Download Alejandro Casona Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Alejandro Casona Analysis

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Alejandro Casona combined, in his best work, an enlightened didacticism with the grace of a born playwright. As a professional man of the theater, he experimented with various kinds of drama. Nuestra Natacha, for example, has its source in Casona’s experience as a teacher and as director of Teatro del Pueblo. It conveys an overt and idealistic message and marks the only occasion on which Casona absolutely subordinated form to an idea. Las tres perfectas casadas (the three perfect wives), by contrast, is an uncharacteristically negative melodrama of betrayal and suicide, complete with an onstage shooting. In Casona’s best work, however, he explored the problem of human unhappiness and examined some of the means commonly adopted to combat that problem.

The three plays to be considered all unfold according to this general pattern: An individual, usually a young man, attempts to find happiness by espousing an artificial system—by creating an institution of sorts—that is designed to shut out the pain and ugliness of life. A young woman, rescued from suicide, enters the picture; she brings about change, ultimately for the better. The system fails as unpleasant reality breaches its walls, but the young man and woman embark on a new, more promising quest for happiness: They acknowledge the potential ugliness of life but transcend it through love. Though Casona repeatedly employed these themes, devices, and characters, he imbued them with a striking freshness in each new version, so that he never seemed to be merely rehashing a formula.

The permutations of a single theme in these three plays should give some idea of Casona’s command of his medium. Obliged by his values as an educator and a thinker to wrestle with the question of human happiness over and over again, he remained consistent without lapsing into monotony. His growth as a playwright kept pace with the increasing subtlety of his perceptions. In one sense, then, Casona’s distinction as a dramatist is related to his integrity. He had the courage to write on any theme (the Fascist regime in Spain banned his writings for years) but the artistic sense not to degenerate into preachment. Perhaps as closely as any playwright of his time, he approached the ideal of dulce et utile: His plays teach ethical lessons, but that ethic includes an abiding love for the beautiful. His protagonists reject falsehood and ugliness in favor of truth and beauty—not as abstractions, but as active principles of life. Casona followed his own teachings; he stood up for truth and sweetened it with some of the most finely crafted plays of the twentieth century.

La sirena varada

La sirena varada, the first of Casona’s plays to be staged, establishes the pattern. Ricardo, the protagonist, falls into a well-intentioned error: He tries to attain happiness by fiat, by founding a republic of “orphans of common sense.” Haunted by memories of an unhappy childhood, he strives for an irresponsible innocence, a life based on fantasy, into which no cold reason can intrude. A sign over the door—which somehow he never finds the time to put up—would read: “Let no one who knows geometry enter here.” He has chosen his companions carefully; besides a tolerant servant and a painter who insists on going about blindfolded, Ricardo has rented a ghost with the house. He has also summoned a circus clown to act as president, and life seems to be going along very well.

For all its charm, Ricardo’s grand scheme is unsound, even diseased. Even discounting the objections of the reasonable outsider, Don Florín, one cannot truly admire this republic: It is, simply, a despotism. Ricardo imposes his fantasy on the others with all the cruelty of youth. What seems at first to be romantic turns out to be merely decadent. Ricardo breakfasts in the middle of the night, as a puerile gesture of rebellion. They have run out of milk, so they subsist on coffee and rum. Rather than give up his rented ghost, the young despot...

(The entire section is 3,213 words.)