The Spanish Tragedy

The Spanish Tragedy Summary and Analysis of Act 2

Act 2, Scene 1

Lorenzo tries to comfort Balthazar with regards to Bellimperia, suggesting that in due time she will come to like the Portuguese prince. Balthazar expresses his unconsoled spirit in a short pessimistic monologue. Lorenzo assures him that they will find out the reason behind Bellimperia's coldness; he has already formulated a plan to uncover the truth.

Lorenzo calls Bellimperia's servant Pedringano to the scene. Lorenzo speaks of a past favor that he granted Pedringano: when the Duke of Castile discovered Pedringano's role as a go-between for Andrea and Bellimperia, Lorenzo protected the servant from the Duke's wrath. The same prince now promises Pedringano an additional favor of a gold chain - should he simply speak the truth. Pedringano agrees, and Lorenzo asks him about the nature of Bellimperia's love since Andrea's death. Who loves her, and who does she love? The servant claims ignorance, but Lorenzo draws his sword in response and threatens to kill him. Pedringano finally admits that Bellimperia loves Horatio. He has perused the love letters that she sent Horatio. Lorenzo grants him the reward and, promising a further reward, demands to be notified when the "lovers meet." Balthazar thus resolves to take revenge on Horatio, despite the risks involved:

Thus hath he ta'en my body by his force,
And now by sleight would captivate my soul:
But in his fall I'll tempt the destinies,
And either lose my life, or win my love. (II.i.130-133)

Act 2, Scene 2

Horatio and Bellimperia enter the scene. Pedringano, pointing out the lovers for Lorenzo and Balthazar, places the two princes in hiding. Horatio wonders why, their love now made so clear, Bellimperia shows signs of "inward languishments." Bellimperia responds through an extended metaphor, comparing her heart to a sailing ship: she is still recovering from stormy times (presumably Andrea's death), and now seeks refuge in the port that is Horatio's love. Hidden above, Balthazar expresses his dismay, but Lorenzo looks on gleefully - for he already envisions "Horatio's fall." The two lovers continue their dialogue and soon agree to meet in a secluded field the very same evening. In the meantime, however, they must hide their love from the Duke of Castile. Lorenzo concludes the scene with a promise to send "[Horatio's] soul into eternal night."

Act 2, Scene 3

The King of Spain enters with the Duke of Castile and the Portuguese ambassador. The King asks the Duke what Bellimperia thinks of Balthazar. The Duke responds that while his daughter disclaims any love for the Portuguese prince at the moment, she will in time heed his advice - "Which is to love him, or forgo [her father's] love." The King thus asks the ambassador to advise the Viceroy in favor of a marriage between Bellimperia and Balthazar. The advantages for Portugal will be many: it will receive a generous dowry, its tribute will be released, and it will be intimately linked to the Spanish crown. The King finally requests that the Viceroy set the marriage date and reminds the ambassador to bring Balthazar's ransom for Horatio. After the ambassador leaves, the King once again turns to the Duke of Castile and presses him to convince Bellimperia in favor of the marriage - for the good of Spain.

Act 2, Scene 4

Horatio and Bellimperia meet in the field and walk towards a bower. To guard against anyone approaching, Bellimperia entrusts Pedringano to guard the gate, but he reveals his treacherous intentions in an aside. The two lovers engage in amorous talk, but just as their intimacy increases, Lorenzo and Balthazar enter the scene with Serberine and Pedringano (the latter in disguise). The men take Bellimperia aside, hang up Horatio, and then stab him. Bellimperia pleads for Horatio's life and then manages to cry for help before the men take her and leave the scene of murder.

Act 2, Scene 5

Hieronimo enters in his nightshirt, having been awaked by a woman's cry for help. To his dismay, he finds a hanged man - and suspects that the murderers have attempted to incriminate him. Upon cutting the corpse down, however, he recognizes it as his son Horatio. Hieronimo breaks down into a tormented soliloquy, apostrophizing his dead son. His wife Isabella enters the scene and commiserates with him, whereupon Hieronimo vows to exact due revenge: his son's bloody handkerchief will not leave him until he kills the murderers - and neither will the corpse be buried! The two carry off the corpse, and Hieronimo concludes the scene with a monologue in Latin (see section "Marginalia in The Spanish Tragedy" of this ClassicNote for a translation and brief commentary).

