The Spanish Tragedy | Study Guide

Thomas Kyd

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The Spanish Tragedy | Act 4, Scene 4 | Summary



At the Spanish court, everything is ready for the entertainment, and the audience enters to be seated. The King of Spain, the Viceroy of Portugal, the Duke of Castile, and all their attendants arrive to see "The Tragedy of Suleiman The Turkish Emperor." Giving the play script to his brother, the king assigns him to be its keeper; however, the play proceeds with the king narrating to the viceroy (as if he couldn't recognize his own son in disguise) that Balthazar is playing the part of Suleiman, the lovesick Turk. Hieronimo/Pasha stabs Lorenzo/Erasto to death so that Suleiman/Balthazar can take Bel-Imperia/Perseda for his own. She refuses and stabs to death Suleiman/Balthazar and then herself. As the bodies of the slain pile up on the stage, the king marvels at how well each actor is able to represent the illusion of dying, unaware that the weapons used are real, and that the actors every bit as much as the characters have been killed. When the momentum of the play pauses with only Hieronimo/Pasha left alive, the king asks what is next. Hieronimo (leaving his role as the Pasha and speaking in English) pulls aside the curtain to reveal the scene of the corpse of his murdered son hanged and bleeding from the tree. Hieronimo explains in detail how his son died, and who the murderers were to the astonished audience. He pulls out the bloody scarf and exposes the truth of his complete revenge; that Balthazar, Lorenzo, and Bel-Imperia are dead for real. At the end of his speech, Hieronimo runs off to hang himself, but is apprehended and brought back into the king's presence.

Addition 5 is inserted after line 167. Hieronimo is held and questioned. By now the court has ascertained that everyone on the bloody stage is really dead. Constantly calling Hieronimo "slave" and "knave" and threatening him with torture, the king elicits only the impassioned account of how Hieronimo acted alone to exact revenge. Finally having done with speech altogether, Hieronimo bites off his own tongue. When Hieronimo makes a sign that he could write it out, he is given a knife with which to sharpen his pen, whereupon he kills first the Duke of Castile and then himself with it. Brokenhearted, the king orders that the bodies be carried out of the place for burial. The tragedy of the union between Bel-Imperia and Balthazar is one and the same as the tragedy of the union of Spain and Portugal; no one now has a secure line of succession to the kingdom.


It isn't difficult for each actor to play his or her part, since each corresponds in some way to how each sees him or herself in reality. Balthazar is perfect as the lovesick but rejected emperor, to whom Bel-Imperia plays the unattainable object of his love precisely because this is how they have been in relation to one another in life. Bel-Imperia see herself as utterly faithful to her ideal of chivalric love (Andrea and Horatio being interchangeable) and is able to not only avenge their deaths in reality but also to take her own life—something Hieronimo did not anticipate but acknowledged as her expression of fidelity.

Just as Hieronimo pulls aside the curtain to reveal the tree and the corpse of his son hanging from it (which after a good nine days begins to rot and stink), he also "pulls aside" all the illusions and falsehoods surrounding the conspiracy leading to Horatio's death, acknowledging that his only accomplice in these murders to be Bel-Imperia. Hieronimo is meticulous in taunting the Duke of Castile and the Viceroy of Portugal that the death of their sons must bring them to the same torment that he himself felt at Horatio's murder. For him to bite off his own tongue indicates his complete abandonment of the power of words at the height of his revenge; the only thing left to do is to kill the duke and then take his own life. With the duke, Bel-Imperia, Lorenzo, and Balthazar dead, the means of succession to the throne of Spain is completely disrupted; a situation that has in the past provided abundant opportunity for civil war.

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