The Spanish Tragedy is a play structured between extremes of justice and deceit, however, throughout the play, these concepts are revealed to be not as black-and-white as they seem. This ambiguous relationship is explored in both the setting and characters. The play questions the justice of revenge, and who has the right to administer it. This dramatised debate blurs the boundary between justice and deceit; it is not immediately obvious to the audience if actions in the play are just or deceitful.
The ambivalent balance between justice and deceit is reflected in the ambiguities of the play's political setting. We are presented with the stately setting of the Spanish court. But instead of a place of justice, this is soon revealed to be a world of intrigue and deceit, creating an atmosphere of distrust and doubt. Lorenzo and Balthazar are unquestioningly presumed to be trustworthy, but conspire against and murder Horatio.
Bel-Imperia believes that Pedringano (whose name translates as 'the wandering or morally errant one') is trustworthy, but he betrays her. The Portuguese court is also characterised by deceit. Villuppo is taken to be virtuous, but double-crosses Alexandro due to greed.
In his book The Tragedy of State, J.W. Lema emphasises the key influence of the Roman playwright Seneca in sixteenth century drama. He argues that too much focus has been placed on medieval traditions, especially the emphasis on character and their 'fatal flaws'. Instead, Senecan drama made the tyranny of society the cause of revenge, corrupting the characters, rather than any 'fatal flaw'. Senecan tragedy:
"...represents moral and political corruption...tells us what evil feels like to an acutely sensitive mind under abnormally evil conditions. "
This style was undoubtedly influenced by Seneca's first hand experience of writing in a corrupt Roman Empire under the tyrannical rules of Caligula and...