Sunday, November 14, 2010

Discussion: The Spanish Tragedy

The play: The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd

The plot tweet: A ghost and Revenge oversee murders and a (delayed) revenge plot, set the stage for Hamlet.

My favorite line:
My heart, sweet friend, is like a ship at sea:
She wisheth port, where, riding all at ease,
She may repair what stormy times have worn,
And leaning on the shore, may sing with joy
That pleasure follows pain, and bliss annoy.


Several years ago, one of our local universities had a "spring cleaning" event, in which books that had been pulled from circulation were available for free. I picked up An Anthology of English Drama Before Shakespeare, intending to learn more about mystery plays, morality plays and the like. Instead, the book sat on my shelf -- until this week, when I finally got around to reading The Spanish Tragedy. Here is what the book's editor, Robert B. Heilman, has to say about the play:
The Spanish Tragedy is historically notable as one of the vehicles by which various elements of Senecan tragedy were naturalized in English drama -- a declamatory manner, the revenge theme, the ghost -- and as a repository of other devices which Shakespeare was to use later: madness, pretended madness, the tardy avenger, the multitude of violent deaths, the play within a play.
In other words, Hamlet. Next week, we'll see how Shakespeare makes this genre his own, with more beautiful poetry and vastly richer characterization.

In the meantime, is anyone else disappointed in the women of this play? If you want revenge, stabbing yourself doesn't really accomplish much. (At least Bel-Imperia manages to accomplish her revenge first.)

1 comment:

  1. Say what you want about Isabella, but "She runs lunatic" might be my favorite stage direction ever. ;)

    Plus, it's not just the girls who make some pretty poor decisions - pretty much no-one in that play makes a lot of logical sense.