Thomas Kyd

Thomas Kyd (baptised 6 November 1558; buried 15 August 1594) was an English playwright, the author of The Spanish Tragedy, 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, an early editor of The Spanish Tragedy, discovered that Kyd was named as its author by Thomas Heywood 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, which is now known as the Ur-Hamlet.

Early life

Thomas Kyd was the son of Francis and Anna Kyd. There are no records of the day he was born, but he was baptised in the church of St Mary Woolnoth in the Ward of Langborn, Lombard Street, London on 6 November 1558. The baptismal register at St Mary Woolnoth carries this entry: "Thomas, son of Francis Kydd, Citizen and Writer of the Courte Letter of London". Francis Kydd was a scrivener and in 1580 was warden of the Scriveners' Company.

In October 1565 the young Kyd was enrolled in the newly founded Merchant Taylors' School, whose headmaster was Richard Mulcaster. Fellow students included Edmund Spenser and Thomas Lodge. 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 university. He may have followed in his father's professional footsteps because there are two letters written by him and his writing style is similar to that of a scrivener.


The Spanish Tragedy
Title page of Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, with a woodcut showing (left) the hung body of Horatio discovered by (centre) Hieronymo; and Bel-imperia being taken from the scene by a blackface Lorenzo (right).

Evidence suggests that in the 1580s Kyd became an important playwright, but little is known about his activity. Francis Meres placed him among "our best for tragedy" and Heywood elsewhere called him "Famous Kyd". Ben Jonson mentions him in the same breath as Christopher Marlowe (with whom, in London, Kyd at one time shared a room) and John Lyly 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. 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's diary records payment to Ben Jonson 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 also mentioned by Henslowe.

Other works by Kyd are his translations of Torquato Tasso's Padre di Famiglia, published as The Householder's Philosophy (1588); and Robert Garnier's Cornelia (1594). Plays attributed in whole or in part to Kyd include Soliman and Perseda, King Leir, Arden of Faversham and Edward III. A play related to The Spanish Tragedy called The First Part of Hieronimo (surviving in a quarto of 1605) may be a bad quarto 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.[1] Kyd is more generally accepted to have been the author of a Hamlet, the precursor of the Shakespearean play (see: Ur-Hamlet).

The success of Kyd's plays extended to Europe. Versions of The Spanish Tragedy and his Hamlet were popular in Germany and the Netherlands 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.

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 of having lost "the favours of my Lord, whom I haue servd almost theis vi yeres nowe". Proposed nobles include the Earl of Sussex,[2] the Earl of Pembroke,[3] and Lord Strange.[4] He may have worked as a secretary, if he did not also write plays. Around 1591 Christopher Marlowe 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 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 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. Kyd told authorities the writings found in his possession belonged to Christopher Marlowe, a fellow dramatist and former roommate. Kyd “accused his former roommate of being a blasphemous traitor, an atheist who believed that Jesus Christ was a homosexual”[5] an uninformed confusion over the Arian and Early Gnostic concept of homoousios (Ancient Greek: ὁμοούσιος). Unfortunately, Kyd was with Marlowe at the wrong place at the wrong time. Marlowe was summoned by the Privy Council after these events, and, while waiting for a decision on his case, was killed in an incident in Deptford 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 at the age of 35, and was buried on 15 August in St Mary Colechurch in London. In December of that same year, Kyd's mother legally renounced the administration of his estate, probably because it was debt-ridden.

St Mary Colechurch was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and not rebuilt. Thus Thomas Kyd's grave was lost to posterity.


