Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy (c. 1587) is generally considered the first of the English Renaissance "revenge-plays." A rich genre that includes, among others, Hamlet. These plays tend to be soaked in blood and steeped in madness. The genre is not original to the period, deriving from a revival of interest in the revenge tragedies of the Roman playwright Seneca. Nor is it exclusive to the past, as anyone who has seen the "Death Wish" or "Lethal Weapon" films can attest. The revenge-play satisfied a deep longing in its audience for simple black-and-white rough justice that seems to be universal. (Watson, 317)
While the brutal quest for vengeance drives Kyd's play, justice is ultimately its main thematic concern: what is it, who has the right to administer it, and is any sacrifice too great for its final attainment? (Hunter, 217) Central to these questions is the pair of hangings that occur in the middle acts of the play. Poisenings and stabbings happen throughout the piece but hanging was revloutionary. Hanging, decapitation, and burning at the stake was forbidden to be shown in a play. The reason for this is simple: the use of the official methods of execution as part of an entertainment would rob those methods of their value as deterrent to crime. (Shapiro, 100) The same argument is made today over the desensitization to violence caused by television. The Spanish Tragedy is unique in its onstage use of hanging as a device of murder.
Why did Kyd risk public censure and official punishment by having two of his characters meet their demises at the end of a rope? It is precisely because the noose is a symbol of temporal justice, and Kyd wishes to
demonstrate just how fickle such j...
... middle of paper ...
... K. "Ironies of Justice in The Spanish Tragedy."
Dramatic Identities and Cultural Tradition: Studies in
Shakespeare and his Contemporaries. New York: Barnes & Noble
Kyd, Thomas. The Spanish Tragedy. Edited by J. R. Mulryne. New
York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1989.
Shapiro, James. "'Tragedies naturally performed': Kyd's
Representation of Violence." Staging the Renaissance:
Reinterpretations of Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama. Edited
by David Scott Kastan and Peter Stallybrass. New York:
Smith, Molly. "The Theater and the Scaffold: Death as Spectacle
in The Spanish Tragedy." Studies in English Literature 32:2
Watson, Robert N. "Tragedy." The Cambridge Companion to English
Renaissance Drama. Edited by A. R. Braunmuller and Michael
Hattaway. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
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