(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

In his early days, Calderón, as the inheritor of the good and the bad of sixteenth-century drama, followed Lope de Vega’s formula for comedy, but with a tightening of the plot and the illumination of some of the extra threads. His cloak-and-sword plays dealt with veiled women, secret rooms, and the hoodwinking of fathers and guardian brothers by sweethearts who, like Lope’s heroines, are frequently motherless, lest fooling a mother might be regarded as disrespect for womanhood. Calderón’s servants, derived from the gracioso invented by Lope, are a combination of a shrewd rascal faithful to his master and a character added to the cast to provide humor. During his ten years of service in Spanish armies (1625-1635) Calderón sent back from Flanders and Italy about ten plays, including IT IS BETTER THAN IT WAS, an optimistic contrast to the earlier IT IS WORSE THAN IT WAS. In the celebrated letter to the Duke of Veragua, written ten months before his death and listing the 111 plays from his pen, Calderón mentioned it as among those still unpublished. There is little philosophy in this drama, aside from the shrewd wisdom and salty comments of the skeptical servant. It is a comedy of love-making among the nobility, with the outcome not definitely known until the lines spoken just before the hero puts in a good word for the author to end the play.