The dates of composition are approximate.[6]

  • Don Horatio (partially extant in The First Part of Hieronimo, c. 1586)
  • The Spanish Tragedy (c. 1587)
  • The Householder's Philosophy (translation, 1588)
  • Arden of Faversham (attributed, 1592)
  • Soliman and Perseda (attributed, c. 1593)
  • Cornelia (translation of Robert Garnier, 1594)
  • King Leir (attributed, 1594)


  1. ^ Thomas Kyd, The First Part of Hieronimo and The Spanish Tragedy, ed. Andrew S. Cairncross, Regents Renaissance Drama Series, Lincoln, Neb., 1967, p. xiv.
  2. ^ Arthur Freeman, Thomas Kyd: Facts and Problems, Oxford, 1967
  3. ^ Lukas Erne, Beyond the Spanish Tragedy: A Study of the Works of Thomas Kyd, Manchester University Press 2002, ISBN 0-7190-6093-1
  4. ^ Charles Nicholl, The reckoning: the murder of Christopher Marlowe, University Of Chicago Press, 1995, ISBN 0-226-58024-5, p. 225
  5. ^ Gainor, J. Ellen., Stanton B. Garner, and Martin Puchner. The Norton Anthology of Drama. Second ed. Vol. 1. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. Print.
  6. ^


  • Philip Edwards, The Spanish Tragedy, Methuen, 1959, reprinted 1974. ISBN 0-416-27920-1.
  • Charles Nicholl, The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe, Vintage, 2002 (revised edition). ISBN 0-09-943747-3 (especially for the circumstances surrounding Kyd's arrest).

External links

1558 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1558.

1592 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1592.

1593 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1593.

Alfred Harbage

Alfred Bennett Harbage (July 18, 1901 – May 1976) was an influential Shakespeare scholar of the mid-20th century. He was born in Philadelphia and received his undergraduate degree and doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. He lectured on Shakespeare both there and at Columbia before becoming a professor at Harvard University, where he taught for many years. He was the General Editor of the Pelican Books edition of the works of Shakespeare. He also wrote a number of well-received books on Shakespeare's works, among them Shakespeare's Audience (1941), As They Liked It (1947), Shakespeare and the Rival Traditions (1952), and Shakespeare Without Words (1966).

Though best known for his work on Shakespeare, Harbage's literary scholarship extended to his successors too; he did important work on a range of seventeenth-century figures. In this area, his books Thomas Killigrew, Cavalier Dramatist 1612-1683 (1930), Sir William Davenant, Poet Adventurer 1606-1668 (1935), and Cavalier Drama (1936) are noteworthy. For an overview of the field, his Annals of English Drama 975-1700 (1964) is a compedium of original materials and a vital resource for scholarship.

He also wrote crime fiction under the pen name Thomas Kyd (a reference to the 16th-century English playwright Thomas Kyd), publishing several stories in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, as well as four novels: Blood is a Beggar (1946), Blood of Vintage (1947), Blood on the Bosom Devine (1948), and Cover His Face (1949). The first three are hard-boiled murder mysteries, involving ex-boxer turned police officer Sam Phelan; the last is an academic mystery dealing with a researcher seeking the first published work of Samuel Johnson.

One reviewer said of his work that "Harbage treats pomposity with sarcasm, hypocrisy with irony, and failure with gentleness."

Andrea (The Spanish Tragedy)

Andrea is the Spanish nobleman and lover of Bel-imperia whose ghost returns to look upon the events of The Spanish Tragedy, by Thomas Kyd.

Arden of Faversham

Arden of Faversham (original spelling: Arden of Feversham) is an Elizabethan play, entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on 3 April 1592, and printed later that same year by Edward White. It depicts the murder of Thomas Arden by his wife Alice Arden and her lover, and their subsequent discovery and punishment. The play is notable as perhaps the earliest surviving example of domestic tragedy, a form of Renaissance play which dramatized recent and local crimes rather than far-off and historical events.

The author is unknown, and the play has been attributed to Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare, solely or collaboratively, forming part of the Shakespeare Apocrypha. The use of computerized stylometrics has kindled academic interest in determining the authorship. The 2016 edition of The Oxford Shakespeare attributes the play to Shakespeare together with an anonymous collaborator, and rejects the possibility of authorship by Kyd or Marlowe.

Edward III (play)

The Raigne of King Edward the Third, commonly shortened to Edward III, 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 someone else: Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, Michael Drayton, and George Peele among the top contenders, with recent scholars introducing Thomas Nashe to the fold.

