Absorbing Interests: Kyd's Bloody Handkerchief as Palimpsest.
After the Protestant Reformation took hold in England, many stage properties familiar from the drama of worship performed by urban trade guilds became politically and religiously suspect. While Elizabethan society debated whether theatrical representation was acceptable on the one hand or idolatrous on the other, Elizabethan authorities sought to curb the theatrical use of Catholic symbolism through legislation. Thus a letter dated 27 May 1576 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of York to the bailiff and burgesses of Wakefield decreed that "no Pageant be used or set furth wherin the Ma[jes]tye of God the Father, God the Sonne, or God the Holie Ghoste or the administration of either the Sacramentes of baptisme or of the Lordes Supper be counterfeyted or represented, or anythinge plaied which tende to the maintenaunce of superstition and idolatrie or which be contrarie to the lawes of god [and] or of the realme."(2) By 1580, the Corpus Christi play cycles had either withered away or been suppressed by the Elizabethan authorities, and with them vanished such formerly central properties as the eucharistic Host itself.(3)
Yet the Mass and its symbols did not fade from the awareness of early modern audiences once their overt representation was banned on the stage. The Elizabethan playwrights who wrote for a nascent commercial theater were eager to exploit the rituals of the old religion, although their aim was not necessarily the Reformist propaganda exemplified by Cromwell's aggressively polemical playwright, John Bale. While the political space for expressions of dissent was restricted, in the new economy of the sign developed by commercially-minded playwrights, radically different imaginative contracts with spectators drawn from all levels of society became necessary in order to build an audience largely made up of individual, urban ticket-buyers rather than regional communities united by civic and devotional concerns. And if the new commercial drama risked provoking the authorities by presenting religious material in verbal form, it could smuggle religious imagery and content onto the stage by appealing to the spectators' imagination and memory through gestures and physical objects.
Marvin Carlson's concept of "ghosting" offers a useful way of understanding the mechanism whereby the commercial Elizabethan drama invoked religious symbols and ideas that could no longer be directly represented on stage with impunity. Carlson reminds us that spectators bring associations from previous productions with them to the theater, and that these "ghosts" color their experience of the current performance.(5) When Elizabethan audiences saw Edward Alleyn play Christopher Marlowe's Faustus, for example, Alleyn's performance would have been "ghosted" by his previous appearances as Marlovian overreachers such as Tamburlaine and the Jew of Malta. According to Carlson:
In semiotic terms, we might say that a signifier, already bonded to a signified in the creation of a stage sign, is moved in a different context to be attached to a different signified, but when that new bonding takes place, the receiver's memory of the previous bonding remains, contaminating, or "ghosting" the new sign.(6)
One concrete example of such "ghosting" was the Elizabethan players' use of actual church vestments and properties for satiric ends. In one familiar example, Marlowe's Mephistopheles wears the robes of a Franciscan friar (and thus confirms the audience's presumed suspicion that all friars are devilish).
Another striking example, and the focus of this essay, is the device of the bloody handkerchief popularized by Thomas Kyd's spectacularly successful The Spanish Tragedy (1582-92). As it moves through the play, Kyd's bloody handkerchief invokes previous performances by bloody cloths, even as it weaves them into an original narrative. Indeed, at the play's climax the ghost in the bloody handkerchief's folds is the Host itself, the "Real Presence" of Christ's body as it was embodied in the sacrament of the eucharist and metonymically invoked by various sacred cloths on the late medieval stage. By the time of The Spanish Tragedy--set in a Catholic country loathed and feared by a great many in Kyd's audience--the Protestant Lord's Supper had replaced the Catholic Mass in the Anglican Church. The Host itself was officially understood to be a commemorative symbol and sign of Christ's spiritual presence in the sacrament rather than the transubstantiated body of Christ.(7) Meanwhile, the commercial Elizabethan playhouses filled a theatrical and spiritual void left by the suppression of the devotional Corpus Christi drama on the one hand and the rituals of the Catholic church on the other.(8)
By analyzing Kyd's subversion of a long tradition linking holy cloths and sacred blood in medieval drama, I wish to demonstrate that the bloody napkin is a ghostly palimpsest that absorbs meaning through intertextual borrowing as well as through fresh symbolic resonance. Further, I wish to argue that Kyd's appropriation of the handkerchief was not didactic, as has been argued by recent scholars of Reformation drama, but an opportunistic bid to recast the late medieval "contract of transformation" embodied by bloody cloth as an addictive "contract of sensation." But to understand Kyd's revision, we must first trace the property-cloth's origins back to the very beginning of liturgical drama.
Holy Cloths and Sacred Blood: The Medieval Heritage
He is not here, the sothe to say. --The Wakefield Play of the Resurrection
The first dramatic cloth on the English stage was the symbolic gravecloth (linteum) that provided ocular proof of Christ's resurrection at the climax of the Visitatio Sepulchri, the tenth-century Easter liturgical drama that reenacted the visit of the three Marys to Christ's tomb. In the case of the Regularis Concordia, a liturgical script prepared at Winchester by Saint Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, some time between 965 and 975 for Benedictine use in England, this property-cloth tangibly linked the Visitatio to three preceding ceremonies: the Adoratio, Depositio, and Elevatio. On Good Friday, a veiled cross or crucifix was gradually uncovered by two deacons before being laid on the altar and venerated by each member of the congregation in turn (Adoratio). The deacons then wrapped the cross in the linen cloth and "buried" it in an improvised "sepulchre," a part of the altar with a curtain stretched around it (Depositio). A "watch" was then posted to "guard" the tomb until the night of the Lord's resurrection; the cross was then "raised" on Easter Sunday before the congregation was admitted to Mass (Elevatio). After the Elevatio, the linen cloth was left behind on the altar for use in the drama that followed--possibly the earliest liturgical drama to be sung in English churches.(9)
According to the text of the Visitatio in the Regularis Concordia, as set down by Saint Ethelwold, the monk who represents the angel summons the three Marys to the altar by singing, "Come and see the place [where the Lord had been laid, alleluia.]" The written instructions then read:
Saying this, let him rise, and lift the veil and show them the place bare of the cross, with nothing other than the shroud in which the cross had been wrapped. Seeing which, let them set down in that same sepulchre the thuribles which they had carried, and let them take up the shroud and spread it out before the clergy; and, as if demonstrating that the Lord has risen and is not now wrapped in it, let them sing this antiphon: The Lord has risen from the sepulchre ... And let them lay the cloth upon the altar.(10)
In this liturgical drama, sung by the clergy in Latin at the end of matins on Easter morning, the linen cloth represents Christ's cerements. David Bevington notes that the ceremony is simple, "dramatic" only in the sense that it reenacts a biblical event: "the costumes are clerical, the simple hand props are ecclesiastical artifacts, and the `stage' is the choir and altar of the church."(11) Nevertheless, J. L. SWan highlights the dramatic importance of the shroud: "More than just to direct movement and gesture, Ethelwold's business with the property cloth causes it to acquire a symbolic quality and intensity. The magic cloth makes its point first when it is seen to be cast away and then when it is flourished."(12) Christ's "presence" is paradoxically demonstrated by his absence, which is symbolized by the metonymic piece of cloth.
