The Spanish Tragedy

The Spanish Tragedy Summary and Analysis of Act 3, Scenes 1-10

Act 3, Scene 1

In Portugal, the Viceroy laments his fate - thrown from the heights of glory to the depths of despair, and by hate deprived of a son! A nobleman remarks that he never would have suspected hate in Alexandro's heart. The "countenance" of words, it seems, cannot be trusted. Villuppo continues to incriminate Alexandro but the Viceroy cuts him off in anger - the traitor shall be summoned and condemned to death.

Alexandro enters with a nobleman who encourages him to "hope the best." In front of the Viceroy, Alexandro insists on his innocence in vain. His body is bound to a stake, and preparations are made to burn him alive. Now turning to Villuppo, Alexandro declares that his "guiltless death will be aveng'd." At this point the Ambassador arrives with news from Spain: Balthazar is alive and well. The Viceroy, reading through the letters from Spain, immediately sets Alexandro free and demands to know Villuppo's motives for betrayal. The latter submits himself humbly to the Viceroy, expressing remorse for his shameless desire "for reward and hope to be preferr'd." The Viceroy sends Villuppo away, brushing aside Alexandro's movement to entreat for mercy. All exit to settle matters with Spain and commemorate Alexandro's loyalty.

Act 3, Scene 2

Hieronimo enters the scene, still bemoaning his son's death in a series of apostrophes. He cries to the heavens for justice in form of revenge and continues his monologue until a letter suddenly falls from the sky. The letter is from Bellimperia - written in blood for want of ink - and informs Hieronimo that Balthazar and Lorenzo conspired together the kill his son. Hieronimo suspects a trap, and thus warily sets out to confirm Bellimperia's accusations.

Pedringano enters, followed by Lorenzo. The prince explains that Bellimperia has been confined by the Duke for "some disgrace." He offers to hear Hieronimo's request in place of Bellimperia, but Hieronimo declines and leaves the scene. Suspecting Serberine of revealing the truth about Horatio's murder, Lorenzo gives Pedringano gold and sends him to kill Serberine the very same night. Lorenzo then reveals his dual manipulation: he will send guards on patrol to capture Pedringano in the act of murdering Serberine, thus ridding himself of future risks. As he puts it: "better it's that base companions die, / Than by their life to hazard our good haps."

Act 3, Scene 3

Pedringano enters with a pistol in his hand. He expresses his qualms about the prospect of shooting Serberine but is comforted by the thought of his reward. Also reassuring is the belief that, should he be captured, Lorenzo will protect him. Three guards arrive in the meantime, wondering why they have been commanded to watch such a secluded place. Serberine comes on scene, and Pedringano shoots him almost immediately. The guards in turn capture Pedringano and take him to see Hieronimo.

Act 3, Scene 4

The following morning, Lorenzo confesses his fears to Balthazar: he believes that their crime has been betrayed to Hieronimo. A page enters to announce that Serberine has been killed by Pedringano. Balthazar is outraged, and Lorenzo advises him to take due vengeance by complaining to the King of Spain. Balthazar rushes off to see the trials. Alone on stage, Lorenzo gloats over his ability to manipulate the Portuguese prince: "I lay the plot: he prosecutes the point; / I set the trap: he breaks the worthless twigs." A messenger arrives with a request for help from Pedringano, who has been imprisoned. In response Lorenzo sends his page bearing a box and a message: the box contains Lorenzo's signed pardon, which Pedringano shall open only at the very last moment. Alone once again, Lorenzo ponders the course of his fortune. He dares not speak out loud, however, for fear of "unfriendly ears."

Act 3, Scene 5

On the way to find Pedringano in prison, the page is overcome with curiosity and opens the box - only to find nothing inside. He realizes that Lorenzo intends to trick Pedringano. For fear of being hanged himself, however, the page cannot act on his sympathy.

Act 3, Scene 6

Hieronimo remarks on the irony of his profession as Marshall: why should "neither gods nor men be just" to he who judges other men justly? Officers enter with Pedringano, letter in hand, followed by Lorenzo's page. After a series of exchanges, highly impudent on Pedringano's part (he believes the page to carry a royal pardon), Pedringano is taken away by the hangman. Hieronimo expresses outrage over Pedringano's audacity as a convicted murderer, whereupon he suddenly remembers his dead son and exits the scene.

Act 3, Scene 7

Hieronimo is once again alone, deploring the weight of his sufferance. His "tortured soul" has so far has been unable to reach the "empyreal heights" of justice and revenge. The hangman enters frantically with a letter in hand, claiming that they should not have killed Pedringano. Hieronimo sends him away with a promise to protect him from harm and opens the letter: Pedringano has written his final words to Lorenzo, threatening to reveal the truth before he is hanged. From the letter, Hieronimo deduces that it was Lorenzo and Balthazar who murdered his son. He now realizes the truth behind Bellimperia's letter and resolves to demand justice in front of the King.

Act 3, Scene 8

In Hieronimo's home, Isabella "runs lunatic" despite the maid's best efforts to comfort her. It seems that Horatio's death, combined with the mystery of his murderers, has forced her tormented soul into a frenzy.

