History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Spanish Renaissance
The four most important playwrights of the Spanish Renaissance or Baroque period 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. In Spanish Renaissance plays, the father, son, and daughter appear more often as dramatic characters than the mother (Hayes, 1967 p 18). Family concern of the daughter is often taken over by the duenna.
“It was the lack of a metropolis which had helped to deprive the Italians of a drama worthy of their intellectual supremacy in the early Renascence and it was the choice of Madrid as the capital which made possible the sudden outflowering of the Spanish dramatic literature” (Matthews, 1904 p 165).
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 title of "The dog in the manger" refers to the adage of the animal's propensity to prevent another from eating despite lacking the means or willingness to eat the food itself. “The multiple complications arising from the heroine's concern with family honor are lively and the play is raised well above ordinary romantic comedy by its irony” (Gassner, 1968 p 30). "Diana’s chief struggle is with herself, to see whether she cares more for Teodoro than for her rank; she is too ruthless a person to regard the lady in waiting as anything more than a pawn in the game, Teodoro’s affair with the other woman awakens Diana to a realization of her own feelings. She determines that, whether or not she is to marry the secretary, her lady in waiting is not to have him...The vigorous portrait of Diana and the high tension which is set up between the social conventions and this strong woman, who finally gets her way in spite of them, make The Gardener's Dog one of Lope’s very best comedies. As he tells the story, she would not have been able to succeed if the man whom she loved had not been vacillating and compliant; the hero’s lowly birth is balanced by a corresponding weakness in his character" (Perry, 1939 pp 126-127).
"The Sheep Well" "can indeed be set down...as a modern social drama with a collective character- that is with the village as the protagonist- while at the same time it is this collectivity that provides the emotional force of the play, its dramatic vibration, and its pulsing theatricality” (Gassner, 1968 p 34). "Although Lope's source explains Fuente Ovejuna's hatred of the commander on grounds that are principally political or economic, Lope himself utilizes as motive for the rebellion only the secondary charge of personal misconduct toward the women...The monarchical sentiment consistently voiced by the citizens of Fuente Ovejuna is as personal as is their hatred of their overlord and is always based on a selfish hope of escape from his profligacy. Purely political resentment of the commander's hostility to Fernando and Isabel is nowhere seriously expressed...[The] implication of the eventual restoration of Fuente Ovejuna to its status quo under Calatrava is a willful deviation from facts perfectly familiar to Lope through Rades- the immediate reversion of Fuente Ovejuna to the jurisdiction of Cordoba. That this alteration is more than a slip is proved by a preceding speech in which Isabel confirms her husband's attitude of goodwill by promising the Maestre to secure Fuente Ovejuna's restoration to the Order...The very spirit of the Ciudad Real episode is quite at variance with the spirit of the Fuente Ovejuna episode. The latter is the ultimate protest of an outraged group of people, probably the most democratic theme in Lope's enormous repertoire. On the other hand, the Ciudad Real episode is aristocratic, both in treatment and appeal. Here the interest does not center so much about the citizens of Ciudad Real as it does about the two factions of nobles, for and against the Catholic monarchs, that are contending for this strategic base" (Anibal, 1934 pp 660-664).
“Lope de Vega made use of every sort of material that came to his hand. National sagas, heroic legends, contemporary literature of his own or other countries, even private or political happenings of the day- all served equally as his sources” (Gerstinger, 1974 p 105). Lope “gave a lyric grace to the briefer religious plays, which were called sacramental-acts; and he himself invented the play of plot and intrigue and mystery which is known as the comedy-of-cloak-and-sword. He showed the same fertility of ingenuity in devising comedies of incident and of character. He solidly constructed somber tragedies of honor and revenge. [The plays] vary greatly in merit; many of them are mere improvisations; but very few of them fail to display his dexterity, his perfect understanding of the theater, his mastery of stagecraft” (Matthews, 1904 p 171).
