Los comendadores de Córdoba, wr. 1596-1598, pb. 1609
El nuevo mundo descubierto por Cristóbal Colón, wr. 1596-1603, pb. 1614 (The Discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus, 1950)
El mayordomo de la duquesa de Amalfi, wr. 1599-1606, pb. 1618 (The Majordomo of the Duchess of Amalfi, 1951)
El anzuelo de Fenisa, wr. 1602-1608, pb. 1617
La corona merecida, wr. 1603, pb. 1620
La noche toledana, wr. 1605, pb. 1612
Los melindres de Belisa, wr. 1606-1608, pb. 1617
El acero de Madrid, wr. 1606-1612, pb. 1618 (Madrid Steel, 1935)
Castelvines y Monteses, wr. 1606-1612, pb. 1647 (English translation, 1869)
La niña de plata, wr. 1607-1612, pb. 1617
Peribáñez y el comendador de Ocaña, wr. 1609-1612, pb. 1614 (Peribáñez, 1936)
La buena guarda, wr. 1610, pb. 1621
Las flores de don Juan, y rico y pobre trocados, wr. 1610-1615, pb. 1619
El villano en su rincón, wr. 1611, pb. 1617 (The King and the Farmer, 1940)
Fuenteovejuna, wr. 1611-1618, pb. 1619 (The Sheep-Well, 1936)
Lo cierto por lo dudoso, wr. 1612-1624, pb. 1625 (A Certainty for a Doubt, 1936)
El perro del hortelano, wr. 1613-1615, pb. 1618 (The Gardener’s Dog, 1903)
El caballero de Olmedo, wr. 1615-1626, pb. 1641 (The Knight from Olmedo, 1961)
La dama boba, pb. 1617 (The Lady Nit-Wit, 1958)
Amar sin saber a quién, wr. 1620-1622, pb. 1630
El mejor alcalde, el rey, wr. 1620-1623, pb. 1635 (The King, the Greatest Alcalde, 1918)
Los Tellos de Meneses I, wr. 1620-1628, pb. 1635
El premio del bien hablar, wr. 1624-1625, pb. 1636
La moza de cántaro, wr. 1625-1626, pb. 1646?
El guante de doña Blanca, wr. 1627-1635, pb. 1637
El castigo sin venganza, pb. 1635 (based on Matteo Bandello’s novella; Justice Without Revenge, 1936)
Four Plays, pb. 1936
Las bizarrías de Belisa, pb. 1637
Five Plays, pb. 1961
La Arcadia, 1598
El peregrino en su patria, 1604 (The Pilgrim: Or, The Stranger in His Own Country, 1621)
Los pastores de Belén, 1612
Novelas a Marcia Leonarda, 1621
La Dorotea, 1632
La Dragontea, 1598
El Isidro, 1599
La hermosura de Angélica, 1602
El arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo, 1609 (The New Art of Writing Plays, 1914)
Jerusalén conquistada, 1609
Rimas sacras, 1614
La Circe, 1621
La filomena, 1621
Triunfos divinos, 1625
La corona trágica, 1627
Laurel de Apolo, 1630
La gatomaquia, 1634 (Gatomachia, 1843)
Rimas humanas y divinas del licenciado Tomé de Burguillos, 1634
La Vega del Parnaso, 1637
Égloga a Claudio, 1637
The architect of the Golden Age of the theater in Spain was Lope Félix de Vega Carpio (VAY-gah KAHR-pyoh), often just Lope de Vega, who could justly boast that when he started writing plays only two companies of actors were performing, whereas at the end of his career forty companies employing at least a thousand people were providing the Spanish capital with plays. Scholarship sets his total dramatic output at about eight hundred plays. At least 507 of these are unquestionably his, and many of the others are in his handwriting. The total body of his work is more than any other dramatist can claim, and though many plays were written in less than one day, none is wholly insignificant, none untouched by his genius. Publishers sent shorthand experts to the theater to copy his plays and pirate them. In the provinces managers advertised their offerings as by Lope de Vega to be sure of an audience. So great was his popularity that anything excellent, from food to jewels, was referred to as “of Lope.”
Lope de Vega Carpio
This monstruo de la naturaleza (prodigy of nature), as Miguel de Cervantes called him, was the son of a worker in gold. An ecclesiastical patron entered him in the University of Alcalá de Henares, and in 1580 he was a student at Salamanca, but a love affair with the wife of an actor kept him from taking orders as he had planned. This was the first of many love affairs, all of which he transmuted into important literary works. Friends had only to suggest a form of literature he had not attempted to have him compose for them a good example of it. The theater was his great love. Able to write a play in verse almost faster than a scribe could copy it, he seized on anything as a plot idea. The medical fad of taking iron for the blood inspired Madrid Steel. A proverb was the seed of The Gardener’s Dog.
