History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Spanish Renaissance

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The four most important playwrights of this golden age of Spanish theatre are Lope de Vega (1562-1635), Tirso de Molina (c. 1571-1648), Juan Ruiz de Alarcón (c. 1581-1639), and Pedro Calderon de la Barca (1600-1681).

Two of the best-known plays of Lope de Vega are "El perro del hortelano" (The gardener's dog, 1618) and "Fuente Ovejuna" (The Sheep Well, 1619). Two of the best-known plays of Tirso de Molina (c. 1571-1648) are "El condenado por desconfiado" (Damned for lack of faith, c. 1624) and "El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra" (The trickster of Seville and the stone guest, more precisely The mocker of Seville and the stone guest, 1630), the latter on the infidelities of Don Juan and his violent end. One of the best-known plays of Alarcón is "Las paredes oyen" (Walls have ears, 1617) concerning the paranoid atmosphere surrounding the Spanish court. One of the best-known plays of Calderon is "La vida es sueño" (Life is a dream, 1635), in which a superstitious king imprisons his son because of a prophecy whereby he is destined to be killed by him. Without the calming influence of civilization, the son becomes violent, and so the king is threatened with what he sought to prevent in the first place. Another worthy one is "La devoción de la cruz" (Devotion to the cross, 1637), in which a man, whenever expressing devotion to the sign of the cross, attracts misfortune on himself.

All four playwrights excel in dramatic tension. Calderon offers the boldest poetic images, though sometimes high-flown and far-fetched, Lope de Vega being the most prosaic and homely, but the dramatic characters display clear elocution and the play structure is tight and well organized. Alarcon and Molina are situated in-between the two in terms of elevation of poetic style. In Alarcon's plays, the main characters are often eloquent and the action imaginative, though at certain points liable to slow down too much in a stilted way.

Calderon de la Barca reached a high level of poetic drama during the Spanish Renaissance. Drawing by an unknown artist

"Life is a dream"[edit]

"Life is a dream". Time: 1630s. Place: Poland.