The first substance absorbed by sacred cloth on the English stage is thus the "felt absence" of Christ's resurrected body.(13) The cloth is shown to the congregation as the culminating moment of a divine narrative known intimately by all present. It is a mnemonic device that reenforces a preexisting "contract of revelation": a belief in Christ's resurrection that is based on faith in the unseen. In a sense, the shroud is not "proof" at all. Rather, the shroud is the buffer between audience and player that signals the end of the story and the beginning of faith.
By the time of the vernacular Corpus Christi cycles in the fourteenth and early fifteenth century, which current scholarship suggests developed alongside the liturgical drama rather than evolving out of it, another, more explicitly magical cloth had appeared. Freed from the verbal constraints of the liturgy, which may have limited the expansion of the sung Latin drama, the urban play cycles enthusiastically elaborated on scripture by introducing apocryphal characters, properties, and dialogue. The Corpus Christi pageant of the Road to Calvary thus introduced the legendary figure of Veronica, who placed a cloth against Christ's face only to find it magically imprinted with Christ's features.(14) The "image" was of course prestained on the cloth, and in the Lucerne Passion play the Veronica actor repeats the action of visual display familiar from the liturgical drama by lifting the painted cloth toward the people.(15)
The Veronica cloth features in only two surviving English mystery cycle texts, York and N-Town, and Veronica herself appears only in the N-Town Passion Play II. On the way to Calvary, Jesus is met by Veronica, who admonishes the crowd:
Ah! you sinful people, why fare thus? For sweat and blood he may not see. Alas! holy prophet, Christ Jesus, Careful is my heart for thee. And she wipes his face with her kerchief.
Veronica, thy wiping does me ease. My face is clean that was black to see. I shall them keep from all mis-ease That looken on thy kerchief and remember me.(16)
Here the sacred cloth is not ocular proof of the Resurrection, as in the Visitatio. Veronicas napkin is a sacred relic, the very sight of which is said to ward off evil. Christ's sweat, blood, and dirt magically transform the handkerchief into an apotropaic talisman. The symbolic cloth that proposed a contract of revelation, based on the end of narrative and the beginning of faith, now proposes what may be called a "contract of transformation." When Jesus claims, "I shall them keep from all mis-ease/That looken on thy kerchief and remember me," he transforms the napkin from a representational prop to a supernatural relic worthy of veneration.
In the York Shearmen's Road to Calvary play, it is the third Mary who bears the relic that becomes imprinted with Christ's features:
Ah lord, give leave to clean thy face.... Behold! How he has shewed his grace, He that is most of main. This sign shall bear witness Unto all people plain, How God's Son here guiltless Is put to peerless pain.(17)
While the third Mary repeats the familiar gesture of visual display to the audience, the dramatic emphasis here (as elsewhere in the York cycle) is on Christ's human suffering as well as on the cosmic implications of his sacrifice. The precise substance the cloth "cleanses" is ambiguous (sweat? blood? dirt?) but clearly the result of acute physical suffering. To the medieval spectator, of course, the distinction between Christ's humanity and his divinity may not have registered, and the napkin would still have been understood as a comforting symbol of divine grace. Yet in the York Shearmen's play the handkerchief's significance cannot be separated from the corporeal extrusions of a body in pain, the very sight of which may have been interpreted as salvific.
Whether or not Kyd was aware of the Veronica cloth, which may have appeared in the York Cycle as late as 1569, he was also able to draw on the powerful religious overtones of stage blood. Clifford Davidson has argued that in the late medieval vernacular plays, stage blood was not sensationalized, as it was on the Elizabethan stage. Rather, the spectacle of stage blood offered the spectator an opportunity for devotional "ocular experience" whose effects were understood to be spiritually transformative.(18) "Such bloody and violent effects" argues Davidson, "were ... seen as indicative of the gift of grace to all humankind and as reflective of the saving power of the beloved Christ; hence that which for men and women of a later time would be unendurable would potentially have precipitated a deeply spiritual experience."(19) Even the fourteenth-century author of the antitheatrical Tretise of Miraclis Pleyinge admitted, "ofte sithis by siche miraclis pleyinge men and wymmen, seinge the passioun of Crist and of his seintis, ben movyd to compassion and devocion, wepinge bitere teris."(20)
As a potentially transformative sight, blood was continually displayed in the Corpus Christi plays. In York and N-Town, for example, Christ visibly sweats both water and blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the N-Town Passion Play II specifies that Christ should be stripped and beaten with whips "til he is all blody."(21) At one point in the Wakefield Scourging a torturer remarks, "Lett me rub on the rust, that the bloode down glide/As swythe."(22) By the time of his crucifixion, Christ's body was covered not only with blood and sweat but often with spittle and mucus as well; "I shall spitt in his face, though it be fare shining," remarks the same Wakefield torturer.(23) According to Davidson, "to devout viewers of the plays, or even to those less devout, the late medieval civic religious drama represented blood in these circumstances as sacred, not as the impure or polluted result of violence."(24) Christ's white leather garment (or "wounded" shirt at York) was visibly imbued with the miraculous traces of His sacred blood and thus worthy of veneration.(25) While many scholars have drawn attention to the ambiguity of blood symbolism in the later Middle Ages, the historical evidence on the whole substantiates Davidson's thesis that the mere sight of stage blood in late medieval Europe was understood by many to have curative and/or salvific powers.(26)
The bloody corpse of Christ and the linen burial shroud literally come together in the Corpus Christi Play of the Death and Burial. In the York Butchers' version, for example, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus remove Christ's body "Nowe blemisght and bolned with bloode" from the Cross, wrap it in the "sudarye" and entomb it in a sepulchre.(27) (Whereas the liturgical Depositio ceremony had taken place in a church, Bevington speculates that the Butchers' play may been staged "in a fixed location, with a number of simultaneously-visible scaffolds," since the action would have proved awkward if not impossible on a moveable pageant wagon.)(28) The wrapped body is anointed with ointments, and the kneeling men stress the salvific power of God's blood once more: "This Lorde so goode,/ That schedde his bloode,/He mende youre moode,/And buske on this blis for to bide!" (ll. 413-16).
The Corpus Christi Play of the Resurrection, which follows the Harrowing of Hell, then incorporates the Visitatio playlet virtually unaltered from its tenth-century form (apart from its translation into English). Thus in the Wakefield version the three Marys approach the sepulchre and encounter two white-robed angels, one of whom informs the women:
He is not here, the sothe to say, The place is voide therin he lay; The sudary here se ye may Was on him laide.(29)
As in the Visitatio, the cloth is displayed to the audience as ocular proof of Christ's Resurrection. This time, however, its folds have visibly contained not the metonymic substitutions of the Latin liturgical drama (the Cross, the Host) but the actual blood-soaked body of the player-Christ, who rose from the sepulchre just before the arrival of the Marys and proclaimed:
Behold my body, how Jues it dang With knottys of whippys and scorges strang! As stremes of well, the bloode out-sprang On every side ... The leste drope I for the[e] bled Might clens the[e] soyn-- All the sin the warld within If thou had done.(30)
No longer a blank cloth displayed to and by monastic clergy as a symbol of Christ's bodily absence, the Corpus Christi "sudarye" was a theatrical talisman elevated in the public gaze as a metonymic substitute for the Host. Like the sight of the elevated Host itself, the sight of the bloody cloth was now believed to "cleanse sin."(31) Unlike the Visitatio shroud, the miraculous Corpus Christi shroud heralded not only revelation but transformation, and this shift was reflected in its changed appearance. The unstained cloth offered to monastic brethren as symbolic "proof" of the Resurrection had now visibly absorbed the magical substance of Christ's blood. For many spectators, denied communion with their savior except for once a year and starved for tactile evidence of salvation, the bloodstained cloth might well have seemed to possess redemptive powers. And once the Corpus Christi plays dwindled--only a decade or so before Kyd's play packed the Rose playhouse--the comforting sight of "God's blood" must indeed have been a painfully felt absence.
