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|Lope de Vega (1562-1635) - in full Félix Lope de Vega y Carpio; byname Fénix de los Ingenios|
Prolific playwright, pioneer of Spanish drama, author of as many as 1800 comedias and several hundred shorter dramatic pieces, of which about 500 have been printed. Lope de Vega's achievement is considered among Spanish writers second only to that of Cervantes. His life was as dramatic as his plays: he was a volunteer on the Invincible Armada; his many love affairs brought him both notoriety and problems with the law, resulting in prison terms and exile.
Trébole, !ay Jesús, cómo huele!
Félix Lope de Vega y Carpio was born in Madrid. His parents were not wealthy and came from the mountain region of Santander, in northern Spain. Already as a child Lope showed literary talent, composing his first verses before he could use a pen. At the age of ten he started to translate poems from Latin. At twelve Lope wrote his first play.
Lope studied under the Jesuits in Madrid, and after studying at the University of Alcalá, he joined the army in 1583. He then returned to Madrid, becoming the leader of the literary circles. Around this time he formed a liaison with Elena Osorio, the married daughter of an actor and leading theatre manager, Jerónimo Velásquez. She was the inspiration of Lope's early writings, the 'Filis', for whom he wrote a number of verses. When Elena started to favour a younger suitor, she became the object of his hatred. Lope was eventually expelled from Castile for two years.
In 1588 Lope married Isabela de Urbina from Madrid. Her aristocratic family had opposed the marriage with the lowborn Lope. A few weeks after the wedding, Lope joined the Invincible Armada. During this period he wrote La hermosura de Angélica, which had as its model Ariosto's Orlando Furioso.
Upon the defeat of Spain, Lope returned home penniless. He settled with Isabela in Valencia, a lively city, where he began to work seriously for the stage. From the mid-1580s, his plays had been performed in Madrid but now he sent there new works every two months. In 1590 he entered the service of the Duke of Alba, and remained in Toledo until 1595. Isabella died in the spring of that year, and Lope went to Madrid, where he was prosecuted for an illicit relationship with Antonia Trillo. He also wrote sonnets to Lucinda, a literary pseudonym for Micaela de Luján, a mysterious beauty, who was his mistress from approximately 1598 to 1608.
Lope married in 1598 Doña Juana de Guardo, daughter of a wealthy butcher. When was appointed secretary to the Marqués de Malpica and Marques de Sarría, his social position improved considerably. In the following years Lope divided his time between Seville, where Micaela and their children lived, and Madrid. His fame as a dramatist had been established by the turn of the century. In 1598 Lope gained fame as a ballad writer with the pastoral romance La Arcadia, However, he was soon forgotten by his public, after Philip II closed the Madrid theaters in mourning for the death of his daughter. Lope became in 1605 friends with the Duke of Sessa and his confidential secretary.
In 1610 Lope bought a house on the Calle de Francos (Street of the Franks), where he lived until his death. The street was renamed Calle de Cervantes in the nineteenth century; Cervantes was buried in the Trinitarian Monastery on what was then the Calle de Cantarranas (Street of the Singing Frogs), and now known as the Calle de Lope de Vega. Doña Juana died in 1613 while giving birth to a daughter, Feliciana. All her jewels were pawned; no valuables were mentioned in her last will and testament. In 1614 Lope entered a religious order and was appointed an officer of the Inquisition. "Harmony is pure love, for love is complete agreement," Lope said in Fuenteovejuna (c. 1613). Lope's work as a playwright was not approved by the church, but he wrote many of his comedias during his priesthood. Pope Urban VIII, however, idolized him and made him Knight of Malta and doctor of theology in 1627.
Lope's success overshadowed Cervantes's attempts as a playwright. "No one is so stupid as to admire Miguel de Cervantes," he once said. In spite of his popularity, supporters in the nobility, and productivity, Lope was troubled by financial problems. After an affair with Jerónima de Burgos, Lope fell in love with a married woman, Doña Marta de Nevares Santoyo, called "Amarilis" and "Leonarda" – this time his indiscretions with her were criticized even by Cervantes, who referred to his rival in his prologue to Part II of Don Quixote: "I am not likely to accuse a priest; above all if, in addition, he holds the rank of Familiar of the Holy Office. And if he said what he did on behalf of his friend, he is entirely mistaken, for I worship the latter's genius, his work, his constant and virtuous employment." The underlying sarcastic meaning of the phrase "la occupación contínua y virtuosa" was understood by those who knew Lope's life.
Lope's last great love, Amarilis, was stricken with blindness and insanity; she died in 1632. His son Lope Félix drowned off the coast of Venezuela in 1612, and his daughter, Antonia Clare, was abducted by a courtier. Lope turned more and more to religious contemplation and exercises, scourging himself so furiously that he bloodied the walls of his room. He died in Madrid on August 26, 1635, more or less a pauper. Most of his large income was devoted to charity and the church. His state funeral lasted for nine days.