"Life is a dream" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=1449506

https://archive.org/details/eightdramascald01barcgoog

Rosaura, disguised as a man and accompanied by a servant, Clarion, discovers in a mountain cave a man who has been imprisoned for a very long time: Sigismund, son to Basilio, king of Poland, and rightful heir to the throne, though with no knowledge of it. The man in charge of the prisoner, Clotaldo, discovers the intruders in the prison-tower and orders their arrest. Recognizing Rosaura's sword, Clotaldo asks her how she got it. She answers it was given to her by a woman for protection. In the king's palace, Astolfo, king of Muscovia, and Princess Estrella discuss their claims as rightful heirs to the Polish throne, each a descendant of two of the king's sisters. It is Astolfo's and Basilio's wish that they marry, thereby eliminating all controversies, but Estrella does not trust Astolfo, especially considering the portrait of a woman he carries with him. Basilio has imprisoned his son and published news of his death because of "strange prodigies" heard of at the time of his birth, by which the heir was expected to become "the most cruel prince and impious monarch" and take his crown away from him. But being at last uncertain about the wisdom of these measures, Basilio intends to free Sigismund and let him take his place on the throne to test how he will behave: if virtuously, he will be king; if not, once more a prisoner in the tower. Rosaura reveals to Clotaldo her true sex and that Astolfo is her seducer: "Having come to marry Estrella, judge whether I have suffered an outrage," says she. The following day, Sigismund is brought to the palace and pronounced monarch of the realm. He immediately conducts himself like a tyrant, cursing Clotaldo as a traitor, throwing out a servant from the balcony, reproaching the king for imprisoning him all his life on a mountain-side among beasts, brutally wooing Rosaura, attacking Clotaldo with a dagger for protecting her, and fighting Astolfo with his sword for interfering, so that by the king's orders he is taken and sent back to the tower. When Estrella reproaches Astolfo for carrying the portrait, he goes out to fetch it. Estrella then commands Rosaura, presented now as Clotaldo's niece and waiting-woman, to take the portrait from him. When Astolfo comes back, he recognizes Rosaura, but she denies being her. When asked for the portrait, he resists, so that she attempts to obtain it by force. When Estrella returns, she finds them struggling over it. She takes it and discovers it is a portait of Rosaura. Meanwhile, Clarion is arrested and sent to the tower for knowing too much. Sigismund awakes in chains, his reign now considered only as a dream: "If I looked about while dreaming, it is simple to understand that I dream waking," he reasons. When soldiers enter inside Clarion's cell, they mistake him as the rightful ruler, then acknowledge Sigismund, refusing Astolfo as their future king because he is a foreigner. The soldiers propose Sigismund as leader of their rebellion against Basilio, which he accepts. Clotaldo enters and submits himself before Sigismund, who offers him a post as counsellor, but he refuses. Angry, Sigismund is about to attack him again, but then checks himself, because "I do not yet know whether I dream or wake," he says, allowing him to go and serve the king. With the support of Astolfo and Estrella, Basilio will seek to counter his son in the field of combat, declaring: "I want my sword to repair the error of my science." To avenge her lost honor, Rosaura requests Clotaldo to kill Astolfo while meeting Estrella at night in a garden. But he cannot, Astolfo having saved his life from Sigismund's dagger and in loyalty to the king. Clotaldo proposes that Rosaura enter a convent, but she refuses, donning instead a soldier's garb to kill Astulfo by joining Sigismund's side. Clarion is freed, joining neither army, for he wishes rather "to mock at everything and not worry", but, though hiding behind rocks, he is shot and killed. The rebels overwhelm the king's army and he is taken prisoner. Sigismund generously submits himself to the king, who, in equal generosity, announces his son as the new ruler. Sigismund proposes that Astulfo marry Rosaura, but not knowing her pedigree, he hesitates, until Clotaldo reveals she is his daughter. Sigismund then offers Estrella his hand, and, to the admiration of all the nobles, condemns to life in prison a soldier helping him to escape, for once a traitor, who can vouch he may not act as a traitor a second time?

"Devotion to the cross"[edit]

"Devotion to the cross". Time: 16th century. Place: Spain.

"Devotion to the cross" text at https://archive.org/details/eightdramascald01barcgoog

