The Spanish Tragedy is important in understanding Shakespeare's work, because there is some fairly strong evidence which suggests that Shakespeare was reworking a play by Kyd when he wrote Hamlet.*

There are several references to the earlier play, including one in Henslowe's Diary, recording a performance in 1594, six or seven years before Shakespeare's version, and a comment in a play by Lodge about a ghost that "cried so miserably at the Theatre, like an oyster wife, 'Hamlet, revenge.' "

Close

Though at times Kyd's language is almost laughable in its pomposity, he is grappling with important issues--the relationship between justice and what Bacon called "wild justice" --revenge. And in the final play-within-the-play, Kyd achieves a total, if macabre, balancing of the accounts.

Compare Hieronymo's speech (see the previous screen) with the rhetoric of Marcus in Shakespeare's early tragedy of blood in Kyd's manner, Titus Andronicus. . .

. . . A fountain of blood

"Enter. . . Lavinia, her hands cut off, and her tongue cut out, and ravished. . ."

Marcus: Who is this? My niece?. . .
If I do dream, would all my wealth would wake me;
If I do wake, some planet strike me down,
That I may slumber an eternal sleep!
Speak, gentle niece, what stern ungentle hands
Hath lopped and hewed and made thy body bare
Of her two branches, those sweet ornaments,
Whose circling shadows kings have sought to sleep in,
And might not gain so great a happiness
As half thy love? Why dost not speak to me?
Alas, a crimson river of warm blood,
Like to a bubbling fountain stirred with wind,
Doth rise and fall between thy rosèd lips,
Coming and going with thy honey breath. . .
(2. 4. 11-25)

Footnotes

  1. Proto-Hamlet?

    There are several references to the earlier play, including one in Henslowe's Diary, recording a performance in 1594, six or seven years before Shakespeare's version, and a comment in a play by Lodge about a ghost that "cried so miserably at the Theatre, like an oyster wife, 'Hamlet, revenge.' "