1902 Encyclopedia > Lope de Vega

Lope Felix de Vega Carpio
Spanish dramatist and poet

LOPE FELIX DE VEGA CARPIO (1562-1635), Spanish dramatist and poet, was born on 25th November 1562 at Madrid, in a house in the Platerias or jewellers’ quarter adjoining the Puerta de Guadalajara. His father and mother, Felix de Vega and Francisca, Hernandez, belonged to the lesser provincial nobility, and originally came from the valley of Carriedo in Asturias, where the hamlet of Vega still exists. How they came by the illustrious name of Carpio is not very clear; the family tradition which made them descendants of the famous Bernardo seems insufficiently supported. Lope himself frankly ridiculed the aristocratic pretensions of his parents; but this did not prevent him from invariably signing his comedies at full length as Lope de Vega Carpio. Lope began his studies in the imperial college, the principal establishment of the Jesuits in Madrid, where he was instructed in grammar and rhetoric. His precocity was extraordinary and his memory astounding. At five he read not only Spanish but Latin, and already showed such a passion for poetry that he would give up part of his meals to the older boys in exchange for their services in writing out verses to his dictation. It was not the way of the Jesuits to turn out pedants; educators of the nobility, their single aim was to make their pupils accomplished men of the world, and accordingly Lope learned with them, besides the ordinary book-lessons, the accomplishments of singing and dancing and fencing. On leaving college—where he had been guilty of an escapade of some sort along with one of his companions—he was placed by his parents, who were far from wealthy, in the service of Don Gerónimo Manrique, bishop of Avila. Such an arrangement did not at that time involve any sacrifice of dignity: it was almost the only resource open to a multitude of needy gentlemen, hidalgos, who, to avoid entering a trade, which would have compromised their position, found in the palaces of the higher aristocracy, first as pages and afterwards as secre-taries, the wherewithal to pasar la vida, as the phrase ran. In the service of Don Gerónimo, Lope appears to have begun the composition of his earlier dramas. But after a while he quitted the bishop’s service to enter the university of Alcalá, where for four years he devoted himself to what was then honoured with the name of philosophy, crammed his brain with names and citations from ancient writers, and acquired the habit of disputing in accordance with the formulae of the schools. It was then that he accumulated the materials for the pedantic dissertations with which the prefaces to his various works are encumbered, in which he so complacently displays everything that he has remembered of his university days. Leaving Alcalá with the degree of bachelor in arts, Lope became secretary to the duke of Alva. Some time afterwards, about 1584, he married Isabel de Urbina, daughter of a herald-at-arms of Philip II. An incident such as he often afterwards reproduced in his plays soon arose to disturb the union. Some one who had spoken ill of Lope; and had in turn been severely lampooned by the poet, challenged him. In the encounter Lope wounded his opponent; but he was unable to put himself right with the law and was compelled to take to flight. Perhaps he may have had upon his conscience some other peccadilloes which prejudiced him in the eyes of his judges, as seems to be hinted in Montal-ban’s words. "This vexatious affair, and certain other bad turns of fortune. . . . compelled him to leave his home, his country, and his wife." He retired to Valencia, where he met with an enthusiastic reception from a group of young poets, who were destined afterwards to range them-selves under the banner of the creator of the new comedy. After the lapse of two years Lope returned to Madrid; but in 1588 his wife died after giving birth to a daughter, who did not long survive her mother. The death of his wife and daughter were doubtless what now led him to join the Invincible Armada, in which expedition he had one of his brothers shot dead by his side. Once more at Madrid, he again entered service, becoming secretary, first to the marquis of Malpica and afterwards to the duke of Lemos. Meanwhile he married a second wife, Juana de Guardio, a Madrileña, by whom