Sunday 14 July 2024

Separating the art from the artist

The art vs artist subject pops up again after the Alice Munro news—on one side are people who can no longer read Alice Munro, condemning her for having compassion for fictional characters but not for her own daughter; on the other side are those who call for separating the art from the artist, saying that we shouldn’t have to approve of the writer’s personal behaviour in order to enjoy their work—but is it always so clear-cut and simple? I don’t think so. 

Are the unpleasant things present in their works? 

You can read Dickens’s novels and ignore the stuff he wrote elsewhere about Indians, but you can’t read Edith Wharton without seeing her attitudes about Jews. You can enjoy Gabriel García Márquez’s novels and ignore his friendship with Fidel Castro, but you can’t watch many 60s French films without seeing their naïve enthusiasm for communism and the Soviet Union. Much harder to focus on merit and ignore an author’s unpleasant side if it’s present in their works. 

Things could also be complicated. You can see on the page Tolstoy’s sexist views on women and unhealthy relationship with sex, but at the same time, he created some of the finest female characters in literature, such as Anna, Dolly, Natasha, Marya, Sonya, Vera, and so on. 

Then what do you do with films? You can ignore Hitchcock’s treatment of his actresses, but could you watch Last Tango in Paris (again) once you know what’s actually happening to Maria Schneider on the screen? 

Talent and importance 

I’m happy never watching another Jackie Chan film for the rest of my life. I probably won’t bother with Sean Penn either. But to never watch a Roman Polanski film would be a much harder choice to make—Chinatown is a masterpiece. 

Most people would agree that Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky are in many ways nasty, or have nasty views, but you would miss out on a lot if you refused to read them, or read them and only focused on the nastiness. But I’m not convinced it’s a huge loss that I haven’t got to Solzhenitsyn—he wrote some important books and people read them despite many wrong-headed views—but I’ve got Vasily Grossman, I don’t get the impression Solzhenitsyn is a must-read.


There’s a difference between being antisemitic in the 19th century and repeating antisemitic tropes and blood libel today. There’s a difference between having sympathy for communism in the 1960s and praising Stalin or Mao Zedong today. 

I would add, especially after reading a piece recently about Roger Waters, that there is nothing naïve and embarrassing about being unable to separate the art from the artist if the artist is alive and being vile before your very eyes. 

The deader the artist, the better.

Among the writers who mean the most to me, Shakespeare and Cervantes died 400 years ago—they’re no longer capable of surprising and disappointing us, but if something resurfaces, I wouldn’t even flinch—their contemporary Caravaggio after all was a murderer, it doesn’t matter.  

We all draw a line somewhere 

As long as people don’t call for censorship and other forms of cancelling, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to dismiss someone as philistine or naïve if they’re unable to read a writer—Alice Munro for example—after a shocking and disappointing revelation.

We all draw a line somewhere. For some people, it’s sexual abuse (and its complicity). For some, it’s betrayal of children. For some, it’s racism (especially towards their own group). For some, it’s condonation of terrorism. For some, it’s denial of genocide. And so on and so forth. Certain things are more personal, certain things are felt more strongly.

For example, due to my background, I have no interest in writers who praise communism, or Vietnamese writers who live in Western countries but never say anything critical about the communist government. 

If some people are no longer able to read Alice Munro, why condemn them? Nobody is obliged to read Alice Munro. 

Separating the art from the artist is the ideal—we should appreciate the great works of art that very flawed people have nevertheless given us—but it’s not always possible and that’s fine. 

Monday 8 July 2024

Love after Death by Pedro Calderón de la Barca

Originally Amar después de la Muerte, also known in English as To Love Beyond Death. I read the translation by Roy Campbell, in The Classic Theatre: Volume III (edited by Eric Bentley), which also contains The Trickster of Seville, Life Is a Dream, The Siege of Numantia, and a play adaptation of Celestina (though I read a different translation of Life is a Dream—Gwynne Edwards).  

1/ The good thing about reading many different authors from the same country and the same period is that you get to see different perspectives and the larger context. In Don Quixote, Cervantes writes about the expulsion of the Moors (1609-1614). In this play, Calderón writes about the period before the expulsion, the period of discrimination and conflict and rebellion. He especially focuses on the perspective of the Moors. 

“MALEC […] though it was just 

That Arab speech and customs must, 

In the long run, give place to Spanish, 

Yet such a harsh and furious thrust 

Some few surviving traits to banish 

Which of their own accord would vanish 

I thought excessive and unjust, 

And begged them to restrain their zeal 

Lest violence prove resort to steel, 

When ancient custom’s spurned as dust…” 

(Act 1) 

Malec is an old Moor, and he’s physically struck by Don John of Mendoza. 

“MALEC […] I’ll go around, persuading all. 

It would be infamous disgrace 

Such wrongs as mine in vain should call 

Demanding vengeance from our race.” 


This is good. Like Cervantes, Calderón portrays the Moors sympathetically. Don John of Mendoza, he depicts as hateful. Now you may argue that I’m looking at it through modern eyes, but Love After Death begins with the Moorish characters and when we get Mendoza’s words “The Moors—despicable and vile!”, they’re quoted by Matec and seen through his perspective. 

Calderón later depicts Mendoza in his own voice, and Mendoza sounds like a racist, especially in that scene where Zuñiga (the magistrate) tries to make peace between Don John of Mendoza and Matec by getting him to marry Matec’s daughter Doña Clara. 

“MENDOZA […] It’s indecent to mix Mendoza blood with 

The blood of the Matecs. They do not ring

Together in the same selfsame sort of key—

“Mendoza” with “Malec” cannot agree!

VÁLOR Don John Malec’s a man…

MENDOZA And one like you! 

VÁLOR Yes, for his ancestors were a whole line 

Of kings on either side, and so were mine. 

MENDOZA Yes, but my own, although they were not kings

Were higher than the kings of Moors; they were 

Castilian highlanders and mountaineers.” 

(Act 1) 

How vile. 

And yet, it’s not so simple. Whereas Lope de Vega writes two-dimensional villains and unambiguously good characters, that’s not the case with Calderón. Don John of Mendoza, everyone will agree, is racist towards the Moors, and yet he has a secret love affair with Doña Isabel Tuzaní, sister of Don Alvaro Tuzaní, and a Moor who converted to Christianity. 

2/ Look at Garcés, a Spanish soldier:  

“GARCÉS […] No soon were we by those crags surrounded 

Than he gave tongue, and all the rock resounded 

With Moorish horns responding to his yelp. 

