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

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Pedro Calderón de la Barca[edit | edit source]

What is the annoying noise of academias, competitions, speeches about this great dead man awake among so much that is asleep? Allow to dream, allow to think this strong work that hovers far from an impious and ridiculous age, above, beyond the pillars of Hercules.-Verlaine, Concerning a centenary of Calderon, Love, 1888. Portrait of the author by an unknown artist

Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681) continued work from the first to the second half of the 17th century with equal brillance, particularly "Guadarte del agua mansa" (Still waters run deep, or more literally Beware of sleeping waters, 1657), on the violent conflict arising between two rivals vying for the hands of two sisters of calm and turbulent personalities. A second play of renown is "El alcalde de Zalamea" (The mayor of Zalamea, 1651) about the conflicts arising between the interests of the army and those of the townspeople.

In "Beware of sleeping waters", "one of two sisters seems a model of propriety and the other appears to be an outrageous flirt. The comic idea is to show that each sister is different at bottom from what she seems to be upon the surface. The proper sister is able to manage her own affairs and secures a lover by masquerading as the gay sister, who for all her apparent flippancy is really a weak-willed creature. At first she agrees to marry her boorish cousin, the man of her father’s choice, and later, when he refuses to accept her, she succumbs to the lover nearest at hand. The demure sister, on the contrary, shows that a clever woman will get her way by fair means or foul, a point that is touched on lightly in many of Calderon’s comedies and handled superbly by Lope in The Gardeners Dog" (Perry, 1939 p 144).