Demystifying the Handkerchief: From Drama of Devotion to Drama of Iconoclasm?
Wee bee blynd [unless God] open our eyes, and take away the kercheefe or veyle that is before them, yea and give us a newe sight. --John Calvin(32)
What happened to the long theatrical tradition linking holy cloth to sacred blood once the Reformation reached England? Scholars have recently argued that in mid-sixteenth century England, a newly commercial "Protestant" drama severed the link between the stage and devotional "ocular experience" Drama dealing explicitly with religious and political matters was banned by the Proclamation of May 16, 1559, and the Corpus Christi plays were defunct by 1580. Stage blood continued to flow liberally in the Elizabethan playhouses as tragedians drew increasingly on Seneca (whose plays became newly available in complete English translation from 1581), but by the time of The Spanish Tragedy, stage blood had apparently lost its theological underpinning as an "ocular experience," the very sight of which had been considered salvific by late medieval spectators.
Protestantism's shift of emphasis from the priestly observance of the sacrament toward the spiritual state of the communicant led to a suspicion of the outer, material means of Christian ritual. In extreme cases, this meant the suspicion that all images--whether mental or physical--were idols.(33) For the reformers, the "idolatry" of theatrical representation (worship of the image) was eclipsed by the new "logolatry" (worship of the Word). Michael O'Connell summarizes this "sudden psychic revolution" against a complex of medieval religious practices (such as the cult of images, the sacraments, vestments, relics, and pilgrimage) as a shift from the "incarnationalism" of late medieval culture to "the textualization of God's body, the turning of the incarnation (and the devotions and ritual practices associated with it) from expression in physical and material ways to predominantly textual and verbal modes."(34) The theater came under attack because, from a phenomenological perspective, "[t]heatrical presence is not mere sign but a use of corporeality to `body forth' the fiction it portrays."(35) In other words, the very phenomenology of theater seemed to turn objects into idols, and a steady stream of antitheatricalist tracts accused the theater of doing just that.(36)
Paul Whitfield White concurs that debunking idolatry was a high priority for Puritan activists but conclusively demonstrates that, far from rejecting the drama outright (as O'Connell suggests), beginning with John Bale's virulently anti-Catholic plays in the 1530s, Protestant zealots embraced the drama as a potent didactic weapon in the fight against Papistry: "Well into the 1570s, we find Protestant religious drama calling for further religious reform within the Church of England, and as recent theatrical criticism has demonstrated, the more activist Protestants of later years employed the London playhouses to advance their own ideological interests."(37) At least until around 1580, many reformers believed that the theater--the very temple of idolatry--could be harnessed as a weapon to expose idolatry itself.
In Staging Reform, Reforming the Stage, Huston Diehl picks up the historical thread of White's argument and claims that London's public playhouses continued to be just such a tool of reform after 1580. She argues that Elizabethan playwrights such as Kyd and Shakespeare fomented a "drama of iconoclasm" which modeled new, "Protestant" ways of seeing for spectators s611 emotionally attached to the old religion. Like O'Connell, Diehl discerns a shift from the "purely bodily seeing" of the late Middle Ages to a "transcendent [or intellectual] kind of seeing" encouraged by the reformed church.(38) Diehl highlights this shift by contrasting the veneration of the Schone Maria of Regensburg, an image believed to possess curative and salvific powers, with the stripping of the altars under the Protestant King Edward VI, illustrated in the 1570 edition of John Foxe's Acres and Monuments. For Diehl, Foxe's hugely influential work "defines an emerging Protestant aesthetics, one that restrains the power of the image to elicit awe and wonder by forcing the spectator to become conscious about how it signifies."(39) According to Diehl, Elizabethan plays worked in very much the same way, demystifying the power of idolatrous images by exposing their potential to deceive the credulous onlooker.
Among the formerly totemic objects to come under reformist scrutiny was the handkerchief itself.(40) Reformation theologians debated whether such objects as Veronicas napkin and the handkerchiefs sent forth by Saint Paul to cure the sick (Acts 19:11-12) were magical totems or sacramental signs, and Calvin himself warned against fetishizing such handkerchiefs: "For which cause the Papists are more absurd, who wrest this place unto their relics; as if Paul sent his handkerchiefs that men might worship and kiss them in their honor; as in Papistry they worship Francis' shoes and mantle, Rose's girdle, Saint Margaret's comb and such like trifles."(41) According to Diehl, Calvin's project of demystifying sacred handkerchiefs found a theatrical parallel in plays such as The Spanish Tragedy and Othello, which dramatize the deceptiveness of supposedly "magical" handkerchiefs. For Diehl, the mutation of the handkerchief from magic totem to demystified sign recapitulates the story of holy objects in the first half of the sixteenth century. The "real presences" of the divine-made-visible in sacred images (the drama of devotion) are replaced by the "felt absences" of Protestant signs, which deliberately rupture the medieval bond between the visible and the invisible (the drama of iconoclasm). In Diehl's summary, "The handkerchief is thus a contested site in Reformation disputes about the nature, power, and validity of ocular proof. What is centrally at issue in the commentaries on Paul's handkerchiefs, as well as in popular devotion to relics like Veronicas and Abagarus's napkins, is the role of sight in the practice of faith."(42)
Without wishing to devalue Diehl's and O'Connell's provocative argument that a skeptical, "Protestant" mode of seeing purged an idolatrous "Catholic" one within a quarter of a century, I believe it more useful to see the two attitudes to sacred objects--as totemic "images" on the one hand and representational "signs" on the other--as extreme points on a continuum of audience reception at the most turbulent stage in English religious history. Within a single lifetime, England had gone from Catholicism within the Roman Church, to Catholicism without the Pope, to systematic reform under Edward VI, to Catholicism once more under Mary I, and finally to a moderate Protestantism under the Anglican compromise reached by Elizabeth. Indeed, the Lollard heresy demonstrated that conflicting understandings of the relationship between sign and signified were available to spectators at Mass, or at a miracle play, prior to the Reformation. This dissonance erupted into full-fledged semiotic crisis once Protestantism took hold in England.(43) It therefore seems to me implausible to argue that an audience attending Othello or The Spanish Tragedy would have emerged pondering the theological distinction between a divinely efficacious sign and an idolatrous fetish. Nor would instilling doctrinal correctness have been the primary intention of the playwright, whose continued employment by the company would largely depend on box-office receipts.
