Antonio Vallejo Buero Essay - Critical Essays

Buero, Antonio Vallejo


Antonio Buero Vallejo 1916-2000

Spanish playwright, poet, essayist, and translator.

One of Spain's leading dramatists, Buero Vallejo has contributed significantly to the revitalization of postwar Spanish theater. Eschewing the frivolous plots and comforting sentimentality of much early twentieth-century Spanish drama, Buero Vallejo wrote deeply serious, moralistic plays that frequently depicted characters consumed by despair and frustration. He is commonly regarded as a tragedian and advanced a conception of drama characterized by the redeeming presence of hope. Buero Vallejo suggested that by inviting people to confront reality without self-deception, the writer of tragedies raises issues fundamental to human existence and the improvement of society.

Biographical Information

Buero Vallejo was born in Guadalajara, Spain, in 1916 to Francisco Buero, a military engineer, and Cruz Vallejo. From 1934 to 1936 he studied painting at the San Fernando School of Fine Arts in Madrid. Buero Vallejo was a medical assistant in the Loyalist army during the Spanish Civil War; for his involvement in the war he was imprisoned for six years by the regime of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. When he was released from prison in 1949, Buero Vallejo introduced his play Historia de una escalera, which presents a brutal picture of postwar Spain. The play won the Premio Lope de Vega prize and gained Buero Vallejo a position of prominence in Spanish drama. Many artists chose to flee the repressive censorship of Franco's government, but Buero Vallejo decided to stay and vent his frustrations in thinly veiled metaphorical and symbolic dramas criticizing government policies. In 1972 he was elected to the Real Academia Española. He was awarded both the Medalla de Oro al Merite en las Bellas Artes and the Medalla de Oro de la Sociedad General de Autores de España in 1994. He died on April 29, 2000, in Madrid, Spain.

Major Works

In his plays, Buero Vallejo presents many of the problems of Francoist and post-Francoist Spain, but the dramas always suggest the hope that problems can be overcome. Buero Vallejo uses a series of author surrogates to infuse his political ideology into his work. He commonly creates sensory experiences through music, art, and set design, termed “immersion effects” by critics, to cause the audience to feel the same sensations as the protagonist and thereby identify more closely with him. In En la ardiente oscuridad (1950; In The Burning Darkness) Buero Vallejo uses the mental and physical impairment of his protagonist to symbolize the condition of Spanish society. The play is about a conflict between two students at a blind school, one of whom refuses to accept his blindness. One of Buero Vallejo's stage effects in this play is the darkening of the theater to simulate for the audience the experience of blindness. The play is seen as a metaphor for the Spanish people's passive acceptance of totalitarian rule. La doble historia del doctor Valmy (1968) covers the themes of torture, guilt, cowardice, isolation, and loss of communication. While the drama is an indictment of police torture, it unfolds from the point of view of a security police officer in the fictional nation of Surelia. El sueño de la razón (1970; The Sleep of Reason) is based upon Spanish artist Francisco de Goya's resistance to the tyranny of King Ferdinand VII. To dramatize Goya's deafness, Buero Vallejo's characters engage in incoherent dialogue and use sign language or notes to communicate with the protagonist. He projects Goya's infamous Black Paintings at the rear of the stage to reflect the cruelty and terror Goya experienced at this time. In La fundación (1974; The Foundation), Buero Vallejo's first drama about life in Spain as the Francoist regime is ending, he proposes that to achieve true freedom one must pass through a series of prisons, and that each small step toward freedom is important. In this work he employs an immersion effect that causes the audience to share the main character's hallucinations. Jueces en la noche (1979; Judges in the Night), Caimán (1981), and Diálogo secreto (1984) all delve into the problems of building a democracy after years of authoritarian rule.

