History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Spanish Realist
The major playwright of late 19th century Spanish theatre is José Echegaray (1832–1916), notably with "El gran Galeoto" (The great Galeoto, 1881), "Mariana" (1891), and "El hijo de Don Juan" (Don Juan's son, 1892).
Galeoto refers to the go-between who united in adultery Lancelot and Guinevere, King Arthur's queen. Hunt (1913) summarized the outcome of the play as follows: "we are given to understand that the young wife and the adopted son are not only innocent of any thought of evil, but would have remained so had they not been driven to desperation by the torture of the merest small talk— not slander, but listless, aimless, dispassionate gossip" (p 38). "Calumny tends to make real whatever it assumes. Talk scandal concerning an innocent man and woman, and you go far toward making them guilty. The scandalmongering crowd is the great go-between, the 'great Galeoto', forcing together those whom it chances to bind in suspicion" (Chandler, 1914 p 319). "The one tragedy of gossip in dramatic literature— mark how it stands midway between comedy of gossip and tragedy of slander— is the work of Echegaray" (Hunt, 1913 p 40). Archer (1897) viewed Julian's fall as masterly presented: “except in the third act of Othello, I know not where to find a parallel for the inevitableness of the process by which, without the intervention of any Iago, he is swept through all the shades of feeling between the serenest faith and the wildest jealousy” (pp 44-45). Nirdlinger (1899) lauded the story's intrinsic interest. "Where, in all the range of the modern drama, is there a play that surpasses this product of Echegaray's genius in universal interest of theme? The subtle, insidious, inevitable mischief of scandal— under what sun, among what men, in what caste of life, in what conditions of intelligence and thought would that subject want appeal and sympathy? What more tremendous and thrilling motive than the exposition of a tragedy wrought by the merest trifles— a glance, a shrug of the shoulders, a careless word of gossip, a flippant allusion? A man and woman thrown into each other's arms, utterly despite themselves, by the fiendish prowess of such bagatelles! The arch passion flaming up in quiescent souls that, unfanned by scandal, would have flickered on forever, harmlessly, innocently, in ignorance of their latent sentiments" (p 215). "The tradition-oriented society has not only undermined the integrity of the individual, but has also sacrificed the nobler aspects of traditional honor to the baser concept of honor as opinion. Echegaray, in this work, gives evidence of a shift from honor as a positive force in society to honor as a destructive force" (Podol, 1972 p 57).
Regarding "Mariana", Archer (1897) stated that “Daniel stands alone among lovers. He is passion itself, passion incarnate. Echegaray has the romanticist's love for dealing in prodigies...Daniel is nothing of the sort; he is a quite commonplace, simple-minded young man. It is love, and love alone, that lends him poetry, eloquence, genius. There is no art in his wooing; it is even touchingly artless; its strength lies in its intense, overwhelming sincerity. He has this advantage over Romeo himself, that he has a certain amount of resistance to overcome. Mariana loves him from the first; it would be a mistake to interpret her coquetry otherwise but the experiences of her childhood and girlhood, which she relates with such exquisite pathos in the second act, have made her shrink from love and cling desperately to her liberty of heart. Thus Daniel, during the first two acts, has to battle with a deep-seated dread, veiling itself in coquetry and sometimes in deliberate cruelty” (p 54). In the view of Ríos-Font (1992), it is in "Mariana" where "Echegaray first creates a self-sustaining heroine. The title character is no longer conceived in terms of her importance to others: Mariana is driven by a strong passion, and the drama's pathos arises from the conflict between her desire and her beliefs. Having seen her mother abused by a husband and prostituted by a lover, Mariana has grown to hate men and resolves to punish the whole sex in her suitor Daniel.... About to marry Daniel through her own choice..., Mariana finds out that his father was the man who dishonored her mothher. Her moral principles prevent her from carrying on their romance... Mariana has transgressed, both socially -through independence- and sexually- through desire- the 'female boundaries', but for this boldnes she pays with her life. Despite the apparent subversion of the melodramatic mandate of domestic passivity, the ending of Echegaray's play reinforces the male view of femininity" (pp 26-27).
"Don Juan's son" is a retelling of Ibsen's "Ghosts" (1881). Yet Shaw (1916) insisted that "his treatment of the 'Ghosts' theme is perfectly original: there is not in it a shadow of the peculiar moral attitude of Ibsen. Echegaray remorselessly fixes all the responsibility on Don Juan (Alving), who is as resolutely vicious as Shelley’s Count Cenci" (p 86). Nevertheless, the similarity of the wording at the end whereby Lazaro clamors for the sun is a weakness in the play. Gassner (1954) interpreted the play as opposite to Ibsen's. "A theme that Ibsen had utilized in 'Ghosts' for a challenging call for moral freedom becomes in Echegeray’s drama a literal demonstration of heredity supplemented by conventional ethics. The parents are punished for having violated the taboo against profligacy instead of suffering for accepting the conventions of marriage as denounced by Ibsen" (p 425). For Archer (1997), the scene where Lazaro discovers the doctor's diagnosis is of “extraordinary strength and originality...The scene is painful in the extreme, but is worked up with amazing ingenuity and power. Every facet of the situation is presented in turn, and each is more appalling than the last” (pp 47-48).
