London: Printed by Augustine Mathewes, for Francis Grove, 1633.
Quarto: 7 x 5 in.  p. Collation: A-L4
TENTH EXTANT QUARTO EDITION (1st ed. 1592). All editions are extremely rare.
Bound in modern paneled calf with blind-tooled ornaments. Upper and outer margins of title page cut a bit close, without affecting the text. Title soiled and lightly spotted, first gathering soiled and lightly stained, but the majority of the text rather clean, with just some light spots in gatherings G and H, and the final leaf verso lightly soiled. The title features a quarter-page woodcut scene from the play. Provenance: George R.M. Ewing Jr. (ex libris) with his bookplate by Rockwell Kent on the front paste-down; Bridgewater Library engraved armorial bookplate. Sold with two blind-stamped panels, with the Bridgewater arms, from the previous (19th c.) binding. Bookplate of Kenneth Rapoport.
Thomas Kyd’s ‘The Spanish Tragedy’ established the genre of revenge tragedy in English drama. It is one of the most influential plays of the English theatre and was extremely popular for contemporary audiences. It is notable for the inclusion of a “playlet” (a play performed within the play), “The Tragedy of Soliman and Perseda”.
This edition features a remarkable woodcut title page illustrating two scenes: one from the play proper, showing the protagonist Hieronimo discovering the body of his hanged son, and a scene from the playlet, in which the heroine Perseda is accosted by The Ottoman Soliman, who is depicted as a Moorish Black man.
“There is no question that ‘The Spanish Tragedy’ inaugurates the genre of revenge tragedy as it is now understood. As has been well-documented, Kyd's remarkable play set the thematic, structural, and tropological agenda that would be redeployed (and reimagined) in the corpus of 'classic' revenge tragedies.” (Irish 118)
When the play opens Andrea, a Spanish military officer, has been killed in battle by Balthazar, a Portuguese officer. Andrea’s ghost and the personification of Revenge serve as a chorus and remain on stage throughout the play. The Spanish capture Balthazar, but there is a dispute between the Spanish soldiers Horatio and Lorenzo over who has earned the ransom for Balthazar. Lorenzo, plotting together with Balthazar, murders Horatio, leaving his mutilated body hanging from a tree. Hieronymo, Horatio’s father, finds the body and plots revenge against Lorenzo for the murder of his son.
The tragic heroine Bel-imperia, Lorenzo’s sister, plays a key role in the tragedy. Seeking revenge against Balthazar for the murder of her lover Andrea, Bel-imperia joins Hieronymo in his plot, telling him (in a letter written in her own blood), that it was Balthazar and Lorenzo who killed his son. The pair exact their revenge by staging a play (Soliman and Perseda), in which Hieronymo and Bel-imperia, and their intended victims Lorenzo and Balthazar all play parts.
The playlet, the tragedy of Soliman and Perseda, is staged in Act Four. Soliman, Sultan of Turkey, is played by Balthazar. Perseda is played by Bel-imperia. Before the play begins, Hieronymo and Bel-imperia replace their prop daggers with real ones and then use them to stab their unsuspecting victims during the play. After stabbing Balthazar, Bel-imperia commits suicide on stage. Hieronimo reveals -to the startled audience- his and Bel-imperia’s motives for the murders, bites out his tongue (so that he will not talk under torture), kills the Duke of Castille (Lorenzo and Bel-imperia's father), and then himself. The ghost of Andrea and Revenge have had their satisfaction.
“The medieval morality figure Revenge directs the narrative with ice-cold clarity . . . and is the key to Kyd's remarkable play. Revenge accompanies Andrea, killed on the battlefield and forced to watch as his death triggers a catalogue of murderous deeds. Central to the narrative is the role of Hieronimo, a character whose son is brutally murdered and who, like Shakespeare's later revenge character Hamlet, decides to catch his victims within a mousetrap performance.
“Blood oozes and drips, bodies hang like butchered carcasses, suicides and murders occur in full view of the audience in a frenzy of revenge and barely-disguised xenophobic glee… Unforgettable images of self-mutilation are truly shocking . . . with gunshots and screams reverberating and resonating around the (theatre)… The play is gripping from beginning to blood-soaked end.”(Quarmby, "The Spanish Tragedy", review in “The British Theatre Guide”, 2009)
“‘The Spanish Tragedy’ proved excellent box-office. Philip Henslowe, who held the early rights, recorded twenty-nine performances between 1592 and 1597, a record almost unsurpassed among his plays. The publication record is still more impressive, with at least eleven editions between 1592 and 1633, a tally unequalled by any of the plays of Shakespeare. There are more than one hundred allusions to ‘The Spanish Tragedy’ in contemporary literature. Additions and revisions were commissioned from Ben Jonson and others. Stage success was not confined to England. Six adaptations, three in German and three in Dutch, have survived, and performances are recorded in Frankfurt (1601), Dresden (1626), Prague (1651), and Lüneburg (1660).
“The Spanish Tragedy’ was not formally attributed to Kyd until 1773, when Thomas Hawkins, editor of ‘The Origin of the English Drama’, cited a passing reference in Thomas Heywood's ‘Apology for Actors’ (1612) to 'M. Kid, in the ‘Spanish Tragedy’'. The date of composition of the play is unknown, with speculation ranging from 1583 to 1591. It must have been written before 23 February 1592, for on that date it was performed at the Rose Theatre by Lord Strange's men for Philip Henslowe. This is unlikely to have been the play's first performance, since Henslowe did not mark it as 'ne' (new). A balance of evidence suggests a date of composition before 1588, given the absence—in a play about Spain—of any reference to the Armada, and given plausible allusions in Nashe's 'Preface' to ‘Menaphon’ (1589) and in his ‘Anatomie of Absurdities’ (1588–9). The year 1587 fits the known facts and plausible speculation.
Aside from his success, little is known about Kyd. “Even by the standards of what is known about his fellow playwrights, Kyd's traces are hard to recover from the records of the early modern theater.” (Smith 130) There is, however, one well-documented and intriguing episode from his life. In 1593, while imprisoned and likely tortured, he “accused Christopher Marlowe of being a blasphemous traitor, an atheist who believed that Jesus Christ was a homosexual” (Gainor). “Marlowe was arrested on 18 May, but was released from prison two days later. On 30 May he died in a pub brawl at Deptford... Kyd's release from prison preceded his death in 1594, perhaps hastened by torture, by no more than a year. He was buried at St Mary Colechurch in London on 15 August 1594.” (ODNB).
STC 15094; Greg I 110 (j); ESTC S108148