Like dogs they rushed their fellow-cur to help…”

(Act 2) 

Calderón depicts (some of) the Spaniards as hateful and barbaric, and the Moors as vengeful—but justifiably so. 

“GARCÉS […] Have then no pity 

On children, let the old men not escape, 

And let the women be for spoil and rape—

It is this last I’m recommending chiefly.” 


I don’t doubt that Calderón has sympathy for the Moors (even if the comic character of Alcuzcuz might be seen as problematic). It is more obviously sympathetic than Shakespeare’s attitude about the Jews. 

Calderón also has sympathy for women: 

“CLARA […] How base of Nature and how cruel 

To trick us out for ear and eye 

With wit and beauty, each a jewel, 

And honour, too, with them to vie, 

A blazing diamond, brighter yet—

But ah! how insecurely set! 

What greater woe is there to feel 

For women, than that we can steal 

A husband’s honour, or with shame 

Besmirch even a father’s name—

Yet not restore or wash the same…” 

(Act 1) 

That’s good. That’s very good. 

3/ I read Shakespeare’s history plays and saw there were too many Henrys. Now Calderón’s play has too many Don Johns: Don John Malec (“New Christian” of Moorish descent), Don John of Mendoza (the Spanish racist), and Prince Don John of Austria. 

4/ I don’t want you to think that Love After Death is only interesting for its social themes and progressive attitudes—Calderón’s poetry seems great, even though I only read it in translation. 

For example: 

“DON JOHN OF AUSTRIA Insulting, bold, rebellious mountain range

Whose wild uncultured ruggedness, whose strange

Outlandish height, whose awful weight, whose horrid

Monstrous build and overwhelming forehead 

Fatigue the ground, expand the air and earth, 

And make the sky conceive a monstrous birth! 

Primeval lair of bandits, thieves, and vandals, 

Whose breast, a thundercloud of plots and scandals, 

Gives forth seditious lightings, word for word, 

That striking here, in Africa are heard!...” 

(Act 2) 

Striking imagery. 

Or this passage, when Don John of Mendoza points at the landmarks: 

“MENDOZA […] That other, there, they call Galera, maybe

Because its keeled foundation’s like a galley’s 

Or that it rides an ocean of scrolled rocks, 

Curling like waves, and heaves a foam of flowers 

Spuming around, like a shawl of spray. 

It looks as though, subjected to the winds,

It turned and veered with them above the world.” 

(Act 2) 

If only I could read all this in the original! 

“GARCÉS […] Any moment

You can expect the mountain-side to burst 

And fill the sky with thunderclouds of dust…” 

(Act 2) 

All this is a very good. The translator himself, Roy Campbell, is a poet. 

Look at Don Alvaro Tuzaní’s description of war and destruction: 

“ALVARO […] All adders 

The houses are, of coiling flames, 

Of spiral smoke, gyrating screams 

That go on winding up the ladders 

Of their own ruin till it seems 

They re-establish there on high 

A capital of ghastly dreams 

And ghoulish nightmares in the sky!...” 

(Act 3) 

This could fit in a Shakespeare play. 

The greatest scene in Love After Death is probably after Don Alvaro Tuzaní watches his beloved Doña Clara Malec die:

“ALVARO […] You heavens that look down upon my pain, 

You mountains that behold my wrongs in vain, 

You winds that hear my sorrow and you fires

Who witness this the wreck of my desires, 

How could you have permitted that the best 

Light of this world, the star of all the west, 

Should be put out? The fairest flower grow pale? 

The sweetest breath be missing from the gale?

[…] My sole belief, 

Creed, faith, hope, or religion is my grief…” 

(Act 3) 

What a magnificent monologue. 

“ALVARO It is the most unearthly grief, 

A sorrow that surpasses all belief, 

Beyond alleviation or relief, 

To have seen die (how lamentably! how 

Piteously!) the partner of one’s vow, 

The person that one loves! It is the summit 

Of icy, piercing grief. It is the plummet 

That deepest sounds the gulf of black despair…” 


I don’t see such depth of feeling in Lope de Vega, at least not in the plays I have read. Calderón is my boy.  

This is a great play. Spanish Golden Age drama doesn’t get much attention in the English-speaking world, methinks—if you read only one play, go for Calderón’s Life Is a Dream; if you want to read two plays, add Love After Death or The Dog in the Manger

Friday 5 July 2024

The Siege of Numantia, a play by Cervantes

I can hear you asking “Cervantes? Miguel de Cervantes?”. Yep, that’s him, the author of Don Quixote

But first, context. The Siege of Numantia, if Wikipedia can be trusted, was written circa 1582—before Lope de Vega’s career, before the Spanish Armada, before the first play by Christopher Marlowe. This is important to keep in mind. 

1/ Scipio, the new Roman general, finds morale low among his troops so he scolds them: 

“SCIPIO From your fierce mien, and from your sprightly show, 

Comrades, that you are Romans, well I know—

Romans both strong and lusty for the fight—

But in your hands so delicate and white, 

And in that pink that’s on your face written, 

Why, anyone would you think you reared in Britain…”

(Act 1) 

Excuse me??? 

The year is 135 BC. This makes The Siege of Numantia very different from the Spanish Golden Age plays I’ve been reading. 

2/ There are good bits in the play. 

“SCIPIO […] I do not wish the wasted blood 

Of any other Romans to discolour 

This ground again. Enough blood has been shed 

By these cursed Spaniards, in this long, hard war, 

Now let us all exert our hands in breaking 

And digging this hard earth. Let friends be friends

Be covered with the dust they raise, no longer 

Covered with blood by enemies…”


This version is translated by South African poet Roy Campbell. 

Cervantes starts with the Roman point of view, then writes an exchange between the Roman general Scipio and a few Numantines, and then switches to the Numantine point of view. 

“FIRST PRIEST With a pure thought and spirit cleansed of sin 

Just as I plunge and stain my knife within 

This ram’s pure blood, so may Numantia stain 

Her hard earth with the blood of Romans slain, 

And prove a mighty grave to whelm them in! 


SECOND PRIEST But who has reft the victim from my hands? 

Ye gods, what’s this? What monstrous prodigies 

Are these we see? Have our laments not touched 

Your hearts, though coming from a tribe afflicted 

And full of tears? Have our harped hymns not softened 

Your hearts? No! they have hardened them the more

To judge from all these signs of cruel wrath. 

The remedies of life are fatal to us: 

Neglect of prayer would profit us far more. 

Our good is alien, but our ills are native.” 

(Act 2) 

That’s good. I wish I could read it in the original. 

