Renaissance Tragedy and Investigator Heroes
The role of the investigator in Renaissance tragedy, with special reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy
I therefore will by circumstances try, What I can gather to confirm this writHieronimo The play’s the thingWherein I’ll catch the conscience of the KingHamlet
The roots of the blossoming tree of crime fiction can be traced back to the ancient soil of The Bible, and beyond, in literature which contains mysteries to be solved, and figures who act as detectives. Mystery was present in Classical Greek tragedy. In Oedipus Rex (c. 429 bc) the identity of Oedipus is a mystery, the unravelling of which influences the movement of the plot. In fact the very term ‘anagnorisis’ indicates a discovery – a revealing of a mystery.
In the biblical era perhaps one of the earliest acts of ‘detection’ took place when Herod killed all new-born babies on one particular night in an attempt to eliminate the child prophesied to ruin him. We have other examples of detection prior to Christ too; the prophets, such as Daniel, could interpret dreams. This was detection in the sense that they had to interpret symbolic images to understand their significance. In that sense the prophets could be called ‘investigators’. But these dreams were very often interpreted in a visionary state of mind, therefore detection in the strictest sense of the term cannot be used here.
We have detection in the 12th century German epic Nibelungenlied as well where Hagen, the minister of Brunhild’s revenge coaxes the secret of the vulnerable spot in Siegfried’s body from Kriemhild.
In Romantic fiction we see for the first time in European literature, a systematic use of mystery…
… Zadig’s innocence was acknowledged – he was presented before the Great Desterhan where he pleaded his case in these terms – “This is what happened to me. I was walking towards the little wood, where I lately encountered the venerable Eunuch and the most illustrious Vizier. I had seen on the sand the traces of an animal, and I had easily judged that they were those of a little dog. The light and long furrows imprinted on the little eminences of the sand between the traces of the feet showed me that it was a female and that it had lately given birth to pups. Other traces that appeared to have continually raised the surface of the sand by the side of the front feet told me that she had long ears. As I remarked that the sand was always less crushed by one foot than by three others, I understood that the dog of our august Queen was, if I may dare say so, a little lame.”