Instead, it is my argument here that Kyd exploited spectators' residual faith in magical handkerchiefs and longing for "ocular experience" by transforming the handkerchief from a token of all believers' salvation into a personalized fetish that embodies the principle of private vengeance ("Remember you must kill"). If by the late sixteenth century the holy sudarium of the Visitatio Sepulchri and the miracle-working Host of the Croxton Play of the Sacrament were long in the past, historical evidence suggests that many ordinary folk dung to their "magical" bits of cloth despite the inroads made by the reformed religion.(44) By introducing a bloody handkerchief into his revenge drama, Kyd deliberately exploited the medieval association between holy cloth and sacred blood --not in order to foment a "Protestant aesthetics," but to appropriate the object's power on behalf' of a newly invigorated professional theater freed from the orderly bureaucratic surveillance of a clerical hierarchy.
Kyd's Spanish Plays: The Bloody Napkin as Transgressive Spectacle
See here my show; look on this spectacle! --Hieronimo in The Spanish Tragedy
By comparison to its more famous cousin in Othello, the bloody handkerchief in The Spanish Tragedy has received very little critical attention, especially considering its originality. Perhaps the first bloody napkin on the commercial Elizabethan stage, the handkerchief occupies both parts of Kyd's story. When the two parts were performed in repertory, presumably the same property appeared in both plays.(45) In The First Part of Hieronimo, the handkerchief appears as the "scarf" which passes from Bel-imperia to Andrea to Horatio, and in The Spanish Tragedy, the scarf, now referred to as a "bloody napkin" passes from Bel-imperia to Horatio to Hieronimo. By turns failed love-charm, martial memento, and bloody revenge token, the property continually acquires new connotations for the spectator as it passes from hand to hand in performance. This cumulative absorption of meaning is augmented by moments at which the handkerchief metonymically invokes its medieval predecessors: the Corpus Christi Veronica cloth, the liturgical sudarium, and the Host itself. To understand how Kyd uses the handkerchief as a mobile "object lesson" intended to reshape the spectator's emotional response to a disturbingly familiar prop, we must trace the handkerchief's movement both in concrete stage space and through processual stage time.
Kyd's handkerchief first appears in The First Part of Hieronimo (c. 1582-92) as a scarf, which Bel-imperia gives to her beloved Don Andrea just before he joins battle with Portugal over its neglected tribute to Spain.(46) As she ties the scarf around his arm, Bel-imperia's stately couplets establish the silken scarf as a courtly love token and at the same time endow the favor with apotropaic powers:
Lend me thy loving and thy warlike arm, On which I knit this soft and silken charm Tied with an amorous knot: oh, may it prove Enchanted armor being charmed by love; That when it mounts up to thy warlike crest, It may put by the sword, and so be blest. (9.15-20)
Ironically, Bel-imperia's "enchanted" talisman fails in its mission. Although the Portuguese are defeated in battle, Andrea himself is slain, and his final words are a confident statement of immortality that can also be interpreted as an ironic comment on the charm's failed magic: "I keep her favor longer than my breath" (11.111). Andrea's pun foreshadows the literal and figural transferral of Bel-imperia's "favor" to his friend, Horatio.
Each time the property changes hands, its meaning for the spectator shifts. When Horatio discovers Andrea's body on the battlefield, he ties the now-bloody scarf about his own arm:
This scarf I'll wear in memory of our souls, And of our mutual loves; here, here, I'll wind it, And full as often as I think on thee, I'll kiss this little ensign, this soft banner, Smear'd with foes' blood, all for the master's honor. (11.164-68)
Horatio unwittingly appropriates Bel-imperia's pledge of love as a memento of male comradeship, and his erotic affection for "this soft banner" revises its formerly heterosexual valence.(47) (Interestingly, Horatio refuses to acknowledge that the scarf may contain Andrea's blood.) With the scarf attached to his own arm, Horatio visually becomes Andrea's surrogate in the eyes of the audience. Presumably he wears the token in the play's final scene when he is embraced by Andrea's ghost at the latter's funeral procession.
The two exchanges in 1 Hieronimo establish the scarf as an ambiguous prop whose meaning shifts according to the needs of the scene. In the first exchange, the unspotted scarf is an enchanted love token; in the second, the bloodied scarf is a homoerotic (or at least homosocial) memento. For the spectator the second meaning does not erase the first; rather, the repeated action of tying the scarf increases the property's dramatic interest. Further, the scarf perversely ironizes the meanings ascribed to it by the characters. Instead of "[e]nchanted armor" it becomes a bloody token of ignoble slaughter (Andrea is outnumbered and overrun). The scarf ominously absorbs blood instead of magic, and the repeated stage business of tying the scarf suggests that a similar fate awaits Horatio.
Thus far, it would appear that the handkerchief is being stripped of its prior thaumaturgic powers and hence (in Diehl's terms) demystified. Certainly, the contract of enchantment proposed by Bel-imperia's spell is strikingly negated by Andrea's death. Instead of the eternal contract of grace offered to the community of the faithful by such cloths as Veronicas napkin, we find ourselves caught up in a narrative contract whose outcome is uncertain. The result is both pleasurable dramatic irony (we know more than the characters about the fatal piece of cloth) and eager anticipation (we remain unsure how this napkin's story will end).
In The Spanish Tragedy the bloody sign on Horatio's arm serves as a constant visual reminder of Andrea, whose vengeful ghost (together with Revenge) acts as chorus throughout.(48) The play repeats 1 Hieronimo's courtly love exchange but with a significant difference: the prop is now stained with blood. Horatio explains to the bereaved Bel-imperia how Andrea's scarf came into his possession: "This scarf I pluck'd from off his lifeless arm, / And wear it in remembrance of my friend" (1.4.42-43).(49) As if aware of the erotic implications behind Horatio's action, Bel-imperia denies the possibility that Andrea would have given up the love token voluntarily:
I know the scarf, would he had kept it still! For had he lived, he would have kept it still, And worn it for his Bel-imperia's sake; For'twas my favor at his last depart. (1.4.44-47)
Bel-imperia then reappropriates the scarf as hers to give, offering the scarf a second time:
But now wear thou it both for him and me, For after him thou hast deserved it best. (1.4.48-49)
Despite her awkward disclaimer ("wear thou it both for him and me"), Bel-imperia elides the scarf's function as martial memento by inserting Horatio into the position of recipient formerly occupied by Andrea. Indeed, Bel-imperia has fallen recklessly in love with Horatio.
The staging of this scene, which closely parallels the exchange between Bel-imperia and Andrea in the earlier play, is ambiguous. Does Horatio merely point to the scarf on his arm, or does he try to hand it back to Bel-imperia, only to have her insist that he keep it? In either case, the token now becomes an unintentional emblem of Bel-imperia's faithlessness to Andrea. The contrast between the scarf's spotlessness in 1 Hieronimo and its soiled appearance in The Spanish Tragedy may carry sexual connotations.(50) Andrea's ghost confirms that his relationship with Bel-imperia was sexual ("In secret I possess'd a worthy dame" [1.1.10]), thereby ironizing the King's later reference to "Young virgins" (2.3.43) and Horatio's comparison of Bel-imperia to the unfaithful goddess Venus (2.4.33). In this scene, the bloodied, recycled scarf suggests that Bel-imperia herself is second-hand goods.