In his rhymed The New Art of Writing Plays Lope de Vega laid down the rules under which he wrote: “In the first act, state your case; in the second, your events, so that not till the middle of the third does anybody begin to suspect what is going to come of it all. . . . Do not permit the solution till you come to the last scene.” As a result his dramas are full of suspense. Action, not philosophy, was what his audiences wanted, and he confessed that the audience dictated his plots, chose his characters, and wrote his plays. Though he knew the rules of the classical theater, he admitted that, with a half dozen exceptions, he broke them to please the people and to be true to life. Prose and poetry, he hoped, would gain him fame, and he made no secret of the fact that he wrote plays for money.
Although his genius touched all types of drama, his popularity rested chiefly on the type called comedias de capa y espada, or cloak-and-sword plays, which were full of intrigue and complications and included masked nobles and women disguised as men. The plots commanded the characters, and stock impulses motivated the action (love easily transferred, jealousy easily aroused, honor easily offended). An entertaining and involved plot kept the spectators guessing until matrimony at the final curtain washed away all stains on family honor. The outcome of these plays is not always logical. In his treatise on playwriting, Lope de Vega declared: “At times, that which is contrary to logic for that very reason is pleasing.”
He was also successful in religious plays with saints as heroes, in comedies of manners with lower-class characters, and in heroic plays with historical or legendary characters, such as The Sheep-Well and The King, the Greatest Alcalde. In addition he composed several hundred autos sacramentales, short plays for the Corpus Christi season and other Church holy days.
Lope de Vega was also fertile in nondramatic works. The epic poem La hermosura de Angélica (the beauty of Angelica) runs to eleven thousand lines, and he penned ten thousand lines in poetic tribute to Madrid’s patron Saint Isidor. The epic Jerusalén conquistada (Jerusalem conquered) is twice that long. In 1598 he composed La Dragontea, an epic in ten cantos about the misdeeds of Francis Drake, and wrote two thousand lines about the loves and adventures of a cat in his mock epic Gatomachia. Fifteen hundred sonnets resulted from his poetic musing. In prose he wrote La Arcadia, a pastoral novel. His favorite novel, La Dorotea, was inspired by his first love; frequently revised, it was finally published in 1632.
In his personal life, however, Lope de Vega’s reputation was less admirable. His sexual escapades and resulting legal difficulties were the talk of all Spain. As a boy he showed precocity, composing poetry when he was only five and writing a play at the age of twelve. He ran away from school with a companion and toured Spain until a pawnbroker grew suspicious at the wealth they displayed and turned them over to the police.
At the university he perfected himself chiefly in fencing, singing, and dancing. Once his studies were over, he surrendered to his love for the theater and by the age of fifteen was seeing his plays professionally performed. His love for adventure led him in 1583 to join a naval expedition to the Azores; he returned to an intensive life of writing. Five years later he was banished from Madrid on penalty of death for a criminal libel against the family of his mistress, Elena Osorio, the daughter of a theatrical manager for whom he provided plays. From exile in Valencia he wooed Isabel de Urbina and returned boldly to the capital to elope with her. Nineteen days after their marriage he left her to join the Armada; he used his leisure from military duties to write an epic poem.
Rough seas and the death of his brother made war unattractive, and following Isabel’s death he spent the next forty years in a succession of love intrigues and scandals. His two favorite children were illegitimate. Friend and associate of the nobility, serving the duke of Alba, the marques of Malpica, and the count of Lemos, he reached the depths as panderer for the dissipated duke of Sessa.
However, he had his moments of repentance. In 1609 he became a familiar of the Inquisition. He joined three religious confraternities in two years. When his second wife, Juana, and their son Carlos died almost simultaneously, Lope de Vega entered holy orders. In 1614, however, when he was ordained priest in Toledo, he was at the same time providing mistresses for Sessa and carrying on a love affair of his own. In 1614 he met Marta de Nevares, the great love of his life, whom he immortalized as Amaryllis in his poetry and whom he cared for tenderly during her illness, blindness, and descent into madness.
Lope de Vega was a strange compound of sensuality, pettiness, conceit, servility, and genius. Over time the last quality has outweighed all the rest, and it was that quality that all Madrid recognized on Tuesday, August 28, 1635, when he was accorded funeral honors such as have seldom been equaled for a person of letters. When his grave, San Estéban, was remodeled in the eighteenth century, no distinguishing mark was put on his coffin, so that the whereabouts of Lope de Vega’s present grave are uncertain. He left his monument in the creation of Spanish theater, however.
He established the play of three acts, set down rules of versification for the expression of various emotions and situations, and brought to the stage a richness of poetic inspiration unequaled in Spanish literature. He reflected the life, customs, and ideas of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with naturalness and poetic freedom. Inferior to Tirso de Molina in handling comedy, incapable of the poetic heights of Pedro Calderón de la Barca, less careful than Pedro Antonio de Alarcón in character portrayal and analysis, Lope de Vega Carpio nevertheless surpassed all his contemporaries in skill at blending poetry and life, which he painted in vivid colors, although he did not interpret it deeply. He gave freedom and importance to women and dignity to the lower classes and produced an enormous number of masterpieces at the time when variety was necessary to encourage a theatergoing public and bring to greatness the theater of the Golden Age in Spain.