Summary of The Spanish Tragedy:
Don Andrea, a Spanish nobleman, describes his death in battle with the Portuguese. He also points out that prior to his death he was in love with Bel-Imperia, daughter of the Duke of Castile, a match out of Andrea’s social class. Andrea goes on to describe his soul’s journey to the underworld. After a description of numerous Dantesque horrors, Andrea finds himself before Pluto and Proserpine. She asks to give Andrea his doom, and sends him off with Revenge, who promises to show Andrea the death of Balthazar, the author of Andrea’s demise.
The scene shifts to the Spanish court. Andrea, seated somewhere above the stage with Revenge, learns that the Portuguese have been defeated. He also discovers that Balthazar, a Portuguese prince taken prisoner during the battle, is the man responsible for his death. The Spanish King promises to treat Balthazar well. Horatio, son of the Knight Marshal, Hieronimo, claims to have captured Balthazar. Lorenzo, son of the Duke of Castile, disputes his claim, arguing that he is in fact responsible for the prince’s capture.. The King intercedes, giving Lorenzo the weapons and horse of Balthazar. Horatio is promised Balthazar’s ransom.
At the Portuguese court, Villuppo tells the Viceroy that his son, Balthazar, is dead, murdered by Alexandro. Villuppo’s story is a lie, but the Viceroy believes it without further investigation and sentences Alexandro to death. Villuppo hopes to profit by his villainy.
Bel-Imperia and Horatio discuss the circumstances of Andrea’s death. She reveals her love for Horatio, “my Andrea’s friend, the more to spite the Prince that wrought his end” (1.3.67-68). Balthazar proclaims his love for Bel-Imperia. Given the fact that he is responsible for Andre’s death, Bel-Imperia’s fiancée, she isn’t all that interested. The Portuguese Ambassador learns that Balthazar is alive and being treated quite well. Plans for a treaty between Spain and Portugal are proposed.
Andrea is not amused by the events he sees. But Revenge argues patience, promising to turn “their bliss to misery”
Balthazar, with Lorenzo’s help, plans to win the love of Bel-Imperia. Lorenzo threatens Pedringano, servant to Bel-Imperia, forcing him to reveal her love for Horatio. Lorenzo gives Pedringano money to ensure his silence. He also orders Pedringano to report when Horatio and Bel-Imperia meet. Lorenzo and Balthazar plot Horatio’s death.
Bel-Imperia and Horatio meet in secretBso they think–and declare their love for each other. Balthazar and Lorenzo watch from above. They resolve to send Horatio’s “soul into eternal night”
The King, Castile, and the Portuguese Ambassador decide to seal the treaty between Spain and Portugal with the political marriage of Balthazar and Bel-Imperia. The King tells Castile to make sure Bel-Imperia’s strong will does not get in the way of the plan.
Bel-Imperia and Horatio meet in Hieronimo’s bower. She tells Pedringano to keep watch, but he goes to Lorenzo instead. He returns with Lorenzo, Balthazar, and Serberine. Balthazar takes Bel-Imperia aside while Horatio is hanged in the arbor and stabbed numerous times by the others.
Hieronimo, awakened by the sounds outside, discovers the body of his son, Horatio. He is joined by his wife, Isabella. Both grieve the loss of their child and vow revenge against those responsible for his death. Hieronimo considers suicide in a Latin diatribe, but rejects hasty death in favor of revenge.
Andrea again chides Revenge for increasing his pain, but Revenge again argues patience.
The Portuguese ambassador returns to court in time to prevent the execution of Alexandro. He brings word that Balthazar yet lives and is being treated royally at the Spanish court. Villuppo, who plotted Alexandro’s death in hope of preferment, finds himself sentenced to a rather nasty death.
Hieronimo enters bewailing Horatio’s fate. He hopes for some means to lead him to the murdererBjust before a letter from Bel-Imperia implicating Lorenzo and Balthazar falls from the arbor? Balcony? A typical revenger, Hieronimo does not fully believe the letter, planning to test it by circumstances. Hieronimo asks Pedringano about the whereabouts of Bel-Imperia, immediately rousing the suspicions of Lorenzo. He tells Pedringano that Serberine has likely revealed the circumstances of Horatio’s death to Hieronimo. Lorenzo tells Pedringano to arrange a meeting with Serberine and kill him. What he does not reveal is his plan to have the watch close by the proposed location of the murder.
Serberine kills Pedringano and is immediately arrested by the watch.
A Page enters and reveals that Serberine is dead, and Pedringano is in custody. Balthazar vows that Pedringano will face hasty execution, which is exactly what Lorenzo intends. Lorenzo sends the Page to Pedringano to tell him his pardon is already signed. Lorenzo gives the Page a box that holds his pardon, but he tells the Page not to open the box.
The Page, unable to resist temptation, opens Lorenzo’s box. He discovers that it is empty. Rather than reveal this circumstance to Pedringano and face death himself, the Page decides to play along, pointing at the box in reassurance as Pedringano mocks the hangman.
Pedringano, believing his pardon already signed, admits guilt in the murder of Serberine. Hieronimo sentences him to death. Pedringano, certain he is safe, ridicules the involvement. He is executed in the end.
Hieronimo again bewails his inability to take any meaningful action for the death of his son. The Hangman enters with a letter he believes to be Pedringano’s pardon. In fact, it is a letter implicating Lorenzo and Balthazar in the murders of Serberine and Horatio. This letter confirms the evidence found in Bel-Imperia’s earlier letter. Hieronimo plans to go to the King and demand justice.
Isabella, grieving the loss of her son, goes insane
Bel-Imperia, imprisoned by her brother, bemoans her circumstances.
