionalism of the general and Horatio. The proud and threatening words of Lorenzo and Balthazar serve to drown out their own fears they might not be as heroic as they would like to believe. And just as the King of Spain needs the reassuring support of his court, so too will Balthazar and Lorenzo come to need each other to plot and carry out the murder of Horatio. In contrast, both Horatio and his father Hieronimo act and speak their own truths and let their own actions/consequences support them. Horatio does this by honoring his fallen friend Andrea and in his faith in love for Bel-Imperia; Hieronimo in seeking, first, justice and then revenge when justice is not forthcoming.

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