James Fitzmaurice-Kelly.

Lope de Vega and the Spanish drama; online

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T T would be an overstatement to assert, in
•^ general terms, that the modern drama
derives solely from the ecclesiastical miracle-
plays ; but it is certain that in Spain, as in
other European countries, the connection
between church and stage was originally
^^^^ Qr less clo se. Though ancient ver-
nacular examples of the hieratic drama do
not abound in Spain, it is beyond doubt
that the popularity of ecclesiastical plays
dates far back ; and, as it happens, the
earliest specime n of the S panish _drama —
which is also among the oldest monuments
of Spanish literature — is the Misterio de los
Reyes Magos, This liturgical piece, ot;
which only a fragment survives, was pro-;
duced in the Cathedral of Toledo towards \
the beginning of the thirteenth cent ury.
The feast of Corpus Christi, instituted by
Urban IV. in 1264, was celebrated with
special magnificence at Gerona, and extant


documents show that the expenses of staging
such mysteries as El Sacrificio de Isaac and
La vent a y sueno del patriarca Jose were paid
byBerenger de Palaciolo, who died in 13 14.
A Ke pre sent acid de la asumpcio de madona Santa
Maria^ lately '3iscovered by Father Joan Pie,
is ascribed to the fo iixteenth century ; and

^ the celebrated Mtsterio de Elche^ which is
still given annually on the fourteenth and
fifteenth of August, cannot well be dated

^ later tha n the fifteenth century. It is
reasonable to suppose that some, at least,
of these primitive pieces are results of French
influence propagated throughout Spain by
the Cluny monks, and indeed it can be
demonstrated that the Misterio de los Reyes
Magos follows the Orleans rite. Possibly
such subjects as the Dispute entre fame et le
corps and the Danse Macabre "^ were also
utilized, though less frequently in Castile
than in the other kingdoms of the peninsula.
This would denote a slight infiltration of the
profane element into the sanctuary.

* For the etymology of Macabre, see M. Gaston Paris's note
in Roma?tia (Paris, 1895), vol. xxiv., p. 129.

The lay t heatre developed side by side >
with the liturgical drama. Though its
earliest forms have perished, there is evi-
dence of its existence at a remote date.
Spanish historians, such as Lucas de Tuy,
mention Albigensian refugees who acted in

V the public squares, and who held up the

shortcomings of the clergy to the rabble's
derision. A passage in the Siete Partidas of ^
Alfonso the Learned implies that some un-
seemly pieces — -j uegos de escarni o—-wtvQ. even
given in churches. These may be safely
referred to a French origin. A more national
I tradition, inspired by the Spaniard Seneca,
was revived by such Catalan writers as

) / Antonio Vilaregut and Domingo Masco, the
latter of whom wrote a tragedy entitled
Vhom enamorat e la fembra satisfeta^ which
was performed before Juan L at Valencia
in April 1394. It would seem as though
this example was not widely followed in
Castile. The passages of dialogue which ^
are found in Berceo, in the Archpriest of
Hita, and in that spirited political satire
known as the Coplas de Mingo Revulgo are

interesting ; but they are dramatic neitlier
^ in intention nor effect. It is otherwise with
the celebrated Didlogo entre el Amor y un
Viejo\ still it does not appear that this
production by the converted Toledan Jew,
Rodrigo Cota de Maguaque, was ever
actually played. Nevertheless, we know
that public representations must have been
common before Cota's tijme, for chroniclers
of the fifteenth century speak of entremeses
and momos at high festivals. However, not
till this fifteenth century is well advanced
do we meet with the first Castilian dramatist
whose name has reached us. Longfellow
has enabled readers unfamiliar with Spanish
to gather some impression of the plangent
music which characterizes Jorge Manrique's
dirge in memory of his father. They
y barely know the name of his uncle, Gomez
Manrique, the author of two liturgical
pieces — one on the Passion, the other on the
Nativity — each of them distinguished for de-
votional simplicity and charm. Tq Gomez
Manrique we also owe a play in which
the Infanta Isabel acted as one of the Muses,

and thus this courtly s oldier is the first to
represent both the religious and secular
dram a in Sp ain. ^

