Today in Literary History – November 6, 1558 – Thomas Kyd is baptized

Thomas Kyd, the Elizabethan dramatist, was baptized on November 6, 1558. His actual date of birth is not known.

He was one of London’s most popular playwrights in the years before Shakespeare, but little is known about him now and many of his plays have been lost, including a supposed pre-Shakespeare version of Hamlet written in 1587.

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There are few remaining written traces of Kyd’s life and work, not unusual for the times he lived in. His best known play is The Spanish Tragedy, but he was not identified as the author until 1773.

The Spanish Tragedy was printed in 1592 but seems to have been first staged many years earlier. It was a hugely popular play but for some reason Kyd’s authorship of it became lost.

I haven’t read The Spanish Tragedy, which is a revenge play with lots of murders and double-crosses, just the sort of thing that Elizabethan audiences loved.

Kyd went to school with Edmund Spencer, the author of The Faerie Queene. He was friends with fellow dramatists Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe, with whom he shared rooms.

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He seems to have been involved in various pursuits apart from the theatre, and most likely followed his father’s profession as a scrivener or scribe in an era when literacy rates were low. There are some suggestions that he became a private secretary to a nobleman.

Kyd and Marlowe were both arrested in 1593 in an investigation by the Star Chamber. Heretical documents were found in Kyd’s lodgings and after being tortured he claimed that they had been given to him by Marlowe, a known atheist.

After his release from prison Kyd’s parent’s disowned him and he was penniless and without the support of his former noble patron. He died in 1594 at the age of 36 of unknown causes.

 

 

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