he had two children (Carlos, who died in infancy, and Feliciana Felix); but she died, shortly after giving birth to the latter, in 1612. During this wife’s lifetime the poet had by a mistress, Maria de Luxan, two other children,—Marcela del Carpio, who became a nun, and Lope Felix del Carpio y Luxan, who chose the profession of arms and perished at sea at the age of fifteen. Widowed a second time, Lope, like many other men of letters of the period, sought a refuge in the church. After a period of initiation, and after hav-ing been for some time affiliated to a tertiary order, he took priest’s orders. At this juncture, that is to say, about 1614, he was in the very zenith of his glory. A veritable dictator and pope in the Spanish world of letters, he wielded over all the authors of his nation a sort of magisterial power similar to that which was exercised in France at a later period by Voltaire. At this distance of time we fail to see in Lope anything more than a great dramatic poet, the founder of the Spanish theatre; but to his contemporaries he was a great deal more. His epics, his pastorals, his odes, his sonnets, buried though they now are in oblivion, all placed him in the front rank of authorship. Such was his prestige that he dealt with his noble patrons almost on a footing of equality. The duke of Sesa in particular, his last Maecenas, was also his per-sonal friend, and the tone of the letters addressed to him by the poet is that of a frank familiarity, modified only by soine forms of deference,—a fact sufficiently striking to be worthy of notice at a time when talent, however great, in no way diminished differences of rank, and when the man of letters under the protection of a patron was neither more nor less than a kind of domestic in the house of a grand seigneur. Lope’s fame, too, had travelled abroad : foreigners of distinction passing through Madrid made a point of visiting him; papal legates brought him the compliments of their master; in 1627 Urban VIII., a Barberini, sent him the diploma of doctor of theology in. the Collegium Sapientiae and the cross of the order of St John of Jerusalem (whence the poet’s titles of Doctor and Frey). Since Lope’s correspondence with the duke of Sesa has made us acquainted with the closing period of his life, we may well ask whether his retirement within the church was the result of any genuine vocation, and up to what point his devotion was sincere. It is difficult to avoid inquiring whether it may not have been due to a mere selfish desire for tranquillity, a desire to protect himself against any further reverse of fortune. This feeling may very well have had something to do with his decision; still it would be unjust to regard Lope as nothing better than a mere hypocrite. Certainly he was far from being an ideal priest; we now know something of the nature of the services which he often rendered to the duke of Sesa, and we know how lightly he held one of his most sacred vows, maintaining for a long period illicit relations with Marta de Nevares Santoyo, a married woman, by whom he even had a daughter, who was baptized very publicly at San Sebastian in Madrid (26th August 1617), the son of the duke of Sesa acting as godfather. But, on the other hand, we must not forget his penitence, frequently expressed in touching terms, the sincerity of which ought to be above suspicion: "Mal haya amor que se quiere oponer al cielo!" He has a claim also to our pity for having been at an advanced age the victim of foolish passion which his extreme mobility of character and his utter want of balance made him unable to resist : "Yo nací en dos extremos que son amar y aborrecer; no he tenido medio jamás." His last years were years of severe penance: Montalban tells us that every Friday the poet scourged himself so severely that the walls of his room were sprinkled with his blood. His death, on 27th August 1635, was followed Dy national mourning. The duke of Sesa, his executor, was chief mourner; the nobility and the church were represented by high digni-taries; the populace crowded the streets. After the funeral came a multitude of funeral orations and of pane-gyrics in prose and verse. Montalban has collected into a volume the tributes of posthumous admiration thus paid by Spanish authors; another collection was printed in Italy under the auspices of Marini.

