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Thomas Kyd's


Monday, November 12, 2018

7:30 PM
Lucille Lortel Theatre
Directed by Louisa Proske
Featuring  Oberon Adjepong, Matthew Amendt, Zach Appelman, Jenny Bacon, Rebecca S'manga Frank, Ryan Garbayo, Michael Genet,  Roderick Hill, Ezra Knight, Paul Niebanck, Keith Randolph Smith, Emily Swallow, and more to be announced!

The original bloody Elizabethan revenge play, The Spanish Tragedy was the hit of the London stage when young Will Shakespeare arrived on the scene, and its echoes can be heard in his own great tragedies. In this mirror image Hamlet, a bereaved father takes vengeance on the Spanish court for the murder of his son Horatio, a war-hero slain by a Portuguese love-rival and the king’s evil nephew. With a juicy plot, finely crafted language, dark humor, high drama, and the figure of Revenge appearing from a cloud of smoke, it’s no wonder that it was one of the most popular and emulated plays of its day.​

“I am never better than when I am mad: then methinks I am a brave fellow; then I do wonders: but reason abuseth me, and there's the torment, there's the hell.” 


Considered by some scholars to be the first great revenge tragedy, The Spanish Tragedy (1585) was very popular throughout the period, second only to Shakespeare’s Pericles in the number of performances before 1642, when the theatres were closed by the Puritan parliament. The play anticipates many of the concerns and much of the appeal of Hamlet (1600); there is some evidence that Kyd may have been the author of an early version of the play, now lost. The appeal of the theme of revenge was in part a result of the influence of the Roman tragedies of Seneca (4BC-65AD), which were read in Latin by every school boy; by the 1560’s they had been translated into the “fourteener” verse form that would develop into the exquisite blank verse of Marlowe and Shakespeare. Kyd, like most Elizabethan writers, was unconcerned with the profound aspects of Seneca’s stoic philosophy but responded heartily to the more conventional aspects of Senecan tragic form -- Ghosts, Personifications of Revenge, use of the dumb show and the play-within-the-play, sententious declamations, and of course, the depiction of  bloody deeds onstage, rather than off.


While the idea of revenge drives the plot, the essential problem is that of Justice, explored in five additions to the play (from 1602, perhaps by Ben Jonson.) These interpolations are fascinating in that they constitute, like Hamlet’s soliloquies, a major exploration of the Elizabethan tragic hero. When confronted with the enormity of a crime, Hieronimo discovers that his idea of Justice is based on an understanding of society that no longer exists. Disoriented, unable to act, he retires from the play – much as Hamlet does – and adopts a disguise to give him time to reconcile himself to his loss of belief and form a plan of action. During this gap between the recognition of loss and the commitment to action, the hero is pushed to question the very nature of existence. Hieronimo’s revenge for the death of his son is secondary to his attempt to create a scenario in which some gesture – any gesture -- will address the enormity of his grief; if the system of justice is corrupt, how can the Knight Marshall of the realm find stability? There is only one possibility – he must embrace revenge absolutely, in its most vicious form – he must kill the world! By the end of the play, Hieronimo moves beyond mere violence and murder to the ultimate gesture of inexpressible rage -- he bites out his own tongue: “Confusion, mischief, torment, death and hell.”

-Kathleen Dimmick, Dramaturg


Thomas Kyd (1558-1594) belongs to the first generation of Elizabethan playwrights. Born to a prosperous middle-class family, he was writing plays for the Queen’s company by 1585. The scant information about Kyd’s life largely concerns one incident – his imprisonment and probable torture at the hands of the Privy Council for the discovery of certain blasphemous writings “denying the deity of Jesus Christ our Savior” found in his possession. Kyd apparently claimed that the writings were Marlowe’s, as they had shared lodgings, and added that Marlowe was widely known to have written “heretical conceits, lewd and mutinous libels” and to be “disorderly, intemperate and of a cruel heart.” The ethics of the affair have been much disputed:  perhaps Kyd acted disgracefully; perhaps he thought Marlowe had informed on him; perhaps under torture he slandered Marlowe once he knew Marlowe was dead, the probable victim of a political assassination. Kyd himself died little over a year later. While highly regarded as a playwright, translator and pamphleteer, The Spanish Tragedy is his only surviving play.

Our OBIE Award-winning Revelation Readings series provides a unique opportunity to hear rarely-produced classic plays performed by many of the finest actors in New York. 


Casting subject to change.


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