The Legacy of Spanish Theater by Diana Ferraro

While many may have at this point forgotten that the famous quote of Emperor Charles V about “the Empire where the sun never sets-- applied to the Spanish Empire and not the British, a few remember the glory of Spain in the old days. Well before the British set the rules of world etiquette and good manners, the Spanish way of doing things at the Court inspired every country in Europe. With its own character and refinement, the literature of what is called the Siglo de Oro, the Golden Century, remains as one of the most important cultural legacies in the world. There’s Cervantes, of course, at the top, but close to him and Quevedo, the brilliant poet and essayist, three great dramatists have left some of the most endurable plays in the history of theater: Calderón de la Barca, Lope de Vega and Tirso de Molina.

Spanish theater started early on during the Middle Age with primitive plays such as La danza de la muerte and the Eglogas of Juan de la Encina, it reached a maturity in 1499 with the Comedia de Calisto y Melibea by Fernando de Rojas, which later changed its name to La Celestina and which, to this day, remains a masterpiece of literary drama. It’s during the Siglo de Oro, though, when the art of playwriting attained its full national potential. Cervantes wrote some comedies-- exactly eight comedies and several entremeses, brief light plays -- which represent only an avant-taste of what Lope de Vega would deliver in his major plays such as El perro del hortelano (The Gardener's Dog), La dama boba (The Lady-Fool) and, above all, Fuenteovejuna, in which a whole village rebels against a Commander who has taken the city and tried to take two women, one of them Laurencia, who will bravely resist while her lover is going to be hanged; Calderón de la Barca in comedies and his theological Auto Sacramentales and in his masterpiece La vida es sueño (Life is a Dream), where Segismundo, the main character, unfairly imprisoned, reflects about life; and Tirso de Molina in his remarkable El Burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest), the piece in which Don Juan was first presented on the stage.

After the Golden Century, the Spanish audience’s taste for the theater didn’t decline, adding to the preference for comedies a new genre, the Zarzuela, a Spanish lyric-dramatic genre that alternates between spoken and sung scenes, incorporating operatic and popular song, as well as dance. The most important author of the Neo Classical period was Moratinn whose lovely comedy El si de las niñas continues to this day in every Spanish high school syllabus.

During Romanticism, a few more plays would join the classical repertoire, Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino by the Duque de Rivas, Don Juan Tenorio by José Zorrilla and Muérete y veras by Bretón de los Herreros, the most famous among many others. Later in the 19th century, the wonderful novelist Benito Pérez Galdós would contribute with some plays and, by the beginning of the 20th century José Echegaray, the author of several melodramas, such as El gran galeoto and Mariana , who would in 1904 earn for Spain a Nobel Prize.

In 1898, the Spanish-American war with the subsequent loss of Cuba, the last Spanish colony in the Americas, put an end to the Spanish Empire and marked the hour of essayists and poets who would reflect on greatness and decay, glory and change. Dramatists temporarily waned from the scene, even though a new set of successful zarzuelas a tradition that had also spread to Cuba and the former colonies, including the Philippines--provided a distraction and joyful entertainment to the large local audiences.

In 1898, the Spanish-American war with the subsequent loss of Cuba, the last Spanish colony in the Americas, put an end to the Spanish Empire and marked the hour of essayists and poets who would reflect on greatness and decay, glory and change. Dramatists temporarily waned from the scene, even though a new set of successful zarzuelasa tradition that had also spread to Cuba and the former colonies, including the Philippines--provided a distraction and joyful entertainment to the large local audiences.

During the 20th century, the Spanish theater would revive, not only in the zarzuelas played to this day--such as El Barberillo del Lavapiés, La verbena de la Paloma, La corte del Faraón and Doña Francisquita--but in the numerous and successful plays written by playwrights, novelists and poets that would supply comedies and dramas not only to the stage but to the movies and, later the television. The greatest Spanish author in the 20th century is the poet Federico García Lorca who before being murdered during the Spanish Civil War left a series of masterpieces:La casa de Bernarda Alba, Yerma and Doña Rosita la Soltera o El lenguaje de las flores.

The tradition of Spanish theater was continued in the colonies and, after the Independence, each country would develop its own theater. Among the Latin American countries with a greater theatrical production, Argentina--whose capital Buenos Aires has as many main and off theaters as New York--Mexico, and Cuba, the latter one having above all inherited the musical legacy and the two others having extended the stage into the movies and television, building two powerful industries and carrying them into the 21 st century.

