The Spanish Tragedy | Study Guide

Thomas Kyd

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The Spanish Tragedy | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary



At the Portuguese court, the Viceroy of Portugal continues to bewail the wheel of chance that has lost him both son and the line of succession. The evil Villuppo has continued to feed the impression that Alexandro killed Balthazar because of excess ambition, which in reality has motivated Villuppo to get rid of his rival. Weary of Villuppo's words, the viceroy determines that it is time for Alexandro's execution by burning at the stake. Alexandro protests his innocence, but no one believes him until the Ambassador of Portugal enters to halt the proceedings, immediately announcing that not only is Balthazar alive, but is being treated well and honored in the Spanish court despite his captivity. To that effect, the ambassador hands to the viceroy letters from the King of Spain, and the viceroy reads that the tribute has been received and peace is assured. At once, the viceroy frees Alexandro and rounds on the wicked Villuppo, who confesses he was motivated by his own ambitions. As Villuppo leaves to his punishment, Alexandro is invited to keep the viceroy company to celebrate the good news.


Travel was slow in the 1500s. The 361-mile distance between Lisbon and Madrid (or possibly Seville, where the Spanish court sometimes resided) currently takes about six hours to complete; a carriage and team of horses could cover about 50 miles in 8–12 hours on good roads, including stops to rest and eat. But roads were far from good in those days. This could have meant that the ambassador and his retinue probably took at least 10 days one way. Add to that the trip he made from Portugal to Spain in the first place with the letter of peace from the viceroy to the king, and then spending enough time there to work out a marriage proposal before traveling back with it to the viceroy means that the viceroy had at least a good month or so to worry about the fate of his son.

When the viceroy refuses to listen to Alexandro's pleas of innocence, Alexandro appeals to heaven's ultimate resolution. In a stroke of good timing, he is saved from being burned at the stake by the arrival of the ambassador, which suggests that although divine agency did not save Horatio, it must have saved Alexandro.

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