Developing a cultural understanding of the relative power of theater upon culture creates a sense of the traditional and the dramatic. Within many works of antiquity is a demonstration of analogy, in much the same manner as the analogous representations of doctrine. Creating a thematic web of understanding about the nature of humanity, through the play-within-the-play technique many play writes of today and yesterday demonstrate the power of drama upon culture. Within the work The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd and the Shakespeare's The Tempest can be found a demonstration of the use of the play-within-the-play device as a representation of human theme and cultural messages.
The works discussed reflect a genuine contextual interest in transition, as the works themselves and the plays they envelope represent thematic transition changes within the world where they were popular. The theme of revenge, a constant source of fascination for the Elizabethan and the theme of marriage also an institution on the brink of change at the time serve as messages of social and moral change. The works represent the transitional nature of the time and the minds of the people who created them and also enjoyed them. While the play-within-the-play contributes to the denouement of plot, it also draws attention to the relative power of theater in society.
The play is like an enchanted garden, where lifeless, wooden puppets seem to wait for the magician who is to wake them into life. We know that the magician did come, and of old Jeronimo he made Hamlet and Lear, out of the love-rhymes of Horatio and Bellimperia he made the loveliest of all wooing-scenes in Romeo and Juliet, of the play within the play he made the most subtle awakener of conscience and the greatest glorification of the actor's art, and of the wooden and grotesque figure of Revengehe made the terrible goddess of his sublimest tragedies --Nemesis. (Kyd xli)
Themes of the human condition repeat themselves almost continually through the art of drama and through the realm of the real. Themes of human circumstances, moral and amoral influence the cultural representation of right and wrong, but strangely change very little over time. Things that are "wrong" in Shakespeare and Kyd's England similar to those which are "wrong" today. Betrayal and revenge flow together as a stream through the human soul and repeatedly show their influence upon art and humanity. Messages of revenge, a constant fascination of the Elizabethan period (1558-1603) and that of the England that followed her reign, often follow the form of the play-within-the-play dramatic technique and this is true of both the works discussed here.
Within Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy the revenge for betrayal occurs during a "mock" play intended to deceive the audience into the belief that the gory portrayal is acting. The play within the play is actually not the dramatic but the real as the characters who have betrayed in the past lie dead at the end of the scene. While in Shakespeare's The Tempest the performance of popular dramatic masque is the play within the play and is used as a tool by the protagonist to ensnare his daughter and her betrothed into a magical unbreakable union, that could ensure his own return to favor. Though the intent of the internal drama of each work is different the result is a scene of deception, depicted through drama. The message of the writer and producer of each work is to remind the audience, in their moment of suspended disbelief that art not only imitates life but life also imitates art.
Though both works internal drama's are woven around a marriage ceremony the reality of these two marriages is that they are both contrived to create something outside of the bond. In The Tempest the marriage is to bring Prospero (the exiled nobleman) back into favor and in The Spanish Tragedy the marriage is designed to not only build a union between two people but between to countries, Spain and Portugal. Each author in turn seems to demand a reckoning for the manner in which marriage is being used, a conventional assault upon marriages of diplomacy, rather than the love marriage, a contextually popular change in the fate of the individual, who was becoming more and more revered at this time.
The Spanish Tragedy is a mystery of divine vengeance exacted against Spain in which Hieronimo, the Danielic figure, the judge, bearer of the sacred name ( hieros nym ), anglophile representative of God's will at the court of Babylon / Spain, author, actor, and revenger, causes the "fall of Babylon" in his revenge playlet, ostensibly intended to celebrate the marital and dynastic union of Spain and Portugal. Similarly, in the guise of presenting a play about the Iberian warand subsequent abortive union of Spain and Portugal through the ill-fated marriage of Bet-imperia and Balthazar, Kyd creates a mystery play whose hidden political and eschatological meanings concern the fall of Spain -- the Spanish tragedy -- and the triumph of England -- the English comedy. Kyd identifies his play as a mystery by having three plays-within-the-play defined as a mystery (Frankardolino 12)
The diplomatic marriage was a theme long standing in the context of both of these works, as they are both written during a time when the challenges to convention are many and the convention of marriage for status and wealth was beginning to wane in popularity. A union between Spain and Portugal would not have been a desirous event for England, at the time given the recent war history between England and Spain and the strength of Portugal, and yet the message in The Spanish Tragedy seems to be as much about the loveless cad marriage as everything else, questioning the wisdom of building political strength upon the back of a fragile institution.
Prospero's magic deceives the two young people into making a choice that might not have otherwise been theirs, for his own sake and though the union seems to work in the end, through the very virtue of the two youths real attraction it is not a marriage of wills but a marriage of deception.
Critics chastise Prospero for his treatment of Ferdinand, but Prospero would seem to be encouraging a "storge" (pronounced storgay) relationship, as John Allan Lee calls it ( 1974). It "comes about with the passage of time and the enjoyment of shared activities." It occurs "between people who grew up in rural places" (which at least Miranda has done) and is based on "friendship and companionship. This characteristic distinguishes storge from other types of love. . . . The goals of storge . . . are marriage, home and children, avoiding all the silly conflicts and entanglements of passion" (305). (Coursen 50)
The challenges of the marriage are mainly modern but the subtly of the affair's message can also be seen within the context of the audiences reception of it. Marriage, for the common and the aristocratic was in transition as an institution during the time of these two works.
Many critics associate the internal dramatics of these two works as an assault on revenge, though it was a fascination of the era, it was considered contrary to the concepts of the new faith of England. A massive transition from Catholicism to the Church of England having taken place during the lifetimes of both authors created a cultural and moral shift from the invasive nature of the Catholic faith, evidenced by the inquisition, to the more free thinking ideal of the Church of England, that it is God's will that judgment occur after death at his hand not at the will of someone seeking revenge.
Within a single lifetime, England had gone from Catholicism within the Roman Church, to Catholicism without the Pope, to systematic reform under Edward VI, to Catholicism once more under Mary I, and finally to a moderate Protestantism under the Anglican compromise reached by Elizabeth. (Sofer 127)
The Tempest is often seen as a reconciliation between the desire tyo take revenge and the desire to possess the virtue to refrain from earthly revenge and settle upon the judgment of the lord as a finality to the conflict.
He that through a natural facility and genuine mildness should neglect or contemn injuries received should no doubt perform a rare action, and worthy commendations. But he who, being touched and stung to the quick with any wrong or offence received, should arm himself with reason against this furiously-blind desire of revenge, and in the end, after a great conflict, yield himself master over it, should doubtless do much more. The first should do well, the other virtuously: the one action might be termed goodness, the other virtue. For it seemeth the very name of virtue presupposeth difficulty, and infereth resistance, and cannot well exercise itself without an enemy. (133) (Coursen 12)
Within the work and its surrounding literature there is constant reminder of the deep seated fellings of Prospero and his struggle for both revenge and reservation.…