3/ As I wrote at the beginning of the blog post, The Siege of Numantia was written around 1582—before the advent of Lope de Vega—so in many ways, it is old-fashioned. For example, there is a character representing Spain, with one representing the River Duero and three boys representing Tributary Streams. There are also personifications of War, Pestilence, Hunger, and Fame, as in morality plays.  

My impression is that Lope de Vega has a better sense of structure, pacing, and tension than Cervantes—the latter’s medium is the novel—Cervantes writes too many long speeches that the characters sometimes seem to be talking at rather than talking to each other and it affects the pacing, and the transition from one thing to another is often messy. The play as a whole, I think, is a bit of a mess. There’s even a scene involving a Numantine magician (Marquino) and a corpse! 

But there are good moments in it. The exchange between Marandro and Leonicio about love, for instance. The scene where some Numantine soldiers want to “break through the hostile wall, and rush to die” and get stopped by their wives is also good. 

I like many images throughout the play, and the descriptions of war and famine and the burning. 


Up in the central square they’ve made a huge 

Blazing and hungry conflagration, which, 

Fed with our riches, soars to the fourth sphere. 

There with sad, fearful haste runs everyone, 

As with a sacred offering, to feast, 

The roaring flames with his own goods and chattels, 

Sustaining them with households and estates. 

[…] The roaring mad inferno of the flames—

And not with green wood or with dried-up straw 

Nor with such things as men consign to flames

But with the homes and properties and wealth 

They can no longer live with or enjoy.” 

(Act 3) 

Some characters’ speeches before they die are also moving. 

Overall, the play is okay. 

Tuesday 2 July 2024

The King the Greatest Alcalde by Lope de Vega

Originally El mejor alcalde, el rey, it is another of Lope de Vega’s famous plays. I read the 1936 translation by John Garrett Underhill. 

1/ The play begins with a poor man named Sancho (not Panza) wanting to marry Elvira, daughter of a farmer named Nuño. Elvira loves him and Nuño approves of the marriage but Sancho has to ask for blessings from his employer Don Tello, who generously gives him a bunch of sheep and cows as a present. 

Troubles begin when Don Tello, the most powerful man in Galicia, shows up during the preparations for the wedding and sees Elvira and wants her for himself. It is a very good scene. 

He calls off the wedding, and then abducts her. 

Look at this exchange: 

“DON TELLO […] How then, Elvira, could your cruel rage 

Treat me thus foully? Cannot your rigor see 

That this is love? 

ELVIRA Never, my lord, for love 

That is deficient in a true respect 

For honor, is but vile desire, not love, 

And being evil, love never can be called. 

For love is born of loving what one loves 

In mad desire, 

And love that is not chaste 

By no name of love is graced 

Nor ever can to love’s estate aspire.” 

(Act 2) 

She explains: 

“ELVIRA […] Last night you saw me, Tello, for the first; 

Why, then, your love was such a sudden thing 

That you had scarce a moment to consider 

What that thing was which you so much desired; 

Yet in that knowledge all true love resides. 

For love is born of a great-grown desire, 

And love goes mounting then the steps of favor 

Even to its own end and exercise. 

So this you feel was never love we see 

In simple truth—mad lust and longing rather…”


Isn’t this so good? Jane Austen would have loved this, and I can’t help thinking that these speeches would have fit rather well in a Shakespeare play. 

2/ Don Tello imprisons Elvira in a tower, and when Nuño has a chance to speak to his daughter, what does he say? 

“NUÑO I never thought to see your face again, 

Not that these bars have confined you prisoner 

In cruel duress, but rather in my sight 

I held you for dishonored. So foul a thing 

Dishonor is in honorable minds, 

So vile, so loathsome ugly, even to me 

Who brought you to the world, even to me 

It must forbid that I should see you more. 

[…] Let her who renders count of her soul’s treasure

In faithless wise, call me no more father. 

Because a daughter of like infamy—

And all too weak are these the words I speak—

Upon a father has one single claim, 

That he shall shed her blood!” 

(Act 3) 

This is even worse than Hero’s father’s reaction to Claudio’s accusations in Much Ado About Nothing

I’m getting irritated with the way 17th century Spaniards keep harping on about a woman’s honour. Look at the plays I’ve been reading: 

A Dog in the Manger (Lope de Vega): X 

Fuenteovejuna (Lope de Vega): ✓ 

The Surgeon of Honour (Calderón): ✓

Life Is a Dream (Calderón): ✓

The Trickster of Seville (Tirso de Molina): ✓

And now, The King the Greatest Alcalde (Lope de Vega): ✓ 

It’s getting rather tiresome. 

3/ I shouldn’t be comparing Lope de Vega to Shakespeare, but I can’t help noticing the parallels between The King the Greatest Alcalde and Measure for Measure: in both plays, there is a tyrant; in both plays, the tyrant wants to possess a woman but she refuses; in both plays, a more powerful person walks around in disguise to uncover the truth and restore justice.

However, Measure for Measure is in many ways a deeper and more sophisticated play: Elvira has a vivid existence, especially in the conversations with Sancho at the beginning, but she’s unambiguously good, not complex and problematic (for lack of a better word) like Isabella; Don Tello shows his generosity at the beginning, but from the moment he lusts after Elvira, he’s purely tyrannical and monomaniacal; we don’t see Don Tello question himself or struggle with his conscience, as Angelo does in Measure for Measure; it depicts tyranny and the conditions of women, but Shakespeare’s play raises questions about power, justice, mercy, virtue, goodness, and so on. The King the Greatest Alcalde is a fun play, satisfying—when Don Tello gets his comeuppance—but like Fuenteovejuna, it’s an unambiguous play between the evil tyrant and the good lower class. There isn’t much depth or complexity. 

But I will be fair and say that one thing complicates the play, whether or not it’s Lope de Vega’s intent: Nuño’s speech to Elvira (quoted above) shows the fanatical obsession with a woman’s honour and the unfairness to women. Lope de Vega himself might not have intended it to be a condemnation of Spanish culture, but that detail is there and it darkens the play—what if the King doesn’t intervene? 

The King the Greatest Alcalde is a play feminists (in the Anglophone world) would love (if they know about it).