The play contains several gibes at Scotland and the Scottish people, which has led some critics to think that it is the work that incited George Nicolson, Queen Elizabeth's agent in Edinburgh, to protest against the portrayal of Scots on the London stage in a 1598 letter to William Cecil, Lord Burghley. This could explain why the play was not included in the First Folio of Shakespeare's works, which was published after the Scottish King James had succeeded to the English throne in 1603.

Induction (play)

An induction in a play is an explanatory scene, summary or other text that stands outside and apart from the main action with the intent to comment on it, moralize about it or in the case of dumb show—to summarize the plot or underscore what is afoot. Typically, an induction precedes the main text of a play. Inductions are a common feature of plays written and performed in the Renaissance period, including those of Shakespeare. While Shakespeare plays do not typically have inductions, they are sometimes depicted as part of the device of the play within the play. Examples include the dumb show in Hamlet and the address to the audience by Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Another example, in The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd, is the introduction to that play by the ghost of Andrea who preps the audience by laying out the story to come. Likewise, Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew opens with induction scenes which involve characters watching the play proper.

King Leir

King Leir is an anonymous Elizabethan play about the life of the ancient Brythonic king Leir of Britain. It was published in 1605 but was entered into the Stationers' Register on 15 May 1594. The play has attracted critical attention principally for its relationship with King Lear, Shakespeare's version of the same story.


Kyd is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Gerald Kyd (born 1973), South African actor

Jerry Kyd, British naval officer

Jesper Kyd (born 1972), acclaimed video game and film music composer

Michael Kyd (born 1977), English professional footballer

Robert Kyd (1746–1793), British botanist

Thomas Kyd (1558–1594), English dramatist

Warren Kyd (born 1939), former New Zealand politician

William Kyd (fl. 1430-1453), English 15th-century pirate

Peter Whelan

Peter Whelan (3 October 1931 – 3 July 2014) was a British playwright.

Whelan was born and raised in Stoke-on-Trent, England. As a student (1951–55) Peter Whelan was an inspirational figure in the newly-formed Drama Society at the experimental University College of North Staffordshire, later Keele University. At Keele he met his wife Ffrangcon Price, who also excelled in drama as a student and in her later career.

His works includes seven plays for the Royal Shakespeare Company, most of which are period pieces based on real historical events. The first of these was Captain Swing in 1979. Another was The Herbal Bed, about a court case involving William Shakespeare's daughter. It was first produced at the RSC's The Other Place theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in 1996 and was revived at The Duchess Theatre from April to October 1997.

In 2008, his play The School of Night, originally produced at The Other Place theatre, in November 1992, made its U.S. debut at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. It fictionalizes the relationships between Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd and Sir Walter Raleigh as well as the events leading up to Marlowe's death.In January 2018, his play Sleepers in the Field will have its world premiere at The Questors Theatre, in Ealing, London.

Important papers of his are stored in the Borthwick Institute for Archives in the Library of the University of York.

Sources of Hamlet

The sources of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, a tragedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601, trace back as far as pre-13th century. The generic "hero-as-fool" story is so old and is expressed in the literature of so many cultures that scholars have hypothesized that it may be Indo-European in origin. A Scandinavian version of the story of Hamlet (called Amleth or Amlóði, which means "mad" or "not sane" in Old Norse) was put into writing around 1200 AD by Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus in his work Gesta Danorum (the first full history of Denmark). It is this work Shakespeare borrowed from to create Hamlet. Similar accounts are found in the Icelandic Saga of Hrolf Kraki and the Roman legend of Lucius Junius Brutus, both of which feature heroes who pretend to be insane in order to get revenge. A reasonably accurate version of Saxo's story was translated into French in 1570 by François de Belleforest in his Histoires Tragiques. Belleforest embellished Saxo's text substantially, almost doubling its length, and introduced the hero's melancholy.

After this point, the ancestry of Shakespeare's version of Hamlet becomes more difficult to trace. Many literary scholars believe that Shakespeare's main source was an earlier play—now lost—known today as the Ur-Hamlet. Possibly written by Thomas Kyd, the Ur-Hamlet would have been in performance by 1589 and was seemingly the first to include a ghost in the story. Using the few comments available from theatre-enthusiasts at the time, scholars have attempted to trace exactly where the Ur-Hamlet might have ended and the play popular today begins. A few scholars have suggested that the Ur-Hamlet is an early draft of Shakespeare's, rather than the work of Kyd. Regardless of the mysteries surrounding the Ur-Hamlet, though, several elements of the story changed. Unlike earlier versions, Shakespeare's Hamlet does not feature an omniscient narrator of events and Prince Hamlet does not appear to have a complete plan of action. The play's setting in Elsinore also differs from legendary versions.

