Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in English Literature



Major Advisor

Matthew Hansen, Ph.D.


Reshmi Mukherjee, Ph.D.


Jennifer Black, Ph.D.


Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy has been widely-read by the academic community, but not always for its own sake. Its influence on the Revenge Tragedy genre, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, have been common topics, sometimes at the expense of readings that engage with the play itself. This thesis continues a tradition of applying the ideas of Michel Foucault to the Early Modern era in order to interrogate the role of power, knowledge, and sovereignty. This thesis explores the way that Michel Foucault’s theory of biopolitics, and the related concepts of necropolitics and necroresistance, create significant new ways of understanding the characters and themes of Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy. I first examine Bel-Imperia’s presence in the text, as both a woman and a political pawn, and argue that her physical body exists in a contested space, serving as both a location for control and a means of resistance. By reinterpreting her role in the revenge narrative and her suicide through a political lens, we can more fully appreciate her violent actions as expressions of agency in pursuit of a calculated goal. Additionally, when we look at the stories of Hieronimo and Horatio through a necropolitical lens, it foregrounds the centrality of class in the conflict of the play. Through a close reading of Horatio’s murder, I argue that Horatio and Hieronimo represent the threat of social mobility to the insular aristocratic class embodied by Lorenzo and Balthazar, and Horatio’s murder serves as a reassertion of absolute sovereign control. Hieronimo’s violent actions carry different implications when we are able to read them as not only acts of vengeance, but also, to some extent, of revolution. Ultimately, I argue that applying biopolitical theories to The Spanish Tragedy, and other plays from the Early Modern era, presents scholars with an opportunity to differently appreciate the relationship between agency and violence, and make sense of the seemingly senseless violence that often characterizes these works.