Lope de Vega Carpio, “the father of Spanish theater,” is generally credited with establishing the norms for the drama of Spain’s Golden Age and is recognized as one of its most accomplished dramatists as well as its most prolific. His El arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo (1609; The New Art of Writing Plays, 1914), presented to a Madrid literary society, sets out the norms that Lope de Vega followed in writing his dramas. These norms are not entirely original with him but represent instead his synthesis of a long process of development in which many dramatists participated. It is significant, however, that once this style of theater received Lope de Vega’s endorsement, it became fixed in the Spanish canon. Thus, The New Art of Writing Plays provides a fairly accurate description of most Spanish drama from that time until the death of the last great Golden Age dramatist, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, in 1681.
The full extent of Lope de Vega’s dramatic production remains unknown and is the subject of scholarly debate. He is the undisputed author of 316 surviving full-length plays and the probable or reputed author of many more. In 1609, in The New Art of Writing Plays, he claimed to have authored 483 dramas, and, toward the end of his life, he elevated that number to 1,500. His first biographer, Juan Pérez de Montalbán, who was also a close friend, credited him with more than 1,800 dramatic works. Both sources, however, are suspect. Lope de Vega is certainly not noted for his modesty, and there is some evidence indicating that he never intended the figures he cited to be taken literally; Pérez de Montalbán’s biography is an exaggerated encomium that deliberately suppresses the various scandalous incidents in Lope de Vega’s life that would have damaged his reputation. Therefore, more cautious critics have suggested that Lope de Vega’s total dramatic production probably did not exceed 800 full-length plays.
Lope de Vega also produced a number (estimates run as high as 400, a tenth of which remain) of autos sacramentales—short, allegorical, religious dramas that were used in the Corpus Christi celebrations. His contribution to this genre, however, has been overshadowed by that of Calderón.