Critical Reception

Reviewers note Buero Vallejo's innovative dramatic techniques, including his use of immersion effects to fully involve the audience's senses and create a psychological bond with the protagonist. Some reviewers complain that, later in Buero Vallejo's career, his symbolism and imagery became overwhelming and too disparate. A few commentators, however, hold that his imagery is well-researched and demonstrates a calculated use of certain songs and artwork. Critical discussion of Buero Vallejo's work often centers on his relationship with censorship in Francoist Spain rather than his dramatic technique. Some critics disagree with his decision to continue to write under the restraints of censorship, but many praise what they consider his courageous attempt to voice his criticism of the political and social climate. In retrospect, many reviewers are surprised that Buero Vallejo was able to slip as much past the censors as he did. Many commentators praise Buero Vallejo for his insistence on facing the reality of political and social tragedies that many prefer to ignore. Reviewers generally agree that the overwhelming concern of Buero Vallejo's work is to inspire action to fight against political and social ills.

Principal Works

Historia de una escalera 1949

Las palabras en la arena 1949

En la ardiente oscuridad [In the Burning Darkness] 1950

La señal que se espera 1952

La tejedora de sueños [The Dreamweaver] 1952

Casi un cuento de hadas: Una glosa de Perrault 1953

Madrugada 1953

Aventura en lo gris 1954

Irene o el tesoro 1954

El terror inmovil: Fragmentos de una tragedia irrepresentable 1954

Hoy es fiesta 1956

Las cartas boca abajo 1957

Un soñador para un pueblo [A Dreamer for the People] 1958

Teatro. 2 vols. 1959-1962

Las meninas: Fantasia velazquena en dos partes [Las meninas: A Fantasy] 1960

El concierto de San Ovidio [The Concert of Saint Ovide] 1962

Buero Vallejo: Antologia teatral 1966

Teatro selecto 1966

El tragaluz [The Basement Window] 1967

La doble historia del doctor Valmy 1968

El sueño de la razón [The Sleep of Reason] 1970

Llegada de los dioses 1971

La fundación [The Foundation] 1974

La detonación [The Shot] 1977

Jueces en la noche [Judges in the Night] 1979

Caimán 1981

Diálogo secreto 1984

Lázaro en la laberinto [Lazarus in the Labyrinth] 1986

Música cerana [The Music Window] 1989

Obra completa. 2 vols. 1994

Las trampas del azar 1994

Criticism: General Commentary

Robert E. Lott (essay date autumn 1965)

SOURCE: Lott, Robert E. “Scandinavian Reminiscences in Antonio Buero Vallejo's Theater.” Romance Notes VII, no. 1 (autumn 1965): 113-16.

[In the following essay, Lott finds similarities between Buero Vallejo's and Henrik Ibsen's treatment of family tension and bickering in their work.]

When Antonio Buero Vallejo's Las cartas boca abajo was first performed in Madrid in 1957, Felipe Bernardos correctly pointed out that the most obvious precedent for the role of Anita, the supposedly mute sister of Adela, was Miss Y (Amelie) of Strindberg's The Stronger.1 Both Miss Y and Anita are silent throughout, relying solely on action and gesture, and at...

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Robert E. Lott (essay date summer 1966)

SOURCE: Lott, Robert E. “Functional Flexibility and Ambiguity in Buero Vallejo's Plays.” Symposium XX, no. 2 (summer 1966): 150-62.

[In the following essay, Lott defines Buero Vallejo's term “functional flexibility” in relation to his work and attempts to classify the playwright's dramatic oeuvre.]

Antonio Buero Vallejo has rightly decried attempts to classify his plays according to the direct and realistic method represented by Historia de una escalera and, presumably, Hoy es fiesta, or the speculative, symbolic, or imaginative manner of most of his other works.1 He says that En la ardiente oscuridad is different from both...

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Robert L. Nicholas (essay date April 1969)

SOURCE: Nicholas, Robert L. “The History Plays: Buero Vallejo's Experiment in Dramatic Expression.” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos II, no. 1 (April 1969): 281-93.

[In the following essay, Nicholas considers the intrinsic artistic merit of Un soñador para un pueblo and Las Meninas, asserting that Buero Vallejo was “attempting to approximate, in the plays' structures, the spirit of the historical moment depicted in each play.”]

Un soñador para un pueblo (1958) and Las Meninas (1960) constitute something of a digression in the career of Antonio Buero Vallejo. They are preceded by ten years of largely realistic playwriting and...

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William Giuliano (essay date May 1970)

SOURCE: Giuliano, William. “The Role of Man and of Woman in Buero Vallejo's Plays.” Hispanofila 39 (May 1970): 21-8.