Saturday 29 June 2024

The Trickster of Seville by Tirso de Molina: the original Don Juan

1/ In Don Quixote: An Introductory Essay in Psychology (which is rather good), Salvador de Madariaga writes: 

“Don Quixote, Sancho, Don Juan, Hamlet, and Faust are the five great men created by man. Resembling in this the great men made directly by the Creator, their forms have been covered in each generation by a new over-growth of legends, opinions, interpretations, and symbols. Such is the privilege of those living beings of art who by sheer vitality impress their personality on the collective mind of mankind.” (Chapter “The Real Don Quixote”)

With Faust, he means Goethe’s—I only know Christopher Marlowe’s Faustus. It’s interesting that the other examples are all from the 17th century (more or less)—I already know Hamlet, Don Quixote, and Sancho Panza—I might as well get acquainted with Don Juan. 

The character of Don Juan originates from Tirso de Molina’s The Trickster of Seville and the Guest of Stone, published in 1630, and I read the translation by South African poet Roy Campbell. 

2/ In a letter in 1813 to her sister Cassandra, Jane Austen wrote:  

“… The girls were very much delighted, but still prefer “Don Juan”; and I must say that I have seen nobody on the stage who has been a more interesting character than that compound of cruelty and lust.” 

Which version of Don Juan did she watch? I asked on twitter and there were 2 possibilities: John Halperin in The Life of Jane Austen thinks it’s the Mozart opera; David Selwyn in Jane Austen and Leisure says it’s a musical play/ pantomime based on Thomas Shadwell’s play. My twitter friend Annette Rubery added “I have the Biographia Dramatica of 1812 which says Shadwell’s Libertine was so impious it had not been represented on-stage for many years except in a ballet called Don Juan; or, The Libertine Destroyed.” 

So Jane Austen probably didn’t know the play by Tirso de Molina. 

Still, she’s familiar with the character and her fascination with Don Juan is no surprise—there are many Don Juans in her novels, the most charming of whom is Henry Crawford (so charming that some poor readers think Fanny Price should have married him). 

3/ The Spanish theatre tradition seems rather different from the English. Firstly, there’s a preoccupation with honour—specifically a woman’s honour—probably because Spain’s a Catholic country. As written in an earlier blog post, the figure of the jilted woman has popped up several times in the few Spanish plays I’ve read, and of course Don Juan, the archetype for womanisers, originates here. The theme of a woman’s honour does occasionally appear in Shakespeare, but it seems less dominant, less obsessive. 

Secondly, I have read 3 different Spanish playwrights so far and they—especially Calderón and Tirso de Molina—often write long speeches that don’t move the plot forward, long speeches that seem to pause the action and interrupt the flow. When I read Shakespeare, I never think “What is this long speech doing here?”, because his long speeches are generally either rhetoric (a character is persuading another person or a group of people, which moves the plot forward) or soliloquies (a character is thinking, which allows us to enter their mind).

In Spanish plays, there are moments when a character seems to deliver an oration to the audience rather than speak to others onstage—what would the other character(s) be doing then?—look at The Trickster of Seville, for example, why is there a 4-page speech about Lisbon? What does it have to do with anything? 

4/ There are some good bits in the play. 

“THISBE […] Here where the slumbrous suns tread, light 

And lazy, on the blue waves’ trance, 

And wake the sapphires with delight 

To scare the shadows as they glance; 

Here by white sands, so finely spun

They seem like seeded pearls to shine, 

Or else like atoms of the sun 

Gilded in heaven; by this brine, 

Listening to the birds, I quarter, 

And hear their amorous, plaintive moans

And the sweet battles which the water

Is waging with the rocks and stones…”

(Act 1)

Thisbe—Tisbea in the original—is a fishermaid (I’m not sure why Roy Campbell changes the name).  

She’s seduced by Don Juan. 

“THISBE […] Fire, oh, fire, and water, water! 

Have pity, love, don’t scorch my spirits! 

Oh, wicked cabin, scene of slaughter, 

Where honour, vanquished in the fight, 

Bled crimson! Vilest robber’s den

And shelter of the wrongs I mourn! 

O traitor guest, most curst of men, 

To leave a girl, betrayed, forlorn! 

You were a cloud drawn from the sea

To swamp and deluge me with tears!...” 

(Act 1) 

The entire speech is so good. It’s interesting that Tirso de Molina gives such an eloquent and tragic speech to her but not to Duchess Isabel nor Doña Ana. 

This is also a good bit: 

“MARQUIS God shield me! I hear cries and weeping

Resounding from the castle square.

At such an hour what could it be? 

Ice freezes all my chest. I see

What seems another Troy aflare, 

For torches now come wildly gleaming 

With giant flames like comets streaming 

And reeking from their pitchy hair, 

A might horde of tarry hanks.

Fire seems to emulate the stars 

Dividing into troops and ranks…” 

(Act 2) 

5/ I don’t have a lot to say about The Trickster of Seville. But I’d like to comment that if you look at the characters who have become archetypes, who have escaped their books as concepts (Don Quixote, Hamlet, Robinson Crusoe, Ebenezer Scrooge, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Frankenstein, Dracula, Captain Ahab, Bartleby, and so on), Don Juan is rather unusual in that its original version is not the greatest version and not the most famous—I would even say that it’s not very well-known at all, compared to Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Molière’s version, and Lord Byron’s epic poem. 

Now you might mention Hamlet, but we don’t know much about the Ur-Hamlet, do we? And I would guess that Shakespeare’s play, not an earlier version, is where the character of Hamlet is truly born and from which he comes to develop a metaphorical life beyond the text. In contrast, Tirso de Molina already has a complete Don Juan in his play and later artists, as they retell the story, create something greater. 

You might now name Faust, but Faust is different from the other characters in that he doesn’t step out of a literary work—Christopher Marlowe and Goethe gave him more life and turned him into one of the greatest characters in literature, but he’s already a character in a folk legend.  

So in The Trickster of Seville, Tirso de Molina creates a Don Juan who is complete and who then exists beyond the play, but it’s neither the greatest nor the most famous version. 

6/ What do I think about The Trickster of Seville? I don’t think it’s a great play, the characters are not individualised (Don Juan is the only interesting character), but there are good bits in it. In this version, Don Juan is not just a womaniser and seducer but evil—a sociopath. 

I’d like to check out a few different versions of Don Juan.

Tuesday 25 June 2024

Monday 24 June 2024

Life Is a Dream, a masterpiece by Pedro Calderón de la Barca

Life Is a Dream (La vida es sueño) is one of Calderón’s most famous plays, probably written around the same time as The Surgeon of Honour (El médico de su honra). I read the translation by Gwynne Edwards. 

1/ The play begins with Rosaura, dressed as a man (17th century writers seem to like cross-dressers), wandering in Poland and coming across Segismundo (very Polish name), who is imprisoned and chained. 