Yet the bloody token symbolizes not only furtive sexuality but impending disaster. During his tryst with Bel-imperia, Horatio is strung up in his father Hieronimo's arbor and stabbed by the jealous Balthazar, Bel-imperia's brother Lorenzo, and two confederates. The scene is iconic in at least two ways. The lovers' bower of bliss becomes a gibbet: J. L. Styan notes that "the rope and the knife used in that order [provide] a version of common hanging and drawing that anyone who paid a gruesome visit to Tyburn would recognize for its popular theatrical value."(51) Moreover, to a contemporary audience the hanging and stabbing of Horatio by four men, on an arbor-property designed to resemble a tree, may well have suggested the Crucifixion on the "tree" dramatized by the Corpus Christi Passion Plays. Thus in the York Crucifixion play, Christ is stretched with ropes to fit the incorrectly bored holes and crucified by four soldiers "symmetrically arranged at the four points of the Cross"; later, in the York play of Christ's Death and Burial, "The blind Longeus goes to Jesus and pierces his side with the spear, and suddenly gains his sight."(52) But whereas Christ's blood in the Corpus Christi play is both curative and salvific--the Centurion who witnesses the miracle instantly converts--Horatio's slaughter is merely a bloodbath. "These are the fruits of love" quips Lorenzo as the four confederates stab Horatio again and again while the horrified Bel-imperia, like the spectators, is forced to look on (2.4.55). In the starkest terms possible, the spectacle of stage blood is revised from a vehicle of spiritual renewal (modeled by the Centurion's reaction) to a vehicle of theatrical voyeurism (modeled by Bel-imperia's reaction).
As we have seen, the Corpus Christi "sudarye" in which Christ's body is wrapped becomes ocular proof of the Resurrection when it is discovered in the tomb. The Spanish Tragedy provides a parallel discovery scene when Hieronimo and his wife Isabella discover the "murd'rous spectacle" of their son's corpse hanging in the arbor (2.5.9). After cutting down his son's body and weeping over it, Hieronimo seizes on the object still attached to Horatio's lifeless arm:
See'st thou this handkercher besmeared with blood? It shall not from me till I take revenge. (2.5.51-52)
It is just possible that Hieronimo refers not to Bel-imperia's scarf but to some new property. Nevertheless, the description of the "handkercher" matches the silken scarf "Smeard with foes' blood" in 1 Hieronimo (11. 168), and it seems unlikely that a dramatist as savvy as Kyd would ignore the opportunity to ring the changes on a property already so resonant for the audience and visibly there for the taking. All Hieronimo must do is untie the freshly bloodied scarf from his son's arm, just as Horatio untied it from Andrea's in I Hieronimo--yet another opportunity for ironic visual parallelism. Once again, the love-charm presages doom for the character who picks it up.
If the Corpus Christi cloth suggests the "felt absence" of Christ's body in the tomb, Kyd's handkerchief is now literally imbued with the substance of Hieronimo's dead son:
Seest thou this handkercher besmeard with blood? It shall not from me till I take revenge. Seest thou those wounds that yet are bleeding fresh? I'll not entomb them till I have reveng'd. Then will I joy amidst my discontent; Till then my sorrow never shall be spent. (2.5.51-56)
Here the scene hinges on yet another visual allusion. As at a public execution, the actor playing Hieronimo dips the handkerchief in Horatio's wounds as he intones these lines, while Hieronimo's reference to the handkerchief together with a refusal to entomb his son's body suggests a new twist to the ancient cloth. On the one hand, Hieronimo's virtual canonization of his son invites us to see Horatio as a Christ-figure: Hieronimo describes the "harmless blood" dishonored within "this sacred bower" (2.3.29-27), and in the first addition of 1602 Hieronimo calls Horatio "pure and spotless" (2.5.). On the other hand, we witness the Knight Marshal of Spain preparing to embark on a very un-Christian vendetta against those whom God should punish. Kyd deliberately invokes the sudarium motif in order to subvert it; instead of a sacred relic promising divine salvation, in Horatio's hands the prop becomes a bloodthirsty revenge token that gives an unholy charge to the revenger's intent.(53)
Once Hieronimo dips the handkerchief in his son's blood and conceals it on his person in 2.5, the handkerchief makes no explicit appearance until 3.13. Pressed into hearing petitioners' suits, including that of an old man whose son has been murdered. Hieronimo identifies with the senex Bazulto and sees in the latter's grief a mirror for magistrates:
Oh my son, my son, O my son Horatio! But mine, or thine, Bazulto, be content. Here, take my handkercher and wipe thine eyes, Whiles wretched I in thy mishaps may see The lively portrait of my dying self. He draweth out a bloody napkin. Oh no, not this; Horatio, this was thine; And when I dy'd it in thy dearest blood, This was a token 'twixt thy soul and me That of thy death revenged I should be. (3.13.81-89)
Hieronimo seems surprised to discover the handkerchief in his own hand and takes the bloody token as a reproach: "See, see, oh see thy shame, Hieronimo!/See here a loving father to his son!" (3.13.95-96). The handkerchief reminds the audience, as well as Hieronimo, that the motor of the play is Hieronimo's thirst for vengeance; it is as if Hieronimo has forgotten the contract symbolized by the cloth. We cannot tell if the forgotten token is revitalized by Hieronimo's passion or vice versa.
In this scene, the handkerchief triggers a reversion from the Christian frame of the play thus far to the pagan cosmology of the play's Induction. Hieronimo envisages himself "[K]nock[ing] at the dismal gates of Pluto's court" to enlist Proserpine in his revenge cause (3.13.110), a cause Andrea's ghost has already informed us she supports (1.1.78 ff.). Hieronimo betrays his role as impersonal arbiter of justice and hallucinates that Bazulto is Horatio returned from the underworld. He descends into an animal fury and tears the petitioners' bonds with his teeth, seeming almost disappointed when they refuse to bleed. As a hinge between Christian and pagan frames of reference, Hieronimo's napkin anticipates Desdemona's exotic handkerchief in Othello, which introduces an eerie pagan coloring into the familiar Christian landscapes of that play.
Neither the magical totem conjured by Bel-imperia nor the ocular proof of divine grace embodied by the sudarium, Kyd's handkerchief thus far is a rifled love-charm and a stalled revenge token. But it is in the bloody finale to The Spanish Tragedy that Kyd's subversion of medieval tradition becomes most truly apparent. Hieronimo's masque of Soliman and Perseda ends with a deliberate parody of the traditional climax of the Mass: the Elevation of the Host. Having staged a murderous entertainment for the Kings of Spain and Portugal which dispatches their heirs, Hieronimo unveils "a strange and wondrous show besides" (4.1.181). Drawing a stage curtain, Hieronimo reveals Horatio's corpse hanging once again from the arbor-property: "See here my show; look on this spectacle!" (4.4.89).(54) Hieronimo's "show" is a theatrical coup that forces his shocked audience to recognize that the murders in the masque of Solimon and Perseda were in earnest.