[In the following essay, Giuliano discusses how Buero Vallejo's male and female characters exemplify the underlying thematic concerns of his plays.]

The underlying theme of Buero Vallejo's plays is unquestionably man's efforts to realize his full capacities against the internal and external forces that restrain him. These efforts are directed toward the search for truth, the essence of reality, the creation of social justice, the attempt to establish personal, political, and artistic freedom, and other aspects of the human condition.1 Hope...

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Kenneth Brown (essay date May 1974)

SOURCE: Brown, Kenneth. “The Significance of Insanity in Four Plays by Antonio Buero Vallejo.” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos VIII, no. 2 (May 1974): 247-60.

[In the following essay, Brown explores the function of mentally ill characters in four of Buero Vallejo's plays.]

Eloy, in Mito; Goya, in El sueño de la razón; Irene, in Irene o el tesoro; and the Father, in El tragaluz are all characterized as mentally unsound. In Mito, Eloy is “El pobre [que] sueña en fantasmas.”1 He readily admits to being in contact with Martians in flying saucers, and these so-called hallucinations earn for him the title of...

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William Giuliano (essay date June 1977)

SOURCE: Giuliano, William. “The Defense of Buero Vallejo.” Modern Drama XX, no. 2 (June 1977): 223-33.

[In the following essay, Giuliano traces the critical reaction to Buero Vallejo's career and attempts to revive the dramatist's reputation.]

Today's heroes are sometimes tomorrow's villains, and unfortunately, to a limited extent, that is the unhappy lot of Antonio Buero Vallejo,1 whose play Historia de una escalera (Story of a Staircase) in 1949 injected new life into the stagnant Spanish theater and inspired many young dramatists to write serious plays, directly or indirectly criticizing the political, social, and economic policies of...

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Ida Molina (essay date May 1978)

SOURCE: Molina, Ida. “Truth and Compassion: Aventura en lo gris and La maison de la nuit.Revista de Estudios Hispánicos XII, no. 2 (May 1978): 217-25.

[In the following essay, Molina compares the relationship of truth and compassion in Aventura en lo gris and Thierry Maulnier's La maison de la nuit.]

The central theme of both Buero Vallejo's Aventura en lo gris and Thierry Maulnier's La maison de la nuit deals with the question of the relative value of truth.1 Of the many possible aspects of this theme, the authors concentrate on the general relationship between truth and compassion. A fanatical pursuit of truth at...

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John A. Moore (essay date fall 1980)

SOURCE: Moore, John A. “Buero Vallejo—Good Mistresses and Bad Wives.” Romance Notes XXI, no. 1 (fall 1980): 10-15.

[In the following essay, Moore examines the portrayal of mistresses and wives in several Buero Vallejo plays.]

Anyone acquainted with Antonio Buero Vallejo as man or dramatist knows that he is a highly moral writer, but a peculiar turn of circumstances has caused him to write a series of plays with mistresses who uphold standards of conduct which command respect or sympathy from the audience while other plays picture wives who are presented as shallow selfish women. In this article I would like to develop this anomaly and seek a plausible...

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Peter L. Podol (essay date March 1981)

SOURCE: Podol, Peter L. “Reality Perception and Stage Setting in Griselda Gámbaro's Las paredes and Antonio Buero Vallejo's La fundación.Modern Drama XXIV, no. 1 (March 1981): 44-53.

[In the following essay, Podol considers the relationship between the stage settings and the portrayal of reality in La fundación and Griselda Gámbaro's Las paredes.]

In his introduction to the book Encounter with Reality, John Horrocks makes the following observation: “To a large degree, man can control reality—even as he can create, he can destroy, and sometimes he is defenseless, and reality can be imposed upon him. But of all man's activities,...

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Elizabeth S. Rogers (essay date September 1983)

SOURCE: Rogers, Elizabeth S. “Role Constraints versus Self-Identity in La tejedora de sueños and Anillos para una dama.Modern Drama XXVI, no. 3 (September 1983): 310-19.

