José Echegaray.

The great Galeoto; a play in three acts online

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Douwe Stuurman

The Drama League Series of Plays



With a Prologue









Copyright, 1914, by


Att rights reserved, including thai of

translation into foreign languages,

including the Scandinavian


THE venerable author of El Gran Galeoto may be
said to have won a Double First in the university of
life. For many years he has been recognized as pre-
eminent among Spanish mathematicians, and equally
distinguished among Spanish dramatists. To say
that he is one of the first mathematicians in the world
and the most famous dramatist Spain has produced
for two centuries, would be nearer the truth.

Doubtless the story of Echegaray's life will one day
be told as it deserves to be, fully, vividly, with a just
sense of its extraordinary values and implications.
For the moment, however, we are concerned with
biographical detail merely as it helps to interpret
"The Great Galeoto," that sternest and mightiest
tragedy in the long list of his plays.

The outstanding facts in the life of this great
mathematician, statesman, and dramatist are these:

Jose' Echegaray was born at Madrid in 1833.
While he was still a child, his father was appointed
Professor of Greek in the Institute of Murcia. Here


the gifted boy began his education under most favour-
able conditions. From the first he showed a clearly
defined taste for mathematics. At the age of fifteen
he returned to Madrid to enter the Escuela de Cami-
nos. From this great school he was graduated in
1853 with the highest honours, at the head of the
list of engineers. Soon afterward he returned to the
scene of his triumphs to occupy the chair of pure
and applied mathematics. For thirteen years he
devoted himself chiefly to the study and teaching of
such subjects as the integral calculus, theoretical and
applied mechanics, hydrostatics, descriptive geome-
try, etc. Incidentally he was greatly absorbed in
philosophy, political economy, and the politics of
the day. When the popular movement of 1868
overthrew the monarchy, he resigned his post for a
place in the new Cabinet. For seven years he was
Minister of Commerce, of Education and of Finance.
Upon the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty, he
withdrew from politics, and won a new reputation
as a dramatist. In 1874, when he was forty years
old, El Libro Talonario, the first of his plays to be
produced, was staged in Madrid. Since then he has
written with varying success more than fifty plays,
sometimes at the rate of four a year. To-day he is


by far the most popular dramatist in Spain, his fame
has spread wherever Spanish is spoken, and his finest
plays, as El Gran Galeoto and Mariana, have been
translated into several languages, and are holding
their own in the contemporary theatre.

It remains to add that in 1905 Echegaray returned
to politics, and since then has held the office of
Minister of Finance.

The barest outline of facts and dates in this mar-
velous career is enough to arrest the attention. But
the few anecdotes and character sketches which are
available lend a little colour.

For example, the story of how Echegaray wrote
his first play has always been current among his
readers, and it leads rather directly to the later and
greater play in hand.

It was when the professor at the Escuela, then
about thirty years old, was vastly absorbed in
his pure and applied mathematics subjects far
enough removed from the drama, it would seem
that his younger brother, a mere lad, wrote a short
play in verse, which was put on the stage. Jose,
startled and amused, began at once to experiment
with a stage plot and versified speeches. Nothing
came of it except that, recognizing how imperfect his


work was, he addressed himself with his accustomed
energy to the study of dramatic composition. Diffi-
culties, even impossibilities, have always aroused in
this great Spaniard a brave spirit of defiance.

However, when Echegaray made this late and
casual beginning as a dramatist, he seems to have
been not wholly unprepared for his self-imposed task.
While a student at the Escuela he read many novels
in many languages, and what is more to the point,
habitually frequented the theatre, especially on first
nights. He had undoubtedly progressed far in one
study which is indispensable to the playwright, and
which can be pursued nowhere but in the theatre
the study of audiences.

Indeed, the transition from mathematics and en-
gineering to poetry and the drama is not so rare and
difficult as it at first appears. College students, where-
ever found, who specialize in the exact sciences, often
develop an omnivorous appetite for literature, and a
feeling for good plays which makes them the keenest
of critics in the theatre. And as far as the writing of
plays is concerned, since it is always, however sub-
consciously, a constructive process, hard practice in
building anything bridges, tunnels, machines
cannot come quite amiss to the dramatist,


It is easy to fancy that no one who was not fond of
a struggle against odds would ever have attempted
to write "The Great Galeoto," for the theme pre-
sents peculiar difficulties. It is easy to fancy, too,
that only a mathematician would have framed the
play so symmetrically, stating the problem in the
Prologue, and then working it out so precisely to a
catastrophic Q. E. D. Even the six characters are
exactly balanced, three in one household, a corres-
ponding three in the other.

