Buero Vallejo, Antonio
Buero Vallejo, Antonio 1916–
Buero Vallejo is a Spanish playwright whose poetic dramas depict the anguish of modern life. A writer of tragedy, he creates characters with shattered ideals who seek solace in love and hope for the future. Buero Vallejo's serious treatment of his themes, as well as his concern with dramatic form, have established him as a major figure in the contemporary Spanish theater.
Catharsis, as Buero views it in almost all his works, is a sublimation, an improvement rather than a relief. Compassion, terror, and anger, once sublimated, must clearly approximate the human condition which tragedy attempts to define for us, but every spectator will react differently to the pathetic, moral, or religious ingredients of the tragedy. The theater's function, whether it leaves us passive or calls us to social action, is to elevate. (p. 817)
Buero states that he writes theater of a tragic nature about the problems of man and their doubtful final outcome, factors inherent in all tragedy, whether it be labeled realistic, symbolic, or imaginative. Considering tragedy a flexible phenomenon which may include disparate elements foreign to the dictionary definition of the hero conquered by fate, elevated action, noble language, and fatal denouement, he uses a variety of labels for his dramatic works such as tragedia, fantasía, drama, tragicomedia, parábola, and fábula. In these works he proposes that man is not necessarily a victim of fate—a tragic affirmation which stresses human capacity for overcoming obstacles and reverses….
The chance for a better world creates a tragic possibility for man based on a future hope which may not provide a solution. Man lives in a world where he must fail, triumph, and live. (p. 818)
At the heart of all tragedy Buero finds the problem of hope. When we despair or feel anguish, it is as though we were projecting the reverse side of the coin of hope, which insists on maintaining its force within our heart. Without light there can be no darkness; without good, no evil; thus, without hope there can be no despair or existential anguish. Man may deny life, but his rebellion occurs within the framework of unfulfilled and existing hope, at the very least, for change. One always hopes…. [The] existential characters within a given work are not inevitably doomed to death and destruction as victims of an adverse fatality which, at the whim of the gods, may destroy them.
In the twentieth century, tragedy, implying the need for an heroic and loving...
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Since the end of the Civil War, the Spanish theater has been plagued by the arrested historical development of the country—an amalgam of authoritarian rule, censorship, a predominantly conservative theater-going public, and a marked cultural lag in the appearance in Spain of new currents and works of the modern theater.
Out of these singular conditions has emerged a Spanish Theater of Commitment whose allegiance is to Matthew Arnold's concept that art is meant to be a criticism of life, but whose dramatic thrust is modified by the special conditions existing in Spain today.
Leader of this new theater is Antonio Buero Vallejo…. The Theater of Commitment is characterized by the importance of the dramatist's political views in relation to his art. It may be best described by the term zeitstuck, a play that tries to cope with a problem of the day. It is not a literature of approval or tribute, but rather of protest and outrage. What is important is less the script itself than the terms of when and where and how it is presented. Its message must be put across in a special way. It does not lay claim to portraiture, nor an interest in all of a man or of a social class. As Eric Bentley points out in The Theatre of Commitment …, the ending is open. Just before the curtain falls, the playwright seems to say, "What happens after this is up to you, the public." (p. 354)
As for the "open" ending, Buero Vallejo, just before the curtain falls, sometimes has a character pose a question which is left unanswered. The Spanish playwright has said, "Answers to that question belong to life, not necessarily to art."
While the term commitment usually suggests engagé, Spanish dramatists do not regularly strive to present the philosophical superstructure which frames the works of Jean-Paul Sartre….
Buero Vallejo and his followers generally use lower-class characters in their home habitat. The protagonists struggle against something undefined and undetermined in...