Passing by the vivacious Fray Inigo dc
Mendoza, whose Auto del nacimiento was
perhaps played on a profane stage, we come
to the anon ymo us Come dia de Calisto y Melib ea^
published about the end of the fifteenth cen-
tury, and best known as the Celestina, This
is a recognized masterpiece : but its un-
manageable length — sixteen acts, afterwards
amplified to twenty-two, and in some editions
to twenty-three — nullified its theatrical quali-
ties. A contemporary of the Jew Fernando \
de Rojas (to whom the Celestina is most
frequently attributed, though M. Foulche-
Delbosc dissents) was the patr iarch of th e
zarzuela, Juan del Encina, a sweet and
copious lyrical poet, wTToiiT" eclogues are
instinct with the dramatic spirit, and whose
Aucto del Repolon suggests those later
entremeses which are best represented by the
brilliant farces of Cervantes and Quinones
de Benavente. A further step in dramatic '
evolution has been noted in the Auto de la


P ksion of Lucas Fernan dez : the progress is,
however, slight. The next genuine impulse
comes from without : from Bartolome de
Tor res Naharro, app arently a roving Spanish
soldier of fortune, who was captured by
Barbary corsairs, and finally settled at Rome,
where he took orders in 1 5 1 3 or thereabouts.
Occasionally, as in his Didlogo del Nascimiento^
Torres Naharro is a mere imiigtor^of Encina.

/But, as a whole, the volume of plays which
he chose to call Fropalladia is remarkable for
its rare initiative and force. Here he gives
us examples in both the realistic and the
romantic drama : the comedia a noticia and
the comedia a fantasia — the Soldadesca and
Tinelaria on the one hand, the Serajina^
Himenea^ and Aquilana on the other. In
each vein Torres Naharro excels by virtue of
his craftmanship — his solid construction, his
appropriate, lively dialogue, his gift of per-
suasive presentation. No Spanish writer of

^ his period matches him in dramatic power.
He has, in a very high degree, the character-
istics of a great leader. Yet, beyond the
fact that he helped to draw the attention of

Spaniards to the Italian theatre — as in the
case of Alonso de la Vega, whose Comedia
prodiga owes as much to Italy as does the
Comedia de Sepuheda — the traces ^of^Xoxres
Naharro's influence are much fainter than we
should expect. How came this to be so ?
Not, as has been assumed hitherto, because
Spanish editions of the Propalladia were few;
the work was reprinted at least five times in
eighteen years — an exceptional success, in
that age, for a book first issued abroad. We
can but conjecture thatTorre^s Naharro was too t
far in advance of his time, or (more likely)
that his ingenuity overtaxed the limited me-

■ m i mm i K III I

chanical resources of the Spanish stage. Still/
as we find one of his metrical experiments —
the combination of the hemistich with the
twelve-syllabled versos de arte mayor — adopted
in the Auto da Feira of the graceful Portu-
guese dramatist Gil Vicente (who often takes
Spanish for his vehicle), it may prove that
Torres Naharro found followers among the
interminable file of playwrights recorded by
Canete, Aureliano Fernandez-Guerra y Orbc,
and Sr. Cotarelo y Mori. Thanks to these



eminent native scholars — and to M. Leo
Rouanet — the manuscripts of those who
wrote for the Spanish stage during the early-
sixteenth century are at last slowly struggling
into print. But, as yet, to most of us these
innumerable authors are little more than

We must await with patience the results
of research, and be satisfied to speak of what
we actually know. After Torres Naharro,
^the next promirf^nt figur e in th e histo ry of
Spanish dramatic literature is Lope d e
Rueda, whom a constant tradition, sanctioned
by the greatest of Spanish authors, regards
as the founder of the popular theatre : on
this point Cervantes and Lope de Vega are at
one. Rueda, once a silver-beater in Seville,
took to mumming, rose to be an autor — an
impresario as well as an author — and led his
company over the length and breadth of
Spain from about 1554 till his death in
1565 or 1566. His pieces, printed in
ij_67, reveal him as a man of many
talents, as an imitator of the Italians,
as a shrewd satirist of his poor pre-


decessor Bartolome Palau, as a keen
observer of life, as a master of boisterous
humour, and as the inventor of the bustling
farces known as^asos,^ Thtst pasos, repre-
sented in open ^spaces of the town by an
author Who also happened to be an accom-
plished actor, raised the play to the dignity
of a robust national institution. No such^
popular success was attained by Lope de
Rueda's publisher and friend, the Valencian
Juan de Timoneda, who has found a place in ^
the history of literature on the supposition
that he was among the first to essay the
dramatic form of the aufo. Sr. Cotarelo y
Mori has shewn, however, that Hernan
Lopez de Yanguas anticipated Timoneda by
almost half a century, and probably Yanguas
had predecessors as yet unknown to us. In ^
the next generation to Lope de Rueda
Cervantes praises Naharro, of whom nothing
remains beyond a late edition of his Griselda^
which exists in a unique copy.

