The Spanish Tragedy: Doom and the Exile of Justice

  • William M. Hamlin
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


Mangled judgements litter the first act of Thomas Kyd’s celebrated revenge play. In the tragedy’s Induction, the Ghost of Don Andrea reveals that the underworld’s three judges have been unable, as of yet, to ‘doom’ him — unable, that is, to ascertain his precise moral status and thereby determine where his soul should pass eternity (1.1.53). As a consequence they have sent him on to Pluto, whose wife Proserpine has in turn dispatched him back to earth, accompanied by the laconic figure of Revenge. There he will see his former lover, Bel-imperia, murder the ‘author’ of his terrestrial demise, the Portuguese prince Don Balthazar (1.1.87–9). The Ghost appears to be satisfied with this arrangement, and it is a curious fact that the confusion manifested by the supreme court of Hades is mirrored by Andrea’s own initial ignorance that blood vengeance seems demanded by the occasion of his death. Indeed, from the standpoint of the audience, the desire for revenge emanates not from Andrea but from Proserpine, who smiles when the Ghost first kneels before her. Significantly, then, the multiplication of perspectives for which this play is famous begins even before we leave the first scene — even before the frame of Andrea’s revenge has been fixed around the ongoing events in the Spanish court.1


Supreme Court Sceptical Theory Spanish Court Commonplace Book Eyewitness Authority 
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Copyright information

© William M. Hamlin 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • William M. Hamlin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishWashington State UniversityUSA

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