The Spanish Tragedy can be considered the first great classic from the Elizabethan period of playwriting; for seventy years the story of Hieronimo’s revenge was the most quoted play in English. The play is innovative in its use of blank verse and the deadly play-within-a-play device, and sophisticated in its discussion of the morality of revenge and justice.
The play is introduced by the spirit of Revenge, who promises to show the ghost of Don Andrea his enemies being murdered. Andrea was killed by the heir of Portugal, Balthazar, who was then captured and brought as a prisoner to Spain. Andrea’s lover Bel-Imperia decides that she will revenge Andrea by killing Balthazar, who woos her. She now favours Horatio – the young man who captured Balthazar in battle – but Bel-Imperia’s brother and Balthazar kill Horatio, and hang his corpse in an arbour. It is there that Horatio’s father Hieronimo discovers him, and embarks upon one of the bloodiest and most famous revenge plots in early modern drama.
The Spanish Tragedy was staged at the Rose playhouse from 1592.