Critical Evaluation

The Mayor of Zalamea is Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s reworking of a play by his illustrious predecessor, Lope de Vega Carpio. Calderón, who was himself a soldier, delineates in this play the military life of seventeenth century Spain. He also portrays with sympathy the proud and independent farmer of the provinces. In the tradition of Spanish theater, the play blends comedy and tragedy; the jokes and song at the beginning of the play yield to the terrible crime and punishment at the end. A point of comparison is William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (pr. c. 1595-1596, pb. 1597), which, one may argue, begins as a comedy and ends as a tragedy. The Mayor of Zalamea has achieved a place in the first rank of the world’s dramatic masterpieces.

The play displays a perfect harmony and unity of thought and style. The work, generally assigned to the category of costumbristic drama—that is, drama based partly on history or popular tradition—has become, however, one of Calderón’s most popular plays. The theme of The Mayor of Zalamea is honor, particularly in the first two acts where it is sharply contrasted with dishonor, as personified in the deeds of Captain Alvaro. The principal cause of the conflicts that drive the plot is the lodging of troops in a house where there is an unmarried woman, Isabel, and the captain’s curiosity concerning a beauty he is forbidden to see. The effects of these situations are predictable, and the resultant action is fast moving, with an abduction, a rape, a garroting, and a jurisdictional battle that is resolved by the king. The incidents are structured on a ladder arrangement in that each one develops from the preceding one both logically and psychologically, which escalates into a tide of mounting tension by the end of each act. The play is perfectly constructed.

The conflict is depicted on two levels, exterior and interior. Each level involves a question of jurisdiction. The exterior conflict revolves around the clash between Crespo and Lope over the question of whether the king’s justice is to be administered by the military or the civilian authorities. The external conflicts are set forth as debates or arguments and encompass the theme of honor. It may be difficult for the reader to comprehend the importance that honor had in Spain in the seventeenth century. One may find it simply...

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