In the intercourse of everyday life, in his relations with his con-temporaries, Lope was affable and kindly. He sometimes defended himself when attacked, especially on the subject of his dramatic writings, but always in measured terms and without any pretence that his high position exempted him from criticism by his less successful rivals. Some severe and unjust criticisms on other writers, notably on Cervantes, are quoted against him ; but it is only fair to remember that they occur in letters to his intimates and that it is not necessary to regard them as deliberate. It would be just as fair to set him down as an enemy of the secular clergy because in writing to the duke of Sesa he on one occasion expressed himself thus freefy about the monks : "Los frailes son los hombres mas discretos del mundo: no van a la guerra, ni pagan millones, gozan lo mejor, y danles dineros. . . . ellos hacen hijos y otros los crian, perdone lo descalzo." It would indeed be more just to reproach him with his universal and uniform indulgence, which he extends to all, great and small, good and bad, and with his mania for praising in hyperbolical and extravagant terms. He loved all the arts, particularly painting ; his little house in the Calle de Francos was full of pictures. He himself writes to a friend in 1619: "With some garden flowers, half-a-dozen pictures, and a few books, I live without envy, without desire, without fear, and without hope" (dedication of El Alcalde Mayor). But his most marked taste was for flowers. He had a small garden, which he himself tended with jealous care ; he sought out rare species and tried to acclimatize in Spain varieties of plants sent by his friends from abroad. In particular he was a tullp-fancier; hence his, dedication of Lucinda Perseguida to Manuel Sueiro, a Spaniard resident in Flanders who had supplied him with fine specimens. Tending this garden became the great occupation of his old age ; be watered it with his own hands, and, according to Montalban, the chill which led to his death was caught while he was thus engaged.