The title is best explained in a few sentences taken
from one of Ernesto's long speeches :

Galeoto was the go-between for Queen Guinevere
and Lancelot; and in all loves the third may be truth-
fully nicknamed Galeoto. . . . Sometimes it is
the entire social mass that is Galeoto . . . but
so dexterously does it work against honour and mod-
esty, that no greater Galeoto can ever be found.
Let a man and woman live happily in tranquil and
earnest fulfilment of their separate duties. . . .
One morning somebody takes the trouble to notice
them, and from that moment, behold society, with-
out aim or object, on the hunt for hidden frailty and
impurity. . . . And the terrible thing is, that
while it begins in error, it generally ends in truth.

From this it appears that it was Echegaray's high
ambition to make neither a comedy of gossip, like


Le Misanthrope, nor a tragedy of slander, like Othello,
but a unique play, midway between a tragedy of
idle, non-malicious gossip, the only achievement of
its kind in dramatic literature.

The villain of the play is "They," "Everybody,"
the entire social mass, a monster of a thousand heads,
a being too vague and dispersed to be set down in the
play bill or to make his way to the stage. But as he
must for theatrical purposes be somehow objectified,
he is represented by the three members of a meddle-
some family. Another way to put it is to say that
these busybodies, in all their sayings and doings, are
invisibly backed and surrounded by the whole social
world in which the two families move. However,
in the matter of idle, aimless talk, it is difficult
to make individuals fairly represent a community.
The most significant line in the play is from one of
Pepito's soliloquies, when he recalls the fact that
Ernesto and Mercedes, the innocent victims of many
dispersed trivialities, hardly ever went out alone
that possibly they had never been seen alone more
than once. But he adds, "That's enough. If a
hundred persons saw them on that occasion, it is
quite the same as if they had been seen in public a
hundred times."


Now each one of these hundred people who give
the tragedy its impulse is supposed to make an ab-
solutely idle, careless comment, free from guile, for-
gotten while it was uttered. But it is quite another
matter with the gossipers who represent "Everybody,"
on the stage. Since they must in the working out
of the plot create a dramatic and ultimately a tragic
situation, it is difficult to preserve them from the
appearance of malice. In fact, it is impossible.
This play, for all its greatness, is in a sense a failure.
Now and then there is a colloquy which seems hardly
better than a heavy-handed Spanish school for scan-
dal. But such loss of distinction is only temporary.
There are many scenes, notably in the first and third
acts, where the difficulties are triumphantly over-
come, and impressions almost unknown to the stage
are subtly created.

The shading and grading of effects, which always
taxes the finest dramatic art, is especially well con-
served. The action begins with a situation of per-
fect balance and repose, in which Teodora, Julian,
and Ernesto, described as an innocent woman and two
honest men, are quite harmonious. Inside the nar-
row limits of three acts it culminates with the tragic
wreck of the household, and then passes on to a


catastrophe of marvelous power and pathos. As a
whole, the work is a marked instance of the almost
complete vanquishing of intangible and insurmount-
able difficulties.

Moreover, it is of a kind not common to the stage
of to-day. One result, by no means desirable, of
Ibsen's all-pervading influence, is that modern trag-
edy has become so sordid, so austerely and bleakly
realistic, as to depress and devitalize. Here, for our
relief, is tragedy in the grand style, thrilling, inspir-
ing, commingling fate and moral responsibility so as
to produce, as an ultimate effect, the true tragic
reaction and stimulation. When the final curtain
rings down, Aristotle's pity and fear seize all minds
and hearts. The pity is for the sad end of Don
Julian, mortally wounded in a duel fought to avenge
himself and save his dearest friend, and for Teodora
and Ernesto, the innocent victims who kneel at his
feet in the last pathetic scene. The fear that spreads
among the spectators is lest they, too, may some time
be victims of "Everybody," the monster of a thou-
sand heads; and perhaps also lest they may at any
moment, by careless word or glance, strengthen the
baleful power of this vague and vast Galeoto over
their neighbours and friends.


