José Zorrilla y Moral first achieved fame and popularity with his lyric and narrative poetry, which exceeds in quantity, if not in quality, his dramatic writings. Most of these poems were inspired by the history and lore of Spain, as were his plays. They are outstanding manifestations of the poet’s creative capabilities; his vivid imagination, his facility in versification, and the musical qualities of his verses give life to old Spanish legends and traditions. Many of these same legends became the subjects of his plays.
His autobiography, while not always a reliable source of information, is an excellent example of controlled prose, free of the stylistic exaggerations to be found in much Romantic writing. The book is an excellent self-portrait of Zorrilla y Moral: the artist, totally dedicated to his craft, and the man, humble and good.
José Zorrilla y Moral achieved at an early age and maintained throughout his life a degree of popularity comparable only to that of Lope de Vega Carpio in the seventeenth century and for similar reasons. His lively and at times extravagant imagination, his awesome facility with versification, his skill in creating scenes of great dramatic effect, were all at work in the dramatization of legends and historical events and characters long dear to Spanish audiences. They were his favorite subject matter, although he succeeded in writing a tragedy following classical models, La copa de marfil (the ivory cup), that was perfect in form but somewhat cold and unappealing. He also wrote two allegorical works, Apoteosis de don Pedro Calderón de la Barca (apotheosis of Pedro Calderón de la Barca) and La oliva y el laurel (the olive and the laurel). It was in the first part of El zapatero y el rey (the cobbler and the king), however, that Zorrilla y Moral revealed his brilliance in the drama. The play deals with some incidents in the life of King Pedro I (1320-1367), known to some as “the Cruel,” to others as “the Just.” Zorrilla y Moral emphasizes the latter quality, portraying the king as defender of the people against the nobility and the clergy. He is a character of great dramatic appeal, brave, just, and far superior to his enemies.
Some critics consider El zapatero y el rey, part 1, to be Zorrilla y Moral’s best piece. It probably is not, but the reasons for its success are clear. The play shares characteristics with his best later works—namely, subject matter familiar to his audience, emphasis on some trait in a character that presents the character in a new light, a series of scenes of sure dramatic effect, and a richness and variety of versification that had and still has a spellbinding power...
Arias, Judith H. “The Devil at Heaven’s Door: Metaphysical Desire in Don Juan Tenorio.” Hispanic Review 61, no. 1 (Winter, 1993): 15. A discussion of the boundary between the real and the fictional in Don Juan Tenorio.
Cardwell, Richard A., and Ricardo Landeira, eds. José de Zorrilla: Centennial Readings. Nottingham, England: University of Nottingham, 1993. These essays honoring the one-hundred-year anniversary of Zorrilla y Moral’s death discuss his life and works. Includes bibliographical references.
Schurlknight, Donald E. Spanish Romanticism in Context: Of Subversion, Contradiction, and Politics: Espronceda, Larra, Rivas, Zorrilla. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1998. A study of the role of politics in Spanish Romanticism that examines the works of Zorrilla y Moral, José de Espronceda, Mariano José de Larra, and Angel de Saavedra (Rivas). Includes bibliography and index.
Ter Horst, Robert. “Epic Descent: The Filiations of Don Juan.” MLN 111, no. 2 (March, 1996): 255. The author compares and contrasts Zorrilla y Moral’s Don Juan Tenorio with Tirso de Molina’s El burlador de Sevilla (1630).