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Robert L. Nicholas
Un soñador para un pueblo (1958) and Las Meninas (1960) constitute something of a digression in the career of Antonio Buero Vallejo. They are preceded by ten years of largely realistic playwriting and followed by what appears to be a renewal of that realistic current. The central characters in these plays are not middle class figures, but intellectuals and artists cast in a heroic mold. Buero is more interested in having them make statements of artistic and political truths than in engaging them in psychological involvements. The settings, of course, do not reflect a contemporary, middle class environment. Both character and scene are historical in nature, but this does not diminish the contemporary relevance of the problems treated by the playwright. Indeed, his main reason for selecting such an era is to criticize the present through the perspective of the past. (p. 281)
By developing the action of these plays according to the requirements of artistic philosophies and forms, the playwright is, I suggest, attempting to approximate, in the plays' structures, the spirit of the historical moment depicted in each play. The systematic juxtaposition of characters and attitudes in Un soñador para un pueblo facilitates the contrasting of political ideologies and, therefore, is an evocation of the atmosphere of eighteenth-century Spain, an epoch characterized by ideological struggles. The impressionistic manner of Las Meninas, with its movement and shifting focus, is meant to reflect the suspicion, disloyalty, vested interests and fear of Inquisitional Spain of the seventeenth century. (p. 283)
[Un soñador para un pueblo] is not an indictment of the society's class structure. It shows, rather, in its structural arrangement, the good and evil elements present in every social class. Buero's presentation of Esquilache in each interior scene of Part I does seem, however, to encourage a fluid social structure, one which would allow change and progression for the individual. (p. 285)
Buero's evocation of an eighteenth-century atmosphere is markedly enhanced by the clear, orderly arrangement of the action of the play's first part…. [In this way he] has attempted to reflect the spirit of...
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The underlying theme of Buero Vallejo's plays is unquestionably man's efforts to realize his full capacities against the internal and external forces that restrain him. These efforts are directed toward the search for truth, the essence of reality, the creation of social justice, the attempt to establish personal, political, and artistic freedom, and other aspects of the human condition. Hope is eternally present, but the nature of man and of things is such that life is inherently tragic and happiness and self-fulfillment is achieved only through great effort….
[In Buero's] dramas man succumbs to circumstance primarily because his inability to face reality and his inclination to delude himself leads to procrastination which in turn paralyzes the will and shackles him to inaction and subsequent defeat.
Urbano and Fernando (Historia de una escalera) are complete failures because they talked and dreamed about what they were going to do, but did nothing to further their dreams. Some critics have blamed their failure on their environment,… yet others in the play did manage to raise their standard of living…. (p. 21)
Silverio (Hoy es fiesta) also suffers from inertia…. [The protagonist] spent years brooding, trying to make up his mind to speak frankly to his wife.
Another character defeated because of his inability to face reality is Juan (Las cartas boca abajo). He refused to admit openly the merit of Carlos Ferrer, and failed to win a professorship because he was unable to answer questions concerning Ferrer's authorative books. (p. 22)
Mario of El tragaluz may also be considered unsuccessful, even though at the end he is hopeful of a better future. His brother Vicente showed greater strength of character but unfortunately was selfish in his actions. Mario, on the other hand, although morally upright, was afraid of life and preferred to know the world only through the window of his basement apartment which he rarely left….
Not all of Buero's characters are overcome by life's circumstances. Some of them, although they meet death, are not tragic in Buero's ideology since they have realized their capacities to the fullest and have contributed something to the future of mankind. (p. 23)
[Buero himself points out that the two blind protagonists, Ignacio (En la ardiente oscuridad) and David (El concierto de San Ovidio)] sought to surmont the limitations of their handicaps. David, being older and more experienced, was better able to understand the world and had greater success. (pp. 23-4)
Perhaps the most outstanding protagonists of Buero's plays are Esquilache (Un soñador para un...
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Martha T. Halsey
Buero Vallejo's theater represents … a quest for understanding about man and the universe. This quest, according to the dramatist, if it is to reach any profundity, must necessarily take place within the framework of tragedy…. (p. 21)
Buero Vallejo … whose plays postulate free will, finds in catharsis the ultimate justification for his theater. He interprets this term as much more than simply a pacification or dissolution of the pity and fear felt by the spectator of a tragedy. Catharsis is, according to his point of view, the transformation or elevation of these emotions from a primitive to a moral or ethical plane. Buero's own tragedies aim to "move the spectator and move him deeply, to...
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The central theme of … Buero Vallejo's Aventura en lo gris … deals with the question of the relative value of truth [and its relationship to compassion]….
In Buero's play, the pragmatic doer, Alejandro, is contrasted with Professor Silvano, a thinker and idealist who sets high value on the pursuit of truth. Silvano is also a compassionate man, capable of sacrifice in the name of his convictions. (p. 217)
Buero takes the position of condemning the use of truth solely as a means for attaining personal goals of aggrandizement. Alejandro embodies this concept and commits numerous crimes motivated by his insatiable passion and lust for power. For him the concept of truth is...
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