http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924027516701

Trouble starts whenever Eusebio is confronted with a Christian cross

Lisardo and Eusebio are about to fight in a duel, because the latter dared to be a suitor to Julia, Lisardo's sister, without first consulting their father, Curcio, who no doubt would disapprove of a misalliance and send her willingly or not to a convent. Eusebio tells his story, a man born at the foot of a cross, who all his life has been both endangered and saved by that emblem. He first tore his nurse's breast while being weaned, the nurse in anger throwing him inside a well, where he was found floating, "hands on my lips in the form of a cross," he says. He also suffered shipwreck, but was saved by a beam in the shape of a cross. In addition, he has on his breast a birth-mark in the shape of a cross. Eusebio and Lisardo fight, during which the latter is stabbed. Before dying, he begs to be allowed to confess by the sign of the cross. Eusebio accepts and carries him to it. Meanwhile, Curcio announces to Julia that everything is ready for her to become Christ's bride, to which she answers that her father's authority "has power on my life but not on my liberty". To him, her answer seems to confirm she is the fruit of her mother's infidelity. His son's corpse is brought in. He asks who killed him, and, hearing Eusebio's name, exclaims: "It is Eusebio who has stolen from me both life and honor." When Julia meets Eusebio, in despair he proposes to offer himself to Curcio's rage, which Julia prevents by letting him escape through the window. The townspeople's persecutions have driven Eusebio to live as a robber. He and his cronies shoot to rob an old priest, Alberto, but a book carried before his breast blocks the fatal entry of the bullet, a book he wrote, entitled "The miracles of the cross". Eusebio orders that he keep his money, only wishing to keep the book. Alberto deplores Eusebio's manner of life in filling the mountain with crosses over men's murdered bodies, but promises to act as his confessor when the bandit nears death. Though pursued by Curcio and his friends and despite the appearance of a blinding light, the lover succeeds in climbing over the walls of the convent to take Julia out. After finding her, Eusebio is about to scale the walls once more, Julia hanging on to him, when he notices a cross printed on her breast, the same birth-mark as his. He is so shaken by this sign that he changes his mind, now wishing her to let go and remain in the cloister. At the juncture, Eusebio falls, finding the air filled with "inflamed thunders". "The heavens all bloody and ready to press down on me," he exclaims. While he escapes with his friends, Julia hesitates, climbs back down from the wall, but cannot find the ladder because Eusebio's other friends removed it, so that she is forced to jump out alone. On the mountain-side, Gil, a peasant, has a suit covered with crosses, used as a protection against Eusebio, known to be devoted to that sign. Nevertheless, Eusebio finds and captures him. His brigand-friends enter with a new captive: Julia, masked, in men's clothes. Julia says she will reveal her identity when left alone with Eusebio, then challenges him to a sword-fight for having abandoned her. As Julia removes her mask, Eusebio is terrified at seeing his old love "in this profane disguise". Julia reveals that, fearing treachery on her way towards her foresworn lover, she has already killed four men and one woman. They are interrupted by news that Curcio and a great number of townspeople have entered the mountain-side looking for the bandits. Shots are heard. Curcio finds Eusebio and fights against him with a sword. Eusebio is so struck with respect by Curcio's white hairs that he abandons his sword, so that the two begin to wrestle. But Curcio's appearance inspires him to abandon the fight. The peasants enter to kill Eusebio as a thief and murderer, but, to their astonishment, Curcio protects him. In the confusion Eusebio escapes, though covered with wounds. He is found a second time by Curcio, who, looking at his wounds, discovers on his chest the birth-mark of the cross, by which the father recognizes his son, crying: "Was I destined to weep for one dead whom I abhorred alive?" Eusebio dies while calling out for Alberto, who never appeared, contrary to his promise. Curcio learns that Julia has escaped from the convent, and goes out despairing. Alberto enters at last. To Gil's terror, the dead Eusebio calls out once more Alberto's name for his confession, as a reward of his devotion to the cross. It is only then that the "criminal and infamous" Julia discovers she was at the same time Eusebio's love and his sister. On learning this, the angry father strides forth to kill his incestuous daughter, but, taking hold of the cross over Eusebio's grave, she is saved from his wrath by miraculously disappearing.

Lope de Vega wrote about the dangers arising from too closely considering one's sense of honor. Portrait by an unknown artist

"The gardener's dog"[edit]

"The gardener's dog". Time: 1610s. Place: Naples, Spanish possession.

"The gardener's dog" text at ?

Diana, countess of Belflor, discovers a man has visited one of her waiting women late at night and intends to find out who. At the same time, she asks her secretary, Teodoro, whether he improved a love-letter supposedly written by a friend but, unknown to anyone, actually herself. After interrogation, she discovers the late-night visitor was Teodoro and the other culprit, Marcela, one of her waiting women. Teodoro immediately repudiates her, since the countess would not allow such a relation in her house, but Marcela suspects the real reason is his love of the countess. The countess asks Teodoro's opinion about two of her official suitors, Ricardo, a marquis, and Federico, a count. Reluctantly, he answers Ricardo has a better shape. To his astonishment, she immediately says she will marry Ricardo. A disheartened Teodoro comments to Tristan, his servant: "Not to have answered foolishly was proof of my folly." With the countess out of his reach, Teodoro tries to reconcile himself with Marcela, but without success. After hearing Teodoro speak ill of her, the countess asks him to write another love-letter, commenting by the way that when a woman of high condition loves, it is base to speak with another. She decides to marry Marcela to another servant of hers, Fabio. Hearing the joyful news, Ricardo arrives to see his bride-to-be, but Diana tells him he misunderstood her meaning. Bewildered, Teodoro tells her she illustrates the tale of the gardener's dog, neither eating nor allowing anyone to eat. She forbids him hoping to obtain Marcela's hand, slaps his face hard, and leaves. "She damped with blood his handkerchief," exclaims Federico, amazed to see such violence: Then she returns and asks Teodoro for the handkerchief. Considering Teodoro their rival, Ricardo and Federico conspire to kill him. Not knowing he is Teodoro's servant, they engage Tristan for that work. To save his master, he reveals to a visitor, Count Ludovico, that Teodoro is his son captured many years ago by Moorish pirates. Recognizing the hopelessness of his love, Teodoro decides to leave, but is prevented by the arrival of Ludovico, who embraces him as a son. With the main obstacle to her love now lifted, Diana at last admits she loves Teodoro and permits Marcela to marry Fabio.

