Lope de Vega

(Lope Félix de Vega Carpió, 1562-1635)
   Spanish poet and playwright, commonly regarded as Spain's greatest dramatist, and together with his older contemporary Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, one of the authors whose work defines the Golden Age of Spanish literature. One of his disciples claimed that he had written 1,800 plays. About 314 plays are securely attributed to him, and 187 others are attributed with some plausibility. Born at Madrid, the son of a master embroiderer, Lope was a child prodigy, composing verses orally before he could write, reading Latin as well as Castilian when he was five, and writing his first play at age 12, possibly as part of his studies in a Jesuit college. At age 14 he entered the service of the bishop of Ávila and later served the Marquis of Las Navas. He studied at the University of Alcalá and during his service to Las Navas may also have studied at Salamanca.
   Lope participated in a military expedition to the Azores but in 1588 was banished from Madrid for eight years because of his libellous poems attacking one of his mistresses who had thrown him over for a rich lover. He secretly returned to Madrid and married a woman there in 1588, the same year in which he enlisted in the Spanish Armada against England. He served as secretary to several high nobles, including the duke of Alba and (from 1605) the duke of Sessa. He received a royal pardon in 1595, forgiving his unauthorized return to Madrid during his "exile."
   Lope's residence in Valencia during part of that exile introduced him to a lively theatrical world, and when he returned to Madrid he brought innovations that changed theater in that city. He rebelled against the effort of learned critics to impose the classical set of three unities on drama, writing a tract, Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este reino / New Art of Playwriting in this Kingdom (1609), which defended several practices forbidden by classical theory, such as use of comic relief and subplots in serious dramas. He reduced the number of acts from five to three, took plot material from Spanish history and legend as well as from more traditional religious and mythological sources, presented cross-dressing female characters on stage, and in general paid heed to what pleased theatergoers rather than to theorists.
   His plays are far too numerous to be enumerated here, but some of the most highly regarded may be listed: El caballero de Olmedo / The Knight from Olmedo (1620-1625) is based on a popular ballad and models one of its characters on a character in the popular prose romance La Celestina by Ferdinando de Rojas; Fuenteovejuna is based on 15th-century Castilian history; the comedy Perro de hortelano /The Dog in the Manger (1613-1615) is an ingenious work influenced by the style of classical comedy; El castigo sin venganza / Punishment Without Vengeance (1631) is based on a popular Italian novella.
   Although most famous as a dramatist, Lope was also a productive poet and prose author. He wrote several hundred sonnets, some of which appeared in anthologies with the works of other poets, some of which were published in his own collections. One of his epic poems, La Dragontea, was directed against the English privateer Francis Drake and reflects his own experience as a member of the ill-fated Armada expedition. Lope also wrote prose fiction, including a pastoral novel, La Arcadia (1598); La Filomena (1621) and La Circe (1624), two examples of mythological themes; and La Dorotea (1632), his own account of one of his many adulterous love affairs. Although in many respects he was a pious man and in 1614 was ordained a priest, he had many mistresses and begot many children out of wedlock. He did acknowledge and support his children. Despite his humble social origins, he was by far the most successful literary figure of Spain in his time.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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