Lope claimed to have written a total of 1500 plays. His productivity was phenomenal: he boasted that he had numerous times composed a piece and brought it on the stage within 24 hours. Calderon often borrowed his plots. Essentially he wrote two types of drama, of which the cloak-and-dagger plays depicted contemporary manners and intrigue, and historical plays based on national legends or stories. The themes for his works Lope chose easily, according to the taste of his audience. On several occasions he dealt with love and honour. Some of his works were based on his own chaotic love life, among them Dorothy (1632). It could be called a novel in dialogue. The author himself tells us that Dorotea is written in prose, that being a surer vehicle of truth to life than verse, when characters are speaking. "I was born into two extremes, to love and to hate; I have never had a middle way," Lope wrote; the words are adapted from a verse by the Roman writer and actor Publius Syrus.
El niño inocente de La Guardia was applauded because of its anti-Semitic theme. Lope defended in this propaganda piece the Inquisition, which regarded Judaism a major threat to the Christian world. In La hermosa Ester, based on the book of Esther, the Jews are not the evil-doers; Lope ends the play in happy celebration. El Remedio en la Desdicha and Pedro Carbonero portrayed Moors sympathetically, in accordance with popular sentiment. In Fuenteovejuna, Peribázez, and El mejor alcalde, el rey common people and the king are on the same side against a corrupt feudal nobility. Fuenteovejuna, depicting a peasant uprising, was performed with great acclaim in the 1990s.
La Dragontea (1598), a historical epic, was directed against Sir Francis Drake, the English hero who defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. Among Lope's heroic plays based on Spanish legends and chronicles were El último godo, dealing with Rodrigo, Las almenas de Toro, about El Cid, and El bastardo Mudarra, about the legend of the seven infantes of Lara. The same tale by the Italian Matteo Bandello, that inspired Castelvines y Monteses, provided Shakespeare with the plot of Romeo and Juliet, though Lope's version ends happily. Thomas Holcroft utilized El padre engañado in his Father Outwitted (1805). Various critics have denied through decades that La Estrella de Seville was written by Lope de Vega, but according to Ford Madox Ford, "from the purely literary standpoint it would seem rather obvious that the pen that wrote the picaresque scenes of the Dorotea could also have given us the – in effect romantic – episodes of the Estrella." (from The March of the Literature, 1938)
Lope's output included also pastoral romances, verse histories of recent events, verse biographies of saints, prose tales, and poems. Lope himself did not actively supervise the publication of his works until 1617 in Parte IX of his comedias. Many of his plays were printed and sold at the door of the theatre soon after the performance. Don Nicolas Antonio gave in 1684 the contents of 25 volumes of the author's plays, printed originally in Madrid between the years 1611 and 1630. A collection of Lope's non-dramatic works in verse and prose published from 1776 to 1779 filled 21 volumes; it did not sell well and the editor did not continue with the publication of the dramatic works.
Some of Lope's essential ideas were elaborated in El Arte nuevo de hacer comedias (1609), a poetical essay, which was originally published in the Rimas of Lope de Vega. The principal characters for comedia nueva were defined as violation of the Aristotelian unities (unity of action, time, and place). Lope's recommendations were expressed in a practical way: "The subject once chosen, write in prose, and divide the matter into three acts of time, seeing to it, if possible, that in each one the space of the day be not broken." Knowing what appeals to the public, he stated: "Tragedy mixed with comedy and Terence with Seneca . . . causes much delight."
For further reading: Some Account of the Lives and Writings of Lope Felix de Vega Carpio and Guillen de Castro, Vol. II by Henry Richard Lord Holland (1817); Lope de Vega: Monster of Nature by Angel Flores (1930); Life of Lope De Vega by Hugo A. Rennert (1968); Lope De Vega and Spanish Drama by Kelly Fitzmaurice (1970); Lope De Vega: El Cabaillero De Olmedo by J.W. Sage (1974); The Honor Plays of Lope De Vega by Donald R., Larson (1977); Boccaccios Novelle in the Theater of Lope De Vega by Nancy L D'Antuono (1983); Visions of the New World in the Drama of Lope De Vega by Robert M. Shannon (1989); Refiguring the Hero: From Peasant to Noble in Lope De Vega and Calderon by Dian Fox (1991); Lope De Vega: El Arte Nuevo De Hacer 'Novellas' by Carmen R. Rabell (1992); Feminism and the Honor Plays of Lope De Vega by Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano (1994); Cancionero Teatral De Lope De Vega by Jose M. Alin (1997); The Re-creation of History in the Fernando and Isabel Plays of Lope de Vega by Delys Ostlund (1997); The Beautiful Woman in the Theater of Lope De Vega: Ideology and Mythology of Female Beauty in Seventeenth-Century Spain by Marlene K. Smith (1998); A Companion to Lope de Vega by Alexander Samson and Jonathan Thacker (2008) - See also: Ariosto, Zorilla Rojas