Authors: Juan Ruiz de Alarcón

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Mexican playwright

Author Works


Los favores del mundo, pr. c. 1616-1618

Las paredes oyen, pr. 1617 (The Walls Have Ears, 1942)

Algunas hazañas de las muchachas de don García Hurtado de Mendoza, marqués de Cañete, pb. 1622 (with Luis de Belmonte y Bermúdez, Guillén de Castro y Bellvís, Antonio Mira de Amescua, Luis Vélez de Guevara, and others)

El anticristo, pr. 1623

Siempre ayuda la verdad, pr. 1623

La industria y la suerte, pb. 1628

El semejante a sí mismo, pb. 1628

La cueva de Salamanca, pb. 1628

Mudarse por mejorarse, pb. 1628

Todo es ventura, pb. 1628

El desdichado en fingir, pb. 1628

Parte primera de las comedias, pb. 1628

La verdad sospechosa, pb. 1630 (as El mentiroso in Lope de Vega Carpio’s Parte veynte y dos de las comedias del fénix de España Lope de Vega Carpio; The Truth Suspected, 1927)

Ganar amigos, pb. 1633

El examen de maridos, pb. 1633

Los empeños de un engaño, pb. 1634

El dueño de las estrellas, pb. 1634

La amistad castigada, pb. 1634

La manganilla de Melilla, pb. 1634

El tejedor de Segovia, I, pb. 1634

El tejedor de Segovia, II, pb. 1634

La prueba de las promesas, pb. 1634

Los pechos privilegiados, pb. 1634

La crueldad por el honor, pb. 1634

Parte segunda de las comedias, pb. 1634

La culpa busca la pena, y el agravio la venganza, pb. 1646

Quien mal anda en mal acaba, pb. c. 1652

No hay mal que por bien no venga: O, Don Domingo de don Blas, pb. 1653 (Look for the Silver Lining, 1941)

Comedias escogidas, pb. 1867 (3 volumes)

Obras completas de Juan Ruiz de Alarcón, pb. 1957-1968 (3 volumes)

Teatro, pb. 1992 (2 volumes)


Don Juan Ruiz de Alarcón (rew-EES day ahl-ahr-KAWN) y Mendoza was born in Mexico City or nearby, possibly in Taxco. His parents had emigrated from Spain, but very little is known about them beyond the fact that both bore illustrious family names. The father had some connection to the silver mines of Taxco, perhaps as an overseer, and the mother was known as Doña Leonor. The playwright’s ostentatious addition of the title “Don” later in life derives from a claim to hereditary nobility through the maternal line of Mendoza.{$I[AN]9810000419}{$I[A]Ruiz de Alarcón, Juan}{$S[A]Mendoza, Juan Ruiz de Alarcón y;Ruiz de Alarcón, Juan}{$S[A]Alarcón, Juan Ruiz de;Ruiz de Alarcón, Juan}{$I[geo]MEXICO;Ruiz de Alarcón, Juan}{$I[geo]SPAIN;Ruiz de Alarcón, Juan}{$I[tim]1581;Ruiz de Alarcón, Juan}

Ruiz de Alarcón completed several courses in canon law at the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico by 1600, but apparently he did not graduate. By October of that year, he was in Spain, enrolled at the University of Salamanca. In very short order–a matter of two weeks–he received a bachelor’s degree in canon law and immediately registered to pursue the equivalent degree in civil law.

Records at the University of Salamanca suggest that he initially matriculated as simply Juan Ruiz. In time, he added “de Alarcón,” and as he became more acclimatized to a new and often hostile environment, the mother’s family name was appended, which served to justify the addition of Don at the beginning. By the time his name assumed its full form, he was established in Madrid as a dramatist. At least one wit of the day made the comment that Ruiz de Alarcón’s name had by then come to exceed the bearer’s height by its inordinate length. Another commented that the somewhat questionable use of D. (the abbreviation of Don) could serve as the writer’s half portrait in profile, as he was both humpbacked and pigeon-breasted. Another observed that it was impossible to tell, seen from a distance, whether he was coming or going. It was also held against him that he had reddish hair, as, according to popular superstition, hair of that shade indicated complicity with the powers of the netherworld. Nor was it in his favor that he was a Creole, by virtue of his birth in the New World, who had come to Spain against the tide of emigration.

The future playwright received a degree in civil law in 1602 and then spent three more years studying toward the equivalent of a master’s, which he did not receive, likely owing to the great expense it would have entailed. He finally did receive a licentiate degree from the University of Mexico in 1609, and during the next four years he aspired to a university chair but was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, he practiced law in various capacities. By April 24, 1614, however, he had settled again in Spain, this time in Madrid, where he would spend the remainder of his life.

The legal background he possessed made Ruiz de Alarcón unique among the coterie of playwrights then active in Madrid, most of whom were or would become churchmen. His considerable training and experience in the law served to foster a predominantly secular outlook and helps to explain the proposed legal and social reforms expressed in two plays in particular, El dueño de las estrellas and La crueldad por el honor. It also helps one understand the advocacy of reason, his characteristically concise and precise style, and the pains taken everywhere in his work to offer logical explanations for behavior and to analyze actions and motivations. This intellectual formation and predisposition serve to explain many aspects that strike the casual reader as being different in his theater.

The difference, one notes, has been attributed to other factors, among them the resentment he must have felt at being treated so ill by his fellow men of letters, by fortune, and by nature; his having been born and reared in Mexico; and his supposed classical bent. The supposed “Mexicanness” of his production has been held for naught by at least one distinguished modern Mexican critic, Antonio Alatorre, and the other two factors often adduced fare little better when submitted to scrutiny.

Finally, he was unique in that he wrote primarily to keep body and soul together while aspiring to other things, specifically to a civil service post for which his legal training had equipped him. Because playwriting was only an avocation, beyond his regular work on the Council of the Indies, the professional dramatists reviled Ruiz de Alarcón, and performances of his plays were frequently interrupted by unexplained accidents on the stage. Discouraged, he did little writing during the last ten years of his life. Once he secured the civil service post, in 1626, he continued to avoid the theater, and he turned his back on it definitively when he received a promotion in 1633 that allowed for a modicum of affluence. Ignoring the good advice of an Italian acquaintance, Ruiz de Alarcón willingly exchanged “ambrosia for chocolate.” He died on August 4, 1639.

BibliographyClaydon, Ellen. Juan Ruiz de Alarcón: Baroque Dramatist. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970. Claydon presents a study of the life and works of Ruiz de Alarcón. Includes bibliography.Halpern, Cynthia Leone. The Political Theater of Early Seventeenth Century Spain: With Special Reference to Juan Ruiz de Alarcón. New York: Peter Lang, 1993. Halpern examines the political theater that existed during the seventeenth century in Spain, focusing on Ruiz de Alarcón and his works. Includes bibliography.Parr, James A., ed. Critical Essays on the Life and Work of Juan Ruiz de Alarcón. Madrid: Editorial Dos Continentes, 1972. A collection of essays discussing the life and plays of Ruiz de Alarcón. Includes bibliography.Poesse, Walter. Juan Ruiz de Alarcón. New York: Twayne, 1972. A basic study of the life and works of the early Spanish dramatist. Includes bibliography.
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