* See the most interesting introduction to M. L^o Rouanet's
Intermides espagnols du xvii* sikle (Paris, 1897), for the history
of the pasos^ or entremeses^ as they were called later.




^ A better fortune awaitedjuan de la Cueva, P^
a courageous innovator in jthe romantic drama.
It would be difficult to overrate Cuevas
historic importance. None of his w^ork is
perfec t, none ap proaches perfection ; but his
explorations in the p icturesque d omain of
national history, his w^holesjorne contempt
for the conventional unities, his intelligent
courage in experimenting, his suggestion of
the capa y espada varie ty, his amalgam of
the lyrical with th e dramatic e lement com-
N bine to place him in the foremost line. He
and Miguel Sanchez, the author of La Isla
bdrbara and La G'uarda cuidadosa^ are the
pioneers of those new methods, which were
soon to carry all before them; and, insomuch,
they have a surer hold upon us than the
younger Argensola, than the two literary
soldiers Andres Rey de Artieda and Cristobal
de Virues, or even than Cervantes, whose im-
mortality was won in another sphere of litera-
ture. The essays of these dramatists have a
value of their own, and it is not too much to
say that some of Cervantes's entremeses in prose
(written, as it happens, at a much later date)


are a match for the FalstafF scenes in The
Merry Wives of Windsor ; but, in the main,*^
all four accepted an exhausted convention,
and, as all four opposed the developments with
which Spain was shortly to be enriched, they
must be regarded as open enemies of the
national dramatic system. So far as this
massive fabric can be considered as the
work of one man, it is the work of him
whom Cervantes, using a well-worn phrase,
calls the monstruo de naturaleza—th^ portent
of nature. This marvel w as Lope de Vega.
It would be a very serious matter if it were
true, as has been alleged, that no one out of
Spain remembers even the titles of six of
Lope's plays. The reproach is surely ex-
aggerated; but it may be admitted that in
England, unfortunately, there is no wide
knowledge of the man or of his wonderful
achievement, and this fact alone is an excuse
for reviewing the chief events of his life
— a life rich in episodes as one of his own
^ Lope Felix de Vega Carpio was born at
Madrid on November 25, 1562. Biographers


declare that he was of noble descent. It
may be so, but the great man himself loves
to dwell upon his small beginnings, and,
from a passage in his writings, it has been
inferred that his father, Felix de Vega, was
a simple basket-maker, who emigrated from
the valley of Carriedo to Madrid. At any
rate, the father's position in life was humble.
We cannot take on trust the details of
Lope's youth as recorded by his disciple —
su alumno y servidor — Juan Perez de Montal-
ban, whose account is often inaccurate, and
sometimes intentionally misleading. Still,
it is easy to believe that Lope's precocity
was miraculous : that he composed verses
before he could write, and that he bribed
older boys with a share of his breakfast to
take down the lines which he dictated. We
have Lope's assurance that he was sent to the
Colegio de los Teatinos, a much less fashion-
able scTiool than the Jesuit Colegio Imperial
where, according to his biographer, he was
brought up. Perhaps there may be some
foundation for Montalban's story that Lope
ran away from school with a friend, that the


couple were arrested at Segovia, and taken
back to Madrid by the police. All that we
learn of Lope, the man, makes it probable that
Lope, the boy, was a scapegrace. It seems that ^
his talent was recognized by the Bishop of
Avila, who sent him to the University of
Alcala de Henares, and the bishop's kindness
is commemorated in the Dragontea, There is
no sign of Lope's name in the University
' calendars, and we can only guess that he was
\ at Alcala between 1576 and 1581. While
(^ there he met the heroineof his Dorotea^ the
Filis of his early ballads. Her personality
had hitherto been a puzzle : her mask has
now dropped, and she is revealed to us as
Elena Osorio, daughter of the impresario X
Jeronimo Velazquez. This was apparently
Lope's first direct introduction to the stage. >
In 1582 he served at the Azores under the
celebrated Marques de Santa Cruz, and in
1583 he became secretary to the Marques
de las Navas, with whom he remained some
four years. In 1585 he is praised in the
Galatea of Cervantes, with whom he is found
in 1585 and 1586 writing complimentary


verses for Pedro de Padilla and Lopez
Maldonado respectively.

