History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Spanish Renaissance
The four most important playwrights of this golden age of Spanish theatre are Lope de Vega (1562-1635), Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681), Tirso de Molina (c. 1571-1648), and Juan Ruiz de Alarcón (c. 1581-1639). All four playwrights excel in dramatic tension. Calderón 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. Alarcón and Molina are situated in-between the two in terms of elevation of poetic style. In Alarcón'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.
- 1 Lope de Vega
- 2 Pedro Calderón de la Barca
- 3 Tirso de Molina
- 4 Juan Ruiz de Alarcón
Lope de Vega
Lope de Vega was the first to establish Spanish Renaissance drama. Two of his best-known plays are "El perro del hortelano" (The gardener's dog, 1618, also known as The dog in the manger) and "Fuente Ovejuna" (The Sheep Well, 1619).
"The gardener's dog"
Time: 1610s. Place: Naples, Spanish possession.
Diana, countess of Belflor, discovers a man met 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 written by herself. After interrogation, she discovers the late-night visitor was Teodoro and the waiting woman, Marcela. Teodoro immediately repudiates Marcela, since he knows that the countess would disallow such a relation in her house, but Marcela suspects the real reason is his love of their mistress. Countess Diana 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, that in this case, "not to have answered foolishly was proof of my folly." With the countess now out of reach, Teodoro tries to reconcile himself with Marcela, but without success. After hearing a rumor whereby Teodoro spoke 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 off Marcela to another servant of hers, Fabio. Hearing the joyful news of the countess' willingness to accept him, Ricardo arrives to see his bride-to-be, but she informs him that he misunderstood her meaning. A bewildered Teodoro tells his mistress that she illustrates in real life 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," says the bemused Federico, amazed to find such violence in his mistress. She then returns to ask Teodoro for the handkerchief. Considering Teodoro their rival, Ricardo and Federico conspire to kill him. Unaware that he is Teodoro's servant, they engage Tristan for that work. To save his master, Tristan reveals to a palace visitor, Count Ludovico, that Teodoro is the count's son captured many years ago by Moorish pirates whom he introduced to the palace. Recognizing the hopelessness of his love, Teodoro decides to leave the house, but is prevented by the arrival of Ludovico, who embraces him as his long-lost son. With the main obstacle to her love now lifted by the revelation of Teodoro's noble rank, Countess Diana at last admits she loves him and permits Marcela to marry Fabio.
"The Sheep Well"
Time: 15th century. Place: Fuenteovejuna, Spain.
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, who picks up the commander's crossbow and threatens him with it. Another townswoman, Jacinta, is pursued by two of the commander's servants. Also in danger of being violated, Pascuala encounters Laurencia and both flee. When a laborer, Mengo, attempts to defend Laurencia from this threat, Guzman himself arrives and commands that he be whipped till his servants' belt-buckles drop off. He no longer wants her but instead leaves her to the lust of the dregs in his army. Fighting on behalf of Alphonsus, king of Portugal, Guzman and the grand master of Calatrava lose Ciudad-Real to the forces of Ferdinand of Aragon for the crown of Castile. He returns to Fuenteovejuna and interrupts Frondonso and Laurencia's wedding, takes them away in prison, and strikes the mayor's face for attempting to prevent it. While the townspeople discuss what to do, Mengo discourages any thought of revolt. In his view, resistance is futile. "You will resemble slices of fresh salmon," he says, resembling his buttocks after he was whipped. The townpeople hesitate, but prodded by the mistreated Laurencia who escaped from her captors, they unanimously agree to take up arms against the tyrant. Laurencia also calls on the women to revolt. "Is it not mostly us women who have been outraged?" she cries out. In the insurrection, the townspeople free Frondoso. Pascuala encourages them for more. "We must have all his blood," she cries out. "I'll die by killing." At last, the townspeople succeed in killing the commander. When they hear of this, Ferdinand and his queen, Isabella of Castille, send reinforcements to Fuenteovejuna, whereby an examining judge orders the torture one by one of the entire population until someone confesses who killed the commander. Despite being under the throes of torture, the population only cry out: "Fuenteovejuna!" Before Ferdinand and Isabella, the grand master of the kingdom suggests that all the townspeople should be condemned to death. As a final attempt to defend their lives, the mayor and some of the townspeople appear 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.
Pedro Calderón de la Barca
If Lope de Vega furnished the dramatic format of Spain's golden age, Pedro Calderón de la Barca developed it to its highest level. One of the best-known plays of Calderón 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 drama 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. Also of note is "La dama duende" (1629, The phantom lady), a comedy of household confusions.
"Life is a dream"
Time: 1630s. Place: Poland.
