Critical Evaluation

Ignez de Castro (also known as Inês de Castro) has the distinction of being the first tragedy written in Portuguese modeled on the works of classical dramatists. In composing the play, António Ferreira consciously set out to adapt materials from the history of his homeland to the rigid formulas of Greek and Roman drama. His contemporaries would have been quite familiar with the story of the star-crossed lovers Ignez and Pedro, since their tale was the subject of earlier literary works; however, the form of the drama used by the playwright was one not seen before on the Portuguese stage. While a university student, Ferreira became captivated by the theories of literature emerging from Italy; the work of writers such as Giraldi Cinthio influenced his concept of the drama. Numerous critics have concentrated on his borrowings from the Greek stage, frequently to the exclusion of any discussion of the playwright’s originality in producing a drama that transcends its models and presents a fresh look at the central moral and political issues that Ferreira discovered in the story of Pedro and his mistress. No mere slave to his classical models, Ferreira worked hard to use his native history and his vernacular language within the classical models he adopted. While the result is not wholly successful, his accomplishments are nevertheless noteworthy.

The central conflict in the drama is a familiar one: personal passion versus duty to society. The dilemma faced by Pedro and his father is not a simple one, however. The prince is deeply in love with Ignez, and it is clear that, before the action of the play begins, he obeys his father’s wishes regarding the question of succession to the throne by taking a wife acceptable to the king and to the nobility. Her death frees him once again to pursue a union with the woman he has loved for years. Having fathered a legitimate son to inherit the throne when he dies, Pedro believes he should be free to marry Ignez, the mother of his four illegitimate children. The king sees the situation differently, of course. The possibility exists that the children of Pedro and Ignez (some of whom are older than Pedro’s legitimate son) might lay claim to the throne, casting the country into a bloody civil conflict. Hence, the king must make his difficult choice. The choice and the bloody results that follow it are common to classical drama.

Ferreira makes good use of the classical format and of a...

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