Lorenzo releases Bel-Imperia. He tells her that Horatio’s murder was not planned, that he was protecting Bel-Imperia from her father’s wrath if he should find his daughter cavorting with another low-ranking person after her involvement with Andrea. She doesn’t believe the story, but she plays along. Lorenzo tells her that Balthazar is in love with her, and Balthazar makes a feeble feint at wooing Bel-Imperia. She continues to play the slow-witted woman, claiming not to understand how to love and fear at the same time. She exits, and Lorenzo claims that he will continue the argument at court.
Two Portuguese ask Hieronimo for directions to the Duke’s house. Hieronimo responds to their request. They also ask if Lorenzo is at his father’s house. This causes Hieronimo to give them a lurid list of injustices described in graphic detail. The two men walk away from Hieronimo, thinking he is insane.
Hieronimo goes to see the king to seek justice for his murdered son, Horatio. He enters with a dagger and rope in his hands and briefly contemplates suicide. The Spanish King enters with the Ambassador, the Duke of Castile, and Lorenzo. The Viceroy of Portugal has accepted the marriage arrangement that will wed Balthazar to Bel-Imperia, an arrangement that will unify the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal. The Viceroy also bring ransom for Horatio to release Balthazar. Hieronimo pleads with the King for justice, but the king does not know that Horatio is dead and asks for an explanation. Hieronimo leaves. Lorenzo explains that Hieronimo’s pride in his son and the excitement caused by a substantial ransom have driven him insane. Lorenzo then requests that Hieronimo be removed from his post as Knight Marshal. The king refuses and sends Hieronimo the ransom.
Hieronimo recognizes that he will not receive justice through the king. He considers leaving vengeance to God, but Hieronimo also thinks that Lorenzo will have him killed to preclude any possibility of revenge. He comes to consider vengeance against Lorenzo as a form of destiny. Hieronimo decides to feign mourning, pretending to be unaware of Lorenzo’s crime, maintaining a congenial toward his son’s murderers while waiting for an opportune moment for revenge against the both of them. Several petitioners enter to plead their legal cases to Hieronimo. An old man hands him “The humble supplication of Don Bazulto for his murdered son.” This causes Hieronimo to consider his own murdered son, and he chastises himself for not grieving enough. He vows revenge and tears up the papers of the various petitioners, who claim the Hieronimo has gone mad. Hieronimo asks the old man if he is Horatio returned from the dead or a Fury from the underworld. The old man is, however, simply an old man grieving for his son. Hieronimo invites him to his house so that they and Isabella can grieve murdered sons.
The Spanish court greets the Viceroy of Portugal, who has come to see the wedding of his son to Bel-Imperia. All exit except Lorenzo and the Duke of Castile. There are rumors that Lorenzo has been keeping Hieronimo away from the king. Hieronimo has gained much respect and power at the Spanish court and it could be embarrassing if Lorenzo were accused of treating Hieronimo unjustly. Lorenzo denies any misdeeds, claiming to be protecting Hieronimo from embarrassment by preventing public displays of his insanity. Balthazar praises Bel-Imperia, and she responds in kind. Bel-Imperia’s father claims that he is no longer angry with her since she has forgotten her prior relationship with Andrea and agreed to marry Balthazar. Hieronimo enters, fearing that Lorenzo may be planning to take action against him. The Duke asks that Hieronimo and Lorenzo bury the hatchet, agree to be friends. After the Duke leaves, Hieronimo treats the whole sordid agreement with contempt.
Andrea is upset by the fact that Bel-Imperia is now apparently in love with his enemy. Moreover, Revenge has been sleeping while the events have unfolded. Revenge tells Andrea that all is not as it appears and then stages a bloody dumb show for Andrea.
Bel-Imperia berates Hieronimo for not tasking revenge for Horatio, claiming that she will be forced to take action herself. Hieronimo now realizes that she is his confederate, and he swears that he will kill those responsible for Horatio’s murder. Bel-Imperia agrees to help in any way she can, but all she has to do is go along with Hieronimo’s plan. Balthazar and Lorenzo enter and request that Hieronimo provide the entertainment at the impending royal wedding. Hieronimo tells them that he has a playand asks that all agree to play a part in the tragedy. He explains the plot and hands out parts to the “actors.” Hieronimo tells them that the lines will be improvised in foreign languages. Balthazar claims that the play will be unintelligible, but Hieronimo claims that he will explain everything in a speech at the end of the play.
Isabella enters bemoaning the crime committed against her son. She cuts down the arbor where her son was murdered, and then she stabs herself and dies.
Hieronimo begins to build the stage for his play. He asks Castile to give the King a copy of the play and to toss a key on the floor for him after the audience has been seated. Hieronimo again vows to take revenge.
Te wedding festivities begin. Various characters are stabbed while performing Hieronimo’s play, the audience unaware that the murders are real. Hieronimo then reveals that the crimes were real, and he explains his rational for revenge by dragging Horatio’s body on to the stage. Hieronimo runs offstage to hang himself, but he is stopped by the King and the Viceroy. Hieronimo further explains his reasons for taking revenge. The Viceroy suspects that Bel-Imperia must have been working with Hieronimo since she stabbed Balthazar. Hieronimo refuses to implicate her, and he bites off his tongue to prevent anyone forcing him to tell. They ask that Hieronimo write down his confession. When he asks for a knife to sharpen his pen, they foolishly give it to him. Hieronimo stabs the Duke and then himself. The king and the Viceroy bemoan the whole sad situation.
Andrea celebrates the culmination of his revenge. He then assigns the various heroes and villains to paradise in Elysian Fields and torture in the bowels of hell. Revenge promises to make the eternity of the villains particularly miserable