“Lope repeatedly oversimplified his characters, a practice which today seems downright primitive because our century is convinced of the meaningfulness of every aspect of thought and conduct, of the radically unfragmented and untrivial character if everything a man does or doesn’t do. There is a fairly general belief that all mental activity, concious or unconscious, normal or abnormal, is drenched in meaning. The generally approved oversimplified discrimination between the trivial and the significant of Lope’s day is gone” (Hayes, 1967 p 67). "Taking the 'bobo', the simpleton of the earlier 'pasos' and 'comedias', he recast him as the witty and knavish 'gracioso' or clown, not the least of whose functions is the censorious and generally critical attitude that he often assumes with regard to the other characters and their behavior. To the point of honor some dramatic importance had already been accorded by Torres Naharro; with Lope it becomes a powerful motive of dramatic action leading to a tragic denouement upon occasion or again to a complication of situations promising disaster, from which the hero or the heroine is extricated happily by a skillfully devised 'peripetia'. The point of honor has its most frequent application when woman’s virtue is in question; the least stain upon her honor, even though caused by no fault of her own, marks her as the victim,- no less than the male offender,- of the avenging wrath of husband, father or, perchance, brother, when the last-named is regarded as the defender of the family’s good name. On the whole, Lope was not so readily inclined to carry this use of the point of honor to morbid extremes, as Calderon was in the 17th century...Lope employs many different metrical and rhyming schemes, and with him the practice is established for the rest of the Golden Age. Moreover, he regulates the principles in accordance with which the separate schemes may be used to render varying emotions and different effects" (Ford, 1919 pp 131-134).
"The dog in the manger"
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
While 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 and notable example of a cloak and dagger play. "The main principle of such plays "is gallantry, such gallantry as existed in the time of their author. The story is almost always involved and intriguing, and almost always accompanied with an underplot and parody on the characters and adventures of the principal parties, formed out of those of the servants and other inferior personages" (Ticknor, 1849 vol 2 p 179). Calderon's cloak and dagger plays, "characteristic of contemporary life, are extraordinarily picturesque and highly coloured, for they picture life as it was in its most vivid phase in Spain. Calderon nowhere shows more mastery of stagecraft than in this process" (Fitzmaurice-Kelly, 1922 p 82).
In "Life is a dream", "Basilio makes the terrible mistake of thinking his son can be prevented from violent behavior if he is deprived of freedom to exercise his passions. By seeking to prevent it, he brings it to pass” (Parker, 1988 pp 90-92). “The play’s main plot enacts...a challenge to the social order and the subsequent containment of that challenge...It is disappointing that a play that will always have an appeal because of its impressive rhetoric of liberation should so utterly reject libertarian principles in the end...When [Segismundo] is released, destructive actions result: attempted rape, defenestration, and revolt...Segismundo’s imprisonment [is presented as] unjust because...there is a denial of free will...