Antonio Buero Vallejo Vallejo, Antonio Buero - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Antonio Buero Vallejo 1916–-2000

Spanish dramatist.

The following entry presents an overview of Buero Vallejo's career through 1997. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 15 and 46.

One of Spain's leading dramatists, Buero Vallejo has contributed significantly to the revitalization of postwar Spanish theater. Eschewing the frivolous plots and comforting sentimentality of much early twentieth-century Spanish drama, Buero Vallejo writes deeply serious, moralistic plays that frequently depict characters consumed by despair and frustration. He is commonly regarded as a tragedian and advances a conception of drama characterized by the redeeming presence of hope. Buero Vallejo suggests that by inviting people to confront reality without self-deception, the writer of tragedies raises issues fundamental to human existence and the improvement of society.

Biographical Information

Buero Vallejo was born in Guadalajara, Spain, in 1916 to Francisco Buero, a military engineer, and Cruz Vallejo. From 1934 to 1936 he studied painting at the San Fernando School of Fine Arts in Madrid. Buero Vallejo was a medical assistant in the Loyalist army during the Spanish Civil War; for his involvement in the war he was imprisoned for six years by the regime of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. When he was released from prison in 1949, Buero Vallejo introduced his play Historia de una escalera (1949) which presents a brutal picture of postwar Spain. The play won the Premio Lope de Vega prize and gained Buero Vallejo a position of prominence in Spanish drama. Many artists chose to flee the repressive censorship of Franco's government, but Buero Vallejo decided to stay and vent his frustrations in thinly veiled metaphorical and symbolic dramas criticizing government policies. In 1972 he was elected to the Real Academia Española. He was awarded both the Medalla de Oro al Merite en las Bellas Artes and the Medalla de Oro de la Sociedad General de Autores de España in 1994.

Major Works

In his plays, Buero Vallejo presents many of the problems of Francoist and post-Francoist Spain, but the dramas always suggest the hope that problems can be overcome. Buero Vallejo uses a series of author surrogates to infuse his political ideology into his work. He commonly creates sensory experiences through music, art, and set design, termed “immersion effects” by critics, to cause the audience to feel the same sensations as the protagonist and thereby identify more closely with him. In En la ardiente oscuridad (1950; In the Burning Darkness) Buero Vallejo uses the mental and physical impairment of his protagonist to symbolize the condition of Spanish society. The play is about a conflict between two students at a blind school, one of whom refuses to accept his blindness. One of Buero Vallejo's stage effects in this play is the darkening of the theater to simulate for the audience the experience of blindness. The play is seen as a metaphor for the Spanish people's passive acceptance of totalitarian rule. La doble historia del doctor Valmy (1968) covers the themes of torture, guilt, cowardice, isolation, and loss of communication. While the drama is an indictment of police torture, it unfolds from the point of view of a security police officer in the fictional nation of Surelia. El sueño de la razón (1970; The Sleep of Reason) is based upon Spanish artist Francisco de Goya's resistance to the tyranny of King Ferdinand VII. To dramatize Goya's deafness, Buero Vallejo's characters engage in incoherent dialogue and use sign language or notes to communicate with the protagonist. Buero Vallejo projects Goya's famous Black Paintings at the rear of the stage to reflect the cruelty and terror Goya experienced at this time. In La fundación (1974; The Foundation), Buero Vallejo's first drama about life in Spain as the Francoist regime is ending, he proposes that to achieve true freedom one must pass through a series of prisons, and that each small step toward freedom is important. In this work Buero Vallejo employs an immersion effect that causes the audience to share the main character's hallucinations. La detonación (1977; The Shot) traces Spain's transition from a dictatorship to a liberal monarchy in the last ten years of the life of critic José Mariano de Larra. The play parallels the modern-day transition from the Franco regime to democracy. Buero Vallejo fictionalizes and uses the character of Larra to voice many of his own beliefs about the role of the intellectual in a repressive and censored society. Jueces en la noche (1979; Judges in the Night), Caimán (1981), and Diálogo secreto (1984) all delve into the problems of building a democracy after years of authoritarian rule.

