Poet and dramatist, b. at Madrid, 1562; d. 23 Aug., 1635. With Lope de Vega begins the era of dramatic glory in Spanish literature of the Golden Age. He seems to have been an extraordinarily precocious child, whence the term "monstruo de la naturaleza", "freak of nature ", which clung to him throughout his life. At the age of fourteen he wrote a play. Like Cervantes, he saw service in the Spanish navy, and even took part in the disastrous expedition of the Armada against England. While aboard of his vessel, he spent his spare time composing his poem "Angélica", a continuation of the adventures of that capricious lady already related by the Italian poet Ariosto in his "Orlando Furioso" Married by 1590 to Isabel de Urbina he returned to the service of the Duke of Alba, With whom he had been prior to the time of the Armada. His first wife died in 1597, and then, after some amorous adventure he contracted a second marriage, about 1600, with Juana del Guardo. By this time he had become the acknowledged arbiter of the Spanish stage, and such he remained until shortly before his death. His seconds wife died in 1612 or 1614, greatly saddened, doubtless by the immorality of her husband, constantly intriguing with this or that actress. The result of one of these liaisons, that with María de Luján, was the birth of a son, Lope Félix, who bade fair to become a good poet. About 1610 Lope had made his home at Madrid. For some time before that year, he had led a wandering life, in Valencia, Toledo, Seville, etc everywhere stimulating dramatic composition. This roving was in part due to a decree of banishment issued against him in punishment of a base libel published by him upon a certain actress and her family.
After the death of his second wife, Lope became a priest, with the express purpose of correcting the disorders of his life. Unfortunately it cannot be said that the taking of Holy orders led to improvement; his aberrations continued, and he intensified his baseness by playing the part of a poetical panderer for his patron, the Duke of Sessa. Lope was well aware of the vileness of his own behaviour, as his correspondence clearly shows; but he was too weak to reform. Retribution, however, came upon him before his end, for his heart was broken by the early death of his brilliant son Lope and the elopement of his daughter Antonia Clara with a court noble. His magnificent funeral cortege was so directed as to pass before the windows of the convent in which another daughter of his was a nun.
The fertility of Lope de Vega as an author almost surpasses belief. Practically all forms of literary composition were attempted by him. In the epic he tried his fortunes with the "Angélica", already mentioned; he repeated the experiment in "Jerusalen Conquistada", in which he sought to rival Tasso as previously he had emulated Ariosto. More successful than these attempts was the "Gatomaquia", which revives the spirit of the ancient "Battle of the Frogs and Mice", and therefore belongs to the category of the mock-heroic. The mythological in five poems: "Circe", "Andromeda", "Philomela", "Orfeo", and "Proserpina". He wrote several historical poems, among them the "San Isidro Labrador", celebrating the patron saint of Madrid, and the "Dragontea", an attack on the English adventurer, Sir Francis Drake. He essayed the didactic in an ars poetica, or code of literary principles, which he entitled the "Arte nueva de hacer comedias". In this he reveals his acquaintance with the strict Aristotelean rules of dramatic composition, the unities, etc., but acknowledges that, in order to cater to the popular craving of his time, he disregards those classic precepts. Furthermore, we have from him a mass of sonnets, romances (lyrics in the ballad metre), odes, elegies, verse epistles, and so on, of which some are religious in their inspiration and others profane. Thus it is that in 1602 there appeared, as part of his "Rimas", some two hundred sonnets, a number of which give expression to the poet's genuine sentiments. In 1612 there was published the "Quatro Soliloquios", full of devout expressions in verse which contrast sharply with the author's mode of life. To that same year belongs the publication of his beautiful sacred pastoral, perlaps his most finished work in point of style, the "Pastores de Belén". Of this he himself said: "I have written I book, which I call the 'Shepherds of Bethlehem', in sacred prose and verse, after the plan of the 'Arcadia.'" The last-named is his particular contribution to the output of pastoral romances, which had begun in Spain with the "Diana" of Montemayor, and had been carried on by Cervantes in his "Galatea". Like all the pastoral romances, the "Arcadia" of Lope harks back eventually to the "Arcadia" of the Neapopolitan Sannazzaro, which established the fashion of combining prose and verse. The pastoral loves celebrated in the works of this category are conventional: the shepherds and shepherdesses are gentlemen and ladies of fashion masquerading. The whole genre is very artificial, and Lope's work is certainly so. The "Pastores de Belén" has in it the beautiful lullaby to the infant Jesus, "Pues andais en las palmas"; the whole work was dedicated to his son Carlos, who soon died. Of Lope's other compositions, besides his plays, there may be mentioned the "Filomena" (1621), the "Triunfos divinos" (religious lyrics), the "Corona trágica" (1627 — an epic in five cantos celebrating Mary, Queen of Scots), the "Laurel de Apolo" (1630 — a rhymed review and eulogy of about three hundred poets, like Cervantes's "Viage del Parnaso", uncritical and partisan), and the "Rimas de licenciado Tomé de Burguillos" (1634). The "Filomena", the first of the works just mentioned, is in part Lope's poetic defence of himself and his methods against the attacks of a certain Torres Rámila. The defence occupies its second part; the first contains, in three cantos of octaves, the fable of Filomena. Among other compositions incorporated into the volume is the prose tale, "Las fortunas de Diana". This tale was followed later by three others: "La desdicha por la honra", "La prudente venganza", and "Guzmin el Bueno", all published in 1624, along with the poem "Circe and Ulysses". Certain "Epístolas" found in the "Filomena" give information regarding Lope's life and work, and also give utterance to an attack Upon the school of Gongora.
