The Spanish Tragedy

The Spanish Tragedy Marginalia of The Spanish Tragedy

For writers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean theater, it was standard practice to introduce foreign phrases where appropriate. Both as a return to classicism and as a second language to the educated, Latin was particularly popular. The extent of the usage of non-English varied between authors. Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson, for example, were generally more heavy-handed than William Shakespeare. As for Thomas Kyd, he certainly did not hesitate to incorporate Latin in The Spanish Tragedy. The not insignificant amount of Latin in the play has, from Kyd's time, been often seen as an intrusion on the stage, and hence a weakness. Arthur Freeman notes that critics have also been "seized upon to ridicule Kyd's pedantry" (83). Most audiences at the time, however, would have not have been entirely alienated by the occasional Latin or Latinate phrases.

For many modern readers and audiences, non-English phrases are consigned to the margins. Hardly any phrases more sophisticated than "E tu, Brute?" are understood by a general audience. At the theater, the ear skips easily over an unfamiliar phrase; while scanning a page, the eye may or may not glance at the marginal translation. The marginalia are often neglected - and unjustly so. As a methodical examination of The Spanish Tragedy will show, marginalia have their own history, often richer than that of the main text. This history is particularly welcoming to readers of a play (as opposed to spectators, who do not have the luxury of examining the passages at their leisure).

One of the most interesting readings of The Spanish Tragedy centers around three Senecan quotations in Act 3 Scene 8. Eminent theatrical historian Scott McMillan returns to an old question among scholars: how does one explain Hieronimo's clear misuse of Seneca in his "Vindica mihi" speech? To pass it off as an accident or as Kyd's poor knowledge of Latin, argues McMillan, would constitute a "critical negligence" (201). In McMillan's reading, Hieronimo himself becomes a reader:

[Hieronimo] is not "caught" in the ironic position of Clytemnestra, Andromache, and Oedipus. . . He has, in a way, mastered this irony. . . and in locating three Senecan characters caught in the situation which he has mastered, he bends their lines to his purpose because he knows that situation better than they and means to enact it. (207, italics mine)

Only a select few readers or spectators - in both Kyd's time and today - would be able to first understand the Latin, then identify its source, and finally recall its context. McMillan's reading shows that an archaeological trip into the marginalia of plays can yield fruitful results, and suggests that many treasures may lay yet undiscovered.

The notes to A. K. McIlwraith's edition of The Spanish Tragedy have been quoted for the translations from the Latin. R. S. Boas's notes, as well as those of Félix Carèrre, have supplied the allusions and references.

Act 1

I. ii. 12-14. An adaptation from the court-poet Claudian's De Tertio Consulatu Honorii, 96-98.

O multum dilecte Deo, tibi militat aether,
Et conjuratae curvato poplite gentes
Succumbunt; recti soror est victoria juris

O well-beloved of God, the heavens fight for thee,
And spell-bound peoples fall on bended knee [sic];
For victory is sister of true right.

I. ii. 55-56. The lines seem to be taken partly from the Roman poet Statius's Thebais, viii. 399 and molded on an analogy like that found in Virgil's The Aeneid, x. 361. Here the Latin is more terse and economical than an equivalent phrase in English.

Pede pes et cuspide cuspis;
Arma sonant armis, vir petiturque viro.

Foot against foot, lance against lance is thrust,
Arms clash on arms, man is attacked by man.

I. iii. 15-17. Probably a mixed adaptation: similar versions of the first line are quoted proverbially by some authors contemporary to Kyd, and the remaining two lines are close to Seneca's Agamemnon, 698-698:

Qui jacet in terra, non habet unde cadat.
In me consumpsit vires fortuna nocendo
Nil superest ut jam possit obesse magis.

He who is prostrate hath no where to fall.
Fortune hath spent her force for ill on me:
Greater disaster cannot be in store.

Act 2

II. i. 41. An Italian phrase meaning "come here quickly" (in its modern form "vieni qui presto").

Vien qui presto.

