Spain Literature – The Theater of the 17th Century

Theatrical production stands against intellectualism in art (cultism and conceptism), which is the negation of art and the imposition of extrinsic forms on creative activity. Here Spanish literature reaches its maximum originality, outside the classical schemes. The fantastic material (the inventive combinations, the associations of cases and adventures, the pathetic of tragic situations) was enormously enriched during the Renaissance. At that time the Decamierone, the short stories of Bandello (1589), Giraldi (1590), Straparola (1583) and the French alterations (Histoires tragiques) became popular.) by Boystuau, Belleforest and Tesserant (1586). On these fictitious elements an attempt is made to rise to a wider generality, with the fantastic painting of costumes, in the works of Ginés Pérez de Hita, Alonso Jerónimo de Salas Barbadillo and Alonso de Castillo y Solórzano. All these elements, transformed by a powerful fantasy, converge in the theater of Félix Lope de Vega Carpio (1562-1635). With the impetus of his lyricism, which Cervantes and, after him, Diego de Saavedra Fajardo scholastically defined natural or pure poetry immediately passionate and instinctive and not yet straightforward determination of the works to be made (recta ratio factibilium), Lope made all the strings of human passion vibrate on the stage, in all poetic forms. He merged the religious and the profane, the ancient and the modern, the popular and the scholar, the real and the fantastic, the historian and the novellesco. All the historical and ideal elements of the Spanish national tradition, which the Mariana in his Historiae de rebus Hispaniaehe relives and dramatizes in the style of Livy or Tacitus, they pass in the theater of Lope as in that of Calderón. The light that illuminates this dramatic production is that of the ideology of the time. It rests on the concept of immanent justice, a universal law of nature, superior to individual human wills and inscribed in every heart; an ideology that was strengthened in the Renaissance and was developed by theologians and jurists, such as Suárez (1548-1617), Vitoria and his disciples. Lope is artistically out of the spirit that animated the Renaissance; even if he appreciates the great masters of the past, Garcilaso, Luis de León, Herrera; even if he knows Petrarch, Ariosto and Tasso directly; even if he reads Plautus and Terentius and does not ignore Aristotle’s Poetics in the Italian comments (Arte nuevo de hacer comedias). In the theater, Lope’s aesthetic position is perfectly identical to that of all his other contemporaries who theorized about art. Like Cervantes, he is rebellious to all the imperatives of convention imposed by others on free creative activity. He accepts the rules only when they are in a vital and spiritual state, that is, virtue or spontaneous habit of expression. He believes he must use the conditions of an already historically formed theatrical tradition and scale it up to give life to his own original creations. Lope was not ashamed of appearing a “barbarian” and of “letting himself be carried away by the popular current where they called him ignorant and Italy and France”. Except that the beauty of the work of art was no longer identified, as for Cervantes, with moral beauty. The secret of his inspiration the Lope no longer repeats from God. It is the artist’s individual effort. Its historical climate and the view with which it contemplates the Middle Ages are those of monarchical absolutism: absolute royal authority, but not tyrannical, as Mariana made clear with excessive evidence inDe rege. Lope does not have the moral and aesthetic enthusiasm of Cervantes. In Arcadia (1598) he continued as a man of letters the sentimentality of the late pastoral, varying it with cumbersome erudition. In Peregrino en su patria (1604) he creates lyrical motifs and sharpens sentimental contrasts with the artifices of the Byzantine novel. In the Pastores de Belén (1612) he introduces a theological didacticism that distorts the environment, but which reveals a tender and simple sensitivity episodically, in tune with popular forms (villancicos and Seguidillas) and metrically adapted to particular emotional states. Lope has the intuition of dramatic situations; and even when he exposes the passionate content of his experiences of love, in the eclogues to Claudio, to Amarilli, to Filli or in the romances and letrillas, he contemplates it objectified in contrasts. In narrative poetry the genius of Lope is lavished and squandered with voluptuous Ovidian fecundity; but it never collects on a vital center. His interest is turned now to the intrigue (La hermosura de Angélica), now to the historical and legendary national content (La Jerusalem conquistada); or it is subservient to polemical intentions (La Dragontea) or to religious purposes (Corona trágica). We find lyrical or descriptive fragments, vivacity of plastic imagination, but, more than anything else, a foldable abandonment to episodic dispersion. The biographical interest and the ability to dialogue with action are revealed in Dorotea (1632), which reflects an entire life in the nostalgic moments of distant memory and smiling irony. In direct contact with the public, whose moral and religious ideals he illuminates, on the scenes of a somewhat primitive but stable theater, Lope gives complete form and ensures the triumph of comedy.Spanish. He harmonizes the traditional elements still clashing with each other, and makes it a spontaneous organism, full of life and in a form that is entirely determined from within. In his plays, action is everything, according to the aesthetics of the sixteenth century. It is a dynamism of opposing and vibrant wills, dominated by passion. It is a life that in a contemporaneity of the comic and the tragic (the so-called “orbe de la comedia”), demands action and engages in action. The psychology of the characters recognized itself in action, almost suddenly, without captions, without nuances, firm in lines and decisive in intentions. The lyricism of this attitude, tense in its resolutions, is formally supported by the alternating story of rhythm and meters, and rests on passionate, simple and elementary motifs.

Spain Literature - The Theater of the 17th Century