One can easily detect in his writings the traces of this taste. It is not that he had in a higher degree than his contemporaries the feeling for nature, but the form, the colour, the perfume of flowers largely supply him with his figures and metaphors—his flowers of rhetoric, in short. It is to be regretted that this delicate taste of his, a taste very rare in Spain, where flowers and trees have never been greatly cared for, should have contributed rather to augment than to lessen the elaborateness, pomposity, and affecta-tion of his style. But these faults were shared by all the writers of that age. In his comedies, for example, where be does not pique himself on a fine style and does not attempt to take the Latins or the Italians for his models, his language is, if not nervous and self-restrained, at least limpid and flowing, in this respect contrast-ing very favourably with the florid and laboured style of his epics and prose pastorals. Viewed broadly, and leaving out of account certain theories which in the long run greatly influenced his manner of writing, Lope belonged in literature to what may be called the school of good sense; he made it his boast that he was a Spaniard pur sang, and steadfastly maintained that a writer’s business is to write so as to make himself understood. When brought face to face with the coterie of the précieux and quintessenciés, the "cultos," and "criticos," and "conceptistas," Lope takes the position of a defender of the anguage of ordinary life, the good old Castilian tongue. In the dispute which arose between the partisans of the two schools of "cultos" or "culteranos" and "Ilanos," the dramatist ranged himself on the side of the latter. In the matter of versification he refuses to admit that the long Italian verse has the advantage of the Castilian octosyllabic: "No pienso que el verso largo Italiano haga ventaja al nuestro, que si en España lo dizen es porque, no sabiendo hazer el suyo, se passan al estrangero como mas largo y licencioso. . . . Qué cosa iguala á una redondilla de Garci Sanchez ó Don Diego de Mendoza?" (Preface to Isidro). Unfortunately the books that he read, his literary connexions, his fear of being unfavourably judged by the Italians, all exercised an influence upon his naturally robust spirit, and, like so many others, he caught the prevalent contagion of mannerism and of empty and pompous phraseology. In his studies at the imperial college and at Alcalá Lope had never found his way up to the truest and highest sources of the beautiful; he had never attempted Greek, but had contented himself with Latin, which he chose to regard as the only ancient tongue which a man of letters needed to learn. To his natural son, Lope Felix del Carpio, when enter-ing upon his Latin studies. he wrote, "So vou have begun to grapple with the rudiments? It is one of the things which cannot possibly be avoided ; but, for all that, if I could find some one to teach you your own language well, I should be quite satisfied, for I have seen too many of those who, having learned Latin, are ignorant of their native tongue and affict to despise everything in written in the vulgar idiom. What presumption to forget that the Greeks did not write in Latin or the Latins in Greek! I con-fess I laugh whenever I see men giving themselves out for Latin poets who write in their own language like mere barbarians ; and I conclude that they cannot possibly have been born poets, for the true poet (there is not more than one, they say, in a generation) writes in his own language, and it is therein that lie shows his excellence,—witness Petrarch in Italy, Ronsard in France, and Garcilaso in Spain. Nevertheless I do not wish to discourage you from learning that queen of languages (Latin), the third in the world in point of antiquity. Try to know it as well as you can, my son, but by no means learn Greek, for I would not have you like those who strut and give themselves airs because they have acquired a smattering of it. Greek tends too much to vanity, and what is the use of learning a language which is known to so few ?" After thus warning his son against the dangers of Greek, Lope adds other counsels which reveal to us his feelings towards his own bygone days. "Have but few books, and those choose with care ; diligently observe the thoughts they contain, and do not let any-thing noteworthy pass without a mark on the margin. Should it be your misfortune to become a maker of verses (which God forbid!) try at least not to make that your chief occupation, nor let it divert you from more important matters, for therein you will spend your time to no profit. The less of verse you make the more you will be esteemed and appreciated. You need only take an example from me. Certainly you will never be able to render more services than I have done to so many patrons, and see to what my diligence has brought me,—to the smallest of houses, a narrow bed, a poor table, and a patch of garden, the flowers of which dispel my cares and supply me with ideas." Lope knew only Latin, but this he knew well. Yet, instead of filling himself with the spirit of antiquity, and purifying his taste by contact with its literary masters, he regarded their writings as nothing more than repertories of beautiful and out-of-the-way expressions. After the Latins Lope turned by preference to the Italians. Like every other Spanish man of letters of his time,. he had been reared on Italian literature : he knew intimately the works of its great poets of the Renaissance, especially Ariosto and Tasso, as well as San-nazaro, the last-named of whom he imitated on several occasions; he kept a steady watch upon all that was published in Italy, cultivated carefully the connexions he had established with Italian writers of repute, and was always flattered by the eulogies which reached him from that quarter. His principal friend and corre-spondent in Italy was the Neapolitan poet, G. B. Marini, one of the worst corrupters of Italian literature (see vol. xiii. p. 511). He puts himself at Marini’s feet, calls him antistes Musarum and Italiae decos, sends him his portrait, and humbly begs his in-dilgence for a drama which he has been so bold as to dedicate to him (see dedication to Virtud, Pobreza, y Muger). Lope knew French also, and his works give evidence of an acquaintance with French poetry of the 16th and 17th centuries such as is rare in Spain ; he occasionally quotes Ronsard and Malherbe, and shows solicitude as to French opinion about his dramatic writings. In a word, his literary culture was chiefly Latin-Italian ; and, if he defends the tradition of the nation, and the pure simplicity of the old Castilian against "los de la nueva poesía," that is to say, the innovators of the school of Gongora, and against the jargon of the "cultos," still he does not wish to be taken for an unin-formed person, for a mere casual litterateur devoid of classical training: he especially emphasizes the fact that he has passed through the university, and is continually accentuating the differ-ence between the "ingenios cientificos" (those who know Latin) and "logos ignorantes" (ignorant laymen). With what a sense of superiority, for example, does be mention that Cervantes was not to his mind sufficiently "cientifico" (preface to Las Fortunas de. Diana), the fact being that Cervantes had been neither at Alcalá nor at Salamanca!

