Other Literary Forms
Lope de Vega Carpio, one of literature’s most prolific writers, wrote several prose works, including La Arcadia (1598), a pastoral romance; El peregrino en su patria (1604; The Pilgrim: Or, The Stranger in His Own Country, 1621), a Byzantine romance; Los pastores de Belén (1612; the shepherds of Bethlehem), a pastoral romance; Novelas a Marcia Leonarda (1621; stories for Marcia Leonarda, four short novels dedicated to his last love, Marta de Nevares); and La Dorotea (1632), a highly autobiographical novel in dialogue. Both his prose and his poetic productions, however, are overshadowed by his plays. Lope de Vega himself claimed to have written about eighteen hundred plays, probably an exaggeration, but even the most conservative estimates place the total at about eight hundred. Some of the better known are Peribáñez y el comendador de Ocaña (wr. 1609-1612, pb. 1614; Peribáñez, 1936); El villano en su rincón (wr. 1611, pb. 1617; The King and the Farmer, 1940); La dama boba (pb. 1617; The Lady Nit-Wit, 1958); El perro del hortelano (wr. 1613-1615, pb. 1618; The Gardener’s Dog, 1903); Fuenteovejuna (wr. 1611-1618, pb. 1619; The Sheep-Well, 1936); El mejor alcalde, el rey (wr. 1620-1623, pb. 1635; The King, the Greatest Alcalde, 1918); and El caballero de Olmedo (wr. 1615-1626, pb. 1641; The Knight from Olmedo, 1961). He also wrote many autos, one-act Eucharist plays composed for religious celebrations.
Lope de Vega Carpio lived during the most productive period of Spain’s literary history, known as the Golden Age, and shone as its brightest light. He cultivated every literary form—succeeding in each one of them—and quickly gained popularity. A turbulent and charismatic personality, Lope de Vega participated passionately in every aspect of social life, including several scandalous love affairs, all of which he poeticized in one form or another. Writing was so much a part of him that, as some critics have said, his life was literature. He lived for, in, and through literature and was able to afford his carefree lifestyle because of literature; his numerous compositions brought him a steady flow of money. According to his first biographer, Pérez de Montalbán, Lope de Vega composed poems before he even knew how to write, and the author himself claimed that he wrote his first play at twelve. It is known that Lope de Vega was recognized as a good poet and playwright in his early twenties because Miguel de Cervantes praises him very highly in La Galatea (1585). Lope de Vega’s first collection of lyric poetry appeared in 1602 and, with some alterations and additions was reprinted several times during his lifetime. New collections were published periodically, some of them incorporating long narrative poems which also appeared separately. In 1604, the first volume of his plays was published, and by the time of his death, twenty-two additional volumes (containing twelve dramas each) had appeared. With these plays, Lope de Vega created a new dramatic pattern which, although he felt a need to defend and justify it in The New Art of Writing Plays, was accepted and imitated by dramatists for more than a century. Lope de Vega influenced the theater to such an extent that he is considered the founder of the Spanish national drama. Because of this exuberant creativity, coupled with his outgoing personality, he was sought after to promote and to organize literary events when a celebrtion was in order. Thus, one sees him organizing poetic jousts for any event requiring celebration, from the birth of a prince to the canonization of a saint.
Lope de Vega’s literary genius was recognized by all his contemporaries, although some of them resented his immense popularity. In a fitting tribute, Cervantes called him the king of playwrights, a prodigy of nature.
Lope Félix de Vega Carpio was the third child of Félix de Vega Carpio and Francisca Fernández Flores. Both parents were from Santander and moved first to Valladolid, where their first two children were born. Félix de Vega seems to have had the same passionate traits of character that his son would later show. Infatuated with another woman, Félix de Vega abandoned his family to follow her to Madrid, but Francisca followed her husband and managed to reunite the family. Out of this reconciliation came Lope de Vega, who would later poeticize the event in “Belardo’ a Amarilis: Epístola séptima,” inserted in La filomena, as he did with every aspect of his life.
Lope de Vega was taught Latin and Castilian by Vicente Espinel, a wellknown poet and novelist, and soon was recognized as a child prodigy. After a few years at the Jesuit Imperial College—which emphasized the study of grammar and rhetoric—he entered the service of the Bishop of Ávila, Don Jerónimo Manrique. Under Manrique’s guidance, Lope de Vega studied for the priesthood at the University of Alcalá from 1577 to 1582 but abandoned his studies because of a love affair. It is possible, also, that he studied in Salamanca the next year before enlisting in the expedition to the Azores Islands. Upon returning from this expedition, Lope de Vega fell in love with Elena Osorio, thus beginning one of the most turbulent episodes of his life. Following a pattern that soon became a norm, pouring every event of his life into literature, Lope de Vega expressed his love for Elena in passionate verses that told everyone about their love affair. These poetic indiscretions jeopardized the reputation of Elena, a married woman, forcing her to end the relationship. Jealous and hurt, Lope de Vega wrote some compositions highly offensive to Elena and her family and disseminated them throughout Madrid. Elena’s family took the case to court, and Lope de Vega was imprisoned while the trial took place and was later sentenced to exile—from the court for eight years and from the kingdom for two.