"The Sheep Well"[edit]

"The Sheep Well". Time: 15th century. Place: Fuenteovejuna, Spain.

"The Sheep Well" text at ?

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella have the final judgment on the villagers' revolt at the Sheep Well

After a military victory, Guzman, commander of Calatrava, is greeted with gifts by mayor Estuban and the citizens of Fuenteovejuna (the Sheep Well). But the commander shows little gratitude. He seeks to force a townswoman, Laurencia, to enter his house, but is prevented by, Frondoso, her lover, after picking up the commander's crossbow and threatening him with it. Another townswoman, Jacinta, is pursued by two of the commander's servants. Laurencia and Pascuala flee, but a laborer, Mengo, defends her. Guzman enters and commands that he be whipped till his servants' belt-buckles drop off. He no longer wants her but leaves her to the lust of the dregs of his army. Fighting on behalf of Alphonsus, king of Portugal, against Ferdinand of Aragon for the crown of Castile, Guzman and the grand master of Calatrava lose Ciudad-Real to the forces of Ferdinand and Isabella. He returns to Fuenteovejuna, interrupting Frondonso and Laurencia's wedding, and taking them away in prison. He strikes the mayor's face for attempting to prevent it. While the townspeople discuss what to do, Mengo discourages any thought of revolt, saying that if they resist "you will resemble slices of fresh salmon". The townpeople hesitate, but prodded by the mistreated Laurencia who has escaped from her captors, they unanimously agree to take up arms against the tyrant. Laurencia also calls on the women to revolt, crying out: "Is it not mostly us women who have been outraged?" In the insurrection, they free Frondoso with the women's help, Pascuala crying out: "We must have all his blood" and "I'll die by killing." They kill the commander. Ferdinand and Isabella send reinforcements to Fuenteovejuna, whereby an examining judge orders the torture one by one of the entire townspeople until they confess who killed the commander, but all cry out: "Fuenteovejuna!" Before Ferdinand and Isabella, the grand master opines that all the townspeople should be condemned to death. The mayor and some of the townspeople enter before the king and queen to plead their case. Since none can identify who killed the commander, the king decrees that the townspeople are free to go.

Tirso de Molina wrote about the rigors of religious faith. Drawing by an unknown artist

"Damned for lack of faith"[edit]

"Damned for lack of faith". Time: 1620s. Place: Naples, Italy.

"Damned for lack of faith" text at ?

