chapter  4
28 Pages

. The Spanish Tragedy: architectonic design

When he wrote The Spanish Tragedy Thomas Kyd not only found a theme that kindled the imagination of his audiences but devised a form that fully

. and spectacularly utilized the resources and conventions of the popular playhouses of the 1590S. Revenge is a perennial theme in popular literature: in Christian cultures it combines the lure of what is forbidden by religion and society with expectation, surprise, and the suspense of the hunt. It can, moreover, like Kyd's play, exploit the fascination with obsession, madness, and violence that for centuries filled ballads and chapbooks until they were replaced by popular newspapers and films. The play was also topical: like Shakespeare's Henry VI plays and Marlowe's Edward II, Kyd's work grew out of the strengthening Renaissance sense of national identity: it dramatized the state of a nation, in particular the way its destinies are shaped by politics, the specific personalities and actions of its rulers. (Lorenzo is the first 'Machiavellian' figure in English drama.) Spain was a Catholic country, England's arch-enemy, a country whose armada had attempted an invasion of England at about the time the play was probably written (see below). Kyd created a sequence of dramatic images that displayed both the magnificence and the ephemerality of a secular and, to the Elizabethans, a totalitarian power, and was thus able to appeal to the chauvinism of native protestants just as Shakespeare did in his dramatization of the defeat of the French in I Henry VI. He mustered the support a mass audience will give to a heroic individual who sets himself against a network of contrivance and corruption - the number of references to the play or affectionately parodic quotations from it show that it occupied the collective consciousness of the Elizabethans in the way that the James Bond films did for a much later generation.