Thomas Kyd

Thomas Kyd

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Thomas Kyd was an English dramatist, the author of The Spanish Tragedy
The Spanish Tragedy
The Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronimo is Mad Again is an Elizabethan tragedy written by Thomas Kyd between 1582 and 1592. Highly popular and influential in its time, The Spanish Tragedy established a new genre in English theatre, the revenge play or revenge tragedy. Its plot contains several violent...

, and one of the most important figures in the development of Elizabethan drama.

Although well known in his own time, Kyd fell into obscurity until 1773 when Thomas Hawkins
Jim Hawkins
Jim Hawkins is a BBC radio presenter.-Personal:Hawkins was born in Essex and brought up there and in Warwickshire in England.-Career:...

 (an early editor of The Spanish Tragedy) discovered that Kyd was named as its author by Thomas Heywood
Thomas Heywood
Thomas Heywood was a prominent English playwright, actor, and author whose peak period of activity falls between late Elizabethan and early Jacobean theatre.-Early years:...

 in his Apologie for Actors (1612). A hundred years later, scholars in Germany and England began to shed light on his life and work, including the controversial finding that he may have been the author of a Hamlet play pre-dating Shakespeare's
Ur-Hamlet
The Ur-Hamlet is the name given to a play mentioned as early as 1589, a decade before most scholars believe Shakespeare composed Hamlet...

.

Early life


Thomas Kyd was the son of Francis and Anna Kyd and was baptised in the church of St Mary Woolnoth
St Mary Woolnoth
St. Mary Woolnoth is an Anglican church in the City of London, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, located on the corner of Lombard Street and King William Street near the Bank of England.- Early history :...

 in the Ward of Langborn, Lombard Street, London on 6 November 1558. The baptismal register at St Mary Woolnoth
St Mary Woolnoth
St. Mary Woolnoth is an Anglican church in the City of London, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, located on the corner of Lombard Street and King William Street near the Bank of England.- Early history :...

 carries this entry: "Thomas, son of Francis Kydd, Citizen and Writer of the Courte Letter of London". Francis Kydd was a scrivener
Scrivener
A scrivener was traditionally a person who could read and write. This usually indicated secretarial and administrative duties such as dictation and keeping business, judicial, and history records for kings, nobles, temples, and cities...

 and in 1580 was warden of the Scriveners' Company.

In October 1565 the young Kyd was enrolled in the newly founded Merchant Taylors' School
Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood
Merchant Taylors' School is a British independent day school for boys, originally located in the City of London. Since 1933 it has been located at Sandy Lodge in the Three Rivers district of Hertfordshire ....

, whose headmaster was Richard Mulcaster
Richard Mulcaster
Richard Mulcaster , is known best for his headmasterships and pedagogic writings. He is often regarded as the founder of English language lexicography.-Educational achievements:...

. Fellow students included Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser was an English poet best known for The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. He is recognised as one of the premier craftsmen of Modern English verse in its infancy, and one of the greatest poets in the English...

 and Thomas Lodge
Thomas Lodge
Thomas Lodge was an English dramatist and writer of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.-Early life and education:...

. Here, Kyd received a well-rounded education, thanks to Mulcaster's progressive ideas. Apart from Latin and Greek, the curriculum included music, drama, physical education, and "good manners". There is no evidence that Kyd went on to either of the English universities. He may have followed for a time his father's profession; two letters written by him are extant and his handwriting suggests the training of a scrivener.

Career


Evidence suggests that in the 1580s Kyd became an important playwright, but little is known about his activity. Francis Meres
Francis Meres
Francis Meres was an English churchman and author.He was born at Kirton in the Holland division of Lincolnshire in 1565. He was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he received a B.A. in 1587 and an M.A. in 1591. Two years later he was incorporated an M.A. of Oxford...

 placed him among "our best for tragedy" and Heywood elsewhere called him "Famous Kyd". Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...

 mentions him in the same breath as Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe was an English dramatist, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. As the foremost Elizabethan tragedian, next to William Shakespeare, he is known for his blank verse, his overreaching protagonists, and his mysterious death.A warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest on 18 May...

 (with whom, in London, Kyd at one time shared a room) and John Lyly
John Lyly
John Lyly was an English writer, best known for his books Euphues,The Anatomy of Wit and Euphues and His England. Lyly's linguistic style, originating in his first books, is known as Euphuism.-Biography:John Lyly was born in Kent, England, in 1553/1554...

 in the Shakespeare First Folio.

The Spanish Tragedie was probably written in the mid to late 1580s. The earliest surviving edition was printed in 1592; the full title being, The Spanish Tragedie, Containing the lamentable end of Don Horatio, and Bel-imperia: with the pittifull death of olde Hieronimo. However, the play was usually known simply as "Hieronimo", after the protagonist
Protagonist
A protagonist is the main character of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative's plot revolve and with whom the audience is intended to most identify...

. It was arguably the most popular play of the "Age of Shakespeare" and set new standards in effective plot construction and character development. In 1602 a version of the play with "additions" was published. Philip Henslowe
Philip Henslowe
Philip Henslowe was an Elizabethan theatrical entrepreneur and impresario. Henslowe's modern reputation rests on the survival of his diary, a primary source for information about the theatrical world of Renaissance London...

's diary records payment to Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...

 for additions that year, but it is disputed whether the published additions reflect Jonson's work or if they were actually composed for a 1597 revival of The Spanish Tragedy mentioned by Henslowe.

Other works by Kyd are his translations of Torquato Tasso
Torquato Tasso
Torquato Tasso was an Italian poet of the 16th century, best known for his poem La Gerusalemme liberata , in which he depicts a highly imaginative version of the combats between Christians and Muslims at the end of the First Crusade, during the siege of Jerusalem...