[In the end], Segismundo chooses to restore, unaltered, the forms of authority that had been essential to the political order he had previously threatened, a series of events that restores the status quo...If life is a dream...why then must this accompany a conversion to belief in the reality and necessity of earthly institutions?” (Maraniss, 1978 pp 29-37). Panini (1922) was likewise disappointed that the play "is almost entirely lacking in constructive psychology. The conversion of Prince Sigismund when he wakes, as he thinks, from his dream of power— the event which should have been made the central point of the drama— is as sudden and miraculous as the conversion of any fabled saint. The beast turns human all at once; the ferocious creature becomes courteous and generous; the savage stands forth as a compendium of Christian virtues...Two theories are superposed one on the other: all is a dream; yet one should act, and act worthily. But the first thesis implies the annihilation of action; and the second thesis by implication denies the first. If life is a dream and a fiction, why should we act? And if we must act, and act as Christians rather than beasts, we are forced to conclude that there is something certain in the world, that life has a purpose, that choice is inevitable. But if you thus deny the first thesis, you take away the whole imaginative and moral coloring of the drama, and you have merely a discursive elegiac exhortation, for which a few phrases would have sufficed. If you accept the common Christian thesis, the drama loses background and relief, and becomes an ordinary play in which the sudden and utter transformation of the protagonist has not the slightest motivation. The two theses are interwoven not by logical but by theatrical necessity. Life is a Dream might then be defined, in the last analysis, as a pair of old and contradictory ideas combined in old and lifeless forms" (pp 300-306). Wilson (1965) took on the challenge of explaining a play apparently “founded on a contradiction. In it there is a skeptical thesis and a religious one. The skeptical thesis is that contained in the title ‘Life is a dream’; the religious one is that, as good works are necessary to salvation, so they are necessary to the reform of Segismundo. The theses contradict one another because if life is a dream, how can a man choose the good rather than the bad? Calderon avoided this difficulty by inventing a particular type of dreaming” (p 67), one where characters are responsible for moral choices. In "Life is a dream", “Calderon has carefully avoided references to religion in order to demonstrate that nature and experience by themselves are sufficient to instruct human intelligence in this life...[In this play], the church does not teach. [At the end], his father’s error consisted in trying to act [on the prophecy]. But where the father failed, the son will succeed...From the theme of valor, Sigismundo has turned to the theme of liberty, asserting that one is never obliged to commit a wrong action” (Heiple, 1993 pp 123-130). “Sigismundo is subjected to a number of tests in which he is required to use his reason and discriminatory powers in choosing between right and wrong. We see the emergence of the ideal Christian prince...the anti-Machiavellian tendency...and the coalescence of Senecan philosophy and the cardinal virtues, especially prudence and temperance as explained by St Thomas Aquinas in his ‘Summa theologica’ and the ‘De regimine principum’” (Hesse, 1965, p 132). “Despite the injuries that he has suffered because Basilio and Clotaldo have violated natural law, Segismundo pardons their errors...yet the spirit of his judgment suddenly changes when the rebel soldier steps forward” (Rupp, 1996 p 51), presumably because members of the lower classes with a taste for rebellion can never be trusted again. At the end, the prophecy is fulfilled, Basilio being forced to submit to the son. Hayes (1967) complained of the language of the play, "Calderon argues hyperintellectually that man is a beast but a beast who may triumph over his baser instincts, and even over fate, by the use of reason, self-control, and free will. More lyrical than logical in the conflicting doctrines of this play, he outrages logic by the abuse of oxymoron [such as the expression ‘animated corpse’]. He bewilders one...by crying “life is a dream and dreams are dreams’” (p 55). "Clotaldo...is one of the few characters of noble intent...He points out that a prudent man can overcome an adverse fate...Clotaldo is depicted as a man of principles and ideals. However, he does place his honor above that of his wronged daughter...Clarin, the clever, witty servant of Rosaura, is under the impression that he can achieve everything he wants through the use of his wits” (Hesse, 1967 pp 147-148).
