El nido ajeno, pr., pb. 1894 (Another’s Nest, 1932)
Gente conocida, pr. 1896
La gobernadora, pr., pb. 1901 (The Governor’s Wife, 1918)
La noche del sabado, pr., pb. 1903 (Saturday Night, 1918)
No fumadores, pr., pb. 1904 (No Smoking, 1917)
Teatro, pb. 1904-1931 (38 volumes)
Los malhechores del bien, pr. 1905 (The Evil of Good, 1916)
Rosas de otoño, pr., pb. 1905 (Autumnal Roses, 1919)
La princesa Bebé, pr. 1906 (Princess Bebé, 1918)
Los intereses creados, pr., pb. 1907 (The Bonds of Interest, 1915)
El marido de su viuda, pr., pb. 1908 (His Widow’s Husband, 1917)
Señora ama, pr. 1908 (A Lady, 1924)
La escuela de las princesas, pr., pb. 1909 (The School for Princesses, 1924)
El príncipe que todo lo aprendió en los libros, pr. 1909 (The Prince Who Learned Everything out of Books, 1918)
La malquerida, pr. 1913 (The Passion Flower, 1917)
La ciudad alegre y confiada, pr., pb. 1916
Plays by Jacinto Benavente, pb. 1917-1924 (4 volumes)
Para el cielo y los altares, pb. 1928
Pepa Doncel, pr., pb. 1928
La melodía del jazz band, pr., pb. 1931
La moral del divorcio, pr., pb. 1932
El pan comido en la mano, pr., pb. 1934
La infanzona, pr. 1945
Mater imperatrix, pr. 1950
Cartas de mujeres, 1893
Teatro del pueblo, 1909
De sobremesa, 1910-1916
Recuerdos y olvidos: Memorias, 1962
Don Juan, 1897 (of Molière’s Dom Juan: Ou, Le Festin de Pierre)
El rey Lear, 1911 (of William Shakespeare’s King Lear)
Obras completas, 1952-1964 (11 volumes)
Jacinto Benavente y Martínez (bay-nah-VAHN-tay ee mahr-TEE-nehz), who was born in Madrid on August 12, 1866, began writing plays in 1894 for Spanish theatergoers who were accustomed to the artificiality and melodrama of José de Echegaray. After some experience with youthful puppet plays, brief appearances before the public as an actor, and a season as a circus clown on a European tour, this son of a Madrid physician offered a manuscript to a theatrical manager who had been one of his father’s patients. Another’s Nest (also translated as The Strange Nest), produced in 1894, had no thesis, no action, and no emotion. It merely satirized upper-and middle-class Madrid society. The author concentrated on the rich because, as he explained, the poor had troubles enough and he did not admire a dramatist who could find humor in poverty. The comedy had a chilly reception. A second attempt at social satire, Gente conocida (people you know), was better received in 1896. From then until 1902, the end of his first period, Benavente wrote twenty-two plays that held a magnifying glass over the vices of society but never offered a solution. Though he translated the plays of Henrik Ibsen, as well as of William Shakespeare and Molière, the more recent dramatists of France were his chief models, especially Henri Lavedan.
Jacinto Benavente y Martínez
In 1903, Benavente adopted a new technique in Saturday Night. Less realism, more idealism, and a feminine slant characterized this work. Most of the plays that followed it were set outside Spain, sometimes in imaginary countries. Well-intentioned women who try to remake the morals and lives of others were the target in one of his greatest plays, The Evil of Good, in 1905. Tradition had it that the first-night audience considered it antireligious and walked out of the Lara Theater, but one of those present later refuted that legend.
The Bonds of Interest was written in the tradition of the Italian commedia dell’arte. It synthesizes the dramatist’s genius, his poetry, his idealism, and his irony and skepticism. Crispin, the chief character, is Benavente’s greatest male creation. A later play about him, La ciudad alegre y confiada (the happy, confident city), was, like most sequels, less successful, though its patriotic theme evoked some enthusiasm.
Benavente turned to the rural regions of Castile for two of his masterpieces, written in the dialect of the country. The psychological drama A Lady, the dramatist’s favorite, presents his greatest feminine character, a country woman who does not protest her husband’s infidelity as long as she thinks she can give him no children but who is quick to defend family and inheritance after she has a child. Its picture of ignorance, vice, and corruption existing outside big cities caused one critic to observe that virtue in Benavente’s plays is usually embodied in women. His men are vain, selfish, and interested in amusement, the sort of reputation Benavente himself acquired when he went to Hollywood. As a realist, however, he never made any of his characters entirely evil–or, on the other hand, entirely good.
In 1913, the year of his election to the Spanish Academy, Benavente wrote another play with the same rural setting, the outstanding The Passion Flower. While the first two acts are melodrama, the final action is transferred to the soul of the father. This most moving of his tragedies is the favorite of theatergoers. In English translation, it has had more than five hundred performances and was made into a motion picture. The Passion Flower represents the high point of Benavente’s career. Though two or three plays a year followed, for a total of nearly two hundred, the tendency of the dramatist to moralize or become heavily symbolic proved his downfall. Certainly none of his later plays contributed greatly to his winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1922. In 1928, one of the weakest, Para el cielo y los altares (for heaven and the church), was forbidden by the dictator Primo de Rivera, who saw in it a criticism of Alfonso XIII, though the author insisted he had Russia in mind.
Benavente was also successful in writing comedies for children. In 1909, he founded the Children’s Theater in Madrid. Among the charming plays that he wrote for it was The Prince Who Learned Everything out of Books, presented in 1909. For such plays, and for his three great plays in which he showed himself a faithful recorder of contemporary society, Benavente deserves a place in the history of the Spanish stage, whose outstanding figure he was for a period of nearly thirty years. In his social and political criticism and depiction of Castile, his work also mirrors the preoccupations of his fellow members of the famous literary “Generation of ’98.”