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Performance history

The Spanish Tragedy entered the Stationers' Register and appeared in print in 1592. 'The first recorded performances of The Spanish Tragedy were [...] in the early months of 1592 at the Rose on Bankside.' Philip Henslowe, who held the early rights, recorded it as being performed by Lord Strange's Men - in fact 'an amalgamation of Strange's and the Admiral's Men' - 'twenty times' during that season and a further 'three times in the short season of December-January 1592-3.' The next record of the play being performed - also from Henslowe's Diary - refers to 'the Admiral's Men's season at the Rose beginning 25 November 1596. Jeronimo was played first on 7 January 1597' and 'twelve performances are recorded between January and July'; 'in the joint season of the Admiral's and Pembroke's Men which followed, Jeronimo was the opening performance on 11 October 1597.' (Edwards, 1959: lxvi)

The play was a box-office success at the time with 'twenty-nine performances between 1592 and 1597, a record almost unsurpassed among [Henslowe's] his plays. The publication record is still more impressive, with at least eleven editions between 1592 and 1633, a tally unequalled by any of the plays of Shakespeare.' (J. R. Mulryne)

The play was a success abroad too: adptations of the play 'were printed between 1618 and 1729 and performances took place from Holland to Bohemia and from Denmark to southern Germany.' (Erne, 2001: 127) Schick's and Boas's exhaustive studies record performances in Germany; versions of the play were performed at Dresden (1626) by English actors, at Prague (1651) and at Lunenburg (1660). (cf. Edwards, 1959:lxvi)

The third most performed play in the London of the 1590s - after The Jew of Malta and The Wise Men of West Chester (now lost) - The Spanish Tragedy disappeared from the English stage with the closing of the theatres in 1642. Between 1642 and 1921 there is only one recorded performance of the play, reported by Pepys in his diary: '24 February 1667/68 at the Nursery Theatre in Hatton Garden [...] The play that had been performed by the leading actors on London's main stages for about half a century before 1642 was now played in a marginal and temporary playhouse by mediocre actors.' (Erne, 2001:134-5)

The Spanish Tragedy has been revived only in amateur stage productions during the first half of the twentieth century. In most cases they were the initiative of university dramatic societies whose main aim was to 'give performances of dramatic masterpieces of the past' which, as the special correspondent of The Times records, 'could not survive the vulgar tests of the box-office.' ('Oxford Summer Diversions', The Times, 31 July 1937, 10)

The play was also revived in radio productions by the BBC in the fifties. If in 1953 Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy was part of a revival of 'unfamiliar' plays of various times and places, in 1956 the play was revived as part of a chronological series of Early English Drama.

It was only in 1973 that The Spanish Tragedy returned to the professional stage in the UK. Several professional productions followed in the eighties and the nineties.