The Spanish Tragedy

The Spanish Tragedy Summary and Analysis of Act 3, Scenes 11-15

Act 3, Scene 11

Two Portuguese men enter in search of the Duke of Castile. Hieronimo points out the correct house for them, whereupon it becomes clear that the two men are actually looking for Lorenzo. Hieronimo suddenly embarks on a rant about finding "Despair and Death" on the left-hand path, at the end of which the men will find Lorenzo in a hellish scene. The two men leave the scene, deeming Hieronimo either a "passing lunatic" or one who has lost his wits in old age.

Act 3, Scene 12

Hieronimo enters with dagger and halter in hand. He contemplates committing suicide, but decides against it - after all, "Who would revenge Horatio's murder then?" He throws away the dagger and halter, then picks them up again before the King arrives.

The King and the Portuguese ambassador arrive with the Duke and Lorenzo. Hieronimo cries "Justice, O justice to Hieronimo," but the King does not quite hear him and Lorenzo sends him away. Meanwhile, the ambassador brings good news from Portugal: the Viceroy has consented to the marriage between Balthazar and Bellimperia. He has moreover decided to relinquish the throne to his son, effectively making Bellimperia a queen. As the Spanish King and Duke express their joy, the ambassador mentions that he has also brought Balthazar's ransom.

Upon hearing his son's name, Hieronimo once again cries for the King's attention: "Justice, O, justice, justice, gentle king!" Lorenzo attempts to keep him away, but in vain. Hieronimo exclaims wildly, "Give me my son!" and begins to dig with his dagger, announcing his resignation from the position of Marshall. The King demands for Hieronimo to be restrained, but the latter quickly takes his leave. Lorenzo suggests that Hieronimo has gone mad and that his office should be taken away. The King decides to proceed more prudently, and in the meantime sends Hieronimo the ransom due to his son.

Act 3, Scene 13

Hieronimo enters with a book in hand and delivers a speech that begins "Vindicta mihi" ("Revenge is due to me")! Since heaven revenges every ill, Hieronimo declares, he must serve the will of heaven. He has failed to find official redress for his son's murder, and therefore must revenge Horatio's death with his own devices. To do this he will first dissemble quiet and ignorance, thus buying time until he knows "when, where, and how" to take revenge.

A servant brings news of several petitioners who have come to see Hieronimo. Three citizens each voice their complaints and hand in their legal papers. Hieronimo then notices Don Bazulto the senex (Latin for "old man"), who alone stands aside mute. Hieronimo inquires after the senex's suite and in response receives a document titled "The humble supplication Of Don Bazulto for his murder'd son." The title triggers a reaction in Hieronimo: reminded painfully of Horatio's death, he identifies intimately with the old man. Hieronimo takes out his handkerchief for the old man to wipe his eyes, but stops mid-action when he realizes its former owner. Now entirely unsettled, Hieronimo gives the senex his handkerchief as well as his purse.

As if he has forgotten his office as Marshall, Hieronimo delivers an ecstatic monologue about paternal love and the necessity for revenge - even if it entails descending into hell. The rhapsody culminates in Hieronimo tearing the petition papers in an uncanny imitation of tearing apart the limbs of his son's murderers. He leaves the scene, followed by the petitioners, then reappears moments later. One of the petitioners cries that his lease worth ten pounds has been torn up, to which Hieronimo responds that he "gave it never a wound." Indeed caught in a strange rapture, he addresses the senex first as his son, then as a Fury who summons him to the underworld. Hieronimo finally sees the senex as "the lively image of [his] grief" and takes him away to see Isabel.

Act 3, Scene 14

The Spanish King welcomes the Portuguese Viceroy with the announcement that Balthazar is betrothed to Bellamira. Will Portugal accept the marriage, scheduled to take place the following day? The Viceroy responds positively and gives up his crown on the spot: he would now like to live a solitary and religious life, ever thankful that his son is alive and well. All except the Duke and Lorenzo exit to celebrate. The Duke turns somewhat bashfully to his son and asks about his relationship to the Marshall: "It is suspected, and reported too, / That thou, Lorenzo, wrong'st Hieronimo." Given Hieronimo's importance to the King and the court in general, it would be highly undesirable for the King to hear him speak negatively of Lorenzo. Lorenzo denies any wrongdoing, despite his father's suspicion, and maintains that Hieronimo is "distract[ed] in mind" and simply mistaken. The Duke summons Hieronimo to settle the matter.

Balthazar and Bellimperia, meanwhile, are engaged in conversation. Just as the lady prudently expresses her newfound love for the prince, her father arrives. The Duke says that he has forgiven her for the affair with Andrea. Hieronimo now appears, and the Duke confronts him gently about the rumors concerning Lorenzo. Hieronimo denies vehemently any wrongdoing on Lorenzo's part, so all parties are happy and reconciled - at least on the surface.