For a rapid survey of the works of Lope, it is convenient to begin with those which the Spaniards include under the name of Obras Sueltas, the title of the large collection of the poet’s non-dramatic works (Madrid, 21 vols. 4to, 1776-79), We shall enumerate the most important of these, as far as possible in the order of publication. The Arcadia, (1598), a pastoral romance, composed at the instance of the duke of Alva, and inspired by Sannazaro, Montemayor, and Cervantes, is one of the poet’s feeblest and most wearisome productions. Isidro (1599), a narrative of the life of Isidore, patron of Madrid, is called a Castilian poem on account of the rhythm in which it is composed,—quintillas of octo-syllabic verse. The Hermosura de Angélica (1602), in three books, is a sort of continuation of the Orlando Furioso, in octaves after the fashion of the original poem. Similar iii form is La Dragontea, a fantastic history of the last expedition and the death of Sir Francis Drake, who was such a terror to the fleets and the coast of Spain that his name had become a synonym for that of the evil one. Finally the Rimas are a miscellany of short pieces. In 1604 was published the Peregrino en su Patria, a romance in prose and verse, similar in kind to the Aethiopica of Heliodorus ; it is a mediocre work, but of great bibliographical interest, on account of its authentic list of the comedies which Lope recognized as having been written by him up to that date, a list which he augmented by 114 new titles in the 1618 edition of the novel. The more Lope composed poetry the more he went to the Italian poets for inspiration, labouring to show that the mechanism of the Italian octave was as familiar to him as that of the national redondilla. Having imitated Ariosto, he proceeded to imitate Tasso ; but his Jerusalem Conquistada, (1609) has preserved nothing of the art shown in its model, and is a dull and insipid performance. Little need be said about the Pastores de Belen (1612), a sort of pious pastoral, dedicated to his son Carlos, which forms a pendant to his secular Arcadia, or about the incidental pieces which be published in connexion with the solemnities of the beatification and canonization of St Isidore in 1620 and 1622. And it is enough simply to mention La Filomena, (1621), La Circe (1624), and other poems published about the same date, as also the four prose novels, Las Fortunas de Diana, El Desdichado por la Honra, La Mas Prudente Venganza, and Guzman el Bravo. The great success of the Novelas Egemplares of Cervantes (1613) had stimulated Lope, who wished to measure himself with the author of Don Quixote on the field of the novel ; and, as this literary form had been borrowed from the Italians, he expected to achieve a success as great as that which he supposed to be already his in the fields of pastoral romance and epic poetry. But in this instance at least the "cientifico" was completely defeated by the "lego" : Lope’s novels have none of the grace, naturalness, or interest which characterize those of his rival. The last important work which has to be mentioned before we leave the narrative poetry of Lope is the Laurel de Apolo (1630). This piece describes the coronation of the poets of Spain on Helicon by Apollo. All of them—good, middling, and bad-share in the ceremonial, and among the poets properly so called appear some other men of letters, certain important personages to whom Lope felt under obligations, which could not be more satisfactorily paid than in the current coin of verse which he had so readily at his command. This work is more meritorious as a bibliographical manual of Spanish poetry at that time than as genuine poetry. One other "obra suelta," closely akin to Lope’s dramatic works, though not properly speaking a drama, is La Dorotea (1632). Lope describes it as an "action in prose," but it is rather a "romance in dialogue"; for, although divided into acts, the narrative has nothing dramatic about it ex-cept its outward form ; and on account of its size and the digres-sions with which it is encumbered it has never succeeded in finding its way to the stage. It belongs to the class of which Celestina is the type, in so far as one of the principal characters, La Gerarda, is a go-between ; but Lope has amplified his model, idealized it, and purged away much of the qrossness belonging to the mean surroundings of the character of the original Celestina and common to the numerous works of the 16th and 17th centuries to which it gave rise. Of all Lope’s productions Dorotea is undoubtedly that which shows most observation and study; the style also is unusually simple and easy. The attempt has sometimes been made to dis-cover in the adventures of Fernando, one of its heroes, allusions to Lope’s early youth ; but there is nothing conclusive in any of the supposed coincidences between fact and fiction which Fauriel and others after him have sought to establish. Of all this mass of Obras Sueltas, filling more than twenty volumes, very little (leaving Dorotea out of account) holds its own in the impartial judgment of posterity. The long epic or narrative poems are quite unreadable, and almost the same must be said of the pastorals and novels. The lyrical element alone retains some vitality. From the Rimas and other collections of detached pieces one could compile a pleasing anthology of sonnets, epistles, elegies, and romances, to which it would tie proper to add the Gatomaquia, a burlesque poem pub-lished along with other metrical pieces in 1634 by Lope under the pseudonym of Tomé de Burguillos. But here the list would have to stop.