II. i. 107. A well-known Latin motto.

tam armis quam ingenio.

by force as well as wile.

II. v. 67-80. A pastiche of allusions, quotes, and Kyd's own composition. Lines 72-73 resemble a passage from the Roman poet Tibullus, ii. 4. 55 ff., and the phrase "sic, sic juvat ire sub umbras" in line 78 quotes The Aeneid, iv. 660. An interesting antithesis occurs between the herbs of "fair spring" and the "fatal poison[ous]" herbs, as both are equally desired for their potential to alleviate Hieronimo's pain. In the perverse world of murder and revenge, perhaps, typical values have been overthrown. Hieronimo's desire for death so as to never again see his dead son is also ironic, given the presence of the spectre/spectators Ghost and Revenge, who come into the scene immediately afterwards.

O aliquis mihi quas pulchrum ver educat herbas
. . .
Ne mortem vindicta tuam tam nulla sequatur.

Compound for me all herbs that the fair spring
Brings forth, to serve as salve unto my pain;
Or bring me blossoms of oblivion.
Myself will garner all fell seeds the sun
Draws to the shores of light, and I will drink
All venoms any sorceress can devise,
And all the fatal poisons herbs provide;
I will essay all these, until at once
All senses perish in my dying breast.-
So then shall I ne'er see thy face, dear son,
And shall eternal darkness cover thee?
With thee I die: thus would I pass the bourne.-
No, no! I will not yield my life so soon,
Lest so thy death should lack its due revenge.

Act 3

III. ii. 94. An unintelligible phrase. ieron in Greek is the ieros, which means "sacred" or "a sacred place." The phrase seen as a mixture of Italian and Greek could potentially be understood as "what a sacred place"-an ironic reference to the park where Pedringano will kill Serberine. Such an interpretation remains far-fetched.

Che le Ieron!

III. iv. 87-88. An Italian phrase.

E quel che voglio io, nessun lo sa;
Intendo io: quel mi bastere

And that which I want, none knows;
I intend, which will suffice for me.

III. x. 102-103. A Latin phrase of uncertain origin; its meaning in context is also unclear.

Et tremolo metui pavidum junxere timorum,
Et vanum stolidae proditionis opus.

They joined to trembling fright a quivering fear,
A futile act of blockish self-betrayal.

III. xiii. 1, 6, 11-12, 35. Hieronimo enters the scene carrying a book; judging from the quotations that appear in the passage, it is a book of Seneca. Line 1 quotes Octavia, a play traditionally attributed to Seneca; line 6 quotes Agamemmnon, 115; lines 11-12 quote Troades, 510-512; and line 35 quotes Oedipus, 515.

Vindicta Mihi!

Revenge is due to me!

Per scelus semper tutum est sceleribus iter.

Through crime is ever the safe way for crime.

Fata si miseros juvant, habes salutem:
Fata si vitam negant, habes sepulchrum

If Fates befriend a wretch, thou hast a refuge;
If Fates deny thee life, thou hast a tomb.

Remedium malorum iners est.

It is an idle remedy for ills.

III. xiii. 62. Boas writes: "A writ which lay to eject a tenant from his holding" (408).

ejectione firmae

III. xiv. 118. Boas notes that this Spanish phrase meaning "few words" became a "stock jest" after Kyd's use here (118). Shakespeare quotes it in The Taming of The Shrew, Induction, 5.

pocas palabris

III. xiv. 168-169. An Italian phrase, printed variously depending on the edition. The essential meaning is: "He who unexpectedly befriends me wishes to betray me."

Chi mi fa pie carezze che non suole,
Tradito mi ha, o tradir mi vuole.

Who caresses more than was his way
Has betrayed me, or wishes to betray me.

Act 4

IV.i.159. A tragedy done in lofty style; cothurnata means "wearing the buskin," a boot which Athenian tragic actors wore.

Tragedia cothurnata