Modern English Literature (16th - 18th Centuries)

Beyond ‘The Spanish Tragedy’: A Study of the Works of Thomas Kyd



1 Don Horatio and The First Part of Hieronimo
2 The Spanish Tragedy: an introduction
3 The Spanish Tragedy: origins
4 The Spanish Tragedy: framing revenge
5 The Spanish Tragedy: additions, adaptations, modern stage history
6 Hamlet
7 Soliman and Perseda: an introduction
8 Soliman and Perseda: the play and its making
9 Cornelia
10 Other works and apocrypha

Appendix: Kyd's patron


This is the first book in more than thirty years on the playwright who is arguably Shakespeare’s most important tragic predecessor. Brilliantly fusing the drama of the academic and popular traditions, Thomas Kyd’s plays are of central importance for understanding how the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries came about. Called ‘an extraordinary dramatic . . . genius’ by T. S. Eliot, Thomas Kyd invented the revenge tragedy genre that culminated in Shakespeare’s Hamlet some twelve years later. In this book, The Spanish Tragedy—the most popular of all plays on the English Renaissance stage—receives the extensive scholarly and critical treatment it deserves, including a full reception and modern stage history. Yet as this study makes clear, Thomas Kyd is much more than the author of a single masterpiece. Don Horatio (partly extant in The First Part of Hieronimo), the lost early Hamlet, Soliman and Perseda, and Cornelia all belong to what emerges in this study for the first time as a coherent dramatic oeuvre.


Scholarly work on Thomas Kyd has previously been plagued by the question: what exactly did Kyd write? In his Revels Play Companion Library volume, Beyond The Spanish Tragedy, Lukas Erne refuses to reduce the playwright to his most famous play as many critics have done. Instead, he succeeds in providing a thorough critical introduction to Kyd's works that is in dialogue with previous criticism on the playwright. Maintaining that Kyd is the author of several plays, Erne gives us a new appreciation for this writer and cogently argues that he was a major influence on Renaissance dramatists who followed him. … Erne's rigorous research makes this book useful to scholars; certainly, many will be pleased to see such a wonderful new book on Kyd after so many years. In addition, as we would expect from the Companion Library series, Erne's clear prose and unique approach make the book accessible to students of the playwright as well.
S. S. Gearhart, Sixteenth Century Journal

One of Erne's aims, and one of the great strengths of a very good book, is to demonstrate that in The First Part of Hieronimo, a prequel to The Spanish Tragedy generally dismissed as by unknown hacks, we have, buried, as it were, a mutilated version of Kyd's Don Horatio (or 'doneoracio', as the incomparable Henslowe calls it). That this is so was argued by Andrew Cairncross in his Regents Renaissance Drama series edition of The Spanish Tragedy and The First Part of Hieronimo. Where Erne differs from Cairncross, however, and to my mind most persuasively, is in arguing that the latter is not a 'bad' or memorially reconstructed version of Kyd's Don Horatio, but rather a palimpsest, with a Level A, as Erne terms it, which consists of 'textually corrupt version of parts of Don Horatio', and a Level B, which consists of a burlesque reworking of Kyd's material, designed for performance by a children's company, probably, given the reference to the tit-for-tat playing of The Malcontent by the King's Men, the Children of the Chapel. … Erne's chapter on The First Part of Hieronimo is undoubtedly the most original in Beyond 'The Spanish Tragedy', but throughout there are fresh insights, the product of close and intelligent reading of the texts, and the shrewd interpretation of evidence. Erne has made an excellent case for going, as his title proclaims, Beyond 'The Spanish Tragedy', to set Kyd's achievement in a wider context.
David Gunby, Modern Language Review

Erne's original, scholarly, and thoughtful study has considerably elucidated my understanding of [The Spanish Tragedy]. … By emphasizing the innovative nature of Kyd's contribution to the development of Elizabethan drama, Erne forces us to look anew at the language and structure -- he believes, for example, that the play was conceived in five, not four, acts. 'As students and critics', he reminds us, 'we naturally move from Shakespeare to Kyd whereas literary history moves from Kyd to Shakespeare' (p. 96). The point is well taken. The Spanish Tragedy is not without stylistic and structural faults, but it remains remarkably coherent by comparison with the other surviving dramas of the 1580s, even in the textually corrupted from in which it has been transmitted. One irrefutable conclusion drawn by Erne is the need for a new edition of Kyd's complete canon. The 'standard' text, prepared by F. S. Boas for the Clarendon Press in 1901, is now hopelessly out of date, and Erne's own reflections upon the text of The Spanish Tragedy -- particularly with regard to the relationship between the two editions of 1592 -- deserve to be tested in editorial practice. We need to move beyond Boas, and Erne has helped to point us in the right direction.
Richard A. McCabe, The Review of English Studies

Erne gives an up-to-date chronology of Kyd's life and works, a brief biography and a thorough re-examination of the whole corpus, including the apocrypha and the translation of Garnier's Cornélie. Kyd's main claim to fame, Erne thinks, is an innovative interest in causality. The plays present intricate textual problems, which Erne negotiates with impressive agility. 1 Hieronimo is a conflation of a partial and corrupt text of Kyd's own Don Horatio and an anonymous burlesque play written c. 1603/4 for the Children of the Chapel. The Kydian part, which is continuous with The Spanish Tragedy, reveals Kyd as a practitioner of the two-part play on a footing with Marlowe. The Tragedy occupies four chapters, which include some fine remarks on its counterpointing of the 'supernatural and human theatres' and on its stylistic variety -- a relief after the critical clichés about its 'monotony'. Erne finds it less deterministic than other critics have done, with Calvinism balanced by Pelagianism. He assesses what little can be deduced about the ur-Hamlet, which he conjectures alluded to Darnley's murder of Bothwell. Soliman and Perseda, which grows out of the Tragedy's inset play, may have been written for Pembroke's Men. As well as carefully comparing it with its known source, Wotton's 'A Courtly Countrovery of Cupid's Cautels' (1578), Erne identifies a new source, a passage in Belleforest's edition of Münster's Cosmographie universelle (1575) also drawn upon by Marlowe for 2 Tamburlaine, and detects an allusion in Donne's 'The Bracelet' which strengthens the case for Kyd's authorship. … Cornelia is sufficiently free of Garnier to be a semi-original work, undertaken following Kyd's brush with the Privy Council on charges of atheism, perhaps to attract patronage from the Sussex family, whose Countess is the work's dedicatee. Traditionally, Sussex has been seen as Kyd's patron throughout his career: Erne advocates Pembroke, speculating that Kyd may have begun Cornelia in emulation of Mary Sidney's translation of Garnier's Antoine, but came to realise that Pembroke has abandoned him. I hope this excellent monograph, full of fresh research and convincing new arguments, will prompt someone to invite Erne to edit Kyd in order to replace Boas's edition, still 'standard' in its centenary year.
Paul Dean, English Studies

Hoping to restore Kyd to his rightful place as one of the most important dramatists of his period, Erne provides careful readings of the major plays either known to have been written by Kyd or ascribed to him. … Though one anticipates vigorous disagreements over some of Erne's conclusions, no one can fault his painstaking analysis. The writing is clear, jargon free, and diplomatic in spite of his disagreements with other critics. This reviewer hopes that Erne will soon turn his formidable scholarship toward a new edition of Kyd's works (none has been published since Boas) and the vexing question of the two texts of Dr. Faustus.
L. L. Bronson, Choice

[Erne's] picture of a playwright preoccupied with the themes of grief and loss, radiating outwards from the dramatic epicentre of The Spanish Tragedy, is appealing.
Emma Smith, The Times Literary Supplement