At its worst, sonneteering is a harmless
pastime, but it did not sufBce for Lope.
It has long been known that at this
period of his life he was involved in
serious difficulties. According to the
pious and crafty Montalban, Lope was
concerned in a public brawl with a shady
gentleman — un hidalgo entre dos luces —
and, having wounded his opponent, he was
exiled from the capital. This tale has not
^ been veriffeS,'" and it may have been forged
by Montalban to divert attention from the
real facts. These are discreditable, to say
the least. When not studying philosophy
and mathematics Lope was usually to be
found at the theatre, and it was at the
theatre that he was publicly arrested in the
afternoon of December 29, 1587, on a charge
of uttering criminal libels against his Filis
(Elena Osorio) and her father, Jeronimo
Velazquez. This is not the place to enter
upon the details which have been recently
disclosed to us. It is enough to say that


Lope was brought to trial, found guilty, and
sentenced, on February 7, 1588, to exile
from Madrid (and a circuit of five leagues)
for eight years, to banishment from Castile
for two years. It was further ordered that
if he infringed the decree as regards Madrid,
he should work out the remainder of his time
at the galleys ; and that if he infringed it as
regards Castile he should suffer death. This
severity might have cowed many men. Lope
treated tli e court with the most flagran t
contempt, bore himself like a typical cloak-
and-sword hero. He condescended to with-
draw to _ Valencia, a flourishing dramatic
centre, where he wrote plays and made useful
acquaintances; but his absence was very
brief. Within two months he risked his head
by returning to Madrid, and carrying off^the
daughter of Philip IL's Royal King-at-Arms.
A warrant for his arrest was instantly issued,
and a company oi alguaciles started in search
of him. Finding the chase too hot he
released Isabel de Urbina y Cortinas (whom
he married by proxy on May 10, 1588), out-
stripped his pursuers, and, by May 29^ was


safe on board the San Juan^ which formed
part of the Invincible Armada. Sceptics
have doubted if he ever shared in this historic
expedition, but there is no reason for reject-
ing his explicit statements on this head in the
Filomena and the Corona tragica. Sailing up
the Channel he used his manuscript verses
in honour of Elena Osorio as gunwads, fought
against the dragon Drake, lost his brother
(so it is said) in action, and landed at Cadiz
with the best part of La Hermosura de
Angelica^ a huge epic which he had written
on board.

Shortly afterwards he returned to Valencia,
whence he passed to enter the service of the
fifth Duque de Alba, of whose household he
was still a member as late as April, 1595.
Subsequently we find him attached as secre-
tary to other great nobles — the Marques de
Malpica, the lettered Marques de Sarria,
who is best known (under his subsequent
title of the Conde de Lemos) as the patron
of Cervantes. Lope's first youth was now over,
but the profligacy of his private life continued.
In 1596 his wife died, and next year, as it


seems, he met the Camila Lucinda, to whom
many of his sonnets are dedicated. Hitherto
Lucinda's identity has been a mystery. There
need now be no hesitation in accepting the
conjecture made, independently of each
other, by Dr. Perez Pastor and Professor
Rennert : that she was Marcela de Luian, . .
mother of that gifted, wayward boy. Lope
Felix del Carpio y Lnjan, and of Marcela, a
charming poetess, to whom her father dedi-
cated £/ remedio en la desdicha just before her
profession as a Barefooted Trinitarian in
1621. In 1598 Lope de Vega married Juana \/\j
de Guardo, and the factTKaFfhe lady^ fbftuhe
— or, rather, her father's — had been made by
selling pork is recorded by the saturnine
Gongora in a sonnet which is compact of
malignity and contempt. But it is fair to
say that none of Lope's countless enemies
seriously believed him to be a fortune-hunter,
and in truth his father-in-law was the sorriest
of misers. In 1605 Lope made acquaintance
with that young Duque de Sessa, to whom,
during a friendship which lasted for thirty
years, he addressed so many of the mis-



chievous, unedifying letters which have
amused and startled posterity. With all his
outrageous follies, we must suppose the
disorderly genius to have had glimpses of
better things, and at whiles his aspiration for
improvement expresses itself in odd forms.
In 1609, though still a layman, he became a
Familiarof the Holj^^^L^ but he