[In the following essay, Rogers finds parallels between the female protagonists of La tejedora de sueños and Antonio Gala's Anillos para una dama, asserting that both women “experience the dual conflict of coping with both the external demands of their roles and the personal needs for self-identity, freedom, and self-fulfillment as human beings and as women.”]

“I was attracted to Penelope as an image because I had always believed her situation as the wife of...

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John P. Gabriel (essay date April 1994)

SOURCE: Gabriel, John P. “Projections of the Unconscious Self in Buero's Theatre: El Concierto de San Ovidio, La Fundación, Dialogo Secreto.Neophilologus LXXVIII, no. 2 (April 1994): 351-61.

[In the following essay, Gabriel investigates psychological aspects of El concierto de San Ovidio, La Fundación, and Diálogo secreto and explores the implication of these elements for Buero Vallejo's work.]

In their symbolic journey from darkness to light, the protagonists of Antonio Buero Vallejo's theatre take part in a dynamic evolution of self that underscores their unyielding desire to rebel against and overcome limitations thrust upon them by...

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Criticism: En La Ardiente Oscuridad (In The Burning Darkness)

SOURCE: Anderson, Reed. “Tragic Conflict and Progressive Synthesis in Buero Vallejo's En la ardiente oscuridad.Symposium XXIX, nos. 1-2 (spring-summer 1975): 1-12.

[In the following essay, Anderson considers Buero Vallejo's ideas about tragedy and applies them to En la ardiente oscuridad.]

En la ardiente oscuridad first reached the stage in 1950, though it was written in 1946, a year before the prize-winning Historia de una escalera which had launched Buero Vallejo's career as a dramatist.1En la ardiente oscuridad is a tragedy in the purest sense, and its treatment of conflict is uncompromising. The dramatic action moves...

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Criticism: El Concierto De San Ovidio (The Concert Of Saint Ovide)

SOURCE: Pennington, Eric. “The Role of Music in El concierto de San Ovidio.Romance Notes XXVI, no. 1 (fall 1985): 18-21.

[In the following essay, Pennington investigates the significance of music in El concierto de San Ovidio.]

As El concierto de San Ovidio concludes, an actor playing the role of Valentín Haüy appears before the audience and relates the historical veracity of the events dramatized in the play. He mentions how the degrading spectacle of blind musicians being ridiculed for profit spurred him in his life's work to better the fate of the blind,1 but as he comtemplates the death of the blind violinist David (the protagonist...

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Criticism: El Tragaluz (The Basement Window)

Frank P. Casa (essay date April 1969)

SOURCE: Casa, Frank P. “The Problem of National Reconciliation in Buero Vallejo's El Tragaluz.Revista Hispánica Moderna XXXV, no. 3 (April 1969): 285-94.

[In the following essay, Casa analyzes the sociopolitical significance of El tragaluz, contending that it was the first Spanish play to explore the moral consequences of the Spanish Civil War.]

Buero Vallejo's El tragaluz is one of the most important works of Spanish post-war literature. That its importance is due to political-cultural circumstances rather than to its literary merit does not, in any way, diminish the significance of the play.1 The peculiar distinction of the...

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John W. Kronik (essay date spring 1973)

SOURCE: Kronik, John W. “Buero Vallejo's El Tragaluz and Man's Existence in History.” Hispanic Review 41 (spring 1973): 371-96.

[In the following essay, Kronik provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of El tragaluz and views the play as the culmination of Buero Vallejo's dramatic work.]

In El tragaluz, Buero Vallejo addresses himself to a problem of existence that pervades his entire dramatic output of the past twenty years: the interrelationship between man and his circumstance, between his inner and outer realities. The play, which began a highly successful run in Madrid on October 7, 1967, is neither a novelty nor a departure in Buero's...

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Ronald J. Friis (essay date winter 1993)

SOURCE: Friis, Ronald J. “‘Hoy ya no cameos en aquellos errores’: Mimetic Violence and Transcendence in Buero Vallejo's El Tragaluz.Romance Notes XXXIV, no. 2 (winter 1993): 203-10.

[In the following essay, Friis offers a stylistic and thematic analysis of El Tragaluz, focusing on Buero Vallejo's use of mimesis in the play.]

