Study Guide

Tirso de Molina

by Gabriel Téllez

Tirso de Molina Essay - de, Tirso Molina

de, Tirso Molina

Introduction

Tirso de Molina 1580?-1648

(Born Gabriel Téllez) Spanish playwright of the Golden Age.

Tirso de Molina was one of the four most famous and revered playwrights of Spain's Golden Age. De Molina was a disciple of the first, most famous, and most prolific of these dramatists, Lope de Vega. Although he is supposed to have written nearly 400 plays, not all are assuredly his writings, and today less than 90 are extant. Because de Molina's plays range from the highly comic to the tragic and because he wrote as much to serve principle as to please an audience, comparisons to Shakespeare are common. De Molina's greatest contribution to both life and letters is Don Juan, the character who first appeared in El burlador de Sevilla (1630; The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest).

Biographical Information

De Molina was born Gabriel Téllez in Madrid around 1580. His parentage is uncertain, but he was probably the illegitimate son of a duke, a status that might account for de Molina's complaints about his lack of social position, the injustice of certain social conventions, and his dislike of nobility and hierarchy. He studied at the universities of Alcalá and Guadalajara. In 1601 he joined the large and noble Mercedarian Order in which he held high office, winning prestige as a theologian and acting as the Order's chronicler. In 1613 he relocated to Toledo, becoming a friar, and later moved to Santo Domingo. In 1621 de Molina traveled to Madrid, where he wrote a great many of his plays. He gook part in the literary celebration in 1622 for San Isidro—presided over by Lope de Vega—but did not win any prizes for the poetry he submitted. In 1625 de Molina was banished from the Junta de Reformación for alleged obscenities and was transferred to a remote friary in Trujillo where he served as Prior for three years. He was told never to write further plays or poems, and it appears he mostly followed this edict since most of his plays appear to have been written from 1605–1625, the latter being the date of his reprimand. At Trujillo, he served as official chronicler of the Order. During the thirties he was in Barcelona, Madrid, and Toldedo, and was again banished to a friary in Soria, where he became its Prior from 1645–47. He is said to have written three to four hundred plays in his lifetime. He died in Almazán in 1648.

Major Works

De Molina initially depended greatly on his renowned contemporary, Lope de Vega, whose influence is evident in one of de Molina's earliest plays, Los lagos de San Vicente, (1607; The Miraculous Lakes of Saint Vincent) which closely imitates de Vega's Santa Casilda. The progression from imitation to mastery can be seen in de Molina's body of work, which came to include comedies, tragedies, historical plays, and novels. De Molina is best known for his religious plays, the most significant of which are El burlador de Sevilla and El condenado por desconfiado(1624; Damned for Despair). El burlador is attributed with introducing the theme of Don Juan into European literature. Later, this theme became famous in world literature through Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. De Molina also wrote many serious plays inspired by stories from the Old Testament, including La venganza de Tamar (1634; The Vengeance of Tamar). As a playwright of the Golden Age, de Molina had to concentrate on amusing his audience despite his serious subject matter. Don Gil de la calzas verdes (1611; Don Gil in Green Breeches), in which de Molina uses the convention of women disguised as men, and El vergonzoso en palacio (1612; The Shy Young Man at Court) are among his most spirited comedies.

Critical Reception

The traditional, yet adventurous themes and memorable characters de Molina created throughout his career undoubtedly contributed to his literary significance during and since the Golden Age. His El burlador de Sevilla is generally considered his masterpiece, although his religious play El condenado por desconfiado also is much admired. His comedies employing the comic device of women disguised as men, including Don Gil de la calzas verdes and El vergonzoso en palacio, are admired for the depth of characterization given the female characters. His historical drama, La prudencia en la mujer (1622; Prudence in a Woman), depicting the reign of Queen Maria, garnered critical praise for its insight into Spanish politics and morality. Another strong female character of de Molina is the protagonist of Marta la piadosa (1615; Pious Martha), in which a woman employs deceitful tactics to flummox the rigid patriarchal establishment in order to marry the man of her choosing. His religious plays are often thought to be imitative and less successfully accomplished than the similarly themed plays of Lope de Vega. In fact, de Molina is considered second only to de Vega as the era's most significant writer.

Principal Works

Los lagos de San Vicente [The Miraculous Lakes of Saint Vincent] 1607

El melancólico [The Melancholiac] 1610

Don Gil de la calza verdes [Don Gil in Green Breeches] 1611

El vergonzoso en palacio [The Shy Young Man at Court] 1612

Los cigarrales de Toledo [The Country Houses of Toledo] 1621

La prudencia en la mujer [Prudence in a Woman] 1622

El condenado por desconfiado [Damned for Despair] 1624

La huerta de Juan Fernandez 1626

El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra [The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest] 1630

La venganza de Tamar [The Vengeance of Tamar] 1634

Antona García 1635

Las quinas de Portugal [The Arms of Portugal] 1638

Criticism: Overviews And General Studies

Gerald E. Wade (essay date 1949)

SOURCE: “Tirso de Molina,” in Hispania, Vol. XXXII, No. 2, May, 1949, pp. 131-40.