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In a mountain cave, Rosaura, disguised as a man and accompanied by her servant, Clarion, discovers 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. Astolfo wants to marry her and Basilio approves, thereby eliminating all controversies, but Estrella does not trust Astolfo, especially considering the portrait of a woman he carries along with him. Basilio had imprisoned his son and published news of his death because of "strange prodigies" heard 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 now 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, back as 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," she says. 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 off the balcony, reproaching the king for imprisoning him all his life on a mountain-side among beasts, brutally wooing Rosaura, attacking with a dagger Clotaldo 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 away from him. When Astolfo comes back, he recognizes Rosaura, but she denies it. 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 some 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 and he accepts. Clotaldo 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 his father. With the support of Astolfo and Estrella, Basilio will seek to counter his son in the field of combat. "I want my sword to repair the error of my science," he declares. 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 as his king's loyal subject. Clotaldo proposes that Rosaura enter a convent, but she refuses, donning instead a soldier's garb to kill Astulfo herself 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 the king is taken prisoner. Nevertheless, Sigismund generously submits himself to the king, who, with equal generosity, announces his son as the new ruler. Sigismund proposes that Astulfo marry Rosaura, yet in ignorance of her pedigree, hesitates about whether he should allow it 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 who helped him to escape from prison, because once a traitor, who can vouch he may not act as a traitor again?
"Devotion to the cross"
Time: 16th century. Place: Spain.
Lisardo and Eusebio intend 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. Before fighting, Eusebio tells his story, being 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 wears on his breast a birth-mark in the shape of a cross. As Eusebio and Lisardo fight, the latter is stabbed. Before dying, Lisardo 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." In Curio's view, that type of answer confirms she is the fruit of her mother's infidelity. When his son's corpse is brought in, he asks who killed him, and, hearing Eusebio's name, declares: "It is Eusebio who has stolen from me both life and honor." When Julia meets Eusebio, he proposes in despair 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, Eusebio 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. Eusebio is so shaken by this sign that he changes his mind, now wishing her to let go and remain in the cloister. At this 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 without knowing it is Julia masked in men's clothing. Julia says she will reveal her identity if 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 out: "Was I destined to weep for one dead whom I abhorred alive?" Eusebio dies while calling 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 from his sight.
"The phantom lady"
Time: 1620s. Place: Madrid, Spain.
Don Manuel heads for the house of his friend, Don Juan, at a moment when a veiled lady, Dona Angela, Juan's sister, asks for his help in preventing a man from pursuing her. As a result, Manuel and the pursuer, Don Luis, Juan's younger brother, quarrel and cross swords until Juan breaks up the fight and invites Manuel to his house to bind his wound. Angela has secretly been kept inside the house of her two brothers because of a debt owed to the crown by her dead husband. Out for some amusement her brother would not approve of, she fled from the palace grounds to her house, where she learns that the stranger who protected her has been placed in the guest room containing a single door except for a glass panel concealing a second one. Out of curiosity, with everyone away, she enters the room through the glass panel with her servant, Isabel, looks over Manuel's clothes and letters, and leaves a letter of thanks next to the pillow, expecting an answer, while Isabel steals money out of mischief from the purse of Manuel's servant, Cosme, and replaces the coins with charcoal. When Cosme returns to the room and sees garments spread all about the floor and his money gone, he thinks the room is haunted by a phantom. Manuel laughs away that threat but is nevertheless intrigued about how the letter got there. Considering her to be Luis' secret mistress, he responds to the letter by avowing himself as her protector still, the knight of the phantom lady, the letter being left in the room but delivered by Isabel as the go-between. One night, Isabel is unable to find the glass panel in the dark at the moment when Cosme enters trembling with a candle in hand and speaking in fear to the supposed phantom. To get away, she sneaks up behind, strikes him on the head, and blows out the candle, but not before Manuel grabs her basket, containing fresh linen for him as well as a letter stating that the phantom lady is not and never will be Luis' mistress. Instead, he loves a second guest of the house, his cousin, Beatriz, whom her father has shipped off after discovering her speaking to a man late at night from her balcony, unaware that the man is Juan, who loves her and is loved in return. To favor Angela's design of meeting Manuel in secret, Beatriz proposes to leave the house and thereby force the brothers away. This conversation is partly overheard by the spying Luis, who thinks Beatriz intends to meet his brother in secret and therefore plans a dire revenge. Manuel is one his way to court to deliver papers but is forced to return late at night because Cosme forgot to bring them along. On entering the guest room, he sees a dark figure next to a candle, seeming like a phantom but actually Angela looking over his papers to discover the identity of the woman whose portrait she discovered among them. When Manuel surmounts his fears and takes hold of her, she begs him to bolt the street-side door in case anyone comes to surprise them. When he returns, she disappears again through the glass panel. Manuel is eventually conveyed to her room by two manservants, though unaware he has reurned to the same house. Their talk is interrupted by the suspicious Juan, who complains that she has cast away her widow's clothes while Isabel conveys Manuel to the guest room through the glass panel in the dark. To their surprise, Manuel and Cosme discover each other back so soon inside their own room. While Manuel checks his bearings, Isabel, mistaking the servant for the master, leads him to Angela's room, then leads him back to escape Luis, looking for Beatriz after finding her sedan chair outside the house, now following both through the glass panel where he stands before Manuel while Cosme hides in fear underneath the table. Thinking that Manuel used the panel to get at his sister, Luis draws his sword and fights but is disarmed by him. While he withdraws to reflect on what to do next, his brother surprises Angela wandering about the grounds and, thinking Manuel away, locks her up inside the guest room, where she requests once more his protection and confesses her love. When Luis returns, he agrees to Manuel's marriage with his sister just as Juan agrees with Beatriz, but when Cosme is offered Isabel, he declines in fear of being madder than he already is.