Paulo, a hermit living in cave, receives the visit of the devil, whom he considers an angel, who advises him to go to Naples and observe a man named Enrico, because God's will is that he share his fate. Supposing Enrico a saint, Paulo rejoices. In Naples, the first thing Paulo learns of Enrico is that, bothered by a beggar, he pushed him in the sea. To amuse himself, Enrico suggests to his friends that they reveal their darkest deeds, the winner being crowned with laurel. Enrico wins the prize for robbery, arson, rape, manslaughter, and murder. On learning this, Paulo weeps, thinking that Enrico is destined to lie in hell and that he will share the same fate. If so, Paulo might as well live the same kind of life. Despite his crimes, Enrico cares for his father, Anareto, lying sick in his bed. Whenever in his presence, he is unable to commit any. Closing his father's bed-curtains, Enrico heads towards yet another murder, Albano's, requested by Octavio, but he is unable to, because the man resembles all too much his father. When Octavio demands his money back, Enrico kills him instead, as well as the governor of the guards. Meanwhile, Paulo becomes a leader of a band of robbers. In a forest, they rob three travelers, whom he commands to hang from an oak. A shepherd enters, declaring that God never refuses mercy to anyone who asks pardon, but Paulo lacks confidence in these words. Paulo's henchman, Pedrisco, reveals that Enrico and his friend, Galvan, have been saved from sea dangers and will be brought to him bound up by his fellow bandits. To his prisoners, Pedrisco says they must expect to die, pierced by arrows, but, secretly, to the bandits he denies it. To them Paulo enters as a hermit, carrying rosary beads and a cross. While Galvan awaits his fate, Paulo comments: "Every passing fly reminds me of an arrow." Paulo requests them to confess their sins. Enrico refuses, but Galvan accepts. Frustrated about Enrico's hard heart, Paulo discards his hermit's garb, crying out: "I return to infamy and become again a serpent." He commands Enrico and Galvan to be freed. When Paulo reveals his story, Enrico says he will always act as he has always done but without despairing, knowing that God's pity saves. Enrico is reminded of his father, and, despite the danger, asks leave to return to Naples, accompanied by Pedrisco. Both are caught and imprisoned. Enrico tries to escape, kills a guard, but is recaptured. Alone in his prison cell, Enrico hears a voice, the devil's, appearing in the shape of a shadow, who shows him the way out, but another voice, a singing voice, advises him to remain, for otherwise he dies. Enrico decides to stay. His death-sentence is pronounced. A jailor enters to ask whether he accepts to see two priests of the order of St. Francis. Enrico refuses. Anareto arrives to sway his son towards religious thoughts, swearing he will be his father no more unless his son confesses, to which Enrico finally yields. In the forest, Paulo sees the shepherd a second time, who tearfully removes leaves from a crown prepared for straying sheep. A vision appears to them, appearing like two angels bearing Enrico's soul to heaven. Suddenly, Paulo and Galvan are surrounded by officers of the law. While the latter attempts to escape, the former fights back and is pierced through by many arrows. Seeing his leader down on the ground and near death, Pedrisco, recently freed from prison, discloses with hope that Enrico died as a Christian, lifted by angels, but Paulo considers this an illusion. His final words are: "God promised me: if Enrico is saved, so am I." Pedrisco covers his dead body with leaves as more officers arrive to seize him and Galvan. When the former removes the branches to show them Paulo's body, he is discovered to be surrounded by flames.

"The mocker of Seville"[edit]

"The mocker of Seville". Time: 14th century. Place: Naples and Spain.

"The mocker of Seville" text at ?

Don Juan confronted by the statue of the commander as depicted by Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard (1780-1850)

