The Diminution of Thomas Kyd

Darren Freebury-Jones


Thomas Kyd is traditionally accepted as the author of The Spanish Tragedy, Soliman and Perseda, and Cornelia. Kyd may also have written a lost Hamlet play that preceded Shakespeare’s version. Among his contemporaries, Kyd enjoyed a far higher reputation than he does today. Thomas Dekker and Ben Jonson’s respective epithets, ‘industrious’ and ‘sporting’, suggest that Kyd’s canon was considerably larger than the three plays now acknowledged as his, and that he may have written comedies. The article explores the ways in which Kyd’s reputation as a major dramatist has been impeded, with scholarly arguments for his authorship of anonymous texts often displaced by claims for Marlowe and/or Shakespeare. Furthermore, the theory that Kyd wrote the original Hamlet play has been countered by Terri Bourus, who argues that Q1 represents an older version of the play written by Shakespeare. The article thus surveys recent attribution and textual scholarship and suggests that Kyd has been the victim of a curious ideological phenomenon in early modern literary studies, which at once isolates Shakespeare, while enforcing notions of authorial plurality, even when the evidence for co-authorship is lacking. The article calls for a reassessment of Kyd’s legacy as a major dramatist of the period.

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