Among the prose works, besides the tales already listed, are the "Peregrino en su patria" (1604), the "Triunfo de la fe en el Japón" (1618), and the "Dorotea" (1632). The "Peregrino" is a somewhat tedious romance of adventurous travel. It is interesting, however, for the lyrics and autos (religious plays) contained in it, and also for the list of over two hundred of his plays which the author indicates as already composed. The "Triunfo" deals with the Xaverian missions in Japan, and is devout in tone. The "Dorotea" is a dramatic novel in form. Begun in Lope's early years, it was kept by him throughout his life, and received final embellishments in his old age. It is practically an autobiography.
The real Lope of fame, however, is the dramatist, for it was as dramatist that he dominated the whole Golden Age (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). According to his own account, he composed 1500 Comedias, i.e., more than 5,000,000 verses of assonance and rhyme in all the native and the borrowed Italian measures. Besides the comedias he wrote hundreds of autos, loas (prologues, curtain-raisers), and entremeses (interludes). Of the comedias some 500 remain, and. they are made the subject of treatment in the great edition published under the auspices of the Spanish Academy by Menéndez y Pelayo. Among the convenient groupings devised by this eminent scholar are these: plays based upon matters of the Old and the New Testament ; plays on lives of the saints ; plays dealing with legends or devout traditions; mythological plays; plays treating of classical history; plays treating of foreign history; plays dealing with the national history; pastoral plays; chivalrous plays; romantic plays; and plays of manners. No attempt may here be made to give an idea of the nature and subject-matter of even the more striking among Lope's dramatic masterpieces. It may be said definitively that in qualities of style his dramas are deficient; they lack the finish and the evenness that only deliberation and slowly matured execution can give to a work of art. Lope's theatre is mainly one of improvisation. He wrote hastily, to answer an imperious and never sated popular demand for something new. It is remarkable that he remained ever inventive. His dramatic imagination was a gift of nature, and did not fail him no matter how much he abused it. In depth of thought he is all too often lacking; and with good sense he avoided philosophical themes, for he would I have failed in the treatment of them. Lope had the people at large in mind when he wrote. This is seen especially in his plays of manners and intrigue ( Comedias de capa y espada ), which represent his best dramatic achievement. The peculiarly Spanish punctilio, or point of honour, receives full consideration in these. To the part of the clown he gives great prominence. But it is the woman that becomes all important in Lope's plays; as Fitzmaurice-Kelly has said: "He placed her in her true setting, as an ideal, as the mainspring of dramatic motive and of chivalrous conduct." As leading examples of Lope's skill in the tragedy there may be mentioned "El Castigo sin Veniganza" (on the same subject as Byron's "Parisina"), and "Porfiar hasta Morir"; in the historical drama, "La Estrella de Sevilla" and "El mejor Alcalde el Rey"; in the use of the old Spanish heroic legend, "La fuerza lastimosa"; and in the comedy of manners, "El Acero de Madrid ", "Amar sin Saber Quien", "La Moza del Cántaro", etc. Lope has had many imitators. Those who imitated him in Spain are legion. Among the foreigners who drew from him there may be recorded especially the Frenchmen Hardy and Rotrou, and, in more recent times, the Austrian Grillparzer.
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