Act 2, Scene 6

The Ghost once again questions Revenge's motives. Why has he been made to witness men kill his friend Horatio and abuse his love Bellimperia? Revenge advises him to remain patient, reaffirming Balthazar's imminent downfall.


From the opening of the second act, Lorenzo shows himself to be a scheming villain. A man of his position wields a significant amount of power: he can easily afford to both bribe and threaten Pedringano, and thus obtain information about Bellimperia's most private secret. But what could be Lorenzo's motive in helping Balthazar? The most sympathetic reading would suggest that he disapproves of his sister's private affair with Horatio. Any loyal brother would be outraged to find his sister in a secluded field, clearly engaged in an illicit relationship, yet the unpleasant episode with Pedringano demonstrates that Lorenzo can make no such claim to righteousness, or, for that matter, brotherly feelings. Besides, the Spanish prince attests his loyalty to Balthazar from the very opening lines of the scene, and the audience has no reason to believe that he is lying. So perhaps it is simply a matter of rivalry and jealousy. In the previous act, after all, even the sovereign King hesitated between Lorenzo and Horatio's respective claims to glory.

Whatever his motives, Lorenzo serves as a lens through which Balthazar and Pedringano pass to focus on Horatio's death. Love becomes hate: Lorenzo's love for Balthazar, Balthazar's love for Bellimperia, and Pedringano's love for gold are all channeled into Balthazar's desire for revenge. The Portuguese prince may, incidentally, be the least culpable of the three conspirators. In contrast with Lorenzo's vileness, Balthazar's earnest monologue at the end of the first scene speaks to his genuine and sincere character. He has indeed found both his body and soul captured by Horatio, so a desire for personal revenge may only be natural - just as natural, in any case, as Bellimperia's desire to take revenge on Balthazar. In both cases love has been transformed into hate.

The resulting murder of Horatio is criminal and cruel. The murder scene undoubtedly marks the climax of the sub-plot surrounding Horatio, and it consequently sets Hieronimo's quest for revenge in motion. Quartos published in and after 1615 feature a woodcut of the murder scene with Horatio hanging in a tree. In all its appearances of injustice, however, it is not clear whether the law would condemn the murder very harshly. Horatio and Bellimperia are, after all, carrying out their affair in hiding from the law (the Duke and the King). To illustrate the point with an extreme example: where does justice stand when a murder kills another murderer? Later in the play, Hieronimo will be forced to negotiate between juridical and personal justice.

Meanwhile, the consequences of the murder are upheld by the King of Spain in a twist of dramatic irony. Bellimperia will be forced to marry none other than Balthazar, whether she likes it or not. Conversely, the preceding murder scene becomes even more excessive and pointless. The arranged marriage will return to Balthazar both his soul (Bellimperia) and his body (he will rise to rule over Horatio through his heir). The Portuguese prince thus retrospectively loses his motives for revenge. Behind all such confusion, Revenge's massive scheme begins to show its destructive contours.

Even as the plot takes quick dramatic turns, the staging details should not be overlooked. Objects take on particular significance as things thrown against the mind (etymologically ob + jectum = "thrown against"). To both Balthazar and Horatio, Bellimperia's dropped glove in the first act becomes an extension of her hand, and thus a metonym for her favor. Similarly in the second act, Horatio's handkerchief becomes in Hieronimo's mind a projection of his son's presence, or a metonymy for the unburied corpse. Full of blood and sweat, it is as if Horatio continues to circulate in the play - and he indeed does, as the audience will later see.

Through the emphasis on select objects, Kyd evokes the poetics of stage-space. The audience notices that Lorenzo and Balthazar hide above in the second scene of the act. From the heights, the two men both envision Horatio's "fall." When they actually murder Horatio, however, they hang him up; it is Hieronimo who actually takes the body down. In a literal sense, then, neither Lorenzo nor Balthazar have yet to see "Horatio's fall." This will come later in the play, with dire consequences. In the meantime, the attention to space and height will be taken up again when the curtains are lifted for the third act.