It is, however, to his dramatic writings that Lope owes his very considerable place in literary history. It is very curious to notice how he himself seizes every available occasion for depreciating the work of the drama, treats the art of comedy-writing as one of the humblest of trades (de pane lucrando), and protests against the supposition that in writing for the stage his aim is glory and not money.1 The reason is not far to seek. The Spanish drama, which, if not literally the creation of Lope, at least owes to him its definitive form—the three-act comedy—was totally regardless of the pre-cepts of the school, the pseudo-Aristotelianism of the doctors of the period. Lope accordingly, who stood in awe of the criticism of the "cientificos," felt bound to let them see that, from the point of view of literary art, he attached no value to the "rustic fruits of his humble vega." In his Arte Nuevo de Hacer Coinedias en Este Tiempo, which was published in 1609 and is the Ars Poetica of the new school, Lope begins by allowing that he knows as well as any one the established rules of poetry, and then excuses himself for his in-ability to follow them on the ground that the "vulgar" Spaniard cares nothing about them. "Let us then speak to him in the language of fools, since it is he who pays us." Under such condi-tions all that the dramatic poet can do is to plan ingenious plots, so as adroitly to sustain the interest and retard as long as possible the denouement, for nothing is more displeasing to the ordinary public than to be able to divine too soon the solution of the problem set before them on the boards of the theatre. Such, with a few pieces of advice as to the choice of nietres and the costume of the actors, is the recipe for the new or free comedy, a barbarous kind of literature, according to Lope, and outside the region of art, yet the only drama possible in Spain.2 Another reason, more serious still, which made it necessary for him to speak deprecatingly of his dritmatic works is the circumstance that the vast majority of them were writter, in haste and to order, precisely like so many feuilleton romances of Alexandre Dumas ; they are for the most part comedias de repente, hurriedly conceived at the request of some grandee or of some impresario or manager. The poet does not hesitate to con-fess that "more than a hundred of my comedies have taken only twenty-four hours to pass from my brain to the boards of the theatre." Perez de Montalban, who has a great admiration for this kind of cleverness, tells how, at Toledo, on a certain occasion, Lope composed fifteen acts in fifteen days—that is to say, five entire comedies, which he read to his friends step by ster with the process of their composition. On another occasion, when pressly by a manager who wanted something for the carnival, Lope took Montalban as a collaborateur ; the two friends parcelled out the comedy between them, Lope undertaking the first act, Montalban the second, and the third, to save time, was divided between them. In two days they had finished the first two acts, and on the third Montalban rose at two in the morning and at eleven he had finished. Then he went in search of Lope, who, when questioned as to his progress, replied: "I got up at five, finished the act, break-fasted, wrote an epistle of fifty tercets, and have now finished watering the garden, and a rather tough business it has been." This is not art; it is handicraft, and one understands why Lope sometimes found it prudent to lay stress on the fact that his come-dies had been written for the ears of spectators, not for readers in their studies.1 Nevertheless, he did write some dramas in which the plan is more fully matured and the execution more carefully carried out ; still, hurried composition arid reckless production are after all among the most distinctive marks of his theatrical works. Towards the close of his career Lope somewhat modified the severe and disdainful judgments he had formerly passed upon his dramatic performances; he seems to have had a presentiment that posterity, in spite of the grave defects of his work in that department, would nevertheless place it much higher than the Jeru-salem Conquistada, La Dragontea, and other works of which lie himself thought so much. In his Egloga á Claudio, which is, so to say, his literary last will and testament, he claims to have been a creator: "It is to me that the art (of comedy) owes its beginnings, although I have departed from the strictness of Terence, and do not for a moment pretend to deny the part which belongs to the three or four great geniuses who have watched over the infancy of the drama. To whom are we indebted, Claudio, for so many de-lineations of love and jealousy, so many moving pieces of eloquence, such a copious supply of all the figures which rhetoric has ever been able to invent? All that is produced to-day is nothing but imita-tion of what art created yesterday. The path,—it is I who have opened it up and made it practicable, and everybody now traverses it with ease. It was I who gave the example which is followed and copied on all hands." We may certainly credit Lope with creative power, with the instinct which enabled him to reproduce the facts of history or those supplied by the imagination in a multi-tude of dramatic situations with an astonishing cleverness and flexi-bility of expression; but unfortunately, instead of concentrating his talent upon the production of a limited number of works which he might have brought to perfection, he dissipated it, so to say, and scattered it to the winds.