Dogma-minded critics such as Bouterwek (1847 p 372) and Ticknor (1849 vol 2 p 355) were offended by such plays as "Devotion to the cross", the former averring that "in these spiritual dramas, reason and moral feeling are so perverted by extravagant and fantastic notions of religious faith that it is impossible to forbear congratulating those nations whose better fate has excluded them from amusements of this kind". “The cross as a visible symbol of grace prevails over the false decision of the individual will. The passion of love, even if it goes astray, is purified by the cross and raised above its earthly imperfection” (Gerstinger, 1973 p 77). “The conflict between father and son revealed in this play could not be more violent or more terrible. Looked at as a purely human situation, the action is terrifying in its relentless ferocity” (Parker, 1988 pp 75-76). “Eusebio is born, like Oedipus, under a curse, but from the worst doom of the wretched Theban king the cross which guarded him in infancy saves him in manhood” (Hasell, 1879 p 84). "If the violent incidents and spectacular supernatural marvels of the action are looked at realistically, it would seem that Eusebio, because he had always retained a devotion to the cross despite his criminal deeds, is miraculously restored to life in order that his soul may be saved through confession and absolution. Consequently, it is held, the theme of the play is the superstitious doctrine that provided one keeps an external devotion to some such magic talisman as the cross appears to be here, one can be as vicious as one pleases and yet go to heaven in the end. If this kind of perverted supernaturalism is indeed the theme it will, of course, seriously mar the play as a tragedy. Eusebio will appear to be a potential tragic hero who fails to become one, because into the tragedy of his fatal love there intrudes a religious message that, in addition to being superstitious, is also dramatically irrelevant, since the play ends not in the human tragedy to which the incidents of the plot lead, but in spiritual triumph. A different interpretation emerges, however, if by following the chain of causality we search for the inner dramatic structure. Eusebio is the principal character in the action, but he is not the tragic hero in the normal sense of the term because, though caught up in the chain of causality, he does not himself forge the first link. Poetic justice is exemplified in his death, but the more important question to ask is: what brings about his death? He is inseparably linked with Julia: both are upright and honorable at the start, both sink into social dishonor and crime. What is the cause? Let us take Julia first and work backwards. She turns to crime in order to seek revenge on Eusebio, whom she loves, because he appeared to scorn her after she had consented to surrender herself to him. Why does she feel this so deeply? Because he had made her, in intention, break her convent vow, and that is an irrevocable dishonor. Why was she in a convent? Because her father had enclosed her there against her will, choosing to deprive her of her freedom rather than permit her to marry the man she loved. With Julia, therefore, the chain of causality leads back to her father, Curcio: if he had not tyrannically robbed her of the freedom she bravely sought to defend, she would not have become a criminal. With Eusebio the causal sequence of events can be traced backwards as follows. He meets with death because he had become a criminal. He became one because, having killed Lisardo in a duel, he was a hunted man. He fought with Lisardo because the latter taunted him with his base birth and unknown parentage, and Eusebio is goaded by these taunts to assert his own worth as a man. That is as far back as the action proper takes us, since the duel with Lisardo is the opening scene of the play. Eusebio therefore becomes a criminal because he was of unknown birth, with no father to give him social standing. Yet, as we learn at the end, he is in reality Curcio's son. How, then, did he grow up fatherless? Again, as with Julia, we are led back to Curcio, and it is he who provides the answer in the account of Julia's birth which he gives in the course of the play. This narration has been ignored by the critics, but it is in fact the primary element in the theme because it is the cause from which the whole action follows. Curcio tells Julia that before she was born he had been compelled to be absent from his home for some months. During this period his wife wrote to inform him that she was pregnant, and immediately he suspected that she had been unfaithful to him. The thought of his dishonor so obsessed him that on his return he determined to take vengeance on her. Just before she was due to be delivered he took her into the mountains and accused her of dishonoring him. Clinging to a cross that had been erected in that spot, she asserted her innocence. But none the less, unable as a nobleman to bear the mere possibility of dishonor, he killed her (or so he thought), but when he returned to his house he discovered that she had been miraculously saved and transported home with one of the twins to whom she had given birth at the foot of the cross. This child, Julia, bore the mark of the cross on her breast. The other child, as Curcio later discovers, was Eusebio, who was also born with the birth-mark of the cross, and who was rescued by some peasants and adopted by a foster-father. This