The court’s sentence, not to be broken under penalty of death, did not have a marked effect on Lope de Vega, for soon after, he returned to Madrid and seduced Isabel de Urbina, a young woman from a prominent family. Trying to avoid the scandal, Isabel’s father consented to the marriage of the two, and the wedding was done by proxy. A few months later, the poet went to Lisbon to enlist with the Spanish Armada. He was one of the lucky survivors of that disastrous expedition against England, which marked the decline of Spain as a world superpower. After his return, still under banishment from Castile, Lope de Vega went to Valencia with his wife. There, he saw several of his plays staged and began to pursue seriously his career as a playwright. In 1590, when his banishment from Castile was ended, Lope de Vega went to Toledo and entered the service of the Marqués de Malpica. Later that year, he moved to Alba de Tormes in the province of Salamanca to work for the famous Duke of Alba as one of his secretaries. There, the poet spent some of the most peaceful days of his life, alternating his duties with his literary activity and going frequently to Salamanca, whose university life he portrays so well in his plays. This restful existence ended in 1594 when Isabel died in childbirth, leaving the playwright in great grief.
In 1595, Lope de Vega returned to Madrid, where he was soon involved in another scandalous love affair, this time with a wealthy widow, Antonia Trillo de Armenta. Three years later, the poet married Doña Juana de Guardo, a daughter of a butcher/fishmonger, hoping to better his financial situation with her dowry. At the same time, however, he began another affair with Micaela de Luján, the beautiful wife of actor Diego Díaz de Castro. Lope de Vega spent the next several years sharing his time with the two women, establishing separate homes and families with each.
In 1605, Toledo entrusted him with the organization of a poetic joust to celebrate the birth of Prince Philip, later King Philip IV. Lope de Vega acted as the judge of this contest, contributed verses of his own, and even introduced a “Soneto de Lucinda Serrana” (“Sonnet by Lucinda Serrana”), the pet name of the illiterate Micaela. In 1607, Lope de Vega found yet another love: Jerónima de Burgos, with whom the poet would be involved intermittently for the next ten years. Greatly disappointed, Micaela went back to Madrid and quietly disappeared from his life. Three years later, the playwright returned to the capital, where for a time he led a quiet life dedicated to his family, his writing, and his garden.
Lope de Vega’s marriage to Doña Juana marks the most productive period of his life. During that time he published most of his long poems (La Dragontea, El Isidro, La hermosura de Angélica, Jerusalén conquistada, The New Art of Writing Plays) and romances (La Arcadia, The Pilgrim, Los pastores de Belén), two large collections of rimas, and three volumes of his collected plays. It was during this period, also, that the poet became acquainted with the duke of Sessa, starting a long epistolary friendship. Doña Juana died in 1613, leaving Lope de Vega in a state of spiritual crisis which he decided to resolve by becoming a priest. His motivation in taking this step is not completely clear, for the poet continued involving himself with women even when he was preparing for his ordination. Critic Juan Luis Alborg justifies Lope de Vega’s actions by saying that he incarnated tragically both the most extreme passions and the most intense religious fervor, but one should not overlook the fact that Lope de Vega was going through financial difficulties and was possibly seeking a more comfortable situation; as a priest, it was easier to obtain some sort of permanent pension. Lope de Vega sought and obtained a chaplaincy in the Church of Saint Segundo in Ávila, with an annual income of 150 ducats.
The ecclesiastical habit did not take Lope de Vega away from women. He was involved with Lucia de Salcedo in 1616 and made a trip to Valencia simply to be with her. The poet soon ended this relationship, however, to attend exclusively to his last love, Marta de Nevares. In her, Lope de Vega found the ideal woman whom he had long been seeking. Marta was married, however, and her enraged husband, Roque Hernández, almost managed to have Lope de Vega killed. Marta began separation procedures, but Roque Hernández died in the midst of the litigation, leaving her free to live with Lope de Vega.
Marta entered Lope de Vega’s life in his late years, and she rejuvenated him. She influenced his writing tremendously, and the poet enjoyed another period of intense productivity. In a few short years, he published several volumes of his plays and of his poems, wrote new ones, and, following Marta’s encouragement, attempted new literary forms. His private life, however, might have annoyed some people, for he sought the position of royal chronicler but did not obtain it. On the other hand, his living arrangement was not an obstacle when it came to celebrating religious events, such as the 1620 and 1625 poetic contests organized by the city of Madrid to celebrate the beatification and canonization of Saint Isidro. For both occasions, Lope de Vega was in charge of the entire celebration.
The last years of the poet were full of misfortune and disaster. Marta lost her sight and her sanity, becoming extremely violent at times, until she finally died in 1632, leaving Lope de Vega in a state of deep depression. His son Lope drowned two years later while on a pearl-hunting expedition off the coast of the Island of Margarita. Finally, his beloved daughter Antonia Clara was abducted by Cristóbal Tenorio that same year, and Lope de Vega never saw her again. The playwright found himself...