It would be hopeless, with any amount of space at
command, to get before the reader an adequate idea
of the content and spirit of this play. Fortunately,
the purpose of an introduction is to introduce, not
to describe. Let me then present to the attention
of those who love great drama this powerful and im-
pressive work, the only tragedy of idle gossip in all
dramatic literature. It deserves, in form complete
and unchanged, the most conscientious interpreta-
tion that can be given it upon the stage; and it should
never be allowed to disappear from the contemporary


Evanston, Illinois.



TEODORA, Wife of




PEPITO, Their Son.





SCENE: Madrid of our day.

A study; to the left a balcony, on right a door; in the
middle a table strewn with papers and books, and a
lighted lamp upon it; toward the right a sofa. Night.


ERNEST [Seated at table and preparing to write].
Nothing impossible! It is striving with the im-
possible. The idea is there; my head is fevered with
it; I feel it. At moments an inward light illuminates
it, and I see it. I see it in its floating form, vaguely
outlined, and suddenly a secret voice seems to ani-
mate it, and I hear sounds of sorrow, sonorous sighs,
shouts of sardonic laughter ... a whole world
of passions alive and struggling. . . . They
burst forth from me, extend around me, and the air
is full of them. Then, then I say to myself : "Tis
now the moment." I take up my pen, stare into
space, listen attentively, restraining my very heart-



beats, and bend over the paper. . . . Ah, but
the irony of impotency! The outlines become
blurred, the vision fades, the cries and sighs faint
away . . . and nothingness, nothingness en-
circles me. . . . The monotony of empty space,
of inert thought, of dreamy lassitude! and more than
all the monotony of an idle pen and lifeless paper
that lacks the life of thought! Ah! How varied are
the shapes of nothingness, and how, in its dark and
silent way, it mocks creatures of my stamp! So
many, many forms! Canvas without colour, bits
of marble without shape, confused noise of chaotic
vibrations. But nothing more irritating, more
insolent, meaner than this insolent pen of mine
[throws it away], nothing worse than this white sheet
of paper. Oh, if I cannot fill it, at least I may de-
stroy it vile accomplice of my ambition and my
eternal humiliation. Thus, thus . . . smaller
and still smaller. [Tears up paper. Pauses.] And
then! How lucky that nobody saw me! For in
truth such fury is absurd and unjust. No, I will
not yield. I will think and think, until either I
have conquered or am crushed. No, I will not
give up. Let me see, let me see ... if in that





ERNEST. DON JULIAN on the right, in evening-dress,
with overcoat upon his arm.

D. JULIAN [At the door, without entering]. I
say, EAiest!

ERNEST. Don Julian!

D. JULIAN. Still working? Do I disturb you?

ERNEST [Rising]. Disturb me! What a question,
Don Julian! Come in, come in. And Teodora?

[DoN JULIAN enters.

D. JULIAN. We have just come from the opera.
She has gone upstairs with my brother, to see some-
thing or other that Mercedes has bought, and I was
on my way to my room when I saw your light, so I
stopped to say good-night.

ERNEST. Was there a good house?

D. JULIAN. As usual. All our friends inquired
after you. They wondered you were not there, too.

ERNEST. That was kind of them.

D. JULIAN. Not more than you deserve. And
how have you improved the shining hours of solitude
and inspiration!

ERNEST. Solitude, yes; inspiration, no. It shuns
me though I call on it never so humbly and fondly.


D. JULIAN. It has failed at the rendezvous?

ERNEST. And not for the first time, either. But
if I have done nothing else, at least I have made a
happy discovery.

D. JULIAN. What?

ERNEST. That I am a poor devil.

D. JULIAN. The deuce! That's a famous dis-

ERNEST. Nothing less.

D. JULIAN. But why are you so out of sorts
with yourself? Is the play you talked of the other
day not going on?

ERNEST. How can it? The going on is done by
me going out of my wits.

D. JULIAN. How is this? Both the drama and
inspiration are faithless to my poor friend.

ERNEST. This is how I stand. When I first
conceived the idea, I imagined it full of promise, but
when I attempt to give it form, and vest it in appro-
priate stage garb, the result shows something ex-
traordinary, difficult, undramatic, and impossible.

D. JULIAN. How is it impossible? Come, tell
me. You've excited my curiosity.

[Sits down on the sofa.