information completes the chain of causality. The link we had last reached was: why did Eusebio grow up fatherless? The answer is: because Curcio had in intention murdered his pregnant wife. This intention is what set in motion the sequence of events that culminates in Eusebio's and Julia's criminal deeds and in the former's death. If Curcio had never suspected his innocent wife of infidelity, none of these tragic events would ever have happened, since Eusebio and Julia would have grown up as brother and sister and so would never have fallen in love. Although Eusebio is the protagonist in the action, Curcio, through the inner dramatic structure of the play, emerges as the principal character in the theme, since it is upon him that everything turns. He bears the ultimate responsibility and therefore the primary guilt for everything that happens. His guilt is pride- the warped sense of honor that led him to act cruelly and tyrannically to his wife, a conception of honor that later produces the twisted sense of family pride and the belief in his absolute authority over his daughter's freedom which lead him to act cruelly and tyrannically to her as well. This pride and this distorted sense of honor must be humbled. The cross is thus not just a material object in the action of the play, it is a symbol in its theme- the rainbow symbol of mercy and forgiveness. If the play is reread with this in mind, it will be noticed that nearly every time the cross is mentioned in the dialogue it is explicitly associated with mercy ("clemencia"), and that in nearly every case where the cross, or the thought of the cross, enters into the incidents of the action it is associated with an act of mercy as against an act of cruelty or vengeance. The cross thus stands as the symbol in the play of the love, compassion and forgiveness which should rule in the dealings of men with each other, instead of the vengeance, cruelty, and tyranny that Curcio consistently reveals. That is why Eusebio dies at the foot of the very same cross where his father had willed to murder him by murdering his mother. And further, above the unforgiving cruelty that men in their self-centered pride show to each other, there stands the merciful forgiveness shown to them by God. This is the meaning of Eusebio's miraculous return to life in order to be able to confess his sins: he has been the victim of his father's cruelty, but the cruelty of men does not preclude the mercy and forgiveness of God. There is no superstition here, no supernatural talisman enabling men, with spiritual impunity, to be as wicked as they please. The play, being a work of art, is an abstraction from real life; and if the cross is interpreted in the way that both the imagery and the action demand that it should be, it emerges as a dramatic device to symbolize not only Eusebio's salvation (because, though a sinner, he is so through being the victim of another's sin), but also Curcio's punishment, for which Eusebio is the instrument. Eusebio is thus reserved by Providence to reveal the public consequences of his father's secret crime. This punishment is three-fold: first, he kills Lisardo and so places the first brand of public dishonor on Curcio's pride, secondly, he causes Julia to be a fugitive from her convent and to dishonor Curcio further by becoming a public criminal, and thirdly by his own death, Eusebio fills the cup of Curcio's shame by making him recognize as his third child the man killed before his eyes as a bandit" (Parker, 1959 pp 52-55). A “pronounced irony is that the object of Curcio’s revenge, Eusebio, is redeemed at the end by a higher law than honor...As soon as father and son confront each other, there is mutual affinity between them, though they do not know they are related...But there is still a last and clinching irony...when Curcio erupts and attempts to kill [his daughter]...The final appearance of the cross culminates many symbolic manifestations” (Honig, 1972 pp 62-70). In view of illusions and realities resembling illusions in the play, consideration has been given as to what appears or does not appear on stage. For example, “given that [in the convent scene] the fire witnessed by Eusebio is merely an illusion, unseen by Ricardo and Celio, it is unlikely that it would be perceived by the audience” (Morales, 1997 p 57).
"Seen in line with the other honor plays, 'The phantom lady' presents the rebellion of woman against the code's autocratic male principles as she seeks to achieve the liberty to love whom she pleases...Dona Angela works out her assault on constituted authority within the framework of that authority. She finds freedom in a state of bondage by using stratagems to such effect that actual bondage becomes illusory and illusion becomes reality...The multiple objects of attack dramatized by such reversals are: the insincerities of court life and courtly love, the credulity of superstitious attitudes toward the supernatural, the sequestration of women by male members of their family, and the rash behavior of the egotistic swain, the autocrat in love- the type who initiates the honor quandary, like Don Luis in Secret Vengeance and Don Alvaro in The Mayor of Zalamea. These criticisms run their course in an atmosphere of misrule, the topsy-turvy world of romantic intrigue, swarming with veiled ladies, mistaken identities, false assumptions, and characters who are always 'in the dark' concerning one another's intentions" (Honig, 1962 pp 69-70).
