(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The numerous plays written by Agustín Moreto y Cabaña alone or in collaboration with other writers cover a wide variety of subjects, both religious and secular. He wrote many different types of plays, some totally original and some clearly taken from identifiable sources. Among his works are found some of the best plays of his time, some of the best, in fact, in all of Spanish drama. Although long having been praised for his skill in developing and presenting his themes and characters, Moreto has also been condemned for his lack of originality.

Although Moreto wrote five religious plays by himself and collaborated in the writing of nine more, none of his really outstanding works is among them. Although not all modern critics share her views, Kennedy is quite negative in her appraisal of this category of his drama: “In his secular theatre Moreto was, as we shall see, ahead of his time. In the religious comedia he is entirely of his own day. Moreover, if put in comparison with other dramatists of his time, he cannot, in this genre, be said to rise above the level of mediocrity.”

San Franco de Sena

An example of Moreto’s religious drama, San Franco de Sena, was first published in 1652. Casa notes that its publication took place one year after the establishment of the cult of that saint in Madrid and was probably written as part of the celebration in honor of San Franco. The critics’ comments on its artistic value range from very negative to extremely laudatory. Kennedy says, for example, in reference to Moreto’s writing of religious drama in general: “His works show clearly that he had not that appreciation of the mystical, that understanding of the sublime, nor that comprehension of the tragic depths of life which enabled his great contemporary [Calderón] to transform pictures of the commonplace into scenes of moving beauty and grandeur.” Angel Valbuena Prat, on the other hand, considers San Franco de Sena to represent the most profound aspect of Moreto’s dramatic genius. Perhaps Casa represents a more measured and realistic judgment in his assessment of this particular work: “While [Moreto] does not deal with a complex theological problem, as does Tirso in El condenado por desconfiado, he treats with artistry and profound feeling the theme of contrition and forgiveness.”

San Franco de Sena deals with Franco’s sinful life and his later repentance and conversion to a life as a pilgrim and ascetic. The play illustrates the concept that “the greatest sinners make the greatest saints.” In the first act, he is a shameless criminal and sinner. Among other things, he duels with and kills Aurelio, Lucrecia’s suitor. The latter, mistaking him for Aurelio, leaves with Franco and is dishonored by him. She, in fact, becomes as much a sinner and outlaw as he, for a time leading her own band of bandits.

Having introduced his main characters in the first act, the author continues to demonstrate their evil nature in the second, which deals in large part with Franco’s attempts to rescue his sick father from the local police. On his way to the city to do so, he is confronted by an example of divine intervention, not at all unusual in Golden Age theater. As he passes the home of the slain Aurelio, Franco sees a cross marking the spot where Aurelio died. As he stops to extinguish the light on the cross, because the memorial bothers him, he hears a voice warning him to desist. He persists anyway and an arm miraculously appears and stops him. He is startled by the occurrence but in no way dissuaded from his sinful life. As he passes the same spot with his father, having killed his father’s guards, he again hears a voice. This time the voice tells him to go and gamble, that in losing he will win.

He does in fact soon engage in a card game with other criminals. After he loses all of his possessions, he offers to bet his sight, a sacrilege that astonishes even his fellow gamblers. He is stricken blind and at once realizes the enormity of his sins and begins to repent. The balance of the play deals with Franco’s contrition and penitence, as well as with Lucrecia’s repentance. She, having been constrained by a Guardian Angel, also eventually sees the error of her ways and turns to a life of righteousness.

The source of Moreto’s play was a work written by Father Gregorio Lombardello, in which was detailed the life, sins,...

(The entire section is 1820 words.)