The theatrical production is one of the most relevant genres of Spanish literature during the Golden Age, maybe because it had the biggest social projection.
Juan del Encina and Gil Vicente
The creator and father of the Spanish renaissance theater was Juan del Encina (1468-1530). While Encina was a smart poet, Gil Vicente was the most sensitive and delicate among all the dramatic poets of the Golden Age, he’s been referred to as the best European dramaturge before Shakespeare. His condition as the predecessor of auto-sacramental in Spain is unquestionable. On the other hand, his sentimental comedies deserve to be admired, especially Don Duardo and Amadís de Gaula.
Lope de Rueda
Throughout the second half of the XVI century, the Sevillian Lope de Rueda (1509-1565) shines with a light of his own; he not only was one of the most important dramaturges, but also one of the best actors and professional scenic directors in Spain. Rueda and company went all over the city staging multiple acts, performing on the dining rooms of the royal palace and even some improvised stages. Cervantes did an amazing summary of his activities in the prologue of his book Eight Comedies and Eight New Interludes. Rueda started to perform around 1540 and he’s the main cause of the professional theater’s establishment in Spain. He managed to look for new topics in the Italian contemporary drama.
The massive arrival of Italian companies to the Peninsula arose from 1575 till around 1587, which represented the triumph of the comedy of the art, the theater’s urban development, its steady commercialization in theaters and the new technical aspects of performances. During the next period, from 1587 till around 1620, the brightest moment of the theatrical courtyards and the nationalization of the companies took place. Throughout the next years, up until mid-century more complex and sophisticated techniques were developed along with the theatrical courtyard, especially during public performances, and they were used to dramatize plays leading to pure confusion or to the density and deepness of the subjects of the calderonian theater. The theater or the XVII century enjoyed a long life throughout the next century, at least for the audience, when the production of new and truly valuable plays was decaying.
Lope de Vega
Lope de Vega, was the prodigy of the Spanish theater. His long dramatic career officially started two decades before the end of the XVI century and it only finished shortly before his death in 1635. Lope wrote a surprisingly huge number of plays.
Within his pieces, there are six main characters standing out: the leading man and the lady, developing an intriguing love affair; the funny one and the maid, who usually help the first two characters; the father, or the one who keeps the honor of the family; and the powerful person, who can disturb or resolve the intrigue, whether he’s the hero or the judge. The maid is the lady’s friend, her job and condition will depend on the lady’s quality. The powerful person can go through a wide social scale, from minor aristocracy till royalty. Multiple situations, subjects and plots are created over the baseline of these six characters (multiplied by their habitat: mythological, pastoral and urban location, or even the palace) whether it’s for tragedies or comedies. Generally, the mother’s role represents a sought after, dramatic absence.
Lope projects himself into two main subjects: honor and faith. The hero, so significant in Shakespeare’s English theater, loses relevance in Vega’s theater, it stops being an individual and it becomes a social person who competes against other characters within the comedy. It’s the social aspect, as opposed to the individual, what truly distinguishes Lope’s theater, whether it’s very clear throughout the whole play like Fuenteovejuna or embodied in specific characters that represent the Spanish society from back then, like Lady Nitwit (also translated as A Lady with Little Sense).