Calderon’s “craftsmanship is more careful than Lope's,- although his expositions are inferior, being often huddled into a long speech or two, as artificial almost as the prologues of Euripides or Plautus, whereas Lope's opening scenes are marvels of clever presentation, taking the spectators immediately into the center of the action. After the plot is once set in motion Calderon has a more vigorous grasp of his situations than Lope, and a stronger determination to get out of them all they contain of effect. Not only is his technique more conscious and more artful, but also his nature is richer, whereby he is enabled to pierce deeper into his subject; he is more of a poet than Lope. Inferior in comedy, he is superior in tragedy, in his vigorous handling of themes of terror and horror, of supernatural fantasy and of ghastly gloom. His plots are unfailingly romantic, even though there are realistic touches here and there in his drawing of character,- as, for example, in that fine, bold drama of the Alcalde of Zalamea, in which the peasant-judge has a grim humor of his own” (Matthews, 1904 pp 180-181). “Calderon’s dramatic art belongs to the period known as the high baroque; it is characterized by balance and contrast in regard to imagery, linguistic style, plot structure and character portrayal. His imagery is rich in its profusion and at times profound in the range of meaning it suggests...Calderon’s poetic images are largely visual. They are drawn from the cosmos, mythology, the court, nature, light and the animal world” (Hesse, 1967 p 37). “Following the obfuscating Gongoristic style of his day, Calderon endeavored to dazzle with baroque passages that are ornate, bombastic, lavish, and bursting with conceits" (Hayes, 1967 p 56). “The term ‘Gongorism’, which derives from the name of the leading poet of the era, [Luis de Góngora (1561-1627)], means a deliberate ornamentation and obscurity of style through the excessive use of mythological allusions, archaic words and neologisms, hyperboles and their accumulation, a highly Latinized syntax, rhetorical devices and figures of speech and a general striving for effect” (Hesse, 1967, p 17).
"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, Clarin, 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, Clarin 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 Clarin'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. Clarin 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 such 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 where his father had falsely accused his wife of adultery, leading to a separation between brother and sister. For his entire life, Eusebio 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. In the duel, Eusebio stabs Lisardo, who, before dying, 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 Curcio'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 she 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 fetch Julia. After finding her, Eusebio is set to scale the walls on his way out, 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, as the air seems filled with "inflamed thunders...the heavens all bloody and ready to press down on me," he exclaims. While escaping with his friends, Julia hesitates, climbs back down from the wall, but cannot find the ladder because Eusebio's other friends removed it in their fear of such a sacrilege, so that she is forced to jump out of the convent 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 and is watched over by Gil until he hears Eusebio, though seemingly dead, call out Alberto’s name. Alberto confesses his sins, after which Eusebio dies a second time, according to Alberto. “Heaven permitted the soul to remain enclosed in her mortal wrapping,” he says, “and stayed there until he confessed his sins: such is the favor enjoyed by God’s hand to the devotion to the cross.” When Curcio learns that Julia has escaped from the convent, he 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 that she was at the same time Eusebio's love and 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 of drama of the Spanish Renaissance or Baroque 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, 1630), the latter play concerning the infidelities of Don Juan and his violent end.
In "Damned for lack of faith", "the legend which infuses the plot inculcating the theological argument is a very ancient one, and it has been discussed learnedly by Menendez Pidal in his Discourse pronounced at the time of his reception into the Spanish Academy. Centuries ago, long before the Christian era, it was used by the Brahmans of India to illustrate phases of the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, and after wandering far and wide, it now subserves the purposes of Christian teaching in a Spanish drama of the 17th century" (Ford, 1919 p 141). It may be disputed whether “Enrico’s extreme devotion to his father...is impossible to reconcile realistically with his other deeds”, but that one may see “in the father figure a symbol of authority and an analogue of God...It is because Enrico retains a right relationship with Anareto that in the end he can be reconciled with his heavenly Father...The crucial scene with Paulo is the one he is merely an observer: he listens with growing anguish to Enrico’s accounts of his exploits...then comes his impulsive decision to rival Enrico in sin...In his revolt at the unfairness of what he thinks has been predicted, he stands up to God and tries to force him willy-nilly into the role of ‘justus Judex’. But he cannot sustain this mood for long...Yet even if he cannot trust God’s mercy, he continues to trust implicitly in the prophecy which he believed to be the word of God. When in his dying moments he hears of Enrico’s heavenly flight, hope, even uncertainty, returns to him, and the supreme tragic irony is that the mistrustful Paulo dies expecting after all to be saved” (Wilson, 1977 pp 119-121).