This is an interesting passage: 

“SEGISMUNDO […] and since my birth,

If this can be considered birth, 

Have spent my worthless life in this

Deserted place, this wilderness, 

A skeleton that still has flesh, 

A corpse that still lays claim to breath. 

I have seen no one in this time, 

Nor spoken to a single soul

Save one who knows my sorrows and

Has taught me all I know about

Both heaven and earth…” 

(Act 1)

I can see why Gwynne Edwards says Calderón’s plays are considered intellectual. Life Is a Dream has an interesting premise: Basilio, the King of Poland can communicate with the stars and gets the prophecy that his son Segismundo would become a Stalin.

“BASILIO […] The first concerns my love for you, 

My people, and my wish to spare

You from a King who, as the prophecy 

Declared, would be a ruthless tyrant. 

What sort of King would you consider 

Me if I had chosen to ignore 

The risk and so expose my people 

To the tyranny of someone else?...” 

(Act 2) 

His choice is “to exercise my tyranny on him” or let the whole country suffer his tyranny. 

Utilitarianism or deontology. 

Here’s some striking image: 

“BASILIO […] And then there came a great

Eclipse, the mightiest the world

Has ever seen since on that fearful 

Day the sun wept with its blood for

Our Lord. So now, as then, the world 

Was suddenly engulfed by fire, 

And everyone was soon convinced 

The end of life itself was near. 

The heavens grew black, the buildings shook, 

The skies rained stones, the rivers ran

With blood, and in the midst of this 

Confusion of the sun my son

Was born, and gave a clear warning 

Of his own condition by murdering

His mother at the very moment

Of his birth…” 


Striking imagery. I wonder what Calderón’s poetry is like in the original.

Having imprisoned his son for years, Basilio one day thinks “What if the prophecy was wrong?”, so he confesses it all to his people and declares that he’s going to make Segismundo a king—if Segismundo proves to be a violent king, back to the cave he goes—then Basilio is going to tell him that everything was a dream.

The experiment is to see if “man is master of destiny”, if Segismundo is able “to overcome the stars”. 

Not very smart, is he? Does he not consider that the imprisonment, cruelty, and injustice would make Segismundo a hateful tyrant? The attempt to avoid the prophecy inadvertently fulfils it. Like Oedipus. 

The play raises questions about utilitarianism vs deontology, fate vs free will, nature vs nurture, and so on. 

2/ Another theme, as you can see from the title, is the idea of life as a dream. 

“SEGISMUNDO […] That all our life is but a dream, 

And what I’ve seen so far tells me 

That any man who lives dreams what 

He is until at last he wakes. 

The King dreams he is king and so 

Believing rules, administers, 

Rejoices in the exercise of power; 

He does not seem to know his fame

Is written on the wind and death 

Will turn to ashes all his splendour. 

[…] What is this life? A fantasy? 

A prize we seek so eagerly 

That proves so illusory? 

I think that life is but a dream, 

And even dreams not what they seem.” 

(Act 2) 

This is very good. I can see why Tom (Wuthering Expectations) wrote “Metaphysically, Life Is a Dream rivals Shakespeare.”

Tom also notes the brilliant idea of Calderón to have Segismundo believe that the vivid episode was a dream. 

“SEGISMUNDO […] Great heavens, must I be made to dream 

Of greatness, once again when I 

Already know that time will prove 

To me its emptiness? 

Must I be made to realize 

Once more that pomp and majesty, 

Like shadows scattered by the wind 

Are mere vanity?...” 

(Act 3) 

The entire speech is magnificent—I give you just a few lines just so you get the idea—I wish I knew Spanish so I could read it in the original! 

3/ I’m not fond of the subplot. So far I have read only 5 things from the Spanish Golden Age and the figure of the jilted woman has popped up several times—2 (at least) in Don Quixote (Dorotea and the daughter of Doña Rodriguez), 1 in Lope de Vega (Marcela in The Dog in the Manger), 1 in The Surgeon of Honour (Leonor), and now 2 in Life is a Dream (Rosaura and Violante)!  

(What’s up with Spanish men, at least in the 17th century?) 

4/ I will not tell you how it ends—you should read or watch the play for yourself. It is a strange, fascinating play.  

I will only say that I can see why Lope de Vega was considered “monstruo de naturaleza” (Monster of Nature) and Calderón was “monstruo del ingenio” (Monster of Intellect). Compared to Lope de Vega’s characters, the characters in Life Is a Dream are not very vivid and lifelike—they also feel less “real” than the ones in The Surgeon of Honour. That’s an observation rather than a complaint. Life Is a Dream is more like an allegory and deals with lots of interesting ideas, and there are wonderful speeches—operatic, to use Gwynne Edwards’s word—even if I could only read them in translation. 

Gwynne Edwards also has a point when she praises the character of Segismundo: 

“Much of [the fascination and appeal] lies in the sheer emotional ferocity and unpredictability of this man-beast dressed in animal skins, as likely to tear Rosaura to pieces as he is to be moved to open-mouthed astonishment by her dazzling beauty. But it seems too from his bewilderment at the sudden and extreme changes in his fortunes and status […] and his uncertainty as to which is real, which false. The scale and range of his mental and emotional conflict and the slow advance towards a greater understanding of himself and of the world offer limitless possibilities to an actor.” 

I would love to see this performed. 

Thursday 20 June 2024

The Surgeon of Honour by Pedro Calderón de la Barca [with addendum]

Before I begin, here’s some context: Calderón, born in 1600, is Lope de Vega’s successor on the Spanish stage. Wikipedia says “Calderón is widely regarded as the perfecter of Spanish Baroque theatre and is regarded as Spain’s greatest dramatist.” The Surgeon of Honour was, according to my edition, written in 1635, the year Lope de Vega died. 

So what was happening on the English stage at this time? I’m not sure. Shakespeare had been dead nearly 20 years. John Webster, Thomas Dekker, John Fletcher, Francis Beaumont, Thomas Middleton were all dead. Ben Jonson was in the last few years of his life. I guess not much was happening. 

1/ The play begins with Prince Enrique falling off his horse and losing consciousness. When he opens his eyes, before him is Doña Mencía, a woman he once loved. 

“ENRIQUE I could believe

It if the happiness I feel 

Were not, through being mine, 

To vanish suddenly. But now 

I am obliged to ask myself 

If I am dreaming while asleep

Or wide-awake while I now dream. 

For I both seem to be awake

And still asleep. But why insist, 

If putting to the test the truth 

Of things involves an even greater risk? 

If it is true I am sleep, 

Then let me never be awake; 

And if it’s true I am awake, 

Then never let me fall asleep.” 