ERNEST. Imagine the principal personage, one


who creates the drama and develops it, who gives it
life and provokes the catastrophe, who, broadly,
fills and possesses it, and yet who cannot make his
way to the stage.

D. JULIAN. Is he so ugly, then? So repugnant
or bad?

ERNEST. Not so. Bad as you or I may be
not worse. Neither good nor bad, and truly not re-
pugnant. I am not such a cynic neither a mis-
anthrope, nor one so out of love with life as to fall
into such unfairness.

D. JULIAN. What, then, is the reason?

ERNEST. The reason, Don Julian, is that there is
no material room in the scenario for this personage.

D.JULIAN. Holy Virgin! What do you mean? Is
it by chance a mythological drama with Titans hi it?

ERNEST. Titans, yes, but hi the modern sense of
the word.

D. JULIAN. That is to say ?

ERNEST. That is to say, this person is ...

D. JULIAN. Everybody! You are right. There
is no room for everybody on the stage. It is an in-
controvertible truth that has more than once been



ERNEST. Then you agree with me?

D. JULIAN. Not entirely. Everybody may be
condensed in a few types and characters. This is
matter beyond my depth, but I have always under-
stood that the masters have more than once accom-
plished it.

ERNEST. Yes, but in my case it is to condemn me,
not to write my drama.


ERNEST. For many reasons, it would be difficult
to explain above all, at this late hour.

D. JULIAN. Never mind. Give me a few.

ERNEST. Look! Each individual of this entire
mass, each head of this monster of a thousand heads,
of this Titan of the century, whom I call everybody,
takes part in my play for a flying moment, to utter
but one word, fling a single glance. Perhaps his
action in the tale consists of a smile, he appears but
to vanish. Listless and absent-minded, he acts with-
out passion, without anger, without guile, often for
mere distraction's sake.

D. JULIAN. What then?

ERNEST. These light words, these fugitive glances,
these indifferent smiles, all these evanescent sounds,
and this trivial evil, which may be called the


insignificant rays of the dramatic light, condensed
to one focus, to one group, result in conflagration or
explosion, in strife, and in victims. If I represent the
whole by a few types or symbolical personages, I be-
stow upon each one that which is really dispersed
among many, and such a result distorts my idea. I
must bring types on the stage whose guile repels, and
is the less natural because evil in them has no object.
This exposes me to a worse consequence, to the ac-
cusation of meaning to paint a cruel, corrupted, and
debased society, when my sole pretention is to prove
that not even the most insignificant actions are in
themselves insignificant or lost for good or evil. For,
concentrated by the mysterious influences of mod-
ern life, they may reach to immense effects.

D. JULIAN. Say no more, my friend. All this
is metaphysics. A glimmer of light, perhaps, but
through an infinitude of cloud. However, you under-
stand these things better than I do. Letters of
exchange, shares, stock, and discount, now that's
another matter.

ERNEST. No, no; you've common sense, and
that's the chief thing.

D. JULIAN. You flatter me, Ernest.

ERNEST. But you follow me?


D. JULIAN. Not in the least. There ought to
be a way out of the difficulty.

ERNEST. If that were all!

D. JULIAN. What! More?

ERNEST. Tell me what is the great dramatic

D. JULIAN. My dear fellow, I don't exactly
know what you mean by a dramatic spring. All I
can tell you is that I have not the slightest interest
in plays where love does not preponderate above
all, unfortunate love, for I have enough of happy love
at home.

ERNEST. Good, very good! Then hi my play
there can be little or no love.

D. JULIAN. So much the worse. Though I know
nothing of your play, I suspect it will interest no-

ERNEST. So I have been telling you. Never-
theless, it is possible to put in a little love and
jealousy, too.

D. JULIAN. Ah, then, with an interesting in-
trigue skilfully developed, and some effective situa-

ERNEST. No, nothing of the sort. It will be all
simple, ordinary, almost vulgar ... so that


the drama will not have any external action. The
drama evolves within the personages: it advances
slowly : to-day takes hold of a thought, to-morrow of
a heart-beat, little by little undermines the will.

D. JULIAN. But who understands all this? How
are these interior ravages manifested? Who re-
counts them to the audience? In what way are
they evident? Must we spend a whole evening
hunting for a glance, a sigh, a gesture, a single word?
My dear boy, this is not amusement. To cast us
into such depths is to hurl us upon philosophy.