At Naples, a man in the dark promises marriage to Isabella, a duchess. As she is about to get some lights, he says: "I will put out your light." He is not the Octavio, as she thought, but Don Juan, seeking to escape after seducing her. As she cries out for help, the king of Naples and his retinue enter. The king orders Don Pedro, uncle to Juan, to arrest the culprit. But Pedro lets him go and tells the king Octavio is the culprit. When Pedro informs Octavio of the case, he leaves for Spain, while Juan heads near the coast of Tarragona, where his life is saved from shipwreck by Catalino, his servant. Tisbea, a peasant-girl, is able to revive him on the shore. He rewards her by promising marriage and then abandoning her. King Alfonso of Castille has learned the truth about Juan's disloyalty in Naples and orders his exile from Seville. The marquis of Mota has obtained from his cousin, Anna, a secret meeting in the night, but this message is intercepted by Juan. Thinking he is there to help, the marquis gives his cloak to Juan, with which the latter secretly enters Anna's house and seduces her, but is found out by her father, Commander Gonzalo. When confronted with his misdeed, Juan kills him. As Juan escapes, the marquis of Mota is arrested for Gonzalo's murder. The king orders a statue to be sculpted above the commander's tomb, with an inscription asking for vengeance on his death. On his way to Libraja, Juan assists at the wedding dinner of Patricio among other shepherds in the country-side, sitting next to the bride, Aminta, quite cozy together, until her father reminds him that the groom is Patricio, not he. Alone with Patricio, Juan admits having loved Aminta for a long time and wishes to take her now. Supposing Aminta at fault, Patricio desists from his demands. With the father's consent at his proposal of marriage, Juan enters into Aminta's room, brags of his honorable relations, and triumphs over her. Meanwhile, Isabella arrives in Tarragona on her way to marry Juan by order of the king. She meets Tisbea, who reveals Juan's treachery. In a church at Seville where the commander is buried, Juan notices his marble statue, and, in a pleasant whim, invites him to supper. That same night, a knock is heard at Juan's door, Catalino being struck dumb, unable to say who it is. Gonzalo enters in the form of a statue. Unlike his anxious servant, Juan calmly invites him to sit. The servant asks the statue how are things in the other world, but he does not answer, wishing to be alone with Juan. All the servants present at this meeting exit hurriedly. Gonzalo offers Juan his hand, inviting him the following night to supper in the chapel, which he accepts. Juan offers to light his way, but Gonzalo has no need of any light, considering himself "in a state of grace". In the king's palace, Octavio learns of Juan's treachery with Aminta, who arrives with her father to marry Juan, at which point Octavio seizes the opportunity of unmasking Juan before the king. In the church, as planned, Gonzalo invites him to the supper, which Catalino prefers to avoid, supposing that where they are about to go "everything must be cold". Juan lifts the tomb's cover to reveal a black table filled with scorpions, vipers, bile, and vinegar. Juan, alarmed, cries out: "My heart freezes and burns." Gonzalo once more offers his hand, which, taken by Juan, causes an acute sense of burning. "Little, compared to the fire reserved for you," announces the commander, after which he and Juan disappear inside the tomb. When Catalino informs the king of Juan's sudden death, the marquis is free to marry Anna and Octavio, Isabella.

Juan Ruiz de Alarcon wrote about the dangers of too closely attending to rumors

"Walls have ears"[edit]

"Walls have ears". Time: 1610s. Place: Madrid, Spain.

"Walls have ears" text at

http://www.comedias.org/play_texts/translat/wallhe1.html

Don Juan confesses his love to Anna, but is rejected by her, who finds his appearance unattractive and loves Mendo instead. Mendo says he loves her, too, but has an eye on Lucrecia at the same time. In return, Lucrecia loves him, but suffers on finding out from a count he still longs for Anna. Juan and Mendo accompany the duke of Urbino on his round of pleasures. When Anna is discussed, Juan praises her, but Mendo, fearing to attract the duke's attention towards her, avoids the subject, an event overheard by her. She is all the more discouraged after Lucrecia shows her a compromising love-letter Mendo sent her. Urbino and Juan overhear Anna say to Mendo she heard him speak ill of her, a demonstration that "walls have ears". Frustrated, Mendo seizes her but is chased away by Urbino's servants. Juan admits to Anna of acting as the duke's go-between for pure love of her, wishing her happiness above all, even at his expense, but she says the duke's social rank is too high for her ambition. Juan advises Urbino to forget her, but yet he perseveres. "In that case, love and suffer," recommends Juan. Meanwhile, the count shows Lucrecia a compromising love-letter written by Mendo to Anna. On learning that Mendo intends to surprise Anna in her garden, Juan hides there to spy on them. Mendo tells Anna the truth about why he insulted her in front of the duke, at which time the latter enters to overhear their conversation. Despite his explanation, Anna rejects Mendo and takes Juan by the hand as a sign of betrothal in front of the duke, who, incensed, draws his sword on him, crying out: "I'll punish your false friendship," but he is disarmed. Seeing he has lost Anna, Mendo turns hopefully towards Lucrecia, but she rejects him in favor of the count.