The New Art of Writing Comedies in our Time by Lope de Vega

Facil parece este sujeto, y facil
fuera para cualquiera de vosotros,
que ha escrito menos de ellas, y mas sabe
del arte de escribirlas, y de todo;
es haberlas escrito sin el arte.
No porque yo ignorase los preceptos,
gracias a Dios, que ya, tirón gramatico,
pasé los libros que trataban de esto
antes que hubiese visto al sol diez veces
discurrir desde el Aries a los Peces.
Mas porque, en fin, hallé que las comedias
estaban en España, en aquel tiempo,
no como sus primeros inventores
pensaron que en el mundo se escribieran,
mas como las trataron muchos barbaros
que enseñaron el vulgo a sus rudezas;
y as0 se introdujeron de tal modo
que, quien con arte agora las escribe,
muere sin fama y galardón, que puede,
entre los que carecen de su lumbre,
mas que razón y fuerza, la costumbre.

Verdad es que yo he escrito algunas veces
siguiendo el arte que conocen pocos,
mas luego que salir por otra parte
veo los monstruos, de apariencia llenos,
adonde acude el vulgo y las mujeres
que este triste ejercicio canonizan,
a aquel habito barbaro me vuelvo;
y, cuando he de escribir una comedia,
encierro los preceptos con seis llaves;
saco a Terencio y Plauto de mi estudio,
para que no me den voces (que suele
dar gritos la verdad en libros mudos),
y escribo por el arte que inventaron
los que el vulgar aplauso pretendieron,
porque, como las paga el vulgo, es justo
hablarle en necio para darle gusto.
Ya tiene la comedia verdadera
su fin propuesto, como todo género
de poema o poesis, y éste ha sido
imitar las acciones de los hombres
y pintar de aquel siglo las costumbres.


This subject seems easy, and easy
it would be for any of you
who had written less about them and still knows more
about the art of writing them and about everything;
for what it hurts me about this
is to have written plays without the art.
Not that I ignored the precepts,
thanks God, for being a grammar apprentice,
I ran through the books that treated this theme
before I had seen the sun ten times
moving from Aries to Pisces.
Because I found that at time in Spain
comedies were not as their first creators
intended should be written everywhere in the world,
but rather were treated by the many barbarians
who showed the people into their coarseness,
thus prevailing until now in such a way,
that whoever writes them now with the art,
dies without fame nor awards because,
among those who lack his brightness, costume
wins over reason and strength.
It’s true that I’ve written sometimes
following the art that so few know,
to let myself later write in some other way.
I see the monsters, plays full of themselves,
that attract the common people and the women
who canonize this sad exercise,
and thus to that barbaric attitude I’m led and,
when writing a comedy,
I lock the precepts under six keys,
I throw out Terence and Plautus from my studio,
so that they don’t talk to me (for truth
often shouts from silent books)
and I write with the art invented
by those who craved the vulgar applause;
since the comedies are paid by the people,
it’s fair to use the dumb language they like.
For the true comedy has already
its own goal set, as any other genre of poem or poesis,
and this has been none other than
imitating the actions of men
and painting every custom from their century.

La Vida es Sueno

. pues reprimamos
esta fiera condición,
esta furia, esta ambición,
si alguna vez soñamos;
y si haremos, pues estamos
en mundo tan singular,
que el vivir sólo es soñar;
y la experiencia me enseña
que el hombre que vive, sueña
lo que es, hasta despertar.
Sueña el rey que es rey, y vive
con este engaño mandando,
disponiendo y gobernando;
y este aplauso, que recibe
prestado, en el viento escribe,
y en cenizas le convierte
la muerte, ¡desdicha fuerte!
¡Que hay quien intente reinar,
viendo que ha de despertar
en el sueño de la muerte!
Sueña el rico en su riqueza,
que mas cuidados le ofrece;
sueña el pobre que padece
su miseria y su pobreza;
sueña el que a medrar empieza,
sueña el que afana y pretende,
sueña el que agravia y ofende,
y en este mundo, en conclusión,
todos sueñan lo que son,
aunque ninguno lo entiende.
Yo sueño que estoy aqui
de estas prisiones cargado,
y soñé que en otro estado
mas lisonjero me vi.
¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesa.
¿Qué es la vida? Una ficción,
una sombra, una ilusión,
y el mayor bien es pequeño;
que toda la vida es sueño,
y los sueños, sueños son.