Street of Dreams (film)

Street of Dreams is a 1988 American action/thriller film directed by William A. Graham and starring Ben Masters and Morgan Fairchild. Made as a television film, Street of Dreams was originally aired on October 7, 1988, on CBS and was subsequently released on DVD on January 10, 2005. The role of a drug addict who—per Fairchild's remarks—"looks like hell" marked a departure for Morgan Fairchild, whose career had, up to that point, been defined by roles of glamour and sex appeal.

The film follows a laid-back private investigator Kyd Thomas (Ben Masters) who gets thrust into Hollywood's world of crime after he meets Laura Cassidy (Morgan Fairchild). Laura is a cocaine addict who Kyd saves from being beaten and raped and with whom he quickly enters a romantic relationship. The storyline is based on the books Good Night and Good-Bye and Kyd for Hire by American author Timothy Harris which chronicle stories of the life and adventures of a private investigator named Thomas Kyd. Harris has since claimed that he was credited on the film even though he "didn't really do anything on it", "didn't write it, and wasn't involved."

The Murder of John Brewen

The Murder of John Brewen (1592) 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 (1558–1594).

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 murders and includes as one of its characters a personification of Revenge. The Spanish Tragedy was often referred to (or parodied) in works by other Elizabethan playwrights, including William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Christopher Marlowe.

Many elements of The Spanish Tragedy, such as the play-within-a-play used to trap a murderer and a ghost intent on vengeance, appear in Shakespeare's Hamlet. (Thomas Kyd is frequently proposed as the author of the hypothetical Ur-Hamlet that may have been one of Shakespeare's primary sources for Hamlet.)

Thomas Achelley

Thomas Achelley, also Achlow or Atchelow (f. 1568–1595, d. before 1600) was an English poet and playwright of the Elizabethan era. Though little of his work survives, in his own time he had a considerable reputation.

University Wits

The University Wits is a phrase used to name a group of late 16th-century English playwrights and pamphleteers who were educated at the universities (Oxford or Cambridge) and who became popular secular writers. Prominent members of this group were Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, and Thomas Nashe from Cambridge, and John Lyly, Thomas Lodge, and George Peele from Oxford. Thomas Kyd is also sometimes included in the group, though he is not believed to have studied at university.

This diverse and talented loose association of London writers and dramatists set the stage for the theatrical Renaissance of Elizabethan England. They are identified as among the earliest professional writers in English, and prepared the way for the writings of William Shakespeare, who was born just two months after Christopher Marlowe.


The Ur-Hamlet (the German prefix Ur- means "primordial") is a play by an unknown author, thought to be either Thomas Kyd or William Shakespeare. No copy of the play, dated by scholars to the second half of 1587, survives today. The play is known to have been staged in London, more specifically at The Burbages Shoreditch Playhouse as recalled by Elizabethan author Thomas Lodge. The play is known to have a character named Hamlet; the only other known character from the play is a ghost who cries, "Hamlet, revenge!"

William Shakespeare's collaborations

Like most playwrights of his period, William Shakespeare did not always write alone. A number of his surviving plays are collaborative, or were revised by others after their original composition, although the exact number is open to debate. Some of the following attributions, such as The Two Noble Kinsmen, have well-attested contemporary documentation; others, such as Titus Andronicus, are dependent on linguistic analysis by modern scholars; recent work on computer analysis of textual style (word use, word and phrase patterns) has given reason to believe that parts of some of the plays ascribed to Shakespeare are actually by other writers.

In some cases the identity of the collaborator is known; in other cases there is a scholarly consensus; in others it is unknown or disputed. These debates are the province of Shakespeare attribution studies. Most collaborations occurred at the very beginning and the very end of Shakespeare's career.

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