Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio, The
Playlists in Henslowe's diary
Fol. 7 Greg I, 13
Res at spanes comodye donne oracoe the 23 of febreary 1591 ......................... xiijs vjd Res at the comodey of doneoracio the 13 marche 1591 ......................... xxviiijs Res at doneoracio the 30 of marche 1591 ......................... xxxixs
Fol. 7v Greg I, 14
Res at the comodey of Jeronymo the 10 of aprell 1591 ................................... xxviijs Res at the comodey Jeronymo the 22 of aprell 1591 .................................... xvijs Res at the comodey of Jeronymo the 21 of maye 1592 ................................... xxviijs
Fol. 8 Greg I, 15
Res at the comodey of Jeronymo the 20 of June 1592
Lord Strange's men performed "The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio" at the Rose in 1592. Its performances were woven into the run of Thomas Kyd's Spanish Tragedy, during which the two were paired four times (March 13 & 14, March 30 & 31, April 22 & 24,† and May 21 & 22. "The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio" was consistently scheduled first in the pairing. However, in December 1592, when Strange's men returned to the Rose, The Spanish Tragedy was continued in the repertory without "The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio."
†a day intervened, but that day was a Sunday, and no play was scheduled.
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
Scholars have broadly agreed that the narrative of "The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio" was (as the title implies) the backstory set up in the prologue to The Spanish Tragedy. See Critical Commentary, below.
References to the Play
Malone made no comment on "The Comedy of Don Horatio" (290), but Collier laid out the explanation that scholars accept today in various forms, namely that it and "Jeronymo" (first recorded by Henslowe on 14 March 1592) were "different productions" (21, n3). Collier was persuaded by the fact that "they were certainly sometimes performed on successive days," and he asserted further that "one [was] called the Spanish Tragedy, printed in, and before, 1599, and the other Jeronymo, printed in 1605" (21, n3). Fleay, BCED implied a far tighter relationship between Henslowe's "Comedy of Don Horatio" and The Spanish Tragedy, explaining that the "play" was appropriated "c. 1599" by "the Chapel boys," and "altered"; he thus "conveniently" called "the first part of Jeronymo, or The Spanish Comedy, as Henslow calls it" (2.30). Making evidence elastic, he perceived Henslowe's two plays as one, separating them post-599 because the children's version refers to "the hero ... as of low stature" (2.30).
Greg II agreed with Collier that "The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio" was "a fore-piece" to Kyd's Spanish Tragedy, but he did not think the play was "necessarily" Kyd's; he was skeptical also that this play was revised into The First Part of Jeronimo, offering as one reason that the childen's play was "certainly not a comedy" (#4, p. 150).
Boas thought a "natural inference" from Henslowe's entries was that "The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio" was "some humorous fore-piece which it was customary to produce by way of introduction to the principal play" (xli). He presumed that it was "from the hand of Kyd" (xli). He considered the equation of the fore-piece with the 1605 "First Part of Jeronimo" to "be an unqualified negative" (xli). One reason for his rejection is "that the episode of Andrea's and Bel-imperia's secret love and of Castile's explosion of wrath at its discovery must have been prominent in any fore-piece written by Kyd himself" (xlii).
Freeman called "The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio" a "companion piece" to The Spanish Tragedy (120). Following Boas, he rejected the identification of the companion piece with the 1605 "First Part of Jeronimo," but he found it "probable that the extant play represents a revision or rewriting of the original 'spanes commodye', and hence that it is fairly close, at least in plot, to the early fore-piece" (176). In addition, he challenged "a common interpretation" of the reference to a play called "Jeronimo" in the banter among players with the Chamberlain's/King's men in the prologue of The Malcontent as being a joke about the 1605 The First Part of Jeronimo; rather, he thought it was a reference to Kyd's tragedy because the name, Jeronimo, is not associated with "the perished fore-piece" in Henslowe's records (123). Freeman offered the following sequence of events: "at some time between 1600 and 1605, perhaps in conjunction with their theft of the main tragedy, the Children borrowed and burlesqued, or perhaps reconstructed, the original 'spanes comedye', and subsequently allowed their version to reach the press" as The First Part of Jeronimo (124).
Erne gives "The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio" more attention and credit than any previous scholar. He not only confidently attributes the play to Thomas Kyd but also considers its composition c. 1586 to have preceded that of The Spanish Tragedy (xv). He divides the commentary of previous scholars into two camps: those who believe that the plays Henslowe recorded in 1592 "form a two-part play by Kyd composed in the order in which the events are dramatised" and those who consider the 1605 play a later and "clumsy attempt by an anonymous and moderately gifted writer to make money from the popularity of The Spanish Tragedy" (16). He identifies with Camp #1, one member of which is Andrew S. Cairncross, who posited that the 1605 text was a memorial reconstruction of the lost play (Erne rejects this claim ). The key to Erne's claims about the lost play is the argument that the 1605 represents "two textual layers," one of which is "finely harmonized with the plot details of its sequel" (The Spanish Tragedy) whereas the other layer is "an intentional burlesque" (20). The 1605 play, he argues, is thus "a textually corrupt version of parts of Don Horatio" (20). The Kydian layer of the 1605 play affirms that Kyd produced "a large-scale two-part play of which more is extant than has hitherto been supposed" and equates Kyd with Christopher Marlowe in having "triggered the vogue for the contemporary two-part play" (20). In addition to dramatic action, Erne notes a thread in properties, particularly Bel-Imperia's scarf (26). Addressing the quip in the prologue of The Malcontent about the theft of "Ieronimo," Erne argues that the reference is to the lost first part, which at some point became "a Chamberlain's/King's play" (22). He provides a detailed analysis of the two layers of the 1605 play, thus identifying the characters and actions carried over from the lost play (23-9, 34-42; see also 114 n31, 138).
Manley and MacLean endorse Erne's analysis of the relationship of "The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio" to The Spanish Tragedy and the 1605 First Part of Jeronimo (they note in particular the appeal of "a key property," Bel-Imperia's scarf ). They agree also that the lost play with its second part offered "large-scale scenes of political pageantry, romance, and epic warfare" (83), and they extend this breadth to Strange's repertory as a "large-panel portrait of the contemporary Mediterranean world" (85). They itemize the plot elements of the lost play as follows: "the election and embassy of don Andrea, the lofe affair and final farewell of Don Andrea and Bel-Imperia, the confrontation of the two armies and Balthasar's heroic defiance of Don Andrea, Horatio's friendship with Don Andrea and Bel-Imperia, his attempt to rescue the doomed Don Andrea in battle, his capture of Balthasar, his quarrel with Lorenzo over that honor, and his performance of the funeral rites of Don Andrea" (83). Manley and MacLean mention but do not pursue Erne's deduction that the lost play found its way into the repertory of the Chamberlain's/King's men (73).
Wiggins, Catalogue #909 Skeptical of Erne's dissecting "The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio" from the 1605 the first Part of Jeronimo, Wiggins mentions a ballad sharing the narrative of The Spanish Tragedy as possibly reflecting material in the lost play.
For What It's Worth
How commercially viable was "The Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio"? The play was apparently not new when Henslowe first recorded its performances (nor was The Spanish Tragedy). Erne notes that it "was clearly less popular " than its second part because its "takings [were] more modest"; furthermore, it "disappeared from the repertoire" (15). Yet he also believes it had a later stage life with the Chamberlain's/King's men (22). Manley and MacLean give the lost play good commercial marks: it "ranked sixth in frequency of performance among plays mounted at the Rose by Lord Strange's Men; in terms of receipts, only seven other plays garnered Henslowe larger profits" (85).
Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 13 July 2020.