[In the following essay, Wade discusses de Molina's life and work, focusing on how he used his genius to serve humanity.]

Tirso de Molina (born Gabriel Téllez) died in 1648. The tercentenary of his death has occasioned a rebirth of interest in him and his work. Indeed, the resurgence of Tirsian scholarship began some years ago, in Spain, England, and the United States. The appearance of Doña Blanca de los Ríos' long-awaited volume on Tirso1 was a climactic event that will have scholarly repercussion for years to come. The volume is the first of two which will contain...

(The entire section is 5866 words.)

J. C. J. Metford (essay date 1950)

SOURCE: “Tirso de Molina's Old Testament Plays,” in Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, Vol. XXVII, No. 107, July-September, 1950, pp. 149-63.

[In the following essay, Metford examines de Molina's religious background, which compelled him to write about the Old Testament, and how his knowledge of the human mind transformed his plays into works of art.]

Like most dramatists of the Golden Age, Tirso de Molina tried his hand at adapting for the stage stories from the Old Testament. Three comedias of this type, acknowledged to be his, survive, but it is conceivable that he wrote others in collaboration, or that some from his pen now pass under the name of other...

(The entire section is 6786 words.)

Gerald E. Wade (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: “Love, Comedia Style,” in Kentucky Romance Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1, 1982, pp. 47-60.

[In the following essay, Wade discusses how priests and other officials of the church wrote erotic Spanish comedies during the Golden Age in spite of the fact that moralists of the time opposed the subject.]

The “aesthetics of the folk”1 have determined not entirely but in large part the nature and content of literature. Thus when the folk affirm that all the world loves a lover, that the course of true love never runs smooth, or that love makes the world go ’round, the aphorisms, like those of similar nature, help to make understandable the inevitable...

(The entire section is 8031 words.)

Henry W. Sullivan (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: “Love, Matrimony and Desire in the Theatre of Tirso de Molina,” in Bulletin of the Comediantes, Vol. 37, No. 1, Summer, 1985, pp. 83-99.

[In the following essay, Sullivan concludes that the totality of de Molina's true views on love cannot be determined from his plays.]

Tirso studies have been historically bedevilled by a range of problems so various and intransigent that scholars have been understandably reluctant to address large aspects of his drama (such as the theme of love) with any confidence. I am referring to the almost total absence of firm dates of composition for the comedias (despite Ruth Lee Kennedy's lifelong efforts) and the...

(The entire section is 4814 words.)

Jean S. Chittenden (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: “The Monarch/Mother in the ‘Comedias’ of Tirso de Molina,” in Crítica Hispánica, Vol. 9, Nos. 1-2, 1987, pp. 39-49.

[In the following essay, Chittenden studies the development of female characters in de Molina's plays, outlining their roles and comparing them with one another.]

As critics have frequently noted, the presence of the madre in the comedia is very rare. As a matter of fact, among the 256 female characters in the 61 plays that we know to have been written by Tirso de Molina, there are only 15 madres whose role as a mother plays a significant part in the development of the drama. Reigning female monarchs are likewise...

(The entire section is 3544 words.)

David H. Darst (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: “Tirso de Molina's Idea of ‘Tragedia,’” in Bulletin of the Comediantes, Vol. 40, No. 1, Summer, 1988, pp. 41-52.

[In the following essay, Darst concludes that de Molina's use of the word tragedia is more in line with Medieval Latin tradition than Aristotelian precepts.]

Tirso de Molina's authorship of more than 80 extant dramas makes him the most prolific playwright of his time after Lope de Vega and Pedro Calderón de la Barca. Tirso's plays cover the entire spectrum of dramatic groups, which modern critics have labelled with generic names like comedias de costumbres, comedias de capa y espada, comedias de santos, comedias mitológicas,...

(The entire section is 4598 words.)

Catherine Larson (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: “New Clothes, New Roles: Disguise and the Subversion of Convention in Tirso and Sor Juana,” in Romance Languages Annual, Vol. 1, 1989, pp. 500-04.

[In the following essay, Larson considers the implications of cross-dressing in the comedies of de Molina and Sor Juana.]

In an article on role change in Calderonian drama, Susan Fischer reminds us that that the “essence of the theater is change—the theoretically temporary metamorphosis of an actor into a character he is to portray onstage” (73). What we find in any number of Golden Age plays is the literalization of that metaphor, in which characters assume other roles in addition to those assigned by the...

(The entire section is 3913 words.)

Melveena McKendrick (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: “Tirso de Molina and the Other Lopistas,” in Theatre in Spain, 1490-1700, Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 115-39.

[In the following excerpt, McKendrick overviews the plays of de Molina.]

Tirso de Molina's world, by contrast with Lope's, is a world peopled by the unusual and the extreme, even bizarre. Tirso de Molina was the pseudonym of a Mercedarian monk called Fray Gabriel Téllez (c. 1584-1648).1 The greatest of Lope's disciples, although their personal relationship was neither close nor particularly good, he was writing plays by the mid-1600s and within a few years had become one of Spain's major dramatists. He more or less...

(The entire section is 6355 words.)