Hieronimo, on a Slippery Slope
People have disputed over the morality of revenge and the need for justice well over 100 years. In Elizabethan England, revenge and justice were common themes in the theatre. Thus the Revenge Tragedy was created. Despite the commonality of revenge, Steven Justice, a critic of The Spanish Tragedy stated in his article about the morality of revenge that, “Lily Bess Campell [a well known critic of Elizabethan revenge] documented the official disapproval of revenge during the English Renaissance” (Justice 271). In Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, the themes of justice and revenge affect many characters in his play. Kyd’s character Hieronimo, as magistrate of Spain, does his best to maintain a balanced attitude towards wrong doings and justice but his plans for revenge destroy this balance. The development of Hieronimo’s character from hero to villain shows the impact of a revengeful mind that leads to Hieronimo’s madness and ultimately his rejection of justice.
Hieronimo’s job as the chief magistrate of Spain allows the audience to see that he is involved with judicial issues and seeking justice is a part of his everyday life. Jean G. Marlowe, a critic of The Spanish Tragedy, brings about the idea that Hieronimo’s life “has been devoted to administering the law. He believes in public justice and wants compensation for wrongs by due process” (Marlowe). Because of his position in society the audience is able to see him contemplating what is right and what is wrong. By knowing Hieronimo’s background information the audience can see why he would be contemplating right and wrong and the nature of justice. Hieronimo argues with himself and the gods over the death of Horatio, his son. Hieronimo says:
If this inhuman and barbarous attempt,
If this incomparable murder thus
Of mine, but now no more my son,
Shall unrevealed and unrevenged pass,
How should we term your dealings to be just,
If you unjustly deal with those that in your justice trust?
(3. 2. 6-11)
This stanza provides the foundation that Hieronimo uses to justify his taking the path of revenge in order to seek justice for his son’s death. He is furious that the murderers are not known and have not been punished. Here Hieronimo decides that revenge will be more effective because it seems that justice has fallen through. This starts the plot of revenge and begins Hieronimo’s path to madness.
Hieronimo, now having questioned the nature of justice, as a last hope, attempts to convince the Spanish court that they should seek justice on Horatio’s death. J. Marlowe adds that “Hieronimo, in fact, is the only character in the play who attempts to circumvent disaster by appeals to public law” (Marlowe). This is true and shows the reader that Hieronimo knows what is right. However, he has a hard time dealing with the King. He shouts out that he would “surrender up my marshalship;/ For I’ll go marshal up the fiends in hell,/ to...