Francisco Martínez de la Rosa’s venture into the theater in 1812 was accompanied by the battle echoes of the French siege of Cádiz. Both the comedy Lo que puede un empleo and his patriotic tragedy La viuda de Padilla, reminiscent of the nationalistic works of the Italian playwright Vittorio Alfieri, were immediately acclaimed. Although it seems that the comedy was written as a complement to the tragedy, it was premiered earlier than La viuda de Padilla.
La viuda de Padilla
In La viuda de Padilla, a historical drama, Martínez de la Rosa sought to encourage the patriotic spirit of the people of Cádiz by presenting a story of personal courage in another siege, that of sixteenth century Toledo. The protagonist, María Pacheco, was the widow of Francisco Padilla, one of the Castilian leaders during the War of the Communities against the absolutism of Charles I. With historical perspective, as Rafael Seco points out, the play not only reflects the resistance against the French invaders but also foreshadows the troubles that lay ahead for the Liberals with the return of Ferdinand VII’s absolute rule in 1814.
La viuda de Padilla differs from neoclassical tragedy in its treatment of Spain’s past. Instead of presenting a national hero whose behavior ought to reinforce the enlightened despotism of absolute rule, Martínez de la Rosa’s tragedy is a declaration of the rights of humanity against tyranny and oppression. Historically, the play is inaccurate; the real claims of the Castilian followers of Padilla are not advanced, and in fact his widow, María Pacheco, did not remain in Toledo but actually fled to Portugal. Nevertheless, the play projects the moderate views of Martínez de la Rosa that characterize his later works and political beliefs: Violent revolutions are not the answer to the needs of the new system, and the people, the masses, are not to be entrusted with historical decisions. In the last scene, as Charles’s troops override the Toledo defenders, María Pacheco commits suicide. As she is dying, she disdains her people’s pleas for clemency from the victors. Her point of view reflects the maxim “Everything for the people, but without the people.” Martínez de la Rosa was sending the clear message that the heroes of the new bourgeois order could come only from the top of the social hierarchy.
Lo que puede un empleo
Lo que puede un empleo is the first of Martínez de la Rosa’s neoclassical comedies. Although, at the end of his life, he ventured into the cape and sword ( capa y espada) genre with El español en Venecia: O, La cabera encantada, his other comedic attempts closely follow the structural and thematic patterns that Leandro Fernández de Moratín established at the turn of the century. In Lo que puede un empleo, a typical comedy of manners, the anagnorisis, or comic discovery, is centered on a political conflict. The expulsion of the conservative usurper Melitón is linked to the intervention of the liberal Don Luis, who, as the honnête homme, is the agent of the happy ending and new social order. The deceived and corrected father, Don Fabián, recognizes the virtues of his future son-in-law, Don Luis’s son, Teodoro, despite his liberal tendencies.
La niña en casa y la madre en la máscara
In La niña en casa y la madre en la máscara, the social order is restored when the usurper, Don Teodoro, who courts both an irresponsible mother, Doña Leoncia, and her innocent daughter, Doña Inés, is unmasked. As Mariano José de Larra claimed in an 1835 critique, however, Martínez de la Rosa appears trapped within the structural patterns of the comedy; consequently, the moral discourse of Don Pedro, and thus the marriage of the pale Don Luis to Doña Inés, seems false. When Larra claimed that spectators should be able to infer the moral of the play from the action itself and not have to rely on a spokesperson, he was pointing out the historical deficiencies of the genre, too close to Moratín’s comic practice. That is the case of La boda y el duelo, a work that thematically and structurally recalls Moratín’s El sí de las niñas (wr. 1801, pr., pb. 1806; When a Girl Says Yes, 1929).
Los celos infundados
Probably the most refreshing of Martínez de la Rosa’s comedies is Los celos infundados: O, El marido en la chimenea, an intrigue comedy. A jealous older husband, Don Anselmo, is corrected through the scheming seduction of his wife’s brother, Don Eugenio, who has just arrived in Cádiz from La Habana with his cousin. The cousin assumes the identity of Don Eugenio and because Don Anselmo has never met either of them, Don Eugenio now impersonates a friend of his cousin so that he can thereby pretend to court Don Anselmo’s wife, Doña Francisca. Although the play is very amusing, Larra again found that verisimilitude was lacking. He conceded that a jealous husband whose wife remained loyal when courted by a stranger might then feel secure about his wife’s faithfulness, but he argued that, contrary to the resolution of the play, the jealous husband would not retain his equanimity after discovering that the so-called stranger was really his brother-in-law.
From the point of view of comedy, Martínez de la Rosa could hardly be called an innovator, except for his insertion of a political message in Lo que puede un empleo. Nevertheless, his plays were successfully staged throughout his career, and he showed his skill as a playwright with his incursion into the cape and sword mode and by the use of verse and prose in these plays.
While in prison, Martínez de la Rosa attempted his second tragedy with a national theme, Morayma. In contrast to the Castilian background of La viuda de Padilla, the setting of Morayma is King Boabdil’s Alhambra palace after the rebellion of the Abencerrajes in the fifteenth century. During the uprising, the Abencerrajes’s chief, Albinhamad, Morayma’s husband, has been killed. Because Boabdil may not harm his stepsister, he decides to ban the rest of the Abencerrajes, and thereby separate Morayma from her son. Alí, the chief of the Zegríes and victor over the Abencerrajes, falls in love with Morayma and tries to save her son. After being betrayed, Alí is killed while escaping with Morayma’s son. Morayma dies as a result of her painful loss, and at the end of the play, Boabdil shamelessly flees from the scene of the crime. Boabdil’s depiction in the tragedy recalls the ruthless return to power of Ferdinand VII. Morayma already uses character, thematic, and spatial motifs that would be...
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