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Yvonne A. De La Cruz

Dr. Anthony Perrello

English 5200

28 February 2010

                                    Sleeping With the Enemy

       Love. Hate. Trust. Distrust. Courage. Fear. Honor. Revenge. These words create strange

bedfellows, especially within the quixotic linens of a revenge tragedy. Not only do these ideas

form intrigue and conspiracy, but they also fashion fierce deception and a powerful plot of

vengeance. Yet somehow, I cannot help to wonder how the “revenge ethic” might cast a virtuous

light upon Elizabethan England. The “wantonness of vengeful destruction” seems to be a far

stretch from the image purported of the English Renaissance (Bevington 6). With Renaissance

Humanism seeming to embrace God and God’s laws, it would appear that the average

Elizabethan would have shown common disapproval for the extremes of revenge in a tragedy

such as Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy (Justice 271). However, after reading an article

discussing the identity of the Jew in Renaissance drama, I discovered that the character of the

English “other” was not necessarily used as a prejudicial stance but as a way for the English to

identify themselves (Berek 129). This idea brought to mind that in the case of The Spanish

Tragedy, the idea of revenge—based on the conspiring and co-mingling of the characters with

one another for the betterment of both Spain and Portugal—is used more as a way for

Renaissance England to firmly identify itself with moral virtue and less as a means to spit in the

face of Catholic Spain and Portugal.

       Within Kyd’s dramatic plot, the co-mingling of various antitheses exists on both sides of

the feuding Spain and Portugal. Love versus war, punishment versus forgiveness, and friendship
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versus betrayal; these are all antithetical unions where revenge is begotten. However, these

unions are not only used to create the disorder that is necessary for the revenge plot to emerge,

but they are also used as a means to produce a negative shadow over Catholic Spain and its

geographical bedfellow, Portugal. Although the two countries are at war with one another, both

the King of Spain and Portugal’s Viceroy foresee that the marriage between the Portuguese

Prince, Balthazar, and the Spanish Duke’s daughter, Bel-imperia, would prove to benefit both

countries. However, the procurement of this matrimony would mean the ultimate demise of

friends and fellow countrymen on both sides. These conspiracies beget despicable portrayals of

both Spanish and Portuguese royalty, portrayals that the Renaissance Elizabethan would’ve seen

in stark contrast to decent and honorable English characters. Instead of a true devout son of the

Duke, Don Lorenzo becomes a deceiving and backstabbing comrade. Instead of a pure and

wholesome daughter, Bel-imperia is seen as a “sexually experienced” woman (Bevington 5).

Even Don Andrea becomes a revenge hungry spirit instead of an honorable knight who died a

dishonorable death. These characteristics also stood in opposition to the “letters of the Law” that

the Church of England had returned to, which also emphasized the “bearing with wrongs rather

than revenging them” (Justice 273).

       As a result, Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy indeed places emphasis on the identity of

Renaissance England, which is definitely confirmed at the end of Act 1.4 where Hieronimo—

Horatio’s father—performs a small production of the Three Knights for the King of Spain and

the Portuguese Ambassador. In Hieronimo’s performance, there are three different English

personalities portrayed. The first is English Robert, Earl of Gloucester, who captures a pagan

Portuguese King and turns him to Christianity. The second personality is Edmund, Earl of

Albion, who captured the King of Portugal and was then made Duke of York. Lastly, Hieronimo
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describes the Englishman, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, whose bravery is unmatched after

his army took the Spanish King of Castile prisoner. To the Spanish or the Portuguese, these men

would’ve been seen as powerful tyrants, and Hieronimo uses them as examples of English

power, which would be far more terrifying than Spain for the Portuguese. However, Kyd might

very well use these personalities as examples of virtuous, valiant, and brave identity for the

English. By sandwiching the sinful ways of the Spanish and Portuguese with the worthy qualities

of the English, Kyd has discovered a way to pump up English identity for the Elizabethan

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                                         Works Cited

Berek, Peter. "The Jew as Renaissance man." Renaissance Quarterly 51.1 1998. 128-162. Jstor.

       Web. 28 Feb 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2901665>.

Bevington, David. "Biography of "The Spanish Tragedy"." English Renaissance Drama: A

       Norton Anthology. Ed. David Bevington. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.,

       2002. Print.

Justice, Steven. "Spain, Tragedy, and The Spanish Tragedy." Studies in English Literature 25.2

       1985. 271-288. Jstor. Web. 28 Feb 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/450723>.

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