evidently failed to conciliate all his foes, for
in the December of 1 6 1 1 an attempt was
made on his life in the streets of Madrid.
In 161 2 he joined a quarrelsome literary
society called the Academia Selvaje, forgot
his glasses at one of the sittings, and borrowed
Cervantes's spectacles, which he describes as
being " like badly poached eggs." In August,
1 61 3, Juana de Guardo died, and, in the
following year, the widower was ordained
p riest. I t might well be thought (as TicTcnor
thought) that time and many trials had
tamed his restless spirit, and that at last he
had found peace. Not so : his repentances,
his abjections were passing moods. It would
serve no good purpose to particularize the
gross irregularities which brought shame


upon his grey hairs and his cassock. Every-
one knows that, after a short experience,
Samuel Johnson declined Garrick's invitation
to go behind the scenes. Unhappily for
Lope, his existence was passed in the green-
room, and he had not a spark of Johnson's
dogged virtue. We can never forget it, the
theatr e was h is life: when not writing for
the stage he was acting a part. He must
have suffered bitterly, the dishonoured man,
under the tempest of epigrams, flouts and
jeers with which the tribe of jealous, lesser
wits beset him. Even the good-natured
Cervantes joined in the outcry against the
shameful specta,cle of this elderly gallant in
a gown. It is indescribably pathetic to
watch the poor, fallen priest's efforts to save
himself from perdition. Soon after his
ordination he revolts at writing Sessa's love-
letters, implores his patron for the love of /^^
God not to make him jeopardize his soul.
And he stands his ground under circum-
stances of great difficulty. But not for long.
The year 1616 was calamitous for Lope.
His son and namesake proved so uncon-


trollable that the distressed father was com-
pelled to place him in a sch ool of co rrection
or jreformatory. In this sam:e year befell
the fatal meeting with Marta de Nevares
Santoyo. The cynical story of this adven-
ture fed the gossips of the town. The
vigilant, virtuous Gongora (who, as the chief
r^ of the cultos^ naturally looked on Lope as his
most dangerous opponent) was forthcoming
with a lampoon that is still a model of
scurrility, irony, and disdain. The hurricane
of opprobrium, the shame of exposure would
have overwhelmed any other man. Even
Lope staggered under it. Yet he lived the
hubbub down, and came into his own
again — repute, respect, and admiration. It
seems a mockery that iniquity should so
triumph. But Nemesis can wait patiently.
Within a short while Marta lost her sight
and became insane ; and years afterwards the
child of this sacrilegious union was destined
to destroy Lope. But it would be odious
to dwell on this — the last of the many scandals
that degraded him while living, and that
still tarnish his splendid name. Hence-


forward we see him, for a long term of
years, reigning as the autocrat of Spanish ^
literature, throwing off one masterpiece after
anotHer,'"aazzling all Spain with his creative
power, the radiance of his imagination, and
the inexhaustible ingenuity of his wit. For
at least a quarter of a century he had such a
succession of triumphs as no other man
of letters has ever tasted. He defied public ^
opinion by dedicating La Viuda valenciana to
Dona Marta in 1620: he opposed the
fashionable mode of culteranismor But all i /
things were forgiven to him ! The gibes of
Gongora and Villamediana had no effect.
It was in vain that an envious man of genius
like Ruiz de Alarcon, or a peevish pedant
like Torres Ramila, vented their spite and
rage. They broke their teeth upon the file :
they were repaid in kind. There was never
a more human genius than Lope : one more
loyal to his friends, one readier to face his
foes. And, perhaps, because ot this lavish
generosity and bravery, we are all prone —
like his contemporaries — to sympathize with
him, to pardon him, even when he least



deserves it. No assault could shake him.
All that is known of his later years testifies
to his unique position. We meet him in
1620-22 presiding at the feasts in honour of
St. Isidore's canonization, conferring a prize
on the boy Lope in whom he took so justifi-
able a pride, and introducing his successor
Calderon to public notice with words of
enthusiastic praise. In 1624 we find him at
an auto defe^ where a wretched, crazy Catalan
Franciscan was burned for heresy ; and that
Lope's heart was not in this horrible business
appears from his flippant remark to Sessa
that the victim was '' a low fellow, for this
is the kind they burn." Perhaps no o ther
living Spaniard would have dared to crack
these jests in Madrid at the expense of
the I nquisition — to which he himself
belonged. It is a commonplace that no man
really believes in his religion until he can
afixDrd to joke about it. If this be a true
test, then there can be no doubt that Lope
de Vega's belief was sincere and profound;
but there are other and better grounds for
thinking so. In 1625 he joined the Congre-


gation of St. Peter, to which he became
chaplain three years later ; and, in this post as
in all others, he played his part to perfection,
edifying all beholders by his pious works, his

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