The Spanish Tragedy

The Spanish Tragedy Essay Questions

  1. 1

    The Spanish General, Lorenzo, and Horatio all tell different stories about the battle. What actually happened? The question may be fruitless in itself, but it leads to a more interesting question: What motivates their narrative? In other words, why do the different characters tell the versions that they do?

  2. 2

    Discuss the role of the Chorus (the Ghost and Revenge) in the play. What does it suggest about fate and human agency? It may be helpful to approach the question from the play's "theatricality," or alternatively Hieronimo's belief that he is serving justice due in Heaven.

  3. 3

    Why does Hieronimo delay taking his revenge for so long? Each time someone says "Horatio" or "murder," it is as if he recalls anew the need for revenge. Consider the question in relation to his spells of madness as well as his death wishes.

  4. 4

    What does the sub-plot that occurs in Portugal (i.e. Villuppo's treachery and its resolution) add to the play? Can it be understood allegorically, or does it contain insightful parallels to the rest of the play?

  5. 5

    Perform a close reading of the dialogue between Bellimperia, Balthazar, and Lorenzo in Act 3 Scene 10. Lines 78-109, in particular, culminate in an obscure exchange about love and fear. Students of Latin are encouraged to pay special attention to Bellimperia's two lines 102-103.

  6. 6

    Hieronimo demands justice for Horatio's murder. Has justice been served at the end of the play? How does justice overlap with revenge, and how are the two different?

  7. 7

    Discuss the different modes of suicide in the play. Why do Isabelle, Hieronimo, and Bellimperia kill themselves? Does a common motive exist between the three?

  8. 8

    Consider the portrait of madness in the play. What are its symptoms? How does it arise? Can it be distinguished between masculine and feminine forms - between Hieronimo and Isabella?

  9. 9

    Discuss the significance of the play-within-play in the fourth act. Why does Hieronimo insist on showing Horatio's corpse on stage? Why must it be acted out in four different languages? It may also be worthwhile to consider it in relation to the dumb shows that occur in the play.

  10. 10

    After the play-within-a-play, the royal audience does not seem to comprehend Hieronimo's explanation of his motives for killing Lorenzo and Balthazar. They insist repeatedly that he speak and explain himself again. How might this lack of comprehension be understood? And why does Hieronimo refuse to speak anymore?

  11. 11

    The murder of the Duke comes as a complete surprise. The turn of events (with Hieronimo being restrained from hanging himself and thus biting off his tongue) strongly suggest that the murder is not premeditated. Has Hieronimo simply gone completely mad? What role does the murder serve in the larger picture of the play?