The Spanish Tragedy | Study Guide

Thomas Kyd

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The Spanish Tragedy | Act 1, Scene 4 | Summary



Horatio and Bel-Imperia meet at Lorenzo's house, whereupon Bel-Imperia asks him to describe the death of her lover, the knight Andrea. Horatio explains how deeply saddened he was at his close friend's death, and regales her with a description of the battle, praising Andrea's nobility and courage. But, as he explains, Nemesis proved envious of Andrea's praise and worth, and allowed a group of lowly Portuguese halberdiers to cut down Bel-Imperia's noble lover so that the Portuguese prince, Balthazar, could finish him off. Bel-Imperia expresses her wish that Horatio had immediately avenged Andrea by killing Balthazar before asking for Andrea's remains. Horatio explains that preserving her dead lover's remains for proper burial was foremost in his mind. Instead of attacking Balthazar, which explains how Lorenzo got hold of the prisoner instead, he carried the fatally wounded Andrea to his own tent. Seeing that nothing could save Andrea, he found a scarf on his dead friend's arm, which he now carries in remembrance. Bel-Imperia tells Horatio that she had given Andrea that scarf as her favor and bids him to keep it, telling him "she will be Don Horatio's thankful friend."

When he leaves her, Bel-Imperia muses that Horatio has found her favor, and correspondingly hardens her heart against Balthazar, whom she evidently has already met, and who has fallen in love with her at first sight. Balthazar and Lorenzo enter, whereupon Bel-Imperia and Balthazar launch into a close dialogue of wits, with Balthazar attempting without success to get Bel-Imperia to respond to his amorous advances. It is clear she will have nothing to do with the killer of her beloved Andrea, and they argue until Lorenzo puts a stop to their banter. Flustered, Bel-Imperia abruptly turns on her heel to leave and drops a glove. Horatio notices it as he reenters the scene and gallantly attempts to return it to her, but she tells him to keep it, which he does, tucking the lady's token against his breast. This exchange of warmth between Horatio and Bel-Imperia makes Balthazar unhappy, but Lorenzo reminds his newfound friend of the fickle nature of women.

Horatio announces that the Ambassador of Portugal has arrived, and everyone is to attend a feast in his honor. Showing off for the benefit of the ambassador, the King of Spain demonstrates that not only is Balthazar very much alive and well, but also comfortably housed with his own brother and nephew. As they are seated, the king gives Horatio the honor to "wait ... upon our cup." The king reiterates the union of Spain and Portugal as one and the same under his monarchy, then asks after Hieronimo. At this point, Hieronimo enters with a drum, three armed knights, and three kings. He presents a Dumb Show (action without words) during which the three knights take the three kings captive and remove their crowns. The king likes what he sees, but asks Hieronimo the meaning. Hieronimo responds that each one of the three corresponds to an English triumph over Portugal or Spain. As he recites these victories, he gives the King of Spain three scutcheons, the shields of triumphant Gloucester, Kent/York, and Lancaster.


In this scene the character of Bel-Imperia is revealed as strong-willed and "imperious" to quickly get whatever it is she wants. Tales of daring and courage in battle are always a good way to get young women to notice a young man, and Bel-Imperia is no exception. By praising her dead lover and knight, Horatio scores points with her for being gracious, noble, and true to his friendship with Andrea. Rather than linger long enough to take revenge on Balthazar, his concern was for his fallen friend, from whom he took Bel-Imperia's scarf. This she finds endearing. Having enjoyed the presence of a knight-lover sworn to answer her every whim has been halted with Andrea's death; perhaps she is thinking to resume the uneven romance (which places a lady of high station in a position of power she would not have in a marriage to a lord) with the next best suitor, Horatio. She signals that any advance he might wish to take would be welcomed when he tries to return Andrea's scarf, and even more so when he tries to return her dropped glove to her and she urges him to keep it.

Presenting a Dumb Show for entertainment was common at court, and invariably such shows were aimed at flattering the highest ranking individual present—in this case, the King of Spain. This Hieronimo accomplishes by presenting the King of Spain with the three coats of arms, or scutcheons.

The King of Spain's assignment to be his cupbearer is both an honor and a reminder to Horatio that he and his father are of lower rank than the King of Spain's brother, the prisoner Balthazar, Lorenzo the king's nephew, and the Ambassador of Portugal. Neither Horatio nor his father Hieronimo are invited to sit at the table with them. Along with Swords, Wands, and Pentacles, the Cup is an iconic image of the Minor Arcana in the Tarot deck.

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