Correcting Justice with Vengeance in The Spanish Tragedy

  • Derek Dunne
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


The crux of The Spanish Tragedy, and to a certain extent the revenge genre, is articulated in this passage, whereby revengers seek justice in an unjust world, amid a ‘mass of public wrongs’. This heartfelt plea comes in the wake of Horatio’s murder, as Hieronimo struggles to make sense of the ‘lively form of death’ he has discovered in the arbor (3.2.2). Kyd is quick to bring his audience’s attention to the universal, almost symbolic, nature of Horatio’s death. Within two hundred lines of discovering his son’s body, Hieronimo expresses the intertwined nature of vengeance and justice, in a rhetoric that owes more to Fortescue than to Seneca. His utterance relates directly to the rhetoric of law as the bulwark of civilisation, a rhetoric that continually reminded citizens how without law ‘all kingdoms and estates would be brought to confucyon, and all humane society would be dissolved’.1 Compare William Lambarde’s charge to a quarter session jury in 1595, when he says:

[I]f these good laws were not, our whole course and conversation should be disturbed and could be nothing else but a continual confusion, horror, and a living death.2

Lambarde’s ‘living death’ is literalised by Kyd in the ‘lively form of death’ that is Horatio’s corpse, presenting us with a world ‘[c]onfused and filled with murder and misdeeds’.


Legal System Corrective Justice Legal Discourse Legal Procedure Official Justice 
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Copyright information

© Derek Dunne 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Derek Dunne
    • 1
  1. 1.University of FribourgSwitzerland

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