Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy - The Humanist Chronotope

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Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy - The Humanist Chronotope

In "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel," Mikhail Bakhtin defines the chronotope as "the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature" (84). That is what the chronotope is; Bakhtin continues with what the chrontope does: "It can even be said that it is precisely the chronotope that defines genre and generic distinctions" (85). In The Spanish Tragedy, Kyd layers three chronotopic zones to create a new chronotope, the "humanist chronotope," which in turn creates a unique dramatic genre, one we might call "humanist drama."

According to Bakhtin, two seminal chronotopes from classical literature form the basis of most later chronotopes. The first of these seminal chronotopes is the adventure chronotope, found in romance narratives such as Longus’s Daphnis and Chloe. Time in this chronotope is a random and non-causal chain of events characterized by "suddenly" and "at just that moment" that ends at the same point in biographical time at which it began. Time is thus infinite, reversible, and extratemporal; it is also governed by chance, and therefore, Bakhtin writes, "The initiative in this time does not belong to human beings" (95). Extratemporal time requires "extraspatial" space that is abstract rather than concrete, as a concrete space, argues Bakhtin, would limit the power of chance. Adventure space is also alien space: a familiar world would also leave traces that would limit the chance that drives time in the romance.

Apuleius’s The Golden Ass exemplifies the second seminal chronotope: the adventure-everyday chronotope, a hybrid, as the name suggests, of the abstract adventure chronotope and a ...

... middle of paper ... a dumb show, so too will the audience understand the idea after the performance of The Spanish Tragedy. Kyd’s "humanist chronotope" thus places drama at the center of humanist learning: yet it is as a spectator, not as an actor or playwright, that one becomes a humanist.


Bakhtin, M.M. "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel: Notes toward a Historical Poetics." Michael Holquist, ed. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981. 84-258.

Freeman, Arthur. Thomas Kyd: Facts and Problems. Oxford: Clarendon, 1967.

Kyd, Thomas. The Spanish Tragedy. J.R. Mulryne, ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989.

Mann, Nicholas. "The Origins of Humanism." Jill Kraye, ed. The Cambridhe Companion to Renaissance Humanism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. 1-19.

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