An introduction to a classic revenge tragedy
The Spanish Tragedy is one of the lesser-known gems among surviving Elizabethan drama – at least, it’s less well-known than the works of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. Its influence on later plays in the ‘revenge tragedy’ genre was considerable – most notably, on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Indeeed, Kyd, who died shortly after being tortured for information about his friend Kit Marlowe, is the leading candidate for the authorship of the ‘Ur–Hamlet’, which served as the prototype for Shakespeare’s play. (We discuss the ‘two Hamlets’ in our book, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History.) What follows is a short introduction to the play, and an analysis of some of its themes and features. Those who wish to avoid spoilers of the play are advised to skip the next couple of paragraphs! Read the rest of this entry
An introduction to a classic play
Helen is not the most famous of Euripides’ plays, but it is one of the most curious – and it deserves close analysis and study. The play was first performed in 412 BC at that year’s City Dionysia. In summary, the plot of Helen turns on an old conspiracy theory first put forward by the ancient historian Herodotus: that ‘Helen of Troy’ was a mere phantom conjured by Hera, and that the real wife of Menelaus spent the duration of the Trojan War in Egypt, having been taken there by Hermes and kept safe out of harm’s way. (This is the basis of H. D.’s modernist epic poem Helen in Egypt (New Directions Books).) The Greeks and the Trojans both go to war over what is, effectively, an illusion. The goddess Hera is responsible for the phantom Helen and, therefore, the cause of the Trojan War: she’s seeking revenge on mortals over something called the Judgement of Paris.
Helen lives out seventeen long years in Egypt, chastely and loyally waiting for her husband Menelaus to come and fetch her. Like Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey, she refuses to accept that her husband is definitely dead and rejects the offer of marriage from the new king of Egypt, Theoclymenus. But he won’t wait forever. Read the rest of this entry
Fun facts about Shakespeare’s play
1. Shakespeare is thought to have based his play The Tempest on a real-life shipwreck. William Strachey’s A True Reportory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight, an account of his experience during the wreck of the ship Sea Venture on the island of Bermuda, was written in 1609, and many scholars believe that the Bard read this account and used it as inspiration for The Tempest. Read the rest of this entry