In "The mocker of Seville and the stone guest", "the first rudiments for [the Don Juan] character which, it is said, may be traced historically to the great Tenorio family of Seville, had been brought upon the stage by Lope de Vega in the second and third acts of Money Makes the Man where the hero shows a similar firmness and wit amidst the most awful visitations of the unseen world. But in the character as sketched by Lope there is nothing revolting. Tirso, therefore, is the first who showed it with all its original undaunted courage united to an unmingled depravity that asks only for selfish gratifications, and a cold, relentless humor that continues to jest when surrounded by the terrors of a supernatural retribution"(Ticknor, 1849 vol 2 p 309). “What [Don Juan] seeks each time is not so much sexual satisfaction as the satisfaction of pulling off a trick” (Wilson, 1977 p 122). A woman’s bed is the means, not the end. The end is to mock. It may be disputed whether none of “the women in the play...evoke much real sympathy”. True it is that “Isabela and Ana are too ready to anticipate marriage. Aminta cannot help her stupidity, but should have loved her husband more than wealth. Tisbea virtually offers herself to Don Juan” (Wilson, 1977 p 123). Don Juan “is characterized as a monster of selfishness and ruthlessness. That a life is being destroyed so that he may satisfy a passing urge is a matter of no consequence to him. No deception or stratagem that will get his victim into his bed is below him” (Gerstinger, 1974 p 142). "None of the four seductions perpetrated by Don Juan is merely a sin of sexual indulgence; each one is aggravated by circumstances that make it heinous. The seduction of Isabela is treachery towards a friend (Octavio) and, above all, an act of lèse-majeste since it was committed in the royal palace. The dishonoring of Tisbea is aggravated by the violation of the law of hospitality, which should be sacred to the receiver. Ana's seduction is accompanied by a shameless betrayal of friendship and by murder. And finally, the seduction of Aminta entails the breaking up of a wedding, the profanation of a sacrament. In addition Don Juan finds a callous delight in cruelty and, on the spiritual level, he has no respect for the dead and is guilty of mockingly tempting Providence by imagining that he is allowed a long respite of immunity before needing, with old age, to bother about the state of his soul. But on the erotic level alone Don Juan's exploits are more than a merely personal disorder (or, as the 'myth' would have it, the individualistic assertion of 'energia vital'): the attendant circumstances make them a social disorder" (Parker, 1959 pp 48-49).
"Damned for lack of faith"
Time: 1620s. Place: Naples, Spanish possession.
Text at ?
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 meant 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 towards 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 body. "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. "Juan Ruiz de Alarcon y Mendoza is generally acknowledged as the least typical of the major playwrights of the Spanish Golden Age. At a time when the guiding principles of the Spanish stage were action and intrigue, Alarcon's works distinguished themselves for their predominantly moralizing tone and attention to characterization" (DiLillo, 1979 p 31). One of the best-known plays of Alarcón is "Las paredes oyen" (Walls have ears, 1617).
“One of the jewels of the [Golden age, Walls Have ears] differs from...the general run...in that the gallant is not only poor and luckless, but also deformed and homely...Alarcon...wishes to prove, that nobility of family and soul should triumph over wealth, handsomeness and a mean spirit. The title, based on a refrain or proverb, seems to have inspired the play rather than [the reverse]...A defect [in the play] would appear to be the insufficiently motivated change of heart on the part of Ana. One can understand her rejection of Mendo, but the change from the positive dislike for Juan to her eagerness to marry him seems a little implausible...She is obligated to Juan for both his verbal and physical defense of her, and obligation is a major force in the play” (Poesse, 1972 pp 41-43).
