Gil Vicente was born in about 1465, possibly in Guimarães, in northern Portugal, or in the western province of Beira, whose dialect he occasionally employs in his plays and which is adjacent to the area of Spain whose dialect, called sayagués, he employs in his Spanish plays. His education is a matter of conjecture, and his learning seems to have stemmed more from devotional books than from humanistic study. His knowledge of the Bible was undeniably extensive. There is even some doubt about exactly who he was, although it seems reasonably certain that Gil Vicente the playwright of the Portuguese royal court was the same person as Gil Vicente who was Queen Leanor’s goldsmith.
In June, 1502, Vicente, in the guise of a herdsman, accompanied some thirty courtiers dressed as herdsmen and bearing such rustic gifts as eggs, milk, cheese, and honey. They presented themselves in Queen Maria’s bedchamber to congratulate their sovereigns on the birth of their first-born son, later John III. Vicente in his skit related how the palace guards tried to keep his group from entering and explained how their village had sent them to verify if indeed the royal birth had taken place. The composition, written in Castilian as a compliment to the young Spanish-speaking queen, was called Monólogo do vaqueiro (the herdsman’s monologue).
Before 1502, Vicente had been in the service of the Dowager Queen Leanor; after this “new thing,” she was so pleased that she asked for a repeat performance the following Christmas, whereupon Vicente wrote another play, Auto pastoril castelhano. The dowager queen was again delighted and asked for another play for Twelfth Night. This was The Three Wise Men, and after that, no court function was complete without a dramatic production by Vicente....
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