On this day in 1558, Thomas Kyd is baptized in London. Kyd created the “revenge tragedy,” a popular dramatic form that gave rise to tragedies like William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Little is known about Kyd’s childhood, but scholars believe he was educated at the Merchant Taylor’s School in London and raised to be a scrivener, a professional trained to draw up contracts and other business documents. In 1592, The Spanish Tragedie, sometimes called Hieronomo, was entered in the Stationer’s Register (licensing the publication of the work). The play, about a father who seeks revenge for his son’s murder, became the most popular play in England during its day.
In May 1593, Kyd was arrested on suspicion of treason because heretical documents had allegedly been found in his room. Under torture, Kyd claimed the letters belonged to his former roommate, fellow playwright Christopher Marlowe, who was subsequently arrested. Marlowe bailed out of jail but died 10 days later in a bar brawl. Kyd died penniless the following year.