Although Jacinto Benavente y Martínez is recognized almost exclusively as a playwright, he also wrote poems (Versos, 1893), short stories (Vilanos, 1905), articles on the theater (Teatro del pueblo, 1909), newspaper articles (De sobremesa, 1910-1916), lectures (Conferencias, 1924), and memoirs (Recuerdos y olvidos: Memorias, 1962). He also translated William Shakespeare’s King Lear (pr. c. 1605-1606), though the translation was never performed, and, in 1897, Molière’s Dom Juan: Ou, Le Festin de Pierre (pr. 1665; Don Juan, 1755). All his works are included in the eleven-volume Obras completas (1952-1964).
Few modern Spanish playwrights have been as prolific as Jacinto Benavente y Martínez. The vast majority of his plays have been produced in Spain, and many have been presented abroad. Few dramatists anywhere have appeared in their own plays, as he often did, and undoubtedly his recognition in the form of tributes is difficult to surpass. The first official tribute to Benavente came when he was elected to fill the vacancy left in the Spanish Royal Academy by the death of Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, a seat that Benavente never occupied because he neglected to write, and hence deliver, the necessary acceptance speech. In 1946, however, the academy made him an honorary member. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1922, elected Favorite Son of Madrid in 1924, made president of the Montepío pension fund for widows and orphans in 1929, and awarded the Mariano de Cavia Prize for the best newspaper article published in Spain during 1947. Hence, he was recognized in universal, national, municipal, and private sectors. His greatest artistic achievement was the successful transformation of the Spanish theater from the antiquated, neo-romantic, rhetorical melodrama that had carried José Echegaray y Eizaguirre to fame, fortune, and even the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1904, to contemporary social drama in which Benavente exposed and censured the middle class. His satire, wit, and imagination brought to the twentieth century a new type of drama that opened the way for other innovations. His compassion for the victims of society made him a champion of the oppressed and an early feminist. His reproach of the middle class is so gentle, however, that this class continues to flock to the theater to see itself portrayed.
Bell, Aubrey F. G. Castilian Literature. New York: Russell & Russell, 1968. Contains a concise analysis of the “Generation of ’98” which points out Benavente’s divergences and points of contact with that group.
Díaz, José A. Jacinto Benavente and His Theatre. Long Island City, N.Y.: Las Americas, 1972. Includes a bibliography and an index.
Glaze, Linda S. “Jacinto de Benavente’s Theater for Children.” Hispania 76, no. 2 (1993). Deals with a neglected area of Benavente studies.
Peñuelas, Marcelino C. Jacinto Benavente. Translated by Kay Engler. New York: Twayne, 1968. The most accessible and comprehensive reference work on Benavente in English. Contains a biography and discussion of the major plays and, rarer, a discussion of Benavente’s nondramatic works.
Sheehan, Robert Louis. Jacinto Benavente and the Spanish Panorama, 1894-1954. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Estudios de Hispanófila, 1976. An example of Benavente criticism in the latter half of the twentieth century. Contains good references and a bibliography.
Soufas, C. Christopher, Jr. “Benavente and the Spanish Discourse on Theater.” Hispanic Review 68, no. 2 (Spring, 2000): 13. A critical look at Benavente’s work, in particular The Bonds of Interest.
Starkie, Walter. Jacinto Benavente. New York: Oxford University Press, 1924. A very good study which reveals critical attitudes toward Benavente soon after he won the Nobel Prize.