In general, “Echegaray has a rare genius for wringing every drop of effect out of a situation. His technique is often clumsy and careless (according to our ideas), his mechanism antiquated; but in the thoroughness with which he works out all the various aspects and potentialities of a given conjuncture, he has scarcely a rival” (Archer, 1997 pp 46-47).
"The great Galeoto"
Time: 1880s. Place: Madrid, Spain.
Julian, a banker, owes much in his business advancement to Ernesto's father. "Don Juan of Acedo risked for my family name and wealth, almost his life," Julian avers. In return, Julian has housed and fed Ernesto at his expense for the past year. Because Ernesto feels guilty about this arrangement, Julian offers him a post as his secretary. Julian's brother and sister-in-law, Severo and Mercedes respectively, both falsely suspect Ernesto of being the lover of Julian's wife, Teodora. Mercedes reveals to Teodora that the arrangement between the two men is viewed suspiciously by the common talk of society. Teodora is offended by this suspicion and sobs. Ernesto guesses that the two have maligned him and so changes his mind about the secretary position, preferring instead to travel, but Julian refuses to consider it. "I have not the habit of changing my mind or the plans I have matured because of a boy's caprice or a madman's folly," he pronounces,"and I have still less intention of weakly subjecting my actions to the town's idle gossip." Yet Ernesto leaves his house to live in a shabby apartment. Julian and Severo learn from Pepito, the latter's son, that because of Viscount Nebreda's innuendos about the supposed adultery, Ernesto hit him and provoked the threat of a duel. "I mean to do what I ought and can, to avenge myself and save Don Juan of Acedo's son," the outraged Julian says. "Observe: until today calumny was impalpable. There was no seizing its shape. I have now discovered it, and it has taken a human form. There it is at hand, in the person of a viscount." Pepito learns that Ernesto has written a play called "Galeoto" and asks him who does the name refer to. Galeoto refers to a character in Dante's "Divine Comedy". "Galeoto was the go-between for the queen and Launcelot and in all loves the third may be truthfully nicknamed Galeoto, above all when we wish to suggest an ugly word without shocking an audience," Ernesto answers. Hearing of his impending duel and his intention to leave Spain for America, Teodora begs him to avoid the duel, for it is her husband's duty to defend her reputation, not his. He disagrees. "Every honorable man has the right to defend a lady," he declares. On hearing a nearby noise, Teodora rushes to hide in his bedroom. It is Julian carried inside by Severo and Pepito as a result of being wounded by the viscount's sword. They wish to deposit him on Ernesto's bed, which the latter attempts to obstruct, but Severo pushes past him, so that Teodora's presence in Ernesto's bedroom is revealed to Julian as he faints. Seeking revenge for harming his friend, Ernesto clashes with the viscount and succeeds in killing him. When Mercedes informs Teodora of the viscount's death, she probes into her conscience regarding Ernesto, declaring she is sure he loves her. Alone with Ernesto, Teodora angrily spurns him away, so that he pleads with her on his knees not to abandon him. When Severo discovers the two together, he guesses the worst about the nature of their relation. "I can find no word or epithet adequate to the passion of contempt I would express, so I must be content to call you a blackguard," Ernesto declares. "Leave this house at once." But hearing him insult Teodora, Ernesto refuses to go. Instead, he forces him to kneel to her. A dying Julian enters, forcing the guiltless Ernesto down on his own knees. "Bad friend, bad son!" he cries and strikes him on the face, then totters out to his death. Still incensed and indignant, Severo orders Teodora out of the house. Seizing this opportunity, Ernesto claims her as his. "She is mine." he affirms. "The world has so desired it, and its decision I accept; it has driven her to my arms." The great Galeoto has won: public opinion has driven the lovers in each other's arms.
Time: 1890s. Place: Spain.
The rich widow Mariana has two suitors, Pablo, a general, and Daniel, a rich man's son. To both she offers a flower from her bosom. She invites Daniel to escort her to a ball, but he cannot, as his father may be dying. He yet asks her not to replace him with his rival, but she refuses. "Lead us to victory, my dear general," she commands. "And where is the victory?" Pablo asks. "And does a general ask that?" Mariana answers defiantly, "Where someone may be conquered." Eager to help Daniel, his friend, Joaquin speaks favorably of him to Mariana and requests her to declare herself one way or another. "Why?" she asks. "If he is happy at my side, if he is happy in his suffering, and I am happy in making him suffer, why should we be separated?" Despite such ambivalence, Daniel is unwilling to leave her. Mariana says she is that way as a result of her mother running away from her father for the sake of a lover named Alvarado. "I feel no love, I feel no tenderness, and I don't want to feel them," she declares. He accepts to continue in this way, but at least let her not love another; otherwise, he promises to kill both her and him. But when Mariana discovers that Daniel is Alvarado's son, she promptly decides to marry Pablo. On the evening of their marriage night, Mariana pretends to suffer from a headache. Daniel surprises her alone, proposing to take her away. She refuses. Having heard some noise in her room, Pablo enters with a pistol. He shoots to death Mariana and invites Daniel outside for a duel, but he refuses. "There was only one life worth combating for and that lies there," Daniel concludes. "What does such lives as ours matter? Adieu. No! I shall be with you soon, Mariana, I shall be with you soon."