(Act 1) 

(translated by Gwynne Edwards) 

I like that. 

Poor Enrique, Mencía is now married to a Don Gutierre Alfonso Solís. 

2/ Mencía is jealous that when Don Gutierre travels to Seville, he might meet his ex, Leonor. 

“GUTIERRE […] Consider how the flame burns at

Its brightest in the dark of night, 

And seems to occupy the sphere of 

The wind; but when the sun appears, 

All other light is quickly put 

To flight and dazzled by this one 

Superior majesty….” 

(Act 1) 

What a smooth-talking bastard. 

But soon we get to see Leonor’s perspective, when she petitions to the King and complains about what Don Gutierre has done to her—it makes me think about Measure for Measure and a few subplots in Don Quixote—but the play develops and we realise that it’s more like Othello. Don Gutierre breaks up with Leonor because he gets a glimpse of a man leaving her chamber and suspects her of infidelity, without asking her and giving her a chance to defend herself, and then a similar thing happens with his wife Mencía. 

I like this exchange when Enrique, thanks to the help of Mencía’s servant Jacinta, enters the house and meets Mencía: 

“ENRIQUE […] I do not wish to kill my prey; 

I wish to see my lovely heron speed 

Away through skies of blue and soar

Towards the golden palace of the sun. 

MENCÍA The heron does, my lord, have this

Ability. They say that instinct drives

It to aspire to the heavens, 

Like some bright comet lacking its 

Bright tail of fire, winged lightning

Without its flame, or feathered cloud 

Possessing instinct, or fiery flash 

Endowed with great spirit. But soon 

It’s seen by birds of prey who block

Its path, and even though it tries 

To fly away from them, it’s said 

That it already knows the hawk 

On whose account it soon must die…” 

(Act 2) 

This is good, I like this. 

The Surgeon of Honour is like Othello without Iago: it’s about jealousy, honour, and an honour-killing. 

3/ I will not compare Calderón and Shakespeare—there are only a handful of writers who can stand next to Shakespeare—I will judge The Surgeon of Honour as its own thing. 

The long soliloquies, in which Don Gutierre reasons about what he has seen and what it might mean, and struggles against his jealousy, are good. The development of his jealousy and misunderstanding, and of the actions, is good. 

Britannica says

“In this direction, Calderón developed the dramatic form and conventions established by Lope de Vega, based on primacy of action over characterization, with unity in the theme rather than in the plot.”

In a way, it is true, but Britannica also says: 

“For two centuries after his death, his preeminence remained unchallenged, but the realistic canons of criticism that came to the fore toward the end of the 19th century produced a reaction in favour of the more “lifelike” drama of Lope de Vega. Calderón appeared mannered and conventional: the structure of his plots seemed contrived, his characters stiff and unconvincing, his verse often affected and rhetorical.”

I very much disagree, at least when it comes to The Surgeon of Honour. Don Gutierre’s misunderstanding and false reasoning are convincing—if you only know what he knows, you would think the way he thinks (though of course I hope you wouldn’t actually kill your wife). Mencía’s actions are also convincing.

I also like the scene where Don Arias (the man who Don Gutierre saw leaving Leonor’s chamber) proposes to Leonor and she rejects him, saying that marrying him would make others (especially Don Gutierre) think that they were involved when they were not, and it would taint her honour—she’s crazy, but she’s like the heroines in Henry James or Edith Wharton who choose dignity and self-respect over their own happiness. 

But it has to be said that Act 3 doesn’t work very well.

First of all, the killing is done by someone else and happens off-stage, which, in a way, places the tragedy of Mencía’s death below Don Gutierre’s mental struggle and suffering.

Secondly, the ending is rather ridiculous. Don Gutierre is never told about his wife’s innocence. And the King?

“KING You know, 

Gutierre, there’s a sure way 

To deal with it. 

GUTIERRE But how, your majesty? 

KING I recommend the remedy

You’ve used already. 

GUTIERRE Which remedy? 

KING You have to let her bleed a little. 

GUTIERRE What can you mean? 

KING But then be sure 

To clean the bloodstain from your door.” 

(Act 3) 

The King approves of honour-killings! And nobody tells Don Gutierre that he was wrong, that Mencía was innocent! That it was an utterly senseless death! 

His order to Don Gutierre (I’m not revealing it) is also silly. 

The ending makes me angry.

Addendum: Nearly 7 hours since my blog post, having read the introduction by Gwynne Edwards and an essay by Roberta J. Thiher called “The Final Ambiguity of "El médico de su honra"”, I continue to find the play’s ending repellent.

As Don Gutierre, within the play, never learns the truth, he gets off both before the law and in his own conscience. I don’t mean that there must be justice in the ending—I know in life there often isn’t, and many people get away with their evil acts—but does it not matter that Don Gutierre killed his wife because of his jealousy and fancy, because he only got a few pieces of the puzzle and imagined the rest? 

Even the way it ends is distasteful. 

“GUTIERRE Do not forget. I have already been 

The surgeon of my honour. It is 

A skill, I promise you, that lasts forever. 

LEONOR If I am ever sick, Gutierre, do

Not hesitate to cure me.

GUTIERRE Then here’s my hand, my dear. And now 

We end The Surgeon of Honour.” 

What the hell is this? 

I also don’t like Thiher’s arguments about the ambiguity of Mencía. It’s true that Mencía doesn’t love Don Gutierre. It’s true that she seems to still have feelings for Enrique. But so what? The fact remains that she does nothing wrong, that she has no affair, that she arranges no meeting with Enrique, that she defends her honour and reputation, that she stays loyal to her husband. It’s barbaric enough to kill a wife over an affair, let alone her thoughts! 

The play left a bad taste in my mouth. 

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Fuenteovejuna by Lope de Vega

Fuenteovejuna, sometimes spelt Fuente Ovejuna, is another famous play by Lope de Vega. I read Jill Booty’s translation from 1961.

It was originally in verse and translated into prose. 

1/ Look at this conversation between two women: 

“LAURENCIA The Commander may think I am just a spring chicken, but he will find me tough meat for his table. I do not want his so-called “love,” Pascuala, I had rather have a sizzling rasher of bacon for breakfast, with a slice of my own baked bread, and a sly glass of wine from mother’s jar. […] For all their wiles and tricks, their so-called love serves no other purpose than to get us to bed with pleasure, to wake in the morning with disgust.” 

(Act 1) 


“PASCUALA […] Men are just the same [as sparrows]. When they need us, we are their life, their being, their soul, their everything. But when their lust is spent, they behave worse than the sparrows and we are no longer “Sweety-hearts” or even “idiots,” but drabs and whores!