Act II

Translation: Life is a Dream

We live, while we see the sun,
Where life and dreams are as one;
And living has taught me this,
Man dreams the life that is his,
Until his living is done.
The king dreams he is king,
and he lives In the deceit of a king,
Commanding and governing;
And all the praise he receives
Is written in wind, and leaves
A little dust on the way
When death ends all with a breath.
Where then is the gain of a throne,
That shall perish and not be known
In the other dream that is death?
Dreams the rich man of riches and fears,
The fears that his riches breed;
The poor man dreams of his need,
And all his sorrows and tears;
Dreams he that prospers with years,
Dreams he that feigns and foregoes,
Dreams he that rails on his foes;
And in all the world, I see,
Man dreams whatever he be,
And his own dream no man knows.
And I too dream and behold,
I dream I am bound with chains,
And I dreamed that these present pains
Were fortunate ways of old.
What is life? a tale that is told;
What is life? a frenzy extreme,
A shadow of things that seem;
And the greatest good is but small,
That all life is a dream to all,
And that dreams themselves are a dream.

Translation: Arthur Symons
(From: Hispanic Anthology: Poems Translated from the Spanish by English and North American Poets, collected and arranged by Thomas Walsh.
G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1920.)

Fuenteovejuna by Lope de Vega

Amando, recelar daño en lo amado
nueva pena de amor se considera;
que quien en lo que ama daño espera
aumenta en el temor nuevo cuidado.
El firme pensamiento desvelado,
si le aflige el temor, facils e altera;
que no es a firmefe pena ligera
ver llevar el temor el bien robado.
Mi esposo adoro; la ocasión que veo
al temor de su daño me condena,
si no le ayuda la felice suerte.
Al bien suyo se inclina mi deseo:
si esta presenta, esta cierta mi pena;
si esta en ausencia, esta cierta mi muerte.


When in love, to suspect harm in the loved one
a new pain of love becomes;
for who expects harm in the beloved
adds to care, fear.
Thoughts, steadfast and sleepless,
when afflicted with fright are easily upset.
Seeing the good stolen by fear is not a light pain
to someone with a steady faith.
I adore my husband; the case I’m seeing
condemns me to fear his harm
if luck will not help him.
To his goodness my desire is so inclined,
If present, my pain will be certain;
If absent, my death is assured.

DONA FRANCISQUITA Música: Amadeo Vives Letra: Federico Romero y Guillermo Fern¿Â¿Â¿Â¿Â¿¡ndez Shaw

"Por el humo se sabe"

Por el humo se sabe
donde esta el fuego;
del humo del cariño
nacen los celos:
Son mosquitos que vuelan
junto al que duerme
y zumbando le obligan
a que despierte.

¡Si yo lograra,
de verdad para siempre,
dormir el alma!
Y, en la celdilla del amor aquél,
borrar el vértigo
de aquella mujer.

Por una puerta
del alma va saliendo
la imagen muerta.
Por otra puerta llama
la imagen que podria
curarme el alma.
Se me entra por los ojos
y a veces sueño
que ya la adoro.
Cariño de mi alma
recién nacido,
la llama extingue,
¡ay! de aquel cariño.


"By the smoke one knows"

By the smoke one knows
where the fire is;
from the smoke of love,
jealousies are born.
Like mosquitoes they fly over
they who sleep, and, buzzing,
force them to wake.

If I could win,
in truth, forever,
the sleep of my soul!
And in that one love cell,
Erase my dizzyness
for that other woman.

Through the soul's door
the dead image is leaving.
Through the other door
an image calls
that is able to cure my soul.
She enters through my eyes
and sometimes I dream
that I already adore her.
Love of my soul,
newly born,
The flame extinguished
Oh! of that one love.

Vana ilusión!

El amores no vale
matar la llama,
si en las cenizas muertas,
queda la brasa.
El amor se aletarga
con los desdenes
y parece dormido,
pero no duerme.
¡Ay, quién lograra
de verdad para siempre
dormir el alma!
Y, en la celdilla del amor aquel,
borrar el vértigo
de aquella mujer
fatal. ¡Ah! fatal.


"Vain Illusion"

In love it is no good
to douse the flame,
if in the dead ashes
the embers remain.
Love grows drowsy with slights,
and seems sleepy,
but isn’t sleeping.
If only I could enjoy
truly, forever,
sleep in my soul!
And in the haven of this love,
Erase my mad passion
for that other
fatal woman. Ah, fatal!

Dona Rosita del Soltera/ El Lenguaje de las Flores

Tia: Alguna vez tengo que hablar alto. Sal de tus cuatro paredes, hija maa. No te hagas a la desgracia.