"Don Juan's son"
Time: 1890s. Place: Spain.
Don Juan had led a riotous life, full of drinkings and adulteries, but he is confident that his son, Lazaro, will make up for his lost life with a brilliant career as a writer. Juan's cronies are set to go off again to revels, including Timoteo, father of Carmen, Lazaro's intended. "You gay young dog," Timoteo cries out to Juan, "lead us on to glory and to pleasure." Meanwhile, Carmen and Dolores, Juan's wife, worry over Lazaro's failing health. He is often nervous and unable to concentrate while struggling and sweating over a book by Kant. Dolores consults Dr Bermudez about the condition of her son. Thinking the case concerns his cousin, the doctor blurts out his diagnosis: the first stages of syphilitic dementia transmitted to him by his father's frequent orgies. After finding out the truth of the matter, the doctor clumsily denies the certainty of his diagnosis, but Lazaro feels it to be true. He asks him when the disease will strike, but the doctor only answers him in a vague way. When Timoteo arrives to give away his daughter's hand, Lazaro refuses. Turning to his father, he says: "You gave me life, but that 's not enough: give me more life, to live, to love, to be happy- give me life for my own Carmen- give me more life, or cursed be the life you gave me!" then falls unconscious. Though his condition fluctuates from one day to another, Lazaro seems destined to die a miserable death. He no longer has any wish to speak to Carmen and calls instead for his father and mother. Raving, bitterly remembering childhood memories, he then rejects his father. "No. I remember everything now; between the two, no; I was alone with my mother; you were not there. Go away, go away," he cries out. Remembering during his childhood how his mother once chose to send him away from home, he rejects her as well. At last, beginning to go blind, he calls out, to the horror of all three: "The sun! The sun! I want the sun."
A pastoral drama, "Terra Baixa" (1896) (Lowlands, also known as Martha of the Lowlands) is a Catalan-language play written by Àngel Guimerà (1845-1924).
Time: 1890s. Place: Catalania, Spain.
Villagers in the lowlands have heard a rumor whereby the master of the town, Sebastian, has arranged a marriage between his ward, Martha, and Manelic, a goatherd living in the uplands. One of the villagers reveals to his companions in a low voice the following opinion: "They can't fool me. The master's been huntin' a husband for her for a long time, but he couldn't find one. They both wanted a man who would be like a dumb brute, more so than any of us-" On his arrival, the villagers smile or laugh at Manelic's simplicity. "Every night, without missin' one, I say my prayers; first a paternoster, and then another paternoster, which makes two paternosters," he specifies. "The first for the souls of my father and mother, because they loved each other so; one is enough for both. And the other paternoster- do you know what it is for?- Why, so the Lord would send me a good wife." Martha is displeased to be the chosen one, but yet submits to the powerful Sebastian. "Why, that's what I want." he says. "You don't know how glad I am to hear you say it. Do you think, if he pleased you, I'd let you marry him?" The planned marriage was helped by another villager, Thomas, but after hearing that Martha has been the master's mistress since she was a child, he baulks at it, but yet Sebastian imposes his will, Manelic to become the new miller. He himself is to marry another and thereby annul his uncle's testament whereby he would get nothing. After the ceremony, Martha insists that her husband sleep in a separate room. When she discovers her husband loves her, she is aghast with surprise and horror, having thought he accepted her for money. Hearing about the bad relations existing between husband and wife, the villagers laugh. Because Manelic suspects the presence of a man skulking about his house and because his wife shows no sign of loving him, he wants to return to the uplands without her, considering this place "a pit of misery". After learning this, Martha pleads to follow Manelic and thereby escape from Sebastian's baleful influence, even goading him to stab her with a knife rather than abandoning her. Manelic recoils from further violence and decides to take her with him after all, but Sebastian prevents it and removes him from his post. To encourage Manelic to come back to her, Martha reveals that Sebastian is the man he was worried about. As Marta prepares to escape one night from the village, she is caught in time by Sebastian. She struggles against him. As he catches her by the throat, Manelic tears the door-curtain aside and stands peering in. He challenges Sebastian to fight, but, seeing him unarmed, throws his knife away. He strangles Sebastian to death, then, standing in front of the villagers, points towards the mountains. Martha nods absently in agreement. They run away together, the people falling back to make room for them.