"The sterling figure of the upright suitor who, though devoid of the outer graces that charm womankind, will stoop to no unfair means, to no baseness in his courtsMp of the loved lady, stands in convincing contrast with that of his slanderous rival, whose physical attractiveness is wholly neutralized by the dishonorable traits of his nature. Moreover, one would have to go far afield to find a match for the amiable and wise heroine of the piece. She is a capital realization of the figure of the widow, already inured to men and their ways, and now the object of the attentions of wooers who are so divergent in characteristics and whose relative merits she has to determine" (Ford, 1919 p 155).
Mendo "is a philanderer and falls between the two women that at different times he has loved. One of them is proud by temperament, and the other is jealous. The proud lady gives her hand to a timid, poor, and homely suitor; the jealous one accepts a faithful lover who has long been patiently waiting for her. The principal figure, Don Mendo, criticizes one woman to the other and, more important, recounts to his friends the imperfections of the lady to whom he is at the moment devoted. He reviles her to prevent the rivalry which he fears he will encounter if his mistress’ good qualities are widely known. According to Alarcon’s code, deceit is not justified under any circumstances. The ladies whom Don Mendo slanders eavesdrop on him, and when he again proposes he is refused by them both, because ‘walls have ears'. The women in this comedy cannot be considered very admirable and Don Mendo certainly had a reasonable motive for his malicious words, but Alarcon does not allow for these extenuating circumstances, so determined is he to emphasize the evil results of bearing false witness" (Perry, 1939 pp 133-134). "Don Juan both demonstrates awareness of criticizing his own embodiment as poor, ugly, and badly wasted. He links his outward appearance with lack of hope for love, intimating that only fine-looking men are lucky in love" (Clark, 2016 p 108).
"Though impoverished and physically ill-favored, Don Juan displays superior spiritual attributes and a sincere, immutable love for Ana; but unlike the ordinary gallant of the Spanish stage, he lacks self-assurance, believing that no lady could be expected to respond to his uncomely figure...In almost every sense Mendo is the antithesis of don Juan- wealthy, physically appealing, and successful in affairs of the heart, enjoying not only Ana's favor but that of other young ladies...An important observation to my knowledge ignored in other studies of 'Las paredes oyen' is that Ana, in spite of her avowed desire to be Mendo's wife, does not have complete faith in him. The widow's misgivings first show themselves in her refusal to allow Don Mendo to escort her to Alcalá...The differences between Don Mendo and Don Juan are brought into sharp focus through the introduction of a third competitor, the Duke of Urbino, who requests that the two galants guide him about Madrid on Saint John's Eve. It is at this point, as a forecast of his derogatory remarks about Ana, that we first witness Don Mendo's critical tongue. For every point of interest they encounter he has a cynical and belittling note...Mendo's tactics ultimately backfire. Ana, after reading Mendo's letter to Lucrecia denouncing Ana, scorns the disloyal gallant and breaks their engagement. Don Mendo's reaction to Ana's repudiation differs markedly from Don Juan's response to her denial in 1.5. Whereas Don Juan's true and noble affection allowed him to accept the lady's refusal stoically, Don Mendo's self-serving love engenders revenge, which he plans to achieve by seducing her...In the final scenes Mendo begs Ana's forgiveness: his defamatory remarks were not meant to harm her but to growing interest...One might be tempted to view Mendo's plea to marry Ana as evidence of sincere love, but the gallant's insidious behavior throughout the comedy- including his empty promise to marry Lucrecia- would hardly support such an argument. It is more reasonable and more in keeping with Mendo's character to interpret his desire to marry Ana as an attempt to regain her favor and heal his wounded pride. In light of Ana's strong aversion to Don Juan's ugliness earlier in the drama, her expressions of preference toward him in the final act would appear weak if it were not for her firm denial of Mendo's proposal" (DiLillo, 1979 pp 33-39).
"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 Don 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.