Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 19. Doubtful authorship of The First Part of Jeronimo and of Solimon and Perseda

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

VII. Marlowe and Kyd

§ 19. Doubtful authorship of The First Part of Jeronimo and of Solimon and Perseda

That Kyd, following his “serial” habit of production, wrote a “first part” for his “tragedy” is, as we have said, possible, but not a tittle of evidence is forthcoming: that he wrote The First Part of Jeronimo. With the Warres of Portugall, and the life and death of Don Andrœa, which we have in the quarto edition of 1605, is, despite the authority lent in support of the ascription to him, wholly untenable. The problem of Kyd’s association with a first part may be resolved into two main questions. In the first place, did he write, or could he have written, the extant text of 1605? In the second place, is this piece to be identified with the play entitled “Done oracio” alias “The Comedy of Jeronymo,” alias “Spanes Comodye donne oracoe,” which appears seven times in Henslowe’s list of the performances, in 1592, of The Spanish Tragedie? A rapid reading of the First Part will show that, far from there being “adequate internal evidence” for assigning the play to Kyd, there is proof that it must be by another hand. To maintain the ascription of Kyd, we should have to adduce very solid testimony, external as well as internal, that Kyd was capable of burlesque, was a veritable “sporting Kyd,” and was Puck enough to make havoc of his art and popular triumph. For, from beginning to end, the piece is nothing but a tissue of rhetorical mockery, a satire of “tragical speeches” and of intermeddling ghosts; often, on closer inspection, a direct quizzing of The Spanish Tragedie itself. By no access of literary devilry could the author of old Jeronimo transform that hero to the speaker of such intentional fustian as

  • Now I remember too (O sweet rememberance)
  • This day my years strike fiftie, and in Rome
  • They call the fifty year the year of Jubily,
  • The merry yeare, the peacefull yeare, the jocond yeare,
  • A yeare of joy, of pleasure, and delight.
  • This shall be my yeare of Jubily, for ’t is my fifty.
  • Age ushers honor; ’t is no shame; confesse,
  • Beard, thou art fifty full, not a haire lesse.
  • And it would be hard to believe that Kyd had joined in the raillery of Nashe and the pamphleteers,
  • O, for honor,
  • Your countries reputation, your lives freedome,
  • Indeed your all that may be termed reveng,
  • Now let your blouds be liberall as the sea;
  • or could write the ludicrous dialogue between the ghost of Andrea and Revenge at the close. The inevitable conclusion is that this First Part cannot have been written by the author of The Spanish Tragedie; and further (and almost as certainly), that this burlesque by another hand is not the piece which was interpolated by lord Strange’s men in their repertory of 1592. The opportunity for the burlesque came more naturally in the early years of the new century, when The Spanish Tragedie had been refurbished by Ben Jonson, and attention had been called to it by his characteristic criticism of the old play. Internal evidence, notably the allusions to the Roman jubilee of 1600 and the acting of the play by the children of the chapel, supports the general conclusion against Kyd’s authorship. It should, however, be noted that the argument that the First Part does not answer Henslowe’s label of “comodey” is irrelevant, if we make allowance for the vague nomenclature of the time and consider that the play makes no pretence to more than the “seriousness” of burlesque. Further, the shortness of the text may be responsible for the view that the play was a “forepiece,” presumably to The Spanish Tragedie. The Henslowe play (never acted on the same night as the serious Jeronimo) might as well be called an afterpiece; but it is hard, in any circumstances, to conjure up an audience of the early nineties, or even of 1605, taking kindly to the two Jeronimos at one sitting.

    Though no solid reason has been advanced against the ascription of Solimon and Perseda to Kyd, it is only on the slenderest grounds that it has been claimed for him. The story on which it is based appears in Henry Wotton’s Courtlie Controversie of Cupids Cautels (1578), which also supplies the original of the pseudo-Shakespearean Faire Em; the play is entered in the Stationers’ register on 22 November, 1592, and is extant in an undated quarto and two quartos of 1599. Its association with Kyd has been assumed from the fact that he uses the same plot in the interpolated play which Jeronimo and Bellimperia present in The Spanish Tragedie. If we assume that one author is responsible for both renderings, the question remains as to which play was the earlier. Decision on this point is more difficult because of the long popularity of Wotton’s translation, and of Jacques Yver’s original, Le Printemps d’Iver—as shown in the successive references, from Greene’s Mamillia (1583), to Shakespeare’s King John and Henry IV. Shakespeare’s pointed allusions to Basilisco—the captain Bobadil of Solimon and Perseda—imply an immediate and current popularity of the play; and for this reason we incline to dispute Sarrazin’s conclusion that it was an early effort, and antecedent to The Spanish Tragedie. It appears, on the whole, reasonable to fix the date of composition between the appearance of The Spanish Tragedie and the entry in the Stationers’ register in 1592, and to consider it, if it be given to Kyd, as a fuller handling of the sketch for Jeronimo and Bellimperia. Certain similarities in motif, construction and phrase are tempting aids to the finding of a single author for both plays. On the other hand, the closer we find the likeness, the harder is it to reckon with the difficulty of believing that an author would thus repeat himself. If, as Kyd’s most recent editor maintains, Solimon lacks the show of genius of The Spanish Tragedie, and if, as is also admitted, there is a close family likeness (on which, indeed, the argument of one parentage is based), we are in danger of being forced, contrary to this critic’s view and our own (as already stated), to the conclusion that the inferior play must be the earlier. The problem is further complicated by the presence of a strange element of comedy in Solimon. This, and, especially, the transcript of the miles gloriosus type in the braggart Basilisco, introduces us, if not to a new author, to a new phase of Kyd’s art. And so we float, rudderless and anchorless, on the sea of speculation.

    The difficulty of determining the authentic work of Kyd makes any general estimate of his quality and historical place more or less tentative; yet the least uncertain of these uncertainties and the acknowledged work in translation give us some critical foothold. Kyd, in the words of his Hieronimo, proclaims his artistic fellowship with the author of Tamburlaine:

  • Give me a stately written tragedie;
  • Tragedia cothurnata fitting Kings,
  • Containing matter, and not common things.
  • Even if we allow, on the most liberal interpretation of the claims set up by his editors, that he shows a subtler sense of humour than is to be found in Marlowe, we are never distracted from the sombre purpose of his art. A closer student of Seneca than was his brother dramatist, he transfers, with direct touch, the “tragical” rhetoric, the ghostly personages, the revel in stage massacre; yet never in the intimate fashion of the Tenne Tragedies or of his own version of Garnier. We have probably exaggerated his love of “blood.” Despite the sensationalism of Horatio’s death, Kyd never reaches to the depths of horror satirised in the induction of A warning for Faire Women, or disclosed in Titus Andronicus (and for this reason we discredit his association with this experiment of youth); and though, like Webster, whose career as a dramatist began after Kyd’s had ended, he deals rawly with the story of revenge, we observe that his zest for the terrible is losing force. Popular opinion neglects these hints of approximation to the gentler mood ofShakespearean tragedy, as it chooses, also, to forget the contributory usefulness of his and Marlowe’s extravagance in the making of that tragedy.