No manuscript of The Spanish Tragedy has survived, its author went unnamed in printed editions during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and although Thomas Heywood in his Apology for Actors (1612) had attributed it to ‘M. Kid’, until 1773 the play was taken to be by an unknown author. It is now accepted that The Spanish Tragedy was written about 1590 by Thomas Kyd (1558–94); a more precise date of composition has not yet been established. From at least 1592 to 1597 it was performed with great success by an amalgamated company of Lord Strange’s Men and the Admiral’s Men at the Rose Theatre, on the Bankside, London. Twenty-nine performances during those years are recorded in the diary of the Elizabethan theatre manager Philip Henslowe; the title-page of the first known edition (1592) suggests that the play’s appeal lay in ‘the lamentable end of Don Horatio and Bel-Imperia: with the pitiful death of old Hieronimo’. It is likely that the Admiral’s Men and their successors continued to play the tragedy at their theatre, the Fortune, until at least 1615, and possibly until the closing of the theatres in 1642. Other companies may have presented the play at several other London theatres, including the first Globe Theatre. There were European performances well into the seventeenth century, and the ten editions published in England before 1640, as well as a rich literary tradition of references and parodies of the tragedy, establish its status as an early stage triumph.
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