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28. “Conceived of young Horatio his son”: The Spanish Tragedy and the Psychotheology of Revenge

Heather Hirschfeld

Subject Literature » Renaissance Literature

Place United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland » England

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1500-1599

People Kyd, Thomas

Key-Topics drama, Reformation, The

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405154772.2010.00033.x


In the frantic minutes leading up to the discovery of his slaughtered son, Hieronimo, the protagonist of Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy , stumbles from his “naked bed” to pursue a female voice crying for help. What Hieronimo finds in his garden is not a woman, however, but a “murderous spectacle”: “A man hanged up and all the murderers gone,/And in my bower to lay the guilt on me” ( Kyd 1989 : 2.5.9 – 10). Editors such as J. R. Mulryne have concentrated on the “deeply poignant” sequence of recognitions that follow this moment, as Hieronimo, having cut down the corpse from the arbor, recognizes the body as that of “Horatio, my sweet son! “(2.5.14). But the lines leading up to this recognition require equal notice, since they are essential not only to the unfolding of the scene but also to our understanding of The Spanish Tragedy ‘s place in the late Tudor fascination with the revenge plot. For Hieronimo's initial reaction to the hanging body – that he might somehow be, or seem to be, responsible for it – hints at a deep, inchoate connection between the avenger's quest to right a wrong done to him or his family and his own abiding sense of guilt and shame. The dramatic presentation of this sense of personal sinful-ness (inculcated by centuries of religious teaching and freshly re – imagined in the wake of sixteenth – century Reformation doctrinal change) in terms of a dynamic, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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