Rosita: (Arrodillada delante de ella.) Me he acostumbrado a vivir muchos años fuera de mi, pensando en cosas que estaban muy lejos, y ahora que estas cosas ya no existen sigo dando vueltas y mqs vueltas por un sitio frio, buscando una salida que no he de encontrar nunca. Yo lo sabia todo. Sabia que se habia casado; ya se encargó un alma caritativa de decirmelo, y he estado recibiendo sus cartas con una ilusión llena de sollozos que aun a mi misma me asombraba. Si la gente no hubiera hablado; si vosotras no lo hubierais sabido; si no lo hubiera sabido nadie mas que yo, sus cartas y su mentira hubieran alimentado mi ilusión como el primer año de su ausencia. Pero lo sabian todos y yo me encontraba señalada por un dedo que hacia ridicula mi modestia de prometida y daba un aire grotesco a mi abanico de soltera. Cada año que pasaba era como una prenda intima que arrancaran de mi cuerpo. Y hoy se casa una amiga y otra y otra, y mañana tiene un hijo y crece, y viene a enseñarme sus notas de examen, y hacen casas nuevas y canciones nuevas, y yo igual, con el mismo temblor, igual; yo, lo mismo que antes, cortando el mismo clavel, viendo las mismas nubes; y un dia bajo al paseo y me doy cuenta de que no conozco a nadie; muchachas y muchachos me dejan atras porque me canso, y uno dice: "Ahi esta la solterona"; y otro, hermoso, con la cabeza rizada, que comenta: "A esa ya no hay quien le clave el diente." Y yo lo oigo y no puedo gritar, sino vamos adelante, con la boca llena de veneno y con unas ganas enormes de huir, de quitarme los zapatos, de descansar y no moverme mas, nunca, de mi rincón.

Tia: ¡Hija! ¡Rosita!

Rosita: Ya soy vieja. Ayer le oi decir al ama que todavia podia yo casarme. De ningún modo. No lo pienses. Ya perdi la esperanza de hacerlo con quien quise con toda mi sangre, con quien quise y... con quien quiero. Todo esta acabado... y, sin embargo, con toda la ilusión perdida, me acuesto, y me levanto con el mas terrible de los sentimientos, que es el sentimiento de tener la esperanza muerta. Quiero huir, quiero no ver, quiero quedarme serena, vacia..., ¿es que no tiene derecho una pobre mujer a respirar con libertad.? Y sin embargo la esperanza me persigue, me ronda, me muerde; como un lobo moribundo que apretase sus dientes por última vez.

Dona Rosita, The Spinster/The Language of Flowers

Aunt: Sometimes I have to speak out. Get away from these four walls, my child. Don’t accept this misfortune.

Rosita: (Kneeling in front of her.) For many years I got used to living beyond myself, thinking of things that were far away, and now those things no longer exist I keep turning and turning around a cold emptiness, seeking an escape I’ll never find out. I knew everything. I knew he had married; one of those well-known kind souls took the pain of telling me, and I went on receiving his letters with an illusion so full of sorrow and sobs that it astonished even myself. If no one had said anything; if you had not known; if no one had known but me, his letters and his lies would have sustained my illusion, as they did in the first year of his absence. But everyone knew, and fingers pointed at me, giving an air of ridicule to my chastity as a fiancée, and making a grotesque fun of my spinster’s fan. Every year that passed was like an intimate secret snatched from my body. And one day a friend marries, then another and another, and tomorrow one has a child, and the child grows and comes to show me his school report, and people make new homes and sing new songs, and I am the same, with the same shudder, the same; I am the same as before, cutting the same carnation, gazing at the same clouds; and one day I go down for a walk and I realize that I no longer know anyone; the boys and girls leave me behind because I get tired, and one says: ‘That’s the old maid’; and another, a handsome boy, with curly hair, comments: ‘That one, who would want to feast on her now?” And I hear him and I can’t cry, only tell myself to go ahead, the mouth bitter with poison, and an enormous desire to run away, to throw off my shoes, and rest and not move again, ever, from my corner.

Aunt : Child! Rosita!

Rosita: Now I am old. Yesterday I heard the nurse say that I might still marry. There is no way. Don’t think about it. I have lost all hope now of marrying whom I loved with all my heart, whom I loved and….whom I love. Everything is finished…and yet, with all illusion gone, I go to bed and still wake up with the most dreadful of feelings, the feeling of a hope that is dead. I want to run away, I want not to see; I want to stay calm, empty… Doesn’t a poor woman have the right to breathe freely? Yet hope pursues me, circles me, bites me, like a dying wolf sinking its teeth in for the last time.

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