The Spanish Tragedy opens with a dead guy looking for revenge while standing next to a character named Revenge. So yeah, you can see where Kyd is heading right from the start. You could say that the play is single-mindedly focused on the ethics of revenge, with another few smaller themes merely orbiting around this issue. But the way that these issues orbit around revenge make it clear that acts of revenge affect every facet of public and private life in the play. The real question about revenge is this: when there is no path to legal justice is it ethical to exact private justice?
The Spanish Tragedy allows us to think like a victim, a villain, and a vigilante while considering how justice should really be served.
While most of the play is about how Hieronimo can't find justice in a corrupt system, it's the women of the play who really can't find a voice in the Spanish justice system.
There's crazy all over the place in The Spanish Tragedy. In fact, madness is a staple in revenge tragedies. After the popularity of Kyd's exploration of madness and revenge, Shakespeare featured disjointed avengers in both Titus Andronicus and Hamlet. And this trend has continued throughout the genre. But usually it's unclear whether or not avengers really go crazy, or if it's just a tactic. Hieronimoand Hamletboth outwardly say that they're merely adopting a mask of madness to keep their enemies guessing. But as readers, we're like, "dude, you really seem crazy." So the question is this: is madness just a way to create ambiguity so avengers can hide in plain sight? Or does wandering outside of the law to seek blood necessarily make people go cray cray?
People go crazy in The Spanish Tragedy when they can't get what they want: whether they want revenge, an out of reach girlfriend, or just to be heard, madness is the only effective way to get what you want in a corrupt system that denies fundamental human emotions.
It's not him, it's the system that's crazy. Hieronimo is a moral man who discards his values and even his sanity because it takes a nut to survive in a crazy world.
Bel-Imperia is the only avenger in the play that doesn't go crazy, but her suicide serves as a reminder that female assertiveness in the play is only possible through self-sacrifice.
The Spanish Tragedy wants to make past memories real. And by real we mean living, present, and in some cases even touchable. Memory is the great mover in the play. To make this point clear the play goes out of its way to link memories to what motivates characters to pursue violent forms of justice. Memories of murdered loved ones and tokens of remembrance inspire violent action from seemingly law-abiding characters. And we also witness how memories of past crimes inspire new crimes in a seemingly endless loop. You could say memory haunts the play like a ghost. Oh yeah, there is a ghost that haunts the play. And when you think about it, ghosts are really just really spooky memories of life. And don't you ever forget that.
The Spanish Tragedy gives conflicting reports on important events in the play, which ultimately puts the burden on readers to make tough choices while forming our own memories while reading.
Revenge is motivated by memories that lead to violence that in turn create new memories that inspire new revenge, making The Spanish Tragedy a complex exploration of how violence self-perpetuates in human culture.
When we talk about society and class in The Spanish Tragedy, we mean the boundaries that exist between individuals based on social rank. In some ways, social rank in the 16th century is easy for us to grasp: the king outranks the duke, the duke outranks the gentleman lawyer, and the lawyer outranks the farmer. Done. But where modern society thinks about social rank in terms of wealth, or the have's and the have-nots, Renaissance society thought of rank as a matter of birth—you're either born to be king or not, or as you move down the scale you're either well-born or low-born. Class distinction is responsible for a ton of the dramatic tension in the play, so let's check out what all this hoity-toity snobbery is all about.
Hieronimo's frustrated path to find justice for his family illuminates how 16th-century privilege outweighed impartial judgment.
As a well-born woman, Bel-Imperia does not reap the same class rewards as her male counterparts, which suggests that gender disparity is the biggest social chasm of the 16th century.
While some critics see the Duke of Castile's death as random and arbitrary, Hieronimo's decision to kill the duke reflects a negative view on arranged marriages designed to maintain familial nobility.