Turning his son's corpse into an explicitly theatrical emblem, Hieronimo enacts a bloody parody of the Corpus Christi Passion Play. Before his captive audience, he demonstrates how "hanging on a tree I found my son,/Through-girt with wounds, and slaughter'd as you see" (4.4.111-12). Not content with displaying the body of the "Son," Hieronimo also elevates his blood. Brandishing the bloody handkerchief, Hieronimo travesties the ritual gesture of visual display common to the Mass and the religious drama of the sudarium:
And here behold this bloody handkercher, Which at Horatio's death I weeping dipp'd Within the river of his bleeding wounds: It, as propitious, see, I have reserved, And never hath it left my bloody heart, Soliciting remembrance of my vow With these, oh, these accursed murderers! Which now perform'd, my heart is satisfied. (4.4.122-29)
In Hieronimo's grasp the property becomes a fetish: the meaning of Horatio's corpse is reduced to and in some way replaced by a bloody piece of cloth. If Hieronimo's onstage audience watched the masque from the gallery situated above the doors in the tiring house wall (as Martin White suggests), Hieronimo must elevate the napkin toward the gallery with his back to the playhouse audience--just like a Catholic priest officiating at Mass.(55)
Through Hieronimo, Kyd transfers our attention from the body itself to the absorbing property in the actor's hand. Hieronimo thus arrogates to the theater the priest's power to orchestrate a spectacle in which the body is conjured by a metonymic object. In a theatrical sleight-of-hand, the prop replaces the corpse as our locus of visual and dramatic interest. Kyd implies that the power of the theater is the power of surrogation: the ability to spin out a potentially infinite chain of metonymic displacements that echo each other (Hieronimo's/Horatio's/Andrea's/Bel-imperia's handkerchief, Veronica cloth, sudarium, linteum, Host, Christ).(56) In the case of the handkerchief, the connecting thread is blood.
Hieronimo's sacrilegious perversion of the Mass no doubt played into Kyd's spectators' fear and loathing of Catholic Spain. Like Vindice's use of Gloriana's skull in The Revenger's Tragedy, Hieronimo's appropriation of his son's corpse as a theatrical device is shocking, even repulsive.(57) Kyd's transgressive emblem betokens neither salvation nor resurrection. Instead, the "buried" sudarium and Host of the liturgical ceremony are transmuted into a bloody prop and a rotting corpse, whose embarrassing material residue evokes what Stephen Greenblatt has called "the problem of the leftover, that is, the status of the material remainder" of bread and wine once the formula for consecration has been uttered.(58)
Huston Diehl also detects eucharistic satire in The Spanish Tragedy but locates it in the masque. For an Elizabethan audience, she argues, Soliman and Perseda would have been an object lesson on the theatrical meretriciousness of Catholic ritual: "By mystifying and privileging spectacle, literalizing mimetic action, and displaying `real' bodies and blood, the play-within-the-play manifests the very qualities of the Roman Mass that the Calvinist reformers condemn when they complain that `of the sacrament' the papists `make an idol; of commemoration make adoration; instead of receiving, make a deceiving; in place of showing forth Christ's death, make new oblations of his death' (Foxe 5:303)."(59) Yet aside from the fact that Hieronimo's deployment of his "props" provides a more blatant parody of Catholic ritual than his murderous playlet, Diehl's belief that the masque models "true" Protestant seeing by dramatizing its opposite underestimates the shocking immediacy of Kyd's bloody spectacle. The spectator is far more likely to be swept up in the deadly action of the masque than to be busy deconstructing its theatricality. Moreover, instead of confronting the artificialty of the masque, through dramatic irony the offstage audience is made aware that the stage action is real. Lorenzo, Balthazar and the rest are murdered, even as the courtly audience applauds the actors' masterly execution. Whereas Diehl claims that Soliman and Perseda mimics the very qualities of the Mass condemned by the reformers, it actually reverses them. For the reformers, the Mass passes off the sign (Host) as the thing itself (the Body of Christ), whereas Hieronimo disguises the thing itself (murder) as a sign (masque).
One likely index of Kyd's intended effect on the spectator is the reaction of Andrea's ghost. Rather than being purged by this tragedy of blood, he becomes addicted to its sensationalism. "Ay, these were spectacles to please my soul," Andrea comments, after summarizing each murder with relish (4.5.12). Like any other spectator, the ghost has become swept up in the action; indeed, Andrea has discovered a taste for blood and forgotten that all he desired at first was revenge against Balthazar alone (just as the spectator may have forgotten this original impulse for revenge). Reveling in the deaths of the good as well as the bad, Andrea appoints himself judge of the underworld and sadistically rehearses the various tortures drawn from pagan mythology that lie in store for Lorenzo, Balthazar, and the rest. No Christian redemption awaits these fallen creatures, only the "endless tragedy" promised by Revenge in the play's last line (4.5.48). Andrea's response to tragedy is not catharsis, but a thirst for more bloodshed. Kyd sardonically anticipates the reaction of his own spectators, who (judging by the genre's ensuing popularity) left The Spanish Tragedy with an unrestrained appetite for revenge tragedy.(60)
The Spanish Tragedy's handkerchief is no demystified idol, but a fetish endowed by Hieronimo with new and appalling life. Despite the inroads against idolatry made by Protestant reformers, Kyd's handkerchief--stripped of its prior thaumaturgic power, perhaps, but magic in a new way--celebrates the enduring capacity of theatrical objects to seduce audiences through an apparently limitless series of metonymic substitutions. Kyd exploits a received visual language (the Elevation of the Host, the ocular proof of the sudarium) for his own sensational ends. The old symbols are stripped of their former theological efficacy, but--much like a painted-over rood screen--the old Catholic imagery bleeds through. For Kyd, it was necessary to travesty sacred objects in order to reclaim them for his sensational theater. Through the figure of Hieronimo, Kyd thrusts his bloody "spectacle" in the face of those Puritans who would condemn theater as a temple of idolatry.
Of course, we will never know exactly how Elizabethan spectators reacted to Kyd's tragedy. A given playwright can only propose a particular theatrical contract--in this case, what I have called a contract of sensation, as opposed to the contracts of revelation and transformation proposed by the sight of sacred cloth on the medieval stage--and it is for the individual spectator to accept or reject that contract. What we do know is that The Spanish Tragedy and its successors (including Hamlet) were immensely popular, suggesting that Andrea's addictive response proved contagious. While it is possible that some of The Spanish Tragedy's spectators left the playhouse with their suspicion of "Papist" idolatry confirmed, it is far more likely that Kyd's theatrically absorbing handkerchief thrilled its audience and left it thirsting for fresh blood.
Such a hypothesis seems confirmed by the slew of bloody handkerchiefs on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage that followed in Kyd's wake.(61) Indeed, the holy figure embedded in the cloth still occasionally rises to the surface, and as ocular proof I close with an image from our own day. In John Pielmeier's Agnes of God (1982), a commercially successful attempt to revive the medieval genre of the saint's play, the pregnant nun Agnes "presents a hand wrapped in a bloody handkerchief" as evidence of her stigmata.(62) One last time, rising like a phoenix, the bloody piece of linen is displayed to an astonished audience as a spectacular sign of the phantom beneath the cloth.
(1) Samuel Beckett, Endgame, in The Complete Dramatic Works (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1986), 134.
(2) Cited in Louis Montrose, The Purpose of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan Theatre (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 25.