LAURENCIA You cannot trust one of them. 

PASCUALA Not one, Laurencia.” 


That reminds me of Emilia in Othello

“’Tis not a year or two shows us a man:

They are all but stomachs, and we all but food;

To eat us hungerly, and when they are full,

They belch us…” 

The difference is that Shakespeare depicts the contrasting perspectives of the ordinary, earthy Emilia and the saintly and naïve Desdemona, whereas Laurencia and Pascuala agree with each other. 

Anyway, note “spring chicken”, “tough meat”. 

Later on, there’s a moment when Fernando Gómez the Commander wants to have Laurencia. 

“LAURENCIA Flores, let us go. 


FLORES Mind what you say! You are plucky little chicks! 

LAURENCIA Has not your master received enough flesh for one day? 

ORTUÑO But yours is the kind he wants.” 

(Act 1) 

The Commander is “a whore-master and a tyrant”. He forces all the women, virgin or married, to have sex with him, and has the men beaten up.  

“COMMANDER Oh, these easy women. I love them well and pay them ill. If only they valued themselves at their real worth, Flores! 

FLORES When a man is never put in doubt, the delight he gains means nothing to him. A quick surrender denies the exquisite anticipation of pleasure. But has not the philosopher said that there are also those women who as naturally desire a man as form desires its matter? And that it should be so is not surprising, for—

COMMANDER A man crazed with love is ever delighted to be easily and instantly rewarded, but then as easily and instantly he forgets the object of his desire. Even the most generous is quick to forget that which cost him little.” 

(Act 2)  

Again, these two characters agree with each other. 

2/ Fuenteovejuna is among the Lope de Vega plays most frequently translated into English, and I’m under the impression that it’s also among his most famous and acclaimed plays in general (all right, I don’t speak Spanish, but I can see its multiple mentions on the Spanish Wikipedia page about the playwright). 

Is it so popular because it’s essentially a revolutionary play? 

“ALDERMAN Die, or bring death to the tyrants, for we are many, they are few. 

BARTILDO What, rise in arms against our master? 

ESTEBAN Only the King is master under heaven, not Fernando Gómez. If God is with us in our zeal for justice, then how can we go wrong?” 

(Act 3) 

Laurencia’s angry, accusatory speech in this scene is excellent. “Well may this village be called Fuenteovejuna for its people are nothing but sheep. A flock of bleating sheep who run from curs.”

It is an exciting play—Lope de Vega knows how to hook your attention, and he’s also good at the crowd scenes. The mutiny scenes are good; the scene where the judge interrogates the entire village after the murder of the Commander, and everyone under torture still says “Fuenteovejuna did it”, is very good. It’s good fun. 

But there isn’t much depth or complexity in the play. Fernando Gómez (the Commander) is a two-dimensional villain and the peasants are good people. Consider Shakespeare: Shakespeare always explores different aspects and depicts contrasting viewpoints; there’s no play in which he doesn’t do something to complicate things, to make it impossible to know with certainty where he stands. Cervantes does something similar in Don Quixote, which is why there have been lots of different views, different interpretations. 

The disagreement over Fuenteovejuna may be about whether Lope de Vega has sympathy for “the mass” rising up and killing their “oppressor” in a general sense, or only sympathises with this particular case (a real event from the 15th century) because of Fernando Gómez’s tyranny and cruelty, but there is no doubt that he thinks the Commander has it coming because of his actions towards the villagers. Lope de Vega does nothing to humanise the villain, to complicate the revenge of the villagers. 

I should add that this is not an early play. Fuenteovejuna was published in 1619, and R. D. F. Pring-Mill writes in the introduction that it “may have been written as early as 1611 (Morley and Bruerton place it between 1611 and 1618, and probably between 1612 and 1614).” Lope de Vega was born in 1562 (2 years before Shakespeare) but lived for a relatively long time, till 1635, and Fuenteovejuna belongs to the middle period of his career. 

That said, it’s a fun play and Laurencia is a vivid character. 

Monday 17 June 2024

Was Cervantes prompted to write Part 2 of Don Quixote thanks to Avellaneda?

Online I have often come across the suggestion that it was thanks to the fake Part 2 by Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda that Cervantes started writing his own Part 2. I’ve just come across that idea again in Martin Puchner’s The Written World

I can tell you with certainty that that’s not the case.

Part 1 of Don Quixote was published in 1605. Avellaneda’s fake Part 2 came out in 1614, then Cervantes’s Part 2 came out in 1615. 

In the Prologue of Exemplary Novels, Cervantes wrote “first you will see, and soon, the continuation of the deeds of Don Quixote and the delights of Sancho Panza.” He published Exemplary Novels in 1613.

This is why Cervantes didn’t mention Avellaneda until chapter 59, then for the rest of the book (73 chapters in total), constantly took a dig at it. 

PS: I love Cervantes’s wit. The constant digs at Avellaneda in Part 2 are hilarious. But I also like his Hitchcock-style cameos in Part 1. When the priest and the barber go through Don Quixote’s books with the intention of burning them, for example, they come across “La Galatea by Miguel de Cervantes”. Hmm, I wonder who that is.

The priest says: 

“For many years that Cervantes has been a great friend of mine, and I know that he’s more versed in misfortunes than verses. His book has some originality—he proposes something but concludes nothing. We have to wait for the second part that he promises. Maybe after he does his penance, he’ll receive the compassion that has been denied him so far. While we wait for this to happen, keep it in seclusion at your house, señor compadre.” (P.1, ch.6)  

Later, when the captive tells his tale:

“The only one who fared well with him was a Spanish soldier named So-and-So de Saavedra, whom he never beat, nor had beaten, nor said a harsh word to, even though the Spaniard did things that will stick in people’s memory for many years—and all of them to attain freedom—and for the least of the many things he did, all of us were fearful that he would be impaled, and he feared it himself more than once. If time permitted, I’d say things now that this soldier did that would interest and astonish you much more than the narration of my own story…” (P.1, ch.40) 

*cough* Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra *cough*.  

I should perhaps pick up a Cervantes biography. His life seems fascinating. Does anyone know any good one? 

PPS: The chapter about Don Quixote in The Written World is not very good. Martin Puchner does give you some useful information about piracy (literal and figurative) and printing, but his reading of Don Quixote is rather superficial. Cervantes may have started out writing a book to kill all chivalry romances, featuring a man driven mad by reading, but such a book it does not remain—does Puchner think the author actually agreed with the book burning?—Cervantes complicated things and added different layers just in Part 1, and Part 2 was greater, more complex and profound.