In "The mayor of Zalamea", “the first two acts are delightful in their realistic picture of a country town, reminding us of passages in Heywood’s The English Traveller. Lope, ever complaining of his bad leg, and Crespo, volatile and friendly, are finely drawn, and the scene in the second act where they sit at supper with Isabel and her young brother Juan, concluding with the serenaders’ song coming to them through the window, is a delightful pastel. But in Act III all this goes to pieces. The rape shocks us because we could have no suspicion that the play was going to turn in this way. Alvaro, indeed, had not appeared particularly villainous. But perhaps we should remember Calderon’s Spain: Isabel was a peasant-girl and to the captain fair game, and Calderon may be suggesting that distress and violence are near the quiet surface of things, bringing a muddy dawn to the most placid and amusing of evenings” (Leech, 1950 p 217). The play "has been generally esteemed for the breadth and humanity of its conception as well as for the dignity of its central character...When Isabel unties Crespo’s hands after her rape, she expects him to kill her...Moreover...Crespo meets Juan who has drawn his dagger against Isabel...He is now a mayor, a dignity in which he is responsible to the king, and he can speak to the captain with authority, for the captain believes in power. But just as he set aside thoughts of revenge, so he sets aside his rod of office. He offers the captain everything- his property, his status, a life of slavery for himself and his son- if the captain will marry Isabel. He has lost credit in the eyes of the world. Now he is willing to renounce everything to which any thread of honour could possibly attach. When the captain remains adamant, Crespo throws his honour to the winds of public gossip by referring the matter to the law” (Dunn, 1965 pp 24-53). “Seeing that Calderon's world seems sometimes to consist too exclusively of the higher classes, and just such of the lower as minister immediately to their pleasures or necessities— the hearty homeliness of England's greatest poets, as of Chaucer and Shakespeare, being only too rare in him- one must not pass over his painful but noble tragedy of humble life, 'The mayor of Zalamea'. He has frequently been denied the faculty of drawing characters. Now, that his characters are sometimes deficient in strong individual delineation is certainly true; but that it is not always so this tragedy sufficiently attests. It is not here the peasant-judge alone who is distinctly marked, but almost every other of the dramatis persona as well” (Trench, 1856 pp 42-44). “The superiority of the peasant to the gentleman in this play is a thing the possibility of which we should have scarcely expected to find so frankly acknowledged, even in a solitary instance, by its courtly author...The depth of sympathy with the honest pride...of the lowly...makes 'The mayor of Zalamea' pre-eminent among the dramas of Calderon“ (Hasell, 1879 p 147). “A common peasant...sentences an officer and gentleman to death, further dishonours him by having him garrotted, and is exonerated, indeed rewarded; this was surely enough to blind the audience to the play’s poetry...Crespo’s son and daughter complete the picture of integrity and honour represented by Crespo himself...Juan is a younger immature version of Crespo...Alvaro is presented as enslaved by passion...More serious still is the captain’s false conception of honour [as the] prerogative of the nobleman...Don Lope...is so vividly drawn that assumes an importance quite disproportionate to his part...In the parallel phrases of Crespo...and Lope...the two characters say the same things in different words...Calderon wishes to emphasize what the two characters have in common...By hanging the captain, [Crespo] breaks the law of the state...[The king], recognizing that moral justice has been done, excuses the illegality of Crespo’s action” (Sloman, 1969 pp 221-246). “The religious law prevails over the secular one...We must remember that Crespo was not directly avenging himself. On the contrary, he tries to dissuade Alvaro to redeem his daughter’s honor by marrying her, thereby demonstrating enormous...powers of self-conquest...The death sentence is pronounced not by Crespo the father but by Crespo the judge. Without the king’s intervention, the law would have been on the side of the military, in spite of all moral considerations...He does not decree a new law. What he does is to uphold in this one case a form of justice higher than the law of the country” (Gerstinger, 1973 pp 126-127). “The characterizations are outstanding for their attention to variety and to detail. Crespo has a deep sense of honor and personal dignity...Captain Alvaro...is contumacious, proud, arrogant, vain and contemptuous of others...The gouty old general, Lope de Figueroa, is in a way a copy of Crespo. He is stubborn proud but also just, thoughtful, considerate and prudent. After his argument with Crespo, he yields discerningly to reason...Robelledo is a rogue like Mendo...both are interested only in financial gain. ‘The mayor of Zalamea' stands out as a dramatic masterpiece because of its close-knit construction, its life-like portrayal of both major and minor figures, the warmth of its humanity, its beautiful lyric verses, the loftiness of the themes, the intensity of its action, the skillful use of such technical device as timing, tone, argumentation and dialectics, the naturalness of its dialogue, of which blend into a perfect harmony and unity“ (Hesse, 1967 pp 61-63). Isabel’s send-off to a convent is often viewed by critics as a “penalty” (Honig, 1972 pp 108) or even a “tragedy” (Ter Horst, 1982 p 168) when it would not seem so to Catholics. “She is compelled to sacrifice the expectations of...wife and mother to an understanding of honor which makes the helpless victim of rape unfit for the usual feminine role” (Ter Horst, 1982 p 168). “The soldiers, Rebolledo, and La Chispa...[are] secondary characters in the action, but they...present the tone and the setting of military life, with its disorderly conduct, carefree and unruly, which is to be the background against which a dramatic conflict will unfold. La Chispa is a cheerful woman of loose life, who is to serve as the contrast with the modest and demure Isabel” (Parker, 1988 p 45). "The military must fan patriotic ardor and encourage foolhardy acts and vainglory in pursuing the collective goal of victory. When these passions and acts are misapplied to such nonmilitary objects as a woman's 'perfect beauty', their destructive fatality soon becomes apparent. It is against this concentrated, obsessed, annihilating drive in Don Alvaro that the discreet and self-conserving force in Crespo gradually asserts itself...Crespo's status and reputation are backed by good will and by wealth, the rewards of his husbandry and his amicable relations with other men. These assets give him substantial reasons to believe in his own honor, supporting as they do his personal and social identity in civil life. Don Alvaro's identity is enforced by birthright, by military rank, and by the combative, egocentric idealism of his class. These same conspicuous attributes cause his undoing in a civil society dominated by Crespo's pastoral virtues" (Honig, 1966 pp 141-142). “Pedro’s sparring relationship with the gout-testy old general, as honourable as he but rigid where Pedro is not, his loving support for the disgraced daughter who expects him to kill her, his tender affection for and firm guidance of his impulsive conventional son, Juan, his inspired handling of difficult people and situations, the predatory captain’s ominous obsession, the foppish hidalgo suitor equally ready, given the chance, to use and discard Isabel at will, her self-loathing after the rape, the mounting sense of an unavoidable disaster, the wide-ranging irony of tone and situation- all combine to make The Mayor of Zalamea an intensely moving and memorable play. And at the heart of it is the unforgettable figure of the man torn between the rival claims of duty, honour, paternal love and Christian forgiveness, who learns the hard way to distinguish false honour from true, self-interest from duty, vengeance from remedy and from punishment. Pedro Crespo’s ability to get his priorities right is a lesson that few of Calderon’s protagonists ever learn; the men in his world, above all the fathers, are not distinguished for their compassion, their humanity and their selflessness, which is why Pedro Crespo occupies a special place in our affections” (McKendrick, 1989 pp 146-147).