's Padre di Famiglia, published as The Householder's Philosophy (1588); and Robert Garnier
Robert Garnier
Robert Garnier was a French tragic poet. He published his first work while still a law-student at Toulouse, where he won a prize in the Académie des Jeux Floraux. It was a collection of lyrical pieces, now lost, entitled Plaintes amoureuses de Robert Garnier...

's Cornelia (1594). Plays attributed in whole or in part to Kyd include Soliman and Perseda, King Leir
King Leir
King Leir is an anonymous Elizabethan play about the life of the ancient Celtic king Leir of Britain. It was published in 1605 but was entered into the Stationers' Register on 15 May 1594...

, Arden of Feversham and Edward III
Edward III (play)
The Reign of King Edward the Third is an Elizabethan play printed anonymously in 1596. It has frequently been claimed that it was at least partly written by William Shakespeare, a view that Shakespeare scholars have increasingly endorsed. The rest of the play was probably written by Thomas Kyd...

. A play related to The Spanish Tragedy called The First Part of Hieronimo (surviving in a quarto of 1605) may be a bad quarto
Bad quarto
Bad quarto is a term and concept developed by twentieth-century Shakespeare scholars to explain some problems in the early transmission of the texts of Shakespearean works...

 or memorial reconstruction of a play by Kyd, or it may be an inferior writer's burlesque of The Spanish Tragedy inspired by that play's popularity. Kyd is more generally accepted to have been the author of a Hamlet, the precursor of the Shakespearean play (see: Ur-Hamlet
Ur-Hamlet
The Ur-Hamlet is the name given to a play mentioned as early as 1589, a decade before most scholars believe Shakespeare composed Hamlet...

). Some poems by Kyd exist, but it seems that most of his work is lost or unidentified.

The success of Kyd's plays extended to Europe. Versions of The Spanish Tragedy and his Hamlet were popular in Germany and the Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 for generations. The influence of these plays on European drama was largely the reason for the interest in Kyd among German scholars in the nineteenth century.

He is also the presumed author of a pamphlet in prose entitled The Murder of John Brewen
The Murder of John Brewen
The Murder of John Brewen is a pamphlet concerning the murder of a goldsmith by his wife. It is presumed to have been written by the Elizabethan playwright, Thomas Kyd .-Pamphlet writing:...

 (1592), a grisly report on murder in a family, in which a goldsmith is murdered by his wife.

Later life


From 1587 to 1593 Kyd was in the service of an unidentified noble, since, after his imprisonment in 1593 (see below), he wrote to have lost "the favours of my Lord, whom I haue servd almost theis vi yeres nowe". Proposed nobles include the Earl of Sussex
Henry Radclyffe, 4th Earl of Sussex
Henry Radclyffe, 4th Earl of Sussex, KG was an English peer.-Life:He was born in England to Henry Radclyffe, 2nd Earl of Sussex and Elizabeth Howard...

, the Earl of Pembroke
Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke
Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke KG was an English peer of the Elizabethan era.-Life:He was the son of William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke and Anne Parr. His aunt was queen consort Catherine Parr, last wife of King Henry VIII. Herbert was responsible for the costly restoration of Cardiff Castle...

, Lord Strange
Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby
Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby was the son of Henry Stanley, 4th Earl of Derby and Lady Margaret Clifford. According to the will of Henry VIII, his mother was heiress presumptive of Elizabeth I of England from 1578 to her own death in 1596...

, and the Earl of Oxford
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford was an Elizabethan courtier, playwright, lyric poet, sportsman and patron of the arts, and is currently the most popular alternative candidate proposed for the authorship of Shakespeare's works....

. He may have worked as a secretary, if he did not also write plays. Around 1591 Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe was an English dramatist, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. As the foremost Elizabethan tragedian, next to William Shakespeare, he is known for his blank verse, his overreaching protagonists, and his mysterious death.A warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest on 18 May...

 also joined this patron's service, and for a while Marlowe and Kyd shared lodgings, and perhaps even ideas.

On 11 May 1593 the Privy Council
Privy Council of the United Kingdom
Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, usually known simply as the Privy Council, is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign in the United Kingdom...

 ordered the arrest of the authors of "divers lewd and mutinous libels" which had been posted around London. The next day, Kyd was among those arrested; he would later believe that he had been the victim of an informer. His lodgings were searched and instead of evidence of the "libels" there was found an Arianist
Arianism
Arianism is the theological teaching attributed to Arius , a Christian presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of the entities of the Trinity and the precise nature of the Son of God as being a subordinate entity to God the Father...

 tract, described by an investigator as "vile heretical conceits denying the eternal deity of Jesus Christ found amongst the papers of Thos. Kydd (sic), prisoner ... which he affirmeth he had from C. Marley (sic)". It is believed that Kyd was tortured brutally to obtain this information. Marlowe was summoned by the Privy Council after these events, and, while waiting for a decision on his case, was killed in an incident involving known government agents.

Kyd was eventually released but was not accepted back into his lord's service. Believing he was under suspicion of atheism himself, he wrote to the Lord Keeper, Sir John Puckering, protesting his innocence, but his efforts to clear his name were apparently fruitless. The last we hear from the playwright is the publication of Cornelia early in 1594. In the dedication to the Countess of Sussex he alludes to the "bitter times and privy broken passions" he had endured. Kyd died later that year, and was buried on 15 August in London. He was only 35 years of age. In December of that same year, Kyd's mother legally renounced the administration of his estate, probably because it was debt-ridden.

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