Act 3, Scene 15

Revenge has fallen asleep, and the Ghost wakens him in alarm - it appears that Hieronimo has befriended Lorenzo! Revenge assures him that Hieronimo has not forgotten his son and stages a dumb show for his sake. The Ghost does not understand the show. Revenge explains that it represented Hymen, the god of marriage, blowing out the nuptial torches and covering them with blood.


Following in the footsteps of his wife, Hieronimo shows clear signs of madness in the third act. When the two Portuguese men mention that they are looking for Lorenzo, Hieronimo promptly begins a rapturous speech, vividly evoking a hellish picture. His increased poetic sensibility reflects his generally heightened verbal and aural sensibilities. The mere words "son" and "murder" - not to mention the names Lorenzo and Horatio - are enough to send Hieronimo into a frenzy. In the twelfth scene of the act, for example, Hieronimo immediately picks up the ambassador's mention of his name (the question "who calls Horatio?" suggests that he is not quite within earshot) and appeals repeatedly to the king for justice. He is captive, it seems, to a deep and instinctive force.

But what, exactly, does he want? To be sure, he calls for justice and revenge - or ideally, revenge through justice. It is clear, however, that different forces are working within Hieronimo. His appeal for justice in front of the king begins well, but ends with him furiously digging the ground and declaring his resignation. Instead of capitalizing on the king's attention - and finally letting justice be served - Hieronimo is carried away by the desire for vengeance: "Give me my son!. . . I'll go marshal up the fiends up in hell, / To be avenged on you all for this." To the King, who cannot understand these words as well as the audience, it is as if Hieronimo is himself acting another dumb show. The King thus asks: "What means this outrage"? As the with dumb show in Act 1 Scene 5, he cannot "sound well the mystery."

Hieronimo compromises himself in front of the King and thus compromises justice as well. From the "vindicta mihi" speech in the following scene, it is clear that he has not fallen into a state of total derangement. Hieronimo still exercises enough wits to embark on a bit of Machiavellian scheming himself: he will play dumb until he finds the right moment for vengeance. One wonders, then, whether Hieronimo really desires justice - and what the word means to him. When he repeats it to the King no less than five times, he seems to call into question the very meaning of the word itself. Perhaps the scene in which he contemplates suicide can shed some light on the matter.

The opening of the twelfth scene resonates with an earlier scene in the play. It repeats, in fact, a train of thought that Hieronimo articulated Act 2 Scene 5 (in the lament that he delivers in Latin). One the one hand, he would like to join his son in death. On the other hand, he feels a need for revenge that is almost a duty, or even a categorical imperative: "Who will revenge Horatio's murder then?" As with Isabella, the thought of Horatio's murderers represents a force not complimentary, but contrary to the natural desire of a grieving parent. This dagger and halter capture the duality between Hieronimo's death wish and the imperative to revenge. These are the same objects used in Horatio's murder, and are thus particularly fitting for the father's suicide. At the same time, they are weapons well-suited to exacting revenge. To be, or not to be - critics often draw a comparison between Hamlet and Hieronimo, with good reason.

As the Marshall of Spain, the best way for Hieronimo to satisfy his need for revenge is through justice: not necessarily in the name of righteousness or the law, but as a means to an end. For Hieronimo, who has spent his life doling out justice as an official, the principle is ironically subjugated by his personal needs. When the authority of the King fails to justify the principle, Hieronimo turns to the heavens: "Ay, heaven will be revenged or every will; / Nor will they suffer murder unrepaid. / Then stay, Hieronimo, attend their will." From such a vantage point, revenge can be justified independently of authority and power. By appropriating religious principles, Hieronimo elevates himself to the same level as, say, the Viceroy, who condemns Villuppo to death. So the troubling parallel reappears once again.

Similar to Shakespeare's portrait of Hamlet, Hieronimo's character is shrouded in mystery. At times rational, at times frenzied, he traces a confusing path through the long third act of The Spanish Tragedy. With the poor citizens and senex in the thirteenth scene, for example, he is completely carried away by the thought of revenge and rips all the official papers presented to him. The senex's tragedy is poignantly but irrationally reduced to his own personal tragedy. Yet only one scene later, Hieronimo smoothly negotiates his treacherous act of forgiveness, seemingly in full control of his faculties. The Ghost, in any case, is fooled by Hieronimo's performance. But just as there exists a higher order of things (manifest in Revenge), appearances may not count for very much. As one nobleman put it aptly in Act 3 Scene 1, "words have several works, / And there's no credit in the countenance."