(3) Among the last recorded dramatic appearances of the Host was during a scurrilous "mock mass" performed for Queen Elizabeth at Hinchenbrook in 1564, in which a Cambridge student portrayed a Marian bishop as a dog with the Host in his mouth. On this occasion, the anti-Catholic satire backfired: despite her Reformist sympathies, the Queen was so angry at the students' temerity in presuming to instruct her that she stormed out. See Paul Whitfield White, Theatre and Reformation: Protestantism, Patronage, and Playing in Tudor England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 107.
(5) Marvin Carlson, "invisible Presences-Performance Intertextuality," Theatre Research International 19 (1994): 111-17. While Carlson is mostly concerned with the intertextual ghosting which haunts the work of famous actors and directors, he notes: "Since every physical element of a production can in fact be recycled in other productions, however, one could extend the workings of `ghosting' upon audience reception throughout the production apparatus" (114).
(6) Marvin Carlson, "The Haunted Stage: Recycling and Reception in the Theatre," Theatre Survey 35, no. 1 (May 1994): 12.
(7) According to John Stow's Abridgement of the English Chronicle (1618), "The 24 of June  the Book of Common Prayer was established, and the Mass dean suppressed in all Churches." Cited in The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt (New York and London: W. W. Norton and Company, 1997), 3365.
(8) This argument is persuasively put forward by Louis Adrian Montrose, "The Purpose of Playing: Reflections on a Shakespearean Anthropology," Helios 7, no. 2 (1980): 51-74. See also Stephen Greenblatt, "Shakespeare and the Exorcists" in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, ed. Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartmann (New York and London: Methuen, 1985), 163-187, esp. 181-82.
(9) According to Rosemary Woolf, The English Mystery Plays (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), 7, these ceremonies originally involved burying and raising a consecrated Host instead of a cross and may have evolved out of the custom of "reserving" the Host from Maundy Thursday for use in communion on Good Friday.
(10) "The Visit to the Sepulchre (Visitatio Sepulchri)," in Medieval Drama, ed. David Bevington (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975), 28.
(11) Ibid., 24.
(12) J. L. Styan, The English Stage: A History of Drama and Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 12.
(13) I borrow this useful phrase from Bianca in Othello, who on seeing the exotic handkerchief in Cassio's possession remarks, "To the felt absence now I feel a cause" (3.4.176). Othello, ed. Norman Sanders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).
(14) Woolf, The English Mystery Plays, 403, note 60: "The incident is included in the three great French Passions and [Emile] Male argues that these dramatic representations account for the sudden appearance of St. Veronica in late medieval iconographic representations of the road to Calvary (L'art religieux de la fin du moyen age, 64). The handkerchief bearing the face of Christ appeared amongst the instruments of the Passion; cf. Early English Text Society 46, 170-3."
(15) "Then he [the actor playing Jesus] takes from her hand the cloth, on which a `veronica' is to be painted, presses it to his face, and gives it back to her. Then Veronica lifts up the outspread cloth towards the people." These stage directions are cited in The Staging of Religious Drama in Europe in the Later Middle Ages: Texts and Documents in English Translation, ed. Peter Meredith and John E. Tailby (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1983), 124.
(16) The Corpus Christi Play of the English Middle Ages, ed. Reginald Thorne Davies (Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman & Littlefield, 1972), 306.
(17) The York Cycle of Mystery Plays: A Complete Version, ed. J. S. Purvis (New York: Macmillan, 1957), 277-78. Clifford Davidson, Technology, Guilds, and Early English Drama (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996), 73, offers a fascinating description of the "shearing" process perfected by the York guild, in which the trampled, stretched, and teaseled cloth was clipped with cropping shears to produce a soft, even fabric. In their play, the Shearmen were not only dramatizing a historic miracle but advertising their latest technology. Davidson also notes that although Veronica does not appear in the play, the role is listed in the York Ordo Paginarum of 1415, which predates the extant text by about thirty years.
(18) Clifford Davidson, "Sacred Blood and the Late Medieval Stage," Comparative Drama 31 (1997): 436-58. Davidson borrows the phrase "ocular experience" from Peter Travis, Dramatic Design in the Chester Cycle (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 15-19.
(19) Ibid., 448.
(20) A Tretise of Miraclis Pleyinge, ed. Clifford Davidson (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1993), 98.
(21) "The Passion Play II (N Town)," in Medieval Drama, 534.
(22) "The Scourging (Wakefield)," in Medieval Drama, ll. 137-38.
(23) Ibid., l.72.
(24) Davidson, "Sacred Blood," 451.
(25) Martin Stevens, "Illusion and Reality in the Medieval Drama," College English 32 (1971): 456, notes: "Jesus wears the conventional white robe until the Passion, when he is clad in purple. The stage direction in the Ludus Coventriae tells us specifically that the torturers pull off `[t]he purpyl cloth and don on A-geyn his owyn clothis' (31/677f.), which, in a previous stage direction, were identified as white (30/465f)." Stevens quotes from Ludus Coventriae, ed. K. S. Block, E.E.T.S. (E.S.) 120 (London: Oxford University Press, 1922).
(26) See especially Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 64-65; Jody Enders, "Emotion Memory and the Medieval Performance of Violence," Theatre Survey 38, no. 1 (1997): 139-60; John Spalding Gatton, "`There must be blood': mutilation and martyrdom on the medieval stage," in Violence in Drama, ed. James Redmond, Themes in Drama Ser. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 79-91; Victor I. Scherb, "Violence and the social body in the Croxton Play of the Sacrament," in Violence in Drama, 69-78; Claire Sponsler, Drama and Resistance: Bodies, Goods, and Theatricality in Late Medieval England, Medieval Cultures Ser. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 136-60; and Peter W. Travis, "The Social Body of the Dramatic Christ in Medieval England," Early Drama to 1600 (Acta 13), ed. Albert H. Tricomi (State University of New York at Binghampton: The Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1987), 17-36.
(27) "Christ's Death and Burial (York)," in Medieval Drama, ll. 370, 387-390.
(28) Bevington, Medieval Drama, 580.
(29) "The Resurrection of the Lord (Wakefield)," in Medieval Drama, ll. 388-391.
(30) Ibid., ll. 274-277, 300-303.
(31) On the belief--widespread from the thirteenth century--that seeing the elevated Host was a "second sacrament," alongside receiving, see Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast, 54-55.
(32) John Calvin, The sermons of M. John Calvin upon the Epistle orS. Paul to the Ephesians (1577). Cited by Huston Diehl, Staging Reform, Reforming the Stage: Protestantism and Popular Theater in Early Modern England (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), 142.
(33) Thus the iconoclast William Perkins warns, "A thing fained in the mind by imagination is an idoll." William Perkins, "A Warning Against the Idolatrie of the Last Times," in The Works of the Famous and Worthie Minister of Christ in the Universitie of Cambridge, M. William Perkins (Cambridge, 1612-13), 1:676. Cited by James R. Siemon, Shakespearean Iconoclasm (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 45.
(34) Michael O'Connell, "God's Body: Incarnation, Physical Embodiment, and the Fate of Biblical Theater in the Sixteenth Century," in Subjects on the World's Stage: Essays on British Literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. David G. Allen and Robert A. White (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1995), 62-87; 63.
(35) Ibid., 64.