The Platonic conception of mimesis as the depiction of reality has received a new interpretation in the writings of René Girard. For Girard, imitation and similarity are the keys to understanding many of the puzzles of human nature, especially desire and violence. Antonio Buero Vallejo's El tragaluz (1967) features a...

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F. Komla Aggor (essay date spring 1994)

SOURCE: Aggor, F. Komla. “Derealizing the Present: Evasion and Madness in El tragaluz.Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos XVIII, no. 2 (spring 1994): 141-50.

[In the following essay, Aggor provides a psychoanalytic interpretation of El Tragaluz.]

Michel Foucault, in Maladie mentale et psychologie, makes an important, contribution to the understanding of mental illness by illuminating some inner dynamics which were previously overlooked. According to Foucault, mental illness is much more than regression (when the patient attempts to relive the past through fantasies) because, if this were the case, madness would be an innate tendency in each...

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Criticism: La Doble Historia Del Doctor Valmy

SOURCE: Pennington, Eric. “La doble historia del Doctor Valmy: A View from the Feminine.” Symposium XL, no. 2 (summer 1986): 131-39.

[In the following essay, Pennington provides an interpretation of La doble historia del Doctor Valmy from a feminist perspective, perceiving the play as a scathing indictment of a repressive patriarchy.]

Antonio Buero Vallejo's La doble historia del doctor Valmy (1964) brings to the stage the difficult issue of political torture. Daniel Barnes, the protagonist, works as a member of a security police force in the fictional country Surelia, and as part of his profession regularly utilizes physical torture as a means...

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Criticism: El SueñO De La RazóN (The Sleep Of Reason)

SOURCE: Herzberger, David K. “The Painterly Vision of Buero Vallejo's El sueño de la razón.Symposium XXXIX, no. 2 (summer 1985): 93-103.

[In the following essay, Herzberger maintains that the artistic metaphor in El sueño de la razón is the key to fully understanding the structural and thematic unity of the play.]

Francisco de Goya first appears in El sueño de la razón in the second scene of Act One, a scene repeated early in Act Two: the artist at work, painting. It is not a fortuitous configuration of events that advances this view of the protagonist near the beginning of each act. For painting (and the nature of art) inheres in the...

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Criticism: La FundacióN (The Foundation)

SOURCE: Holden, Stephen. “Foundation: A Spaniard's Political Metaphor.” New York Times (29 December 1989): C6.

[In the following review, Holden provides a mixed assessment of the 1989 New York City production of The Foundation.]

In the opening scene of Antonio Buero-Vallejo's play The Foundation, Thomas (Thomas Nahrwold), an aspiring young novelist, paces before the picture window in the lounge of what appears to be a luxurious Alpine spa and exults in the ecstatic music of Rossini wafting through the room he occupies with five other men.

It is Thomas's fantasy that they are all guests of a cultural foundation at an intellectual...

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Criticism: Jueces En La Noche (Judges In The Night)

SOURCE: Macklin, J. J. “Tragedy and Politics in Jueces en la noche.Neophilologus LXXVII, no. 4 (October 1993): 587-600.

[In the following essay, Macklin considers the political nature of Jueces en la noche, contending that “the play's exploration of problems confronting the collectivity is firmly rooted in the portrayal of the individual and his tragic dilemma.”]

Jueces en la noche (1979)1 may not be one of Buero Vallejo's best plays, but it is the one which most directly engages with the issues of the day, namely, the political dangers besetting the Spanish state in the immediate post-Franco era.2 On one level,...

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Further Reading


Dowling, John. “Buero Vallejo's Interpretation of Goya's ‘Black Paintings.’” Hispania 56, no. 2 (May 1973): 449-57.

Investigates Buero Vallejo's insights on Goya's “black paintings” in El sueño de la razón.

Geldrich-Leffman, Hanna. “Vision and Blindness in Dürrenmatt, Buero Vallejo and Lenz.” MLN 97, no. 3 (April 1982): 671-93.

Examines the role of blindness in the works of Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Siegfried Lenz, and Buero Vallejo.

Halsey, Martha T. “Buero's Mito: A Contemporary Vision of Don Quijote.” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos VI, no. 2 (May...

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