The catalogue of Lope’s comedies has been drawn up by himself and, in spite of some discrepancies in his figures, it is established that up to 1604 he had composed, in round numbers, as many as 230. In 1609 the figure had risen to 500, in 1618 to 800, in 1620 to 900, in l625 to 1070, and in l632 to 1500. Ultimately Montalban in his general survey published in 1636 (Fama Posthuma) set down the total of Lope’s dramatic productions at 1800 comedies and 400 autos sacramentales. Of this number there are nearly 608 comedies of which the text is extant, or which are at least known to us by their titles (front the lists of the Peregrino) ; but the printed or MS. text of only 439 is actually accessible, besides some 40 autos and a few entremeses. Very many of these pieces were printed during Lope’s lifetime, either in collections of varios autores, or as separate issues by booksellers who bought from the actors in an underhand way the manuscripts of their rôles or else caused the unpublished comedy to be written down from memory by persons whom they sent to attend the first representation. Such pieces therefore as do not figure in the collection published under Lope’s own direction or under that of his friends cannot be regarded as perfectly authentic, and it would be unfair to hold their author responsible for all the faults and defects they exhibit. On the other hand, there exist in various libraries entire comedies in Lope’s own handwriting which have never been printed.

The classification of this enormous mass of dramatic literature is a task of great difficulty, inasmuch as the terms usually employed, such as comedy, tragedy, and the like, do not apply here. There is not explicitness enough in the division current in Spain, which recognizes three categories:—(1) comedias de capa y espada, the subjects of which are drawn from everyday life and in which the persons appear as simple caballeros ; (2) comedias de ruido or de teatro, in which kings and princes are the leading characters and the action is accompanied with a greater display of dramatic machinery ; (3) comedias divinas or de santos. Some other arrangement must be attempted. In the first place Lope’s work belongs essenti-ally to the drama of intrigue; be the subject what it may, it is always the plot that determines everything else, not the delineation of manners or of character. Lope in the whole range of his dramatic works has not a single piece comparable to La Verdad Sospechosa of Alarcon, the most finished example in Spanish litera-ture of the comedy of character; and what is called the comedy of manners is no better represented: only El Rufian Castrucho, El Anzuelo de Fenisa, and one or two others can be named. It is from history, and particularly Spanish history, that he has borrowed more than front any other source. It would in fact be difficult to say what national and patriotic subjects, from the reign of the half fabulous King Pelayo down to the history of his own age, he has not put upon the stage. Sometimes he contents himself with serv-ing up old chronicles afresh or stringing together fragments of old popular songs, as in El Bastardo Mudarra, with inventing here and there a few secondary characters when the original material is not sufficiently rich and complicated, as in Las Doncellas de Simancas, Los Benavides, El Casamiento en la Muerte, and others, or sometimes even with clothing with complete dramatic action one single fact of history, as in one of his most famous plays, La Estrella de Sevilla, in Porfiar hasta Morir, in El Mejor Alcalde el Rey, and others. Even current events as they took place under his eyes furnished him with motives. In an age when people read but little, the theatre was a channel of information and a means of rousing patriotic sentiment. A victory of the Spanish arms in Flanders or the success of hardy adventurers in planting the royal banner of Castile in some virgin land in the West,—events like these promptly gave rise to a comedy. On the basis of any sort of report of battle or conquest Lope improvises a dramatic action, or at least a narrative in dialogue. Thus under the title of La Mayor Victoria de Ale-mania he describes a victory won in the Palatinate by Don Gonzalo de Córdoba, brother of the duke of Sesa, his patron. Such are the principal varieties of historical or heroic comedy. But it is to the class of capa y espada—also called novelesco, because the subjects are almost always love intrigues complicated with affairs of honour—-that Lope’s most celebrated plays belong. In these he has most fully displayed his powers of imagination (the subjects being all invented) and his skill in elaborating a plot. Among the plays of this class which are those best known in Europe, and most frequently imitated and translated, may be specially mentioned Los Ramilletes de Madrid, La Boba para los Otros y Discreta para sí, El Perro del Hortelano, La Viuda de Valencia, and E1Maestro de Danzar. In some of them Lope has sought to set forth some moral maxim, and illustrate its abuse by a living example. Thus, on the theme that "poverty is no crime," we have the play entitled Las Flores de Don Juan, in which he shows in the history of two brothers the triumph of virtuous poverty over opulent vice; at the same time he attacks indirectly the institution of primogeniture, which often places in the hands of an unworthy person the honour and substance of a family when the younger members would be much better quali-fied for the trust. Such pieces are, however, rare in Lope’s repertory; in common with all other writers of his order in Spain, with the occasional exception of Alarcon, his sole aim is to amuse and stir his public, not troubling himself about its instruction. The strong point of such writers is and always will be their management of the plot. As has been said by Le Sage, a good judge: "The Spaniards are our masters in the art of planning and skilfully work-ing out a plot; they know how to set forth their subject with infinite art and in the most advantageous light." It is not necessary to dwell here upon the other varieties of comedy represented in Lope’s works, that is, the comedias divinas, fiestas (mythological dramas for the most part), entremeses, and autos. In none of them has he produced anything of the highest order, or even comparable to the better performances of his contemporaries and successors.

