Thomas Kyd

Definition

Theater

  • (1558 - 94) English playwright, about whose life and workslittle is now known. Kyd was a contemporary of Spenser and a friendof Marlowe. He was criticized by the court poets for hislack of formal education but enjoyed great popularity as a dramatist.None of his early work having survived, he is chiefly remembered forThe Spanish Tragedy (c. 1589), the first English revengetragedy. This violent and bloody play proved extremely popularand was revived after the Restoration in a production remarked uponby Samuel Pepys. Its influence can be seen in English tragedy throughoutthe 17th century, most notably in Shakespeare's Hamlet, whichemploys not only the revenge theme but also the use of a play-within-a-playto reveal the identity of the murderer. Largely because of this, Kyd hasoften been suggested as the most likely author of the so-called 'ur-Hamlet'(c. 1594), a lost play that is known to have supplied many of thebasic plot elements of Shakespeare's masterpiece. He may also have contributedto Arden of Faversham.

    In recent years much attention has been paid to Kyd's possiblerole in the events leading to the death of his friend ChristopherMarlowe. In May 1593 Kyd was arrested for possession of a 'heretical'treatise denying the divinity of Christ. Under severe torture he statedthat the document had been given him by Marlowe, a noted freethinkerwho seems to have been the authorities' real target. Kyd's evidenceled to an arrest warrant being issued against Marlowe, who was killedin murky circumstances a few weeks later. Kyd himself never recoveredfrom his treatment in prison and died the following year.

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