“Calderon’s style is equal to his dramatic construction. His plots excel not merely by technical skill, but even more by his grandeur of conception. The intensity of tragic passion found in some of his plays is almost unequalled, and the depth of his philosophy is found nowhere else in the Spanish drama. A court poet writing for a cultured audience, he is somewhat out of sympathy with Nature and lacks that touch which alone can give universality to the drama. In this respect he is inferior not only to Lope, but also to Tirso and Alarcon...[Calderon’s] plays show careful thought and preparation. Moreover, their matter contains much food for thought. In fact, the dramatist’s early training by the Jesuits gave him a liking for academic discussion, and in a sense his more serious plays are illustrations of contemporary themes such as the power of free-will (The Prodigious Magician) and predestination (Life is a Dream)” (Laborde, 1931 pp 158-159). “Calderon's conception of honor was often directly at variance with that which religion and ethics sanction…Calderon conceived honor to be the moral character which results from a religious fulfillment of the duties which society imposes and public opinion sanctions. His characters not only suffer for their own faults and the faults of others but for mere imagined mistakes and often for utter nonsense” (Herdler, 1893 p 78).

"Beware of sleeping waters"[edit | edit source]

The lively Clara attracts most attention, but still waters run deep when her sister, Eugenia, has her own say

Time: 1650s. Place: Madrid, Spain.

Text at https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.96879 https://archive.org/details/eightdramascald00barcgoog https://archive.org/details/eightdramascald01barcgoog https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/63776

Felix receives the visit of Juan and Pedro. They contemplate on the opposite side of his house Clara and Eugenia, daughters of his neighbor, Alonzo. Juan and Pedro reveal to Felix that they each love one of the two daughters but without saying more. Alonzo invites Torribio, his nephew, to marry one of the two, but neither like him. To Felix his house has become "the hospice of convalescence of the sick in love". In the street, Felix, Juan, and Pedro encounter the two sisters. When Felix asks for whom they sigh for, both Juan and Pedro answer the one holding a handkerchief and then leave him. Before he turns around, Eugenia hands the handkerchief over to Clara, and so Felix thinks it is her. Unknowing of the other two's intentions, Torribio offers his hand in marriage to Eugenia. When Alonzo announces Torribio's choice, the loud and lively Clara sarcastically offers to her quiet sister "sincere congratulations for her felicity". Eugenia submits to her father's will, yet requests Torribio to renounce the thought, refusing him for not having "I-do-not-know-what". When the rejected lover meets Alzonzo, he says he will never again appear before his love until finding I-do-not-know-what. Felix then enters to warn Clara that Juan and Pedro will hazard not only their lives for her sake but also her reputation. Not having had the chance of even knowing Felix, Juan, or Pedro, Clara is astonished at these news. Afraid of being compromised, Eugenia intercepts a letter Felix wrote to explain his views on these matters. Also afraid of being compromised, Clara calls out loudly so that the entire household enters to find out what is going on, so that an abashed Felix disappears. As Alzonzo, Torribio, and others search for him, Clara obtains the letter meant for her sister. Later, Eugenia sees Pedro in the street from her window and, to set matters right, declares she will no longer allow his liberties. She then expresses to Clara her view that "noise, agitation, and amusement" were what she looked for in a convent where she was raised. "The peril is in tranquil waves," she adds, "so the wisest has always known that still waters run deep." Another letter is brought to the two sisters, which Torribio out of jealousy wishes to see, but this is prevented by the sisters' duena, Maria. When he threatens to hit her, she hits him instead and cries out that she is being killed, so that the household is once again in an uproar. The letter is merely on the part of their uncle inviting them to see the queen's festivities from his balcony. Later, Felix receives a letter from Clara, inviting him to meet a second time. Juan has been told that Eugenia does not wish to see him. Suspecting Felix as the cause, he asks to see his letter to Eugenia. Thinking that Clara is Eugenia, Felix is in a great difficulty with respect to his friend, but refuses to let him see it, so that a duel must ensue. Pedro enters, also woe-begone for the same reason as Juan. He tries to prevent the impending duel, but when Juan tells him that Felix may be Eugenia's lover, Pedro is angry with both. All three cry out at once: "Both of you have outraged my honor" and decide to fight it out with swords, but Alonzo and Toribio interrupt them. When next Torribio sees Maria, he hits her and cries out that he is now the one being killed. To plague her sister out of spite over her success concerning men, Clara insinuates to Torribio that Eugenia favors another man, inviting him to listen in secret to her conservations from the balcony. Clara calls her sister, informing her that the two rivals were seen fighting each other and that her father has "violent suspicions" concerning her attitude. Felix arrives to see Clara as arranged. They hear a noise, and, to avoid Alonzo's interference, Clara goes to her room while Felix runs to the balcony where he sees Torrobio. Pedro enters only to witness the surprising sight of Alonzo fighting Juan, whom he considers an intruder in his house. Having also seen Felix on the balcony, Pedro has now two men to contend with. Felix halts the fight and divulges that Eugenia received him in this room to prevent any further quarrel between the rivals. However, Eugenia denies this, at which point Alonzo discovers Clara as being responsible for hiding Felix. Clara confesses that she wanted "to hinder Eugenia's loves but could not resist her own". Felix is elated, for now he can "reveal his fires" to Clara, while Juan and Pedro have no more cause for jealousy, for Torribio being found wanting in intellect, Alonzo decides to marry off Eugenia to Juan, with all the more reason because he was her mother's choice before she died.

