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Apocalypse and Armada in Kyd's Spanish Tragedy.

Frank Ardolino's allegorical reading of Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy claims to uncover a biblical and historical subtext that has largely been lost to readers over the last four hundred years. Although The Spanish Tragedy could hardly avoid referring to England's conflict with Spain, even if written wall before 1588, Ardolino asserts that this revenge play symbolically reenacts a specific instance of divine retribution that (for Kyd and his audience) was carried out against the Spanish Armada by the English fleet off Calais. He consequently dates the play (first performed in 1592) as no earlier than 1588.

Ardolino's analysis brings an ingenious order to many of the play's perplexing turns, such as the tremendous bloodletting of the final scene, when Hieronimo not only avenges his son's murder but also kills the duke of Castile and stabs himself. But the worth of this study lies less in the force of its general argument than in its tremendously useful discussion of specific historical and biblical allusions. To offer but one example, Ardolino says that the play's obsession with revenge - brought out by the repetition of the word itself, by the character of Revenge, and by the general ethos of revenge - recalls Sir Francis Drake's flagship, Revenge, and so also its role in the defeat of the Armada. This reference is as difficult to prove as the parallels that Ardolino finds between Kyd's characters and the names of various English and Spanish ships (given that hundreds of vessels took part in the famous battle). Nevertheless, his analysis of the English revenge play within the context of the allegorical and biblical names that the English gave to their ships is highly suggestive.

The study, divided into two sections, "Apocalypse" and "History," addresses several levels of meaning in the play, first biblical and then historical. For Ardolino, Kyd justifies Hieronimo's acts of revenge primarily by syncretizing the classical concept of destiny and the Christian concept of divine providence. Senecan vengeance prevails, but in the guise of a modern Daniel (Hieronimo) who defeats a doomed Babylon (Spain). Ardolino also shows how the Protestant reading of the Book of Revelation might allow Kyd's audience to see Hieronimo not as a usurper of God's role but rather as a divine instrument in the struggle against the Antichrist.

The historical allusions that complement the Anglo-Spanish rivalry are more subtle than the biblical allusions because they entail a set of reversals, which in turn heighten the sense of revenge and irony. Ardolino observes how Hieronimo, before his playlet, alludes to three plots in which "the representatives of Antichrist triumph" (91): Nero's killing of the Pisonian conspirators, Lorenzo de' Medici's quelling of the Pazzi plot, and the Pads massacre of 1572 instigated by the Valois rulers of France. In avenging the death of his son, Hieronimo symbolically triumphs over these enemies of Christ and even turns their weapons against them, as when he, like Nero, kills his enemies when they are acting in a play.

At every step Ardolino demonstrates how the political and religious interpretations of the play complement one another. And yet I feel that the consequences of this dual reading do not receive the final reflection that they deserve. For many readers the study will succeed in its attempt to "restore the apocalyptic and historical meanings to The Spanish Tragedy" (166), but here the book ends with another assertion that the play was written after the defeat of the Armada. One misses the more interesting and even more compelling conclusions that Ardolino could draw from his important and provocative study.

GLEN CARMAN DePaul University
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Author:Carman, Glen
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1997
Words:596
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