Isabella in Kyd’s “The Spanish Tragedy”

Isabella is the wife of Hieronimo, the Marshal of Spain and is the mother of Horatio. This play, written by Thomas Kyd in the late 16th century, is above all a revenge play similar to Shakespeare’s tragedies in various ways due to the possibility that Shakespeare borrowed a good deal from Kyd.

Spanish Tragedy

The play begins with the death of Andrea; a Spanish gentleman who is killed by Balthazar, a Portuguese prince. Horatio captures Balthazar, but releases him in Spain. After being freed, Balthazar goes to Andrea’s house to seek the hand of Andrea’s wife, now widow, Bel-Imperia. Bel-Imperia understandably hates Balthazar, and instead strikes up a romance with her husband’s best friend, Horatio. This sends Balthazar into a fury. He and Lorenzo (Bel-Imperia’s brother) murder Horatio in Hieronimo’s garden. No one  at the moment knows who is responsible for Horatio’s murder, thus causing Isabella and her husband, Hieronimo, to both fall into madness. Isabella’s madness is extreme. She wants revenge for her son’s blood quickly and when it is not obtained promptly, she resorts to suicide; even though this will not help avenge her son’s death.

Isabella is approximately thirty to forty years old, I believe. She deeply loves her family. I saw a similarity between Isabella’s mad scene and Lady Macbeth’s mad scene – both women are driven into insanity due to murder. Both do not know what to do- they are wracked with guilt. Isabella’s line, “See; where his Ghost solicits with his wounds revenge on her that should have revenged his death” [IV. 2. line 24].

Both women commit suicide: Lady Macbeth, by falling off a precipice, and Isabella, from a self-inflicted stab wound. Another similarity between both tragic characters is that they both curse themselves. Lady Macbeth’s “Unsex me here…come to my woman’s breasts and take my milk for gall...” [I.v. 45-52] is similar to Isabella’s, “As I curse this three from further fruit, so shall my womb be cursed for his sake…here will I wound the breast, that hapless breast” [l.v. 2-6.]

Isabella’s emotional state is understandably one of horror, grief, anger, and agony. Any woman’s emotional state would be as such given the tragic circumstances. In Act IV, Scene 2, when Isabella enters the garden, she comes to tear down the tree where Horatio was murdered. The tree represents the murderers of her son, and her need to hurt the tree symbolises what she would do to her son’s murderer(s). But, she sees how she is unable to do anything to help the situation as she states in line 34, “And none but I bestir me – to no end.” After she has vented her frustrations upon the tree, she stabs herself.

If you haven’t read the play, you can download it free from Project Gutenburg!

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