Critical Reception

Reviewers note Buero Vallejo's innovative dramatic techniques, including his use of immersion effects to fully involve the audience's senses and create a psychological bond with the protagonist. Some reviewers complain that, later in Buero Vallejo's career, his symbolism and imagery became overwhelming and too disparate. A few critics, however, hold that Buero Vallejo's imagery is well-researched and demonstrates a calculated use of certain songs and artwork. Critical discussion of Buero Vallejo's work often centers on his relationship with censorship in Francoist Spain rather than his dramatic technique. Some critics disagree with his decision to continue to write under the restraints of censorship, but many praise what they consider his courageous attempt to voice his criticism of the political and social climate. In retrospect, many reviewers are surprised that Buero Vallejo was able to slip as much past the censors as he did. Martha T. Halsey stated, “In spite of censorship and other restraints imposed by a triumphant and exclusionist Francoist culture that dominated the national scene for some forty years, Buero succeeded in exposing the dark recesses, the hidden reality of Spanish life.” Many reviewers praise Buero Vallejo for his insistence on facing the reality of political and social tragedies that many prefer to ignore. F. Komla Aggor commented, “What distinguishes Buero Vallejo is precisely this competence to revive a tragedy evaded by others as an instrument to question and judge history and thereby awaken consciousness to a precarious social reality.” Reviewers generally agree that the overwhelming concern of Buero Vallejo's work is to inspire action to fight against political and social ills. Halsey concluded, “The solution to the problem of human suffering, Buero suggests, is action. It is not enough to face our limitations; we must struggle to overcome them.”

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Historia de una escalera (drama) 1949

Las palabras en la arena (drama) 1949

En la ardiente oscuridad [In the Burning Darkness] (drama) 1950

La señal que se espera (drama) 1952

La tejedora de sueños [The Dreamweaver] (drama) 1952

Casi un cuento de hadas: Una glosa de Perrault (drama) 1953

Madrugada (drama) 1953

Aventura en lo gris (drama) 1954

Irene o el tesoro (drama) 1954

El terror inmovil: Fragmentos de una tragedia irrepresentable (drama) 1954

Hoy es fiesta (drama) 1956

Las cartas boca abajo (drama) 1957

Un soñador para un pueblo [A Dreamer for the People] (drama) 1958

Teatro 2 vols. (dramas) 1959–1962

Las meninas: Fantasia velazquena en dos partes [Las meninas: A Fantasy] (drama) 1960

El concierto de San Ovidio [The Concert of Saint Ovide] (drama) 1962

Buero Vallejo: Antologia teatral (dramas) 1966

Teatro selecto (dramas) 1966

El tragaluz [The Basement Window] (drama) 1967

La doble historia del doctor Valmy (drama) 1968

El sueño de la razón [The Sleep of Reason] (drama) 1970

Llegada de los dioses (drama) 1971

La fundación [The Foundation] (drama) 1974

La detonación [The Shot] (drama) 1977

Jueces en la noche [Judges in the Night] (drama) 1979

Caimán (drama) 1981

Diálogo secreto (drama) 1984

Lázaro en la laberinto [Lazarus in the Labyrinth] (drama) 1986

Música cercana [The Music Window] (drama) 1989

Obra completa 2 vols. (dramas, poetry, prose, and essays) 1994

Las trampas del azar (drama) 1994

Douglas R. McKay (review date Winter 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of La doble historia del doctor Valmy, in Modern Languages Journal, Vol. 70, No. 4, Winter, 1986, pp. 440–41.

[In the following review, McKay praises Buero Vallejo's La doble historia del doctor Valmy and recommends it as part of an undergraduate curriculum.]

Buero Vallejo's nineteenth performed work has much to offer Spanish language students as a drama of provocative intensity. This edition commends itself superbly as that vehicle: it will challenge young readers, already grappling with identity crises and the meaning of social responsibility, to search further for the reality of their relationship with others. A lengthy play of symbolic realism, La doble historia del doctor Valmy deals earnestly with such themes as torture, guilt, self-deception, cowardice, evasion, human isolation, and the breakdown of caring and redeeming communication. It was written in 1964 but not performed in Spain until after Franco's death. While Buero strongly deplores the cruelty of police action under a dictatorship, he allows the reader or spectator the privilege of passing final judgment; hence, the work is particularly well suited to invite an intellectual response from thoughtful students. As a thesis work of outstanding contemporary relevance, the play's multiple levels of significance require a perceptive teacher to guide student readers to the intended awareness underlying the...

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Eric Pennington (essay date Summer 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “La doble historia del doctor Valmy: A View from the Feminine,” in Symposium, Vol. XL, No. 2, Summer, 1986, pp. 131–39.

[In the following essay, Pennington focuses on the character of Mary to show that Buero Vallejo's La doble historia del doctor Valmy indicts patriarchal society in addition to political torture.]

Antonio Buero Vallejo's La doble historia del doctor Valmy (1964) brings to the stage the difficult issue of political torture. Daniel Barnes, the protagonist, works as a member of a security police force in the fictional country Surelia, and as part of his profession regularly utilizes physical torture as a means of...

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Martha T. Halsey (essay date Fall 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Writers and Their Critics: Buero's La Detonación,” in Hispanic Journal, Vol. 8, No. 1, Fall, 1986, pp. 47–60.

[In the following essay, Halsey discusses Buero Vallejo's relationship with Franco-era censors by tracing the author's use of José Mariano de Larra in La detonación.]