ERNEST. You but echo my own thought.

D. JULIAN. I have no wish to discourage you.
You best know what you are about there.
Though the play seems rather colourless, heavy,
uninteresting, perhaps if the denoument is sensa-
tional and the explosion eh?

ERNEST. Sensation! Explosion! Hardly, and
that only just upon the fall of the curtain.

D. JULIAN. Which means that the play begins
when the curtain falls?

ERNEST. I am inclined to admit it. But I will
endeavour to give it a little warmth.

D. JULIAN. My dear lad, what you have to do
is to write the second play, the one that begins where


the first ends. For the other, according to your
description, would be difficult to write, and is not
worth the trouble.

ERNEST. "Pis the conclusion I have come to

D. JULIAN. Then we agree, thanks to your skill
and logic. And what is the name?

ERNEST. That's another difficulty. I can find

D. JULIAN. What do you say? No name either?

ERNEST. No, unless, as Don Hermogenes 1 says,
we could put it into Greek for greater clarity.

D. JULIAN. Of a surety, Ernest, you were dozing
when I came in. You have been dreaming non-

ERNEST. Dreaming! yes. Nonsense! perhaps.
I talk both dreams and nonsense. But you are sen-
sible and always right.

D. JULIAN. In this case it does not require much
penetration. A drama in which the chief personage
cannot appear; in which there is hardly any love; in
which nothing happens but what happens every
day; that begins with the fall of the curtain upon the

1 A pedant in Moratin's Comedia Nueva, who quotes Greek
incessantly to make himself better understood. Tran.



last act, and which has no name. I don't know how
it is to be written, still less how it is to be acted, how
it is to find an audience, nor how it can be called a

ERNEST. Nevertheless, it is a drama, if I could
only give it proper form, and that I can't do.

D. JULIAN. Do you wish to follow my advice?

ERNEST. Can you doubt it? you, my friend,
my benefactor, my second father ! Don Julian !

D. JULIAN. Come, come, Ernest, don't let us
drop into a sentimental drama on our own account
instead of yours, which we have declared impossible.
I asked you if you would take my advice.

ERNEST. And I said yes.

D. JULIAN. Then, leave aside your plays. Go
to bed, rest yourself, and come out shooting with me
to-morrow. Kill a few partridges, and that will be an
excuse for your not killing one or two characters, and
not exposing yourself to the same fate at the hands
of the public. After all, you may thank me for it.

ERNEST. I'll do no such thing. I mean to write
that play.

D. JULIAN. But, my poor fellow, you've con-
ceived it in mortal sin.

ERNEST. I don't know, but it is conceived. I


feel it stir in my brain. It clamours for life, and I
must give it to the world.

D. JULIAN. Can't you find another plot?

ERNEST. But this idea?

D. JULIAN. Send it to the devil.

ERNEST. Ah, Don Julian, you believe that an
idea which has gripped the mind can be effaced and
destroyed at pleasure. I want to think out another
play, but this accursed idea won't give it room, until
it itself has seen the light.

D. JULIAN. God grant you a happy delivery.

ERNEST. That's the question, as Hamlet says.

D. JULIAN. Couldn't you cast it into the literary
foundling hospital of anonymity? [In a low voice
with an air of comical mystery.]

ERNEST. Don Julian, I am a man of conscience.
Good or bad, my children are legitimate. They
bear my name.

D. JULIAN [Preparing to go]. I have nothing
more to say. What must be done will be done.

ERNEST. I wish it were so. Unfortunately, it is
not done. But no matter; if I don't do it, somebody
else will.

D. JULIAN. Then to work, and good luck, and
may nobody rob you of your laurels.



TEODORA [Outside]. Julian, Julian!

D. JULIAN. It's Teodora.

TEODORA. Are you there, Julian?

D. JULIAN [Going to the door]. Yes, I'm here.
Come in.

TEODORA [Entering]. Good-evening, Ernest.

ERNEST. Good-evening, Teodora. Was the sing-
ing good?

TEODORA. As usual; and have you been working

ERNEST. As usual; nothing.

TEODORA. Then you'd have done better to come

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Online LibraryJosé EchegarayThe great Galeoto; a play in three acts → online text (page 1 of 6)