The Spanish Tragedy | Study Guide

Thomas Kyd

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The Spanish Tragedy | Act 3, Scene 12 | Summary

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Summary

At the Spanish court, Hieronimo enters carrying a rope and a poniard (a small, slender knife), evidently intent upon using them as props to help him approach the king and present his dire plea for justice, since his son was hanged by a rope and finished off with a knife. But as he thinks to himself, Hieronimo finds himself considering using one or the other as a means to suicide before remembering that if he does, there will be no one to avenge his son's death. Presently, the king enters with the ambassador, Lorenzo, and the duke. When Hieronimo cries out to the king for justice, Lorenzo quickly intervenes, saying the king is busy. The king asks who is calling him, but Hieronimo withdraws, perceiving that to accuse both Balthazar and Lorenzo so directly at this place and time would not incline the king to believe him.

Receiving no answer, the king walks on, asking the ambassador if the viceroy accepts the betrothal of his son to Bel-Imperia. Upon being assured that the viceroy is delighted, the king next asks his brother if he is agreed to this match, and of course he is. The ambassador tells the king that the ransom due Horatio has arrived. The king instructs that the ransom be given to Horatio. The audience might find credulity stretched here, for the king is so clueless that he hasn't yet heard that the son of Hieronimo has been murdered nine days before.

At mention of his son's name, Hieronimo again calls out to the king for justice. But when Lorenzo again blocks his access, Hieronimo falls to the ground, stabbing it with the dagger as if to somehow raise the shade of Horatio from the underworld to bear witness. The sight of his trusted knight marshall on his hands and knees digging dirt with a dagger genuinely puzzles the king. When Hieronimo leaves, Lorenzo easily persuades the king that Hieronimo has lost his mind in envy that Horatio and not Hieronimo is to get the ransom money. Taking pity on Hieronimo, the king sends him some money. Lorenzo pushes the matter to suggest that maybe it would be a good idea to divest Hieronimo of his office and give it to someone younger and more competent, but the king is not quite ready to do that yet. Moving on to happier thoughts, the king proceeds to solemnize the match between Bel-Imperia and Balthazar and order the wedding to take place as soon as the viceroy arrives.

Addition 4 is inserted at the end of the last line of the scene and takes place at Hieronimo's garden at night. Two servants, Jacques and Pedro, enter with lighted torches and discuss the distracted lunacy their master exhibits over his son's death. Hieronimo enters, looking everywhere for his son. When he asks them why they are carrying lighted torches, they reply that it was on his orders that they do so, but he answers that he could not have given such an order; rather they should light them at mid-day. This makes no sense to them, and Hieronimo rambles on about how faithless the moon and stars are, that they were not shining the night Horatio was killed. He also denies he is mad.

When Isabella enters, she begs her husband Hieronimo to come back indoors, but he says that he has been merry with the servants and points out to her the tree from which their son was hanged. He further describes how he raised it from a seed and watered it only for it to be the means by which Horatio—their fruit—was murdered. A knock at the door interrupts them. It is the painter Bazardo, who reveals that he too had a son who was murdered. Bazardo and Hieronimo sit and commiserate on their shared misery. Hieronimo asks about Bazardo's skill and art as a painter, and describes for him a scene he wants painted in the most extreme terms of emotion: from a lovingly beautiful family tableau to the worst villainy to appear in the faces of the murderers. Suddenly Hieronimo jumps up, runs into the house, and comes back out with a book in his hand.

Analysis

It is quite likely that the Duke of Castile is especially eager to see his daughter so well-matched, given that the longer she remains single, the more time she has to get herself into other amorous tangles with knights of lower rank and—should the affair become public—disgrace both herself and her family such that she couldn't be married off at all. The risks of illegitimate children impelled noble families of the time to arrange and carry out marriages of daughters as soon as they became women. This scene may be the first literary use of the term strange fruit to refer to men hanged from trees. Several details of the scene specifically foreshadow what is yet to transpire. The lighting of torches in the day to illuminate what even daylight cannot reveal in terms of the truth stands opposite lit torches that lead a groom and bride to their nuptial chamber after the wedding and feasting at night. Revenge will raise this idea again in the last scene of Act 3. Furthermore, the names of the two servants in Hieronimo's house suggest they speak different languages, as Jacques is a French name and Pedro is Spanish. Although Latin and Italian have been used in poetic passages so far in the play, it is in the confounding of languages (Greek, Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, and English) that Hieronimo will bring his tragedy into biblical allegory with the fall of Babylon.

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