'This place was made for pleasure not for death': Performativity, Language, and Action in <em>The Spanish Tragedy</em>

  • Alexandra S. Ferretti University of Alabama
Keywords: Renaissance drama, Spanish Tragedy, Thomas Kyd,


Using J.L. Austin’s theory of performative language, which stands in peculiar relationship to the literary or the dramatic, this paper traces how language and action function together in specific contexts in Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy. This study seeks to answer why Kyd uses multiple languages in Hieronimo’s playlet of Soliman and Perseda, and how those languages sever the connection between word and action. No gestures can make Soliman and Perseda intelligible to the audience or to the actors in the playlet; gestures that usually mean one thing in the theatre (pretending to kill) become devoid of meaning in this deadly play-within-the-play. Hieronimo’s tongue-biting following the performance serves to punctuate the disintegration of word and action and the inability of words to effect further action.