(36) "The consciousness of the Elizabethan Reformers had been formed by a deep anxiety about the possibility of seeing a god within the physical presence of a statute or painting; such a mode of seeing was for them the very essence of idolatry. The suggestion that the creation of presence is precisely the work of theater thus raises the analogous possibility of idolatry, especially in the context of theater representing sacred narrative." Ibid., 65.
(37) White, Theatre and Reformation, 4.
(38) DieM, Staging Reform, Reforming the Stage, 9-39.
(39) Ibid., 38.
(40) "It is in the discourse of the reformers that the magical becomes inextricably linked to the strange and the feminine, identified with error and superstition, and repudiated as witchcraft. And it is in the discourse of the reformers that holy images and sacred relics beloved and worshiped by the populace, including numerous well-known handkerchiefs, are systematically and relentlessly demystified." Ibid., 130.
(41) John Calvin, Commentary on Acts, quoted by Diehl, 132-33.
(42) Ibid., 133.
(43) See Claire Sponsler, "The Culture of the Spectator: Conformity and Resistance to Medieval Performances," Theatre Journal 44 (1992): 15-29.
(44) See Gall McMurray Gibson, The Theater of Devotion: East Anglian Drama and Society in the Late Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 51-65.
(45) Henslowe's Diary indicates that a performance of The Spanish Tragedy was immediately or very closely preceded by a performance of "spanes comodye donne oracoe" on five occasions in 1592 (March 13, 14, 30, 31; April 10, 14, 22, 24; May 21, 22). See Andrew S. Cairncross, Introduction, [The Spanish Comedy, or] The First Part of Hieronimo and The Spanish Tragedy [or Hieronimo is Mad Again] (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), xiv-xv. I accept Cairncross' contention, xix, that "1 Hieronimo is a memorial version [of] a longer good text by Kyd, The Spanish Comedy, which preceded The Spanish Tragedy and combined with it to form a two-part play." All citations to Kyd's Spanish plays are to Cairncross' edition and are cited by scene (or act) and line parenthetically in my text.
(46) I accept J. R. Mulryne's tentative identification of Bel-imperia's "scarf" with Horatio's bloody napkin in Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy, ed. J. R. Mulryne (New York: Hill & Wang, 1970), 24. Mulryne glosses Hieronimo's word "handkercher" as "handkerchief, small scarf."
(47) In The Spanish Tragedy, Horatio will describe the comrades' friendship in terms that suggest an Achilles-Patroclus relationship:
I took him up and wound him in my arms, And welding him unto my private tent, There laid him down and dew'd him with my tears, And sighed and sorrowed as became a friend. (1.4.34-37).
(48) Since the handkerchief and Andrea himself are both present on stage for much of the time, Andrea's blood and body are weirdly bifurcated yet simultaneously staged. Compare the play's final, uneasy double focus on Horatio's hanging corpse and the bloody handkerchief in his father's hand.
(49) Horatio's explanation to Bel-imperia has the added explicatory function of filling in those spectators at The Spanish Tragedy who may be unfamiliar with 1 Hieronimo. The scene thus implies two different yet simultaneous narrative contracts: one for those who know that the scarf was given to Andrea by Bel-imperia, and one for those (like Horatio himself) who do not. Presumably the pleasure of being "in the know" may have stimulated repeat attendance at the play.
(50) Compare the sleeve offered by Troilus to Cressida and later given by Cressida to Diomedes in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. (Although Troilus determines to bloody the favor worn in Diomedes' helmet, as with so much else in the play this threat is never realized.) The soiled handkerchief as an emblem of sexual consummation runs from The Spanish Tragedy through Othello all the way to August Strindberg's Miss Julie (1888).
(51) Styan, The English Stage, 113-15. Styan adds: "The property `arbour' was probably an arch of lattice (decorated with leaves and looking a bit like the `tree' referred to later in the play), sturdy yet portable for convenient hangings; it possibly did double duty when Pedringano was hanged in 3.6. Such a prop is sketched on the title-page of the edition of 1615, where Hieronimo from his bed finds Horatio hanging, while Bel-imperia is pulled away by Lorenzo in a mask," 115.
(52) In Medieval Drama, 572; 589.
(53) On the complex Elizabethan attitude toward the code of blood-revenge, as against the Christian injunction against vengeance ("Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord"), see Fredson Thayer Bowers, Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy 1587-1642 (1940; reprint, Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1959), 1-40.
(54) The arbor-property may double as a gallows to hang Pedringano in 3.6, cementing its association with death. It appears yet again as the "bower" in Hieronimo's garden in 4.2, when Isabella strips its branches and leaves before she stabs herself; it is then moved into place behind the curtain Hieronimo knocks up at the top of the next scene, ready for the discovery of Horatio's body at 4.4.88 where the stage direction reads, "Shows his dead son."
(55) Martin White, Renaissance Drama in Action: An Introduction to Aspects of Theatre Practice and Performance (London: Routledge, 1998), 120.
(56) In my thinking about surrogation, I am especially indebted to Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996). Roach's notion of the effigy, an object (or actor) that "fills by means of surrogation a vacancy created by the absence of an original" and "hold[s] open a place in memory into which many different people may step according to circumstances and occasions," applies beautifully to the bloody handkerchief, 36.
(57) There is even a touch of Tourneuresque black humor: the fact that Hieronimo has "reserved" the "propitious" handkerchief recalls the liturgical practice of "reserving" the consecrated Host for Easter communion.
(58) Stephen Greenblatt, "Remnants of the sacred in Early Modern England," in Subject and Object in Renaissance Culture, ed. Margreta de Grazia, Maureen Quilligan, and Peter Stallybrass, Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture Ser. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 337-45.
(59) Huston Diehl, "Observing the Lord's Supper and the Lord Chamberlain's Men: The Visual Rhetoric of Ritual and. Play in Early Modern England," Renaissance Drama n.s. 22 (1991): 162. Diehl quotes from The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe, ed. Stephen Reed Cattley (London: 1837-41).
(60) In direct contrast, Diehl, "Observing the Lord's Supper," 164, argues that "Kyd's audiences have learned to distrust spectacles of blood."
(61) Bloody handkerchiefs subsequently appear in John Lyly's The Woman in the Moon (1594-97), the anonymous A Warning for Fair Women (1596-1600), Shakespeare's 3 Henry VI (1590-91), As You Like It (1599-1600), Othello (c. 1603), and Cymbeline (1609-10), Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher's Cupid's Revenge (1608), John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (1612), and Sir John Denham's The Sophy (1641). On the Restoration stage, the bloody handkerchief featured in three gory tragedies, Nathaniel Lee's Caesar Borgia (1679), John Banks' Vertue Betray'd (1682), and Colley Cibber's Xerxes (1699), before being mocked as a stage cliche in Sir John Vanbrugh's The Mistake (1705). In the Georgian era, the handkerchief's contract of sensation was eclipsed by a contract of sentiment: Georgian audiences evidently preferred their "tragedy handkerchiefs" drowned in tears rather than in blood.
(62) John Pielmeier, Agnes of God (Garden City, New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1982), cited by Gatton, "`There must be Blood,'" 89. I am grateful to Gatton's article for bringing the play to my attention.
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|Title Annotation:||Thomas Kyd|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2000|
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