Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Spam Fantastic

I just read yesterday about the phenomenon of "empty" spam: spam that contains large chunks of literature (generally of the 18th-century variety) to slip past filters. Lo and behold, today it happens to me! In a solicitation for Mr. Clean's Magic Erasers, I received the synopsis of what seems to be a blood-and-guts Spanish tragedy. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what play this could be?
Act I, Scene i Don Andrea, a Spanish courtier, has been killed in battle against the Portuguese. His soul is brought out of oblivion by Revenge to witness the death of his killer, Balthazar, at the hands of his lover, Bel-Imperia. Act I, Scene ii A Spanish General describes the battle, in which the Spaniards were victorious, to the King of Spain. Lorenzo and Horatio bring Balthazar as a captive before the King who says that he shall be treated with honour. There is debate between Lorenzo and Horatio as to who took Balthazar captive. The King decrees that Lorenzo shall have Balthazar's weapons and horse, and that Horatio shall have the ransom. He places Balthazar in Lorenzo's charge. Balthazar asks Horatio to keep him company. Act I, Scene iii The Portuguese Viceroy learns that Balthazar has not been killed in the battle, but taken prisoner. Villuppo claims that Alexandro tried to kill Balthazar which caused the Portuguese rout. The Viceroy has Alexandro led away, while Villuppo hopes to benefit through his deception. Act I, Scene iv Horatio tells Bel-Imperia about Andrea's death. Bel-Imperia transfers her affections to Horatio and have her revenge on Balthazar. Lorenzo and Balthazar come across her. Balthazar is in love with Bel-Imperia and there is witty, but pointed by-play between them. Bel-Imperia drops her glove which is retrieved by Horatio who reports that the King and Portuguese Ambassador are coming. Hieronimo, Horatio's father, arrives with a dumb-show which he explains as England triumphing over Spain. The Ambassador interprets this as a warning to the King for Spain not to be too proud after the victory. Act I, Scene v Andrea complains that all he has seen is Balthazar having a good time. Revenge assures him that it will not last.
...Act IV, Scene i Bel-Imperia claims that Hieronimo is not doing anything to avenge Horatio. He already has a plan in mind. Lorenzo and Balthazar enter. As one of the entertainments for the wedding, Hieronimo intends for them to act in a play about Erasto, the Knight of Rhodes, with each of them taking a part, and each speaking a different language. Act IV, Scene ii A distraught Isabella enters. She kills herself. Act IV, Scene iii A brief scene in which Hieronimo is preparing for the play. Act IV, Scene iv The play is acted before the King and Viceroy. In the guise of the Turkish emperor's lieutenant, Hieronimo stabs Lorenzo who is playing Erasto the Knight of Rhodes. Bel-Imperia, as Perseda, stabs Balthazar (the Turkish emperor) and then herself. Hieronimo reveals the truth and tries to kill himself, but is arrested. The King threatens to torture Hieronimo into telling him who his co-conspirators were, but Hieronimo bites out his own tongue. He then stabs the Duke of Castile and kills himself. Act IV, Scene v Andrea is now satisfied and the dead are all given their just rewards. Lorenzo, Balthazar, Pedringano and Serberine will all be punished suitably, as will the Duke of Castile.

Pretty lurid stuff! An honorable mention goes to the reader who does my Google work for me.

AND the Honorable Mention goes to: both A Philosopher and Bernard Brandt, who inform me that this is none other than Thomas Kyd's A Spanish Tragedy (seems I wasn't far off in my guess!). I've shortened the synopsis accordingly.


Anonymous said...

"The Spanish Tragedy", by Thomas Kyd. Great stuff, including a play-within-a-play conceit a few years before Hamlet. Not up to the luridness level of Pynchon's "The Courier's Tragedy", though.

Bernard Brandt said...

Damn! Beaten to the punch. Yes, "A Spanish Tragedy", by Thomas Kyd. But can you quote the reference to the "Tragedy" in T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land"?

mrsdarwin said...

