Spanish theater of the Renaissance begins with startling suddenness given the fact that there is an inexplicable absence of dramatic texts before the sixteenth century. Castilian literature, unlike Catalan literature, where the presence of mystery plays is well documented, offers only a few examples of dramatic works in the Middle Ages. The earliest extant work, Auto de los Reyes Magos (the play of the Magi), is a twelfth century fragment dealing with the search for Jesus by the Three Wise Men. More than three hundred years elapse before one finds another mystery play, Gómez Manrique’s Representación del nacimiento de Nuestro Señor (wr. 1467-1481; Nativity play). Curiously, the earlier play is considered to be much more advanced dramatically than the latter work.
Research into the absence of medieval plays has not resolved the issue, although it is accepted that Catholic liturgy and festivals had a considerable impact on the nature of all early plays. Of these liturgical performances, only those that celebrated the Eucharist prospered sufficiently to continue to be performed. These representations, which came to be called autos sacramentales or sacramental plays, and which were performed at the feast of Corpus Christi, did not reach full maturity until the last part of the sixteenth century. They were originally presented on carts; later, they took place in the streets of the city and retained their popular religious flavor. The...
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