To sum up, Lope found a poorly organized drama, plays being composed sometimes in four acts, sometimes in three; and, though they were written in verse, the structure of the versification was left far too much to the caprice of the individual writer. The style of drama then in vogue he adopted, because the Spanish public liked it. The narrow framework it afforded he enlarged to an extraordinary degree, introducing everything that could possibly furnish material for dramatic situations,—the Bible, ancient mythology, the lives of the saints, ancient history, Spanish history, the legends of the Middle Ages, the writings of the Italian novelists, current events, Spanish life in the 17th century. Before him manners and the conditions of persons and characters had been barely sketched; with fuller observation and more careful description he created real types, and gave to each social order the language and drapery appropriate to it. The old comedy was awkward and poor in its versification; he introduced order into the use of all the forms of national poetry, from the old romance couplets to the rarest lyrical combinations borrowed from Italy. Hence he was justified in say-ing that those who should come after him had only to go on along the path which be had opened up. Calderon notably, whose merit has teen much exaggerated, especially since the Germans took him under their protection, is merely a pupil and inferior to his master; at all events, his indebtedness to the latter is enormous and has not as yet been adequately recognized.

Bibliography.—For the life of Lope, see Juan Perez de Montalban’s Fama Posthuma (4to, Madrid, 1636; reprinted in Bibl. Rivadeneyra); La Barrera Catálogo del Téatro Antiguo Español; Von Schack, Geschichte der dramatischen Literatur und Kunst in Spanien, vol. ii.; and Ultimos Amores de Lope de Vega Carpio (8vo, Madrid, 1876), an extract by Francisco Asenjo Barbieri from an unpublished biography written by La Barrera in connexion with the poet’s correspondence with the duke of Sesa. For Lope’s literary theories and doctrine of dramatic art, reference may be made to Menéndez-Pelayo, Historia de las Ideas Estéticas en España, and to A. Morel-Fatio, La Comédie Espagnole du XVIIme Siècle (8vo, Paris, 1885). The Obras Sueltas were published by Francisco Cerdá y Rico (21 vols. 4to, Madrid, 1776-79). For the bibliography of the comedies, see La Barrera. The selection of comedies published by Hartzenbusch in four volumes in the Biblioteca Rivadeneyra is fairly good; but the same cannot be said of its choice of Obras Sueltas. (A. M.-F.)


FOOTNOTES (page 123)

(1) Algunos que piensan que las escribo por opinion; desengañeles V. M y digales que por dinero.

(2) Las comedias de España no guardan el arte ... porque con aquel rigor de ninguna manera fueran oidas de los Españoles.

FOOTNOTES (page 124)

1No las escriví… para que de los oydos del teatro se trasladáran á la censura de los aposentos.

The above article was written by
Alfred Morel-Fatio, Professor of Southern European Languages and Literature at the Collège de France; Director of Dept. of Philology of the Romance Language Languages, Ecole des Hautes Etudes; Secretary of the Ecole Nationale des Chartes.

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