You're both the man. Thanks to both of you! I wonder if the spammer even knew what he was sending? I might have to find "The Courier's Tragedy" and re-read The Waste Land -- the latter will be easier than the former as it's already on my bookshelf.

Anonymous said...

Going by the names, I would guess it's "Hieronymo's mad againe" in What The Thunder Said.

Bernard Brandt said...

As Igor in Young Frankenstein would say:

"On the nosey", Rose.

And, I suspect, the reason for the quote is what Hieronymo says in response to it:

Why then, I'll fit you; say no more.
When I was young, I gave my mind
And plied myself to fruitless poetry;
Which though it profit the professor naught
Yet it is passing pleasing to the world.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Just to claim partial credit, I'll observe that A Philosopher, aka Eudoxus, is Mr. Opinionated Homeschooler, and a devoted fan of early modern drama. So I get half his points.

mrsdarwin said...

Any woman married to a man who is a fan of early modern drama is lucky indeed. I congratulate you!

Darwin said...

Any woman married to a man who is a fan of early modern drama is lucky indeed.

I see how it is...

Think of how much more respect I could be getting if all those years ago I hadn't confided my judgement to (the much later to be) MrsDarwin that Marlowe's Doctor Faustus was "not very good".

Well, all I can say is, you knew what you were getting in to before you said "I Do".

Anonymous said...


Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is fabulous, especially when performed with the aid of about 15 puppets.

Anonymous said...

Not very good?

"Was this the face that launched a thousand ships.
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss:
Her lips suck forth my soul, see where it flies!
Come Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here I will dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross taht is not Helena!"

The only of the "who was Shakespeare really?" theories that's ever held any attraction for me was the one holding that Marlowe faked his death and wrote the Shakespearean plays in exile in Italy, mailing them to Will - if only because Marlowe was the only of the ELizabethan playwrights who had Shakespeare's skills with language. Realistically, though, there's no way Marlowe could have written plays as huamne as Shakespeare's - Marlowe was the Pistols to Shakespeare's Beatles.

You might try Jan Svankmajer's film version of Faust, if you want an alternative to Marlowe's work.

I should probably mention that "The Courier's Tragedy" is not a real Elizabethan play, but a parody of the Jacobean revenge tragedy in Thomas Pynchon's novel "The Crying of Lot 49" (which is itself a great work). I think the Shakespearean period probably reached its peak of luridity with John Webster's (the Quentin Tarantino of the seventeenth century) "The Duchess of Malfi".

mrsdarwin said...

I wish now that I'd mentioned from the start that this synopsis reminded me of The Duchess of Malfi, stylewise. Now it just looks like I'm parroting the real Elizabethan drama whiz. Oh well, that's what happens when you don't raise your hand first.

My first encounter with The Duchess of Malfi came from an Agatha Christie mystery (can't remember the title now) in which the main character is haunted by memories of a murder in which the killer quoted the play as he strangled his victim.

Cover her face, mine eyes dazzle: she died young.

Punctuation NOT guaranteed accurate to the source.

Darwin said...

I didn't so much have a beef with Marlowe's writing so much as the characterization. Indeed, that seems like the most interesting thing comparing the two. Marlowe is pretty nearly in a league with Shakespeare in regards to facility with the language, but his characterization stuck me as far inferior.

Actually, one of the things that stikes me as really interesting about Shakespeare as a writer is that he could never resist writing character set-piece dialogue -- even when the character was in many ways intended to be a stereotype. For example, I don't think Shakespeare wrote Merchange of Venice with any intention of condemning anti-semitism (which seems to be one standard modern interp of the play). Indeed, Shylock is a standard charicature of "the jew". However, Shakespeare seems to have been incapable of taking the low road when it came to actually writing dialogue, so when Shylock had to plead his case, instead of some snivelling diatribe we get the "do I not bleed?" speech.