The Spanish Tragedy | Study Guide

Thomas Kyd

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The Spanish Tragedy | Act 2, Scene 4 | Summary



Pedringano escorts Bel-Imperia safely to Hieronimo's garden, where Horatio awaits her. It is clear she trusts Pedringano completely, ordering him to stand guard while she enjoys Horatio's company. Horatio tries to ease Bel-Imperia's worries by telling her they are hidden in the bower; it is evidently a moonless night and even the stars aren't shining. The lovers continue their verbal banter in poetic formality, invoking Roman classical deities such as Cupid, Venus, and Mars. No sooner have they vowed to die in each other's arms than Pedringano returns, leading Balthazar, Lorenzo, and Serberine masked and in disguise. Ordering Balthazar to constrain Bel-Imperia, Lorenzo and the others fall upon Horatio, hanging him from a fruit tree in the garden and then viciously stabbing him. Lorenzo tells Horatio these are the fruits of his love. Bel-Imperia evidently recognizes the voices of both Balthazar and her brother Lorenzo, as she pleads that Horatio was not at fault—she loved him, but he did not love her. They ignore her and continue with their bloody business. Bel-Imperia cries out to Hieronimo for help before they muffle her screams and carry her off.


The sighting of a safe harbor in a storm meant survival for mariners who navigated the oceans in sailing ships, which—given a galleon's size of barely 90 feet stem to stern—were often lost at sea. The poetic exchange by which Horatio compares their love to a vine and an elm tree presents an ambiguity as to whether the elm tree supports the vine, or (as was believed in the mythology of Venus) the vine held up the elm tree in its loving embrace even after it had died. In comparing himself to the vine and Bel-Imperia to the elm tree, Horatio instead claims the reverse will happen; that is, the vine will pull the elm in its embrace down to the ground to gain "the little death" of sexual union. Lorenzo's taunt to the dying Horatio that he can now enjoy the fruits of love plays with the well-known image of Christ's passion on the crucifix tree corresponding to a fruit tree, which bears the fruits of His peerless love for man. Another Christian symbol of the tree is present in the Garden of Gethsemane. The tree is not only the signifier of resurrection and redemption. When a man is hanged, he is high on the gallows; but when dead, the rope is cut and his body falls to the ground. This high-to-low play of words also references the coming-up and going-down of Fortuna's wheel, especially when it is Death who turns it.

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