Spanish Tragedy

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Revenge and Justice
"Vengeance is mine; I will repay, sayeth the lord" (Romans.xii.19). This Bible verse is quoted by Hieronimo in Act III, scene xiii, and it can be said to epitomize the official Elizabethan attitude toward revenge: that it is something that should be left to God. But this position is silent on the relationship between revenge and justice, which are are identified with each other throughout the play—Hieronimo makes the connection explicitly several times, and revenge is officially sanctioned by Proserpine (Persephone), the Queen of the Underworld, in the play's opening scene. Revenge should be performed by God (or the State, which derived its power from God), but it still needs to be performed. This is the presupposition that underlies Hieronimo's doubts whether the Heavens (and God) are in fact just, which are doubts he expresses after the murder of his son and the apparent escape of his murderers. This link between revenge and justice also explains why, in III.xii, and IV.i, Hieronimo decides to revenge Horatio's death himself and why he interprets Bel-Imperia's offer of help as a sign that Heaven favors his decision. Hieronimo may here consider himself the agent of the divine vengeance that a just God must bring against his son's murderers, the man chosen by God to revenge Horatio's death. His act would thus be a service to God and not an usurpation of God's role.
There is, unquestionably, doubt in the audience's mind as to whether Hieronimo is right, and a similar ambiguity is felt toward other cases of revenge in the play as well—Andrea's and Bel-Imperia's, for example. Exactly what deaths should be revenged and who should do the revenging were topical questions for Elizabethans, who were living in a time when the Elizabethan state was bringing a centuries-old tradition of private revenge in England under control. It was also a state whose preachers advised leaving revenge to God, while at the same time describing the horrible

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