Act 3, Scene 9

Bellimperia sits at a window, bemoaning her powerless situation in captivity. She apostrophizes Hieronimo and Andrea before resolving to wait patiently for her release. The custodian Christophil enters to fetch her.

Act 3, Scene 10

Lorenzo enters with Balthazar and confirms Pedringano's death with his page. Deeming the affair to have "o'erblown," Lorenzo decides to set his sister free. He advises Balthazar to "deal cunningly" with Bellimperia just as she arrives, full of fury and contempt. Lorenzo claims that he merely "sought to save [her] honour and [his] own" through his actions; having come to Hieronimo's estate with Balthazar to settle some official matters, he found Bellimperia with Horatio. Upon recalling her "old disgrace" with Andrea and the Duke's consequent wrath, he saw it best to dispose with Horatio and hide his sister away for some time. Bellimperia seems unconvinced, but the dialogue is diverted towards an increasingly cryptic exchange concerning Balthazar, Bellimperia, and their relation to love and fear.


The third act opens with the resolution of the sub-plot that takes place in Portugal. The scene may seem superfluous to the larger picture of The Spanish Tragedy. Unlike the death of Horatio, the tensions between the Viceroy, Alexandro, and Villuppo bear no direct influence on the outcome of the play. It is precisely because of this ambiguous relation to the rest of the play, however, that the scene raises several important questions.

Like Hieronimo, the Viceroy believes that his son has been unjustly murdered and finds himself in the depths of despair. He would like to lie at the "lowest" point possible so as to avoid falling further (in Act 1 Scene 3, he states in Latin that "He who prostrate hath no where to fall"). But even at such a lifetime low, the Viceroy still sits too high in his throne to commiserate with the equally tormented Alexandro, whose words of protest are suppressed. Luckily, the ambassador soon brings good news from Spain. At this point, the Viceroy is overjoyed and hastily makes amends with Alexandro. Villuppo, in turn, is condemned to the "bitterest torments" - even worse than those prepared for Alexandro. Has justice been served?

This question takes on interesting dimensions when considered in relation to Hieronimo. The Marshall, too, finds himself with a murdered son, and also desires justice. But just as Lorenzo's motive for killing Horatio remains unresolved, so too are their respective claims to having captured Balthazar shrouded in mystery. It is not out of the question that Horatio took undue credit in the battlefield. Men are easily corrupt: the mere desire for gold and glory made Villuppo betray his fellow noblemen. The same can be said for Pedringano, who had presumably been well treated by fair Bellimperia for many years. Thus seen, the Viceroy's initial mistake destabilizes Hieronimo's righteous claim to justice and revenge. Hieronimo may be mistaken to believe Horatio's total innocence in the affair - or, for that matter, Pedringano's damning letter to Lorenzo. Does Hieronimo have a redeeming quality lacking in the Viceroy? All of this will eventually call into question the fine distinction between justice and revenge.

Meanwhile, Lorenzo continues to manipulate friends and foes alike. As a distrustful Machiavellian schemer he anticipates, in many ways, Shakespeare's Iago (the play had its own direct source in Giraldi Cinthio's Hecatommithi [1565]). Unlike Iago, however, the Castilian prince is primarily concerned with covering up his tracks. Once the murder is committed, he falls into an almost paranoiac state of mind, whereby both Serberine and Pedringano must be immediately killed off. There is no reason to believe that either of the two would have revealed the truth behind Horatio's murder - especially since they were both present at the crime scene. (Serberine's case is particularly curious, given his entirely undeveloped character; perhaps he serves to show that Lorenzo orchestrates a gratuitous murder.)

Justice or revenge for Hieronimo, then, only emerges out of fear and uncertainty. If Lorenzo had kept Pedringano close to him, Bellimperia's accusations may never have been confirmed. Be betraying Pedringano to the law, Lorenzo involuntarily undoes the order that he has attempted to impose on the stage - a mistake aptly symbolized by the empty box into which the page peeks. The box, in Pedringano trusting eyes, contains the law. It is at once the "righteous" law (a royal pardon) and the law of criminals (mutual trust, without which no criminal organization can operate). By sending a box with nothing but empty promises inside, Lorenzo symbolically obliterates the natural order of things. In other words, he advances the total upheaval that Revenge prophesized at the end of the first act: "I'll turn their friendship into fell despite, / Their love to mortal hate, their day to night," etc.

Also noteworthy in the third act is the introduction of madness into the play. To a certain extent, Revenge's prophesy in the first act already adumbrates madness - if only in a figurative, chaotic sense. In Isabella, however, the word takes on a concrete form. To her maid's alarm, she begins to run around, frantically searching for Horatio as well as his killers. While Isabella's scene is short, it suggests an interesting reason, or etiology, behind her madness. Her last words in the scene read: "But say, where shall I find the men, the murderers, / That slew Horatio? Whither shall I run / To find them out that murdered my son?" The impelling force behind her frenzy, it seems, is the frustration of not even knowing the identity of her son's murderers. Her disease is thus the absence of history (recall the discussion of history and stories in the analysis of the first act). And yet she calls for herbs to "purge the heart" - as if the disease were an internal matter, and moreover one of waste. It is this paradoxical intentional/external tension that Hieronimo carries on in the second half of the third act.