Tirso de Molina
Tirso de Molina (c. 1571-1648) is a third master if the drama of the period. Two of his best-known plays are "El condenado por desconfiado" (Damned for lack of faith, 1624) and "El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra" (The mocker of Seville and the stone guest, more precisely The mocker of Seville and the stone guest, 1630), the latter play concerning the infidelities of Don Juan and his violent end.
"Damned for lack of faith"
Time: 1620s. Place: Naples, Spanish possession.
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Paulo, a hermit living in cave, receives the visit of what he considers an angel but is actually the devil, 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 into 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 many crimes, Enrico charitably cares for his father, Anareto, ailing in his bed. Whenever in his father's presence, Enrico is unable to commit any type of crime. Closing his father's bed-curtains, Enrico heads towards yet another murder, Albano's, requested by Octavio, but is unable to, because the man resembles his father. When Octavio demands his money back, Enrico kills him instead along with 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. 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 with others in the band, Paulo can only think of his own death. "Every passing fly reminds me of an arrow," he says. Nevertheless, Paulo asks them to confess their sins. Galvan accepts, but Enrico refuses. 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 promises to 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: two angels bearing Enrico's soul towards heaven. Soon after, 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 and the stone guest"
Time: 14th century. Place: Naples and Spain.
At Naples, a man in the dark promises marriage to Duchess Isabella. As she is about to get some lights, he murmurs to himself: "I will put out your light." He is not 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. Instead, Pedro lets him go and tells the king that Octavio is the culprit. When Pedro informs Octavio of what he has done, the latter leaves for Spain, while Juan heads near the coast of Tarragona, where his life is saved from shipwreck by his servant, Catalino, along with a peasant-girl, Tisbea, who helps 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. Don Juan next intercepts a message from the marquis of Mota to his cousin, Anna. Considering him a friend, the marquis hands over his cloak to Juan, with which the latter secretly enters Anna's house and seduces her. This misdeed is discovered by her father, Commander Gonzalo, who angrily confronts him with his deed. A cornered Juan kills him. As Juan escapes, the marquis of Mota is mistakenly arrested for Gonzalo's murder. The king orders a statue to be sculpted above the commander's tomb, with an inscription requesting vengeance for his death. On his way to Libraja, Juan is invited 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 refuses to 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 sup in a chapel, an invitation 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's deeds before the king. In the church, as planned, Gonzalo leads Juan to 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. "My heart freezes and burns," Juan cries out in alarm. Gonzalo once more offers his hand, causing an acute sensation of burning in Juan's. "A small matter compared with the fire reserved for you," the commander promises, after which he and Juan disappear inside the tomb. When Catalino informs the king of Juan's sudden death, the marquis becomes free to marry Anna and Octavio, Isabella.
Juan Ruiz de Alarcón
Juan Ruiz de Alarcón was a fourth playwright of importance in this period. One of the best-known plays of Alarcón is "Las paredes oyen" (Walls have ears, 1617) concerning the paranoid atmosphere surrounding the Spanish court.
"Walls have ears"
Time: 1610s. Place: Madrid, Spain.
Don Juan confesses his love to Anna, but is rejected by her. She finds his appearance unattractive, preferring Mendo instead. Mendo says he loves her, too, but has an eye on Lucrecia at the same time. Although Lucrecia loves him, too, she suffers on finding out from a count that he still longs for Anna. One day, 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. Indeed, "walls have ears". Frustrated by this misunderstanding, Mendo takes hold of 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. Encouraged by this word, Juan advises Urbino to forget her, but yet he perseveres. "In that case, love and suffer," Juan recommends. 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.