Manuel Tamayo y Baus Essay - Critical Essays


Another hard experience for Manuel Tamayo y Baus, one that followed more immediately on his marriage than the death of his mother, was the failure of El cinco de agosto in December of 1849. Composed by Tamayo y Baus in an exaggerated Romantic style, gloomy and lugubrious, it was in fact his first attempt at an original drama worked out entirely on his own. Its reception was sufficiently negative to compel the writer to retreat, to fall back once again to the protective aura of Schiller . Thus, his Angela, based on the German playwright’s Kabale und Liebe (pr., pb. 1784; Cabal and Love, 1795), was another adaptation. Nevertheless, a considerable portion of the creative invention demonstrated in the play came directly from Tamayo y Baus.

During the period 1848 to 1852, Tamayo y Baus readily accepted several collaborations. He produced, writing in this manner, a number of minor works, some original in their themes and some in the form of arrangements. A brief listing of these collaborations with other playwrights could be presented as follows: With Luis Fernández-Guerra y Orbe and Manuel Cañete, he wrote Un juramento, 1848; with Miguel Ruiz y Torrent, Un marido duplicado, 1849; with Victorino Tamay y Baus, Tran-Tran, 1850; with Benito de Llanza y Esquibel, Centellas y Moncada, 1850; with Cañete, once more, two loas in 1852, El don del cielo and La esperanza de la patria; and again with Fernández-Guerra y Orbe and Cañete, El peluquero de su alteza, 1852. The itemizing of these minor works is worthwhile, for it throws light on just how much, even in this early stage of his career, Tamayo y Baus’s name was kept before the public. This occurred not only in Madrid, where almost all these plays were produced and published, but elsewhere, too, for Centellas y Moncada was a work first performed in Barcelona. Moreover, some of the entries in the list reflect indirectly the intimate personal relationships that existed not only between the two Manuels, Tamayo y Baus and Cañete, but also between them and Aureliano and Luis, the brothers Fernández-Guerra y Orbe. Theirs were enduring bonds of friendship, going back to a former part of Tamayo y Baus’s lifetime, his years of residence in Granada.

Una apuesta and Huyendo del perejil

Two pieces by the dramatic poet also belonging to the initial period of his production were delightful, entertaining one-act plays: Una apuesta, of 1851, and Huyendo del perejil, dated 1853. Una apuesta was another arrangement, derived from a French work that dates back to 1768, La Gageure imprévue. Both of the one-act plays were popular with the public because by this time Tamayo y Baus had thoroughly mastered uncomplicated plot lines and clever dialogue. He himself discounted these shorter works as mere trifles, yet these short plays have a certain sprightliness that maintains the freshness of their appeal. Thus, in 1930, Cony Sturgis and Juanita Robinson published in New York a classroom edition of precisely these two plays. The reader is indebted to them for an explanation of the odd title Huyendo del perejil, which means literally in English “fleeing from the parsley.” This puzzling phraseology, the coeditors make clear, is the first half of the Spanish saying “huyendo del perejil, le nació en la frente,” which can be translated to English as, “fleeing from the parsley, it sprouted on his brow.” This curious and seemingly unintelligible proverb is the Spanish equivalent of “out of the frying pan into the fire.” In the play, a nobleman, fearful that his son is being pursued by a seductress interested only in his money, blindly sets out to prevent their projected marriage. Without realizing who she is, the Marquis meets the young lady in question and falls deeply in love with her himself. When her true identity is finally revealed to him, the outwitted father, now well aware of her beauty, intelligence, and other admirable qualities, abashedly relents.

It is somewhat astonishing that in the very same year, 1853, that Tamayo y Baus authored such a lighthearted and amusing work, he would also compose and present to his public so deeply pondered and erudite a play as his tragedy Virginia. The contrast between the two compositions is a measure of his extraordinary aesthetic breadth.

La Ricahembra

The following year, 1854, Tamayo y Baus and Aureliano Fernández-Guerra y Orbe collaborated on La Ricahembra. Written in verse, this was a historical drama stylistically reminiscent of the theater of the Golden Age. Tamayo y Baus, still interested in probing the hearts of determined women, paints in La Ricahembra the proud figure of Doña de Mendoza, who, finding herself a rich and powerful widow, rejects a multitude of suitors. She believes her noble lineage is superior to theirs. Finally, a gentleman who seeks to enter into courtship is so incensed by her hauteur that he slaps her face in pure frustration. Her pride now dictates that she must marry him, lest it be bandied about that any man other than her husband has ever dared to strike her.

La bola de nieve

Both in La locura de amor, of 1855, and in La bola de nieve, of 1856, jealousy is once again the central theme. In the latter play, the fierce and self-destructive fault is completely groundless, affecting two principal characters instead of one, a brother and a sister. Their overactive minds suspect that the respective objects of their love have been dallying with others. Their imagination on this score grows ever wilder—indeed, it snowballs, as is suggested by the title of the play. Estranged at last from Luis and Clara, the guiltless pair to whom the siblings were previously betrothed, María and Fernando now become attracted to each other.

After the composition of La bola de nieve, Tamayo turned away from verse, probably sensing that prose was preferable for the realistic dramas on contemporary themes to which he now wished to dedicate his art. It was only with some reluctance that Spanish dramatists of the century were forsaking the use of versification; Adelardo López de Ayala y Herrera, for example, who ably shared the limelight with Tamayo y Baus in the production of modern thesis plays, used metrics in Consuelo as late as 1878. Tamayo y Baus, however, who had had great success using prose in La locura de amor, must have felt quite comfortable employing it.

Hija y madre

At this time, he began to write a series of dramas with contemporary settings. These were his thesis plays, works that normally contained a strong moral and religious message, one that reflected the firm Catholic piety of the author and his equally staunch conservative ideology. Hija y madre, of 1855, was one such play, and its fundamental lesson in morality dealt with filial obligations and respect.

Lo positivo

Lo positivo of 1862, Lances de honor of 1863, and Los hombres de bien of 1870 are three more of the social dramas typical of his later work. The first was inspired by a French piece, Léon Laya’s Le Duc Job. Tamayo y Baus greatly simplified the original, reducing what had been its eleven characters to merely four. Like Ayala y Herrera’s Consuelo, Lo positivo was an attack on loveless marriage; it condemned the idea of entering into wedlock for the sake of mere convenience and for materialistic gain. This play, like many of Tamayo y Baus’s later works oriented toward morality, ends on a happy note. The protagonist, Cecilia, torn between opposing sentiments of love and interest, finally decides in favor of the poor but good man and rejects the unscrupulous millionaire. Cleverly adapted, Lo positivo was favorably received.

Lances de honor

The institution of dueling would be denounced in Lances de honor. Tamayo y Baus privately considered such mortal combat an act too savage to be allowed in any civilized society. The principal character of the play, Don Fabián García, is a memorable one, ranking among the most powerful of the masculine roles created by Tamayo y Baus. A noble-minded figure, he has been challenged to a duel. Though constantly provoked and publicly shamed by his implacable adversary, who is completely in the wrong, Don Fabián’s deep religious convictions will not let him participate in acts of bloodshed. His son Miguel becomes dismayed by the ignominious treatment his father now receives from those who judge him to be a coward. The relentless challenger, a politician named Don Pedro, even slaps Don Fabián. At this point, the sons of the two rivals decide to carry out the duel themselves. Miguel is wounded unto death. Don Pedro, now cognizant of his egotism and of the enormity of his guilt, kneels in repentance before God.

Les hombres de bien...

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