I also don’t like that Puchner writes about the lack of copyright and the fake Don Quixote, but doesn’t talk about the brilliance of Cervantes’s response to Avellaneda. I mean he briefly mentions it, but doesn’t talk about its brilliance. He also doesn’t talk about the meta aspect of Part 2, which gives Don Quixote the reputation as “the first postmodern novel”. 

Sunday 16 June 2024

The Dog in the Manger by Lope de Vega, contemporary of Shakespeare and Cervantes

Born 15 years after Cervantes and 2 years before Shakespeare, Lope de Vega died 19 years after the two of them and claimed to have written something like 1,500 plays*, about 400 of which survive. In Spain, he was a successful playwright when Cervantes wasn’t (Nabokov called Cervantes a frustrated playwright who found his medium in the novel). But most importantly, Jonathan Bate argues in The Genius of Shakespeare that if the Spanish Armada hadn't been defeated by England and Spanish had become the international language rather than English, Lope de Vega would have taken the place of Shakespeare.

Well, I have to find out for myself. 

(But how many of those 400 plays—or let’s say 50, the number of plays that have been translated into English—do I have to read before I can deliver my judgement?) 

1/ The Dog in the Manger is, in the original, El Perro del hortelano. I read Jill Booty’s translation from 1961. 

Was the play originally written in verse? Jill Booty translates it into prose.

The trouble with reading classic non-English language plays is that sometimes you think you found the play but it’s “adapted by…” or “a version by…”. That’s what happened with quite a few Spanish plays I picked up. So I got this one, but found in the small print that “Miss Jill Booty would describe her translations as ‘acting versions’” and she “has had to sacrifice much Golden Age rhetoric in the interests of producing credible dialogue”, and now I have no idea how far it is from Lope de Vega’s text. 

Oh well. 

2/ Lope de Vega can be quite funny. 

The play begins with Diana, Countess of Belflor**, shouting that some man’s just in her chamber in the middle of the night. Her people find a hat. 

“DIANA But the feathers I saw… why the hat was loaded with plumes, how can they have shriveled to this? 

FABIO They must have got burned when he threw it at the lamp, madam. Feathers would go up like chaff, you may be sure. Why, did not the same thing happen to Icarus? As soon as he flew too near the sun, his feathers caught fire, and down he fell into the foaming sea. That is what must have happened. The lamp was the sun, the hat was Icarus, its feathers were consumed by fire, and it fell on the stairs—where I found it. 

DIANA I am in no mood for jesting, Fabio...” 

(Act 1) 

Diana then finds out that the man is Teodoro, her secretary, and he’s in love with one of her maids, Marcela. She’s jealous, she has always had a thing for Teodoro. The premise of the play is that she cannot have him, as he’s socially beneath her, but she doesn’t let anyone else have him either—that’s why the play is called El Perro del hortelano, the Spanish equivalent of “dog in the manger”.

Anyway, upon finding out, Diana comes to Teodoro and makes up a story about a friend of hers, a highborn woman, as a roundabout way of confessing to him her feelings: “this lady […] had never felt any loving desire for him. But when she saw him love another, the jealousy she felt awoke her love for him…” 

This bit is interesting: 

“TEODORO You reason well. And yet Icarus, and Phaeton too, plunged down to their destruction, the one with his wax wings destroyed by the furnace of the sun, and the other the golden horses cast headlong upon a rocky mountain, because they aimed too high. 

DIANA But the sun is not a woman…” 

(Act 1) 

Icarus again. Note that Diana says “the sun is not a woman.” 

Now look at the scene where Diana’s suitors are watching each other: 

“CELIO Have you never seen a fair May morning break, when the sun shines in the sign of the bull—the white bull, the poets call him—that grazes among the ruddy clouds of dawn? So came she forth, and yet more perfect, for Diana, the Countess of Belflor, shines with two suns, while the heavens boast only one. 

RICARDO […] You do well to depict so fair a landscape and to portray Diana as the sun, for so she is, and as the sun passes through each sign of the zodiac in turn, so her eyes pass over her suitors, resting on none. See, there is Federico, waiting for his share of the golden beams. 

CELIO Which of you will prove the bull this morning? Upon whom will her spring light fall? 

RICARDO Federico was here before me, and so wins the sign of Taurus, but I will be the Lion, and hope her warmer gaze shall shine on me.” 

(Act 2) 

The sun imagery and the Icarus metaphor recur throughout the play. Teodoro says “my reason is to blame, that allows my hopes to soar too near the sun” and at some point says “Oh, sun, melt to nothing the waxen wings that bore me up so presumptuously to set myself beside an angel!” (Act 2). 

3/ There is a scene where Diana, in anger and jealousy, gives Teodoro a bloody nose, spoiling his handkerchief.

Then she comes back. 

“DIANA Show me your handkerchief. 


DIANA Give me it. 

TEODORO Why do you want it? 

DIANA I want it, Teodoro. Go and speak to Octavio. I have ordered him to give you two thousand escudos. 

TEODORO For what? 

DIANA You will need some new handkerchiefs. [She goes

TEODORO Did you ever hear such madness? 

TRISTÁN She must be bewitched.” 

(Act 2) 

Not hard to understand Lope de Vega’s popularity in the Spanish Golden Age. There isn’t much depth in The Dog in the Manger, but it’s a fun play. I will not compare him to Shakespeare (for now), but if we compare him and Christopher Marlowe, Lope de Vega scores two points against Marlowe: firstly, his characters are more individualised whereas Marlowe tends to have one important character (either a Machiavelli or an overreacher) and everyone else speaks with the same voice; secondly, Marlowe isn’t good with female characters whereas Lope de Vega’s Diana is a rather good depiction of a proud, unpredictable woman who keeps changing and keeps contradicting herself (just don’t expect Cleopatra). Marcela is also all right—in some ways, she mirrors Diana in her games with Teodoro, but she is different. 

(Obviously I’m being unfair, Marlowe’s power is mostly in his poetry—“his mighty line”—rather than characterisation and psychology). 

If I’m not mistaken, in Spain women were allowed to perform onstage in the late 16th, early 17th century—this means that Lope de Vega had an advantage over Shakespeare, John Webster, and other English playwrights. 

I’m going to read more Lope de Vega. 

*: Most likely a shameless exaggeration, but he probably wrote about 500, which is already a lot. The Shakespeare canon has fewer than 40 plays. 

**: I don’t know where that is, but the play is set in Naples.