"The mayor of Zalamea"[edit | edit source]

After witnessing his daughter's rape, Pedro, mayor of Zalamea, played by Enrique Borrás (1863-1957), is in violent conflict with the perpetrator, Captain Lope Figuerora, played by Leovigildo Ruiz Tatay (?-1931), 1909

Time: 1550s. Place: Zalamea, Spain.

Text at http://books.google.fr/books/about/The_Mayor_of_Zalamea.html?id=niDkBsTl3ssC&redir_esc=y https://archive.org/details/eightdramascald01barcgoog https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.96879 https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/63776 https://archive.org/details/eightdramascald00barcgoog

Soldiers enter the village of Zalamea on their way towards Lisbon to see King Philip II of Spain crowned king of Portugal. The captain of the company, Alvaro, converses with a sergeant regarding the townswomen one may notice there. "When a woman does not dress with grace and elegance, in my view she ceases to be a woman," the captain affirms. An affected gentleman, Mendo, courts Isabel, daughter of the well-to-do Pedro, but with no intention of marrying her. She does not wish to see him. Seeing the thin gentleman plant himself before their house, her brother, Juan, exclaims: "Always that phantom at my door with his plumes and gloves!" Pedro agrees to welcome the captain as his house guest and enjoins Isabel to remain invisible to the soldiers in a room at the top floor of the house. By the very fact she cannot be seen, Alvaro is attracted to her. He proposes to a soldier, Rebolledo, to pretend to fly from his rage into her room. The ploy works. Her beauty allays his pretended anger. Despite her low social rank, he shows signs of being smitten by her charms, but their talk is interrupted by Pedro and Juan. Suspecting Alvaro's intentions, Juan feels insulted, but his father, thinking no evil, defends the captain. Despite the father's calming words, the son and the captain draw their swords. The head of the company of soldiers, Lope Figuerora, suddenly appears, and, hearing the reason of the commotion, orders Rebolledo to be whipped with rods, at which an affronted Rebolledo reveals all. Lope then orders Alvaro to leave Pedro's house, as he is now to stay there himself. Hearing of the captain's intentions, Mendo becomes jealous and asks his servant, Nuno, how Isabel treats the captain. "As she does you," Nuno answers. "Isabel is a divinity that the gross vapors of the earth do not attain." For this sarcasm, Mendo strikes his face. Nuno responds that was well done, for his master only broke two of his teeth, "useless appendages in your service," he adds. Later, Isabel is serenaded by Rebolledo and others in the presence of Pedro, Juan, and Lope, all four irritated by such attentions. Lope and Pedro attack the musicians with swords to disperse them along with Mendo. They also attack each other until prevented by Juan. Since the people are ill disposed towards the soldiers, Lope orders the captain to leave town along with the entire troop. Recruited as a soldier, Juan is also to go. But Alvaro has other plans. He kidnaps Isabel while Rebolledo pushes Pedro away towards his house. Although Isabel's cousin, Ines, gives Pedro his sword so that he may defend himself, all action is to no avail. A sergeant ties Pedro to a tree while Alvaro rapes his daughter. In the aftermath, Isabel wanders wearingly inside the forest and sees her father still tied to the tree. She explains to him that Juan found the captain and wounded him, but could do no more, being saved by accomplices. She encourages her father to kill her, but he refuses. While being untied, Pedro learns that he has just been elected mayor of Zalamea. "Your father is the mayor; he will render you justice," Pedro assures her. On locating the captain's whereabouts, he commands officers of the law to keep an eye on the soldiers while conversing with him. In view of his superior status, Pedro proposes to yield to Alvaro all his goods provided he restore his honor by marrying Isabel, but he refuses. The mayor orders his arrest despite his claims that civil authorities have no jurisdiction over him. The mayor also orders the arrest of his accomplices. Thinking Isabel guilty of trying to escape with the captain, Juan takes out his dagger to kill her, but Pedro arrives in time to order his son's arrest for wounding the captain. He requests his daughter to accuse the rapist, but she is astonished he wants to make public what should be kept in silence. An outraged Lope learns of Alvaro's arrest and insists that the mayor hand over the prisoner to his authority, but the trial has already been conducted and the culprit executed. Incensed, Lope commands his troops to burn off the entire town, until prevented by the king, who names Pedro mayor for his entire life. Juan is to be punished for stabbing the captain unlawfully on his way to rejoining the troops towards Portugal.