(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

In his early days, Calderón imitated the complicated plots of Lope de Vega’s cloak-and-sword plays with their disguises and mistaken identities. A good example is IT IS WORSE THAN IT WAS (PEOR ESTA QUE ESTABA), first presented in 1630 and appearing in the first “Parte” of twelve plays by Calderón published in 1635. Later it was corrected and reprinted in 1682 by Calderón’s friend, Juan de Vera Tassis. Because many seventeenth-century Spanish dramatists were competing with Lope for popularity, the Jesuit-trained Calderón, to make his plays different, added an interest in philosophy and logic. His characters, as one critic has put it, make love like debaters. Lisarda, inquiring how Cesar can love her without having seen her, is answered by an exposition of how blind people can admire what they cannot see. For additional differentiation, Calderón borrowed from the Gongoristic literary practice, then popular, and provided word puzzles for his audiences, as when he refers to a diamond bribe given a servant as an “errant star,” or played with metaphors, as when Cesar speaks of the dawn “crowned with roses and carnations.” But Calderón was also a skilled poet and dramatist, even in his early days. His thoughts are clothed in word music, and his plots, in spite of their complications, are mechanically correct and exciting to follow.