Because very little is known about Agustín Moreto y Cabaña’s life and nonliterary activities, his reputation rests almost exclusively on his abilities as a dramatist. Interestingly, even those abilities have been long in question, this in spite of his prolific and popular dramatic production. The critical tendency to downplay Moreto’s achievements can be traced to a comment by a contemporary, Jerónimo de Cáncer y Velasco, who, as incoming secretary of the Academia Castellana, presented a composition to the members of the academy in which he criticized Moreto of plagiarism, of going through copies of old plays and selecting those which would be of use to him in his own writings.
Although on the same occasion, Cáncer y Velasco also made critical remarks about other illustrious contemporaries, all of which were without doubt taken as lighthearted jabs, as the spirit of the occasion would have dictated, and in spite of the fact that the plagiarism with which Moreto was charged was an accepted practice of the time and was engaged in by such famous Spanish dramatists as Lope de Vega Carpio, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, and Tirso de Molina, the charges seem to have stuck and to have done Moreto’s reputation considerable damage during the centuries that followed. It has only been in modern times that the criticism has been challenged by such authors as Ruth Lee Kennedy, Frank P. Casa, and James A. Castañeda. As Kennedy points out, Moreto did, in fact, use works by other authors as the basis for about half his major plays, a fact that she attributes to the “customs of the time.” Whatever one’s view regarding the originality of some of his works, Moreto was and continues to be one of the leading dramatists of Spain during the Golden Age, a time when Spain’s drama was a shining light among the literatures of the Western world.