Many of Buero's protagonists represent author surrogates. However, with none of them does Buero so closely identify as with José Mariano de Larra of La detonación (1977), the dramatist's first play authored and premiered in post-Franco Spain. This identification is quite natural given Buero's well-known passion for truth and given, also, his well-documented...

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Martha T. Halsey (essay date May 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Reality, Illusion, and Alienation: Buero Vallejo's La Fundación,” in Hispanofila, Vol. 90, No. 3, May, 1987, pp. 47–62.

[In the following essay, Halsey discusses Buero Vallejo's techniques for exposing the human condition in his La Fundación and other plays.]

From En la ardiente oscuridad (1950) to La Fundación (1974) a paramount concern in the theater of Antonio Buero Vallejo has been alienation, our inability to face the tragic reality of the human condition. The dialectical struggle between tranquil blindness and painful awareness that occurs on both the socio-political and metaphysical levels characterizes all of...

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Martha T. Halsey (essay date Fall 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Dictatorship to Democracy in the Recent Theater of Buero Vallejo (La Fundación to Diáalogo secreto),” in Estreno, Vol. XIII, No. 2, Fall, 1987, pp. 9–15.

[In the following essay, Halsey analyzes how Buero Vallejo portrays Spain's transition from dictatorship to democracy in his plays written in the 1970s and 1980s.]

Ricardo Doménech has demonstrated that Buero's entire theater up to 1971 constitutes a meditation on Spain.1 In spite of censorship and other restraints imposed by a triumphant and exclusionist Francoist culture that dominated the national scene for some forty years, Buero succeeded in exposing the dark recesses,...

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Eric Pennington (essay date Fall 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Art and Music in Buero Vallejo's Diálogo secreto,” in Hispanic Journal, Vol. 9, No. 1, Fall, 1987, pp. 51–61.

[In the following essay, Pennington analyzes Buero Vallejo's use of art and music in Diálogo secreto, and asserts, “The art and music interpolated into the imagery of the drama betray serious, purposeful research and selection, and suggest other components of the play may be investigated with fruitful, valid results.”]

In Diálogo secreto, Antonio Buero Vallejo's recent play (1984), the dramaturge bombards the spectator with multiple themes and images which at first glance give the impression of having little in common....

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John Philip Gabriele (essay date Fall–Winter 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Death and Dying in En la ardiente oscuridad,” in Language Quarterly, Vol. XXVI, Nos. 1–2, Fall–Winter, 1987, pp. 13–16, 19.

[In the following essay, Gabriele discusses the themes of life and death in Buero Vallejo's En la ardiente oscuridad.]

Out of the very love one bears to life one should wish death to be free, deliberate, and a matter neither of chance or of surprise,

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Numerous analyses have convincingly illustrated that the dramatic structure of Antonio Buero Vallejo's plays is often supported by otherwise...

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Malcolm Alan Compitello (review date September 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Las Meninas and Today's a Holiday, in Hispania, Vol. 72, No. 3, September, 1989, pp. 569–70.

[In the following review, Compitello praises the English versions of Buero Vallejo's Las meninas and Hoy es fiesta.]

As Hispanists we tend to take for granted Antonio Buero Vallejo's right to place among contemporary drama's major figures. Yet the attempt to solidify that position has been hampered by the limited access of his works in translation, especially into English, a factor that has also made difficult his works for English-speaking audiences. Both volumes under consideration here respond to the need to make Buero's impressive...

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Martha T. Halsey (essay date 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Plays of Impasse: The Recent Tragedies of Antonio Buero Vallejo,” in Anales de la Literatura Española Contemporanea, Vol. 18, No. 3, 1993, pp. 539–52.

[In the following essay, Halsey discusses four of Buero Vallejo's plays from the late 1970s and 1980s, asserting their prominence as tragedies of personal and social impasse.]

Paramount in Buero's tragic theater is the idea of individual responsibility. In his drama the ethical and the social are inseparable. He explains the apparent emphasis on the former: “Hay, pues, en mi teatro—creo—una problemática ética más ostensible que la social, pero porque la problemática social debe...

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Michael Thompson (review date January 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Buero Vallejo: ‘El concierto de San Ovidio,’ by David Johnson and The Shot (‘La detonación’), by Antonio Buero Vallejo, translated by David Johnson, in Modern Language Review, Vol. 88, No. 1, January, 1993, pp. 242–43.

[In the following review, Thompson lauds Johnson's critical guide to Buero Vallejo's El concierto de San Ovidio and his translation of the dramatist's La detonación.]

The most impressive feature of Buero's best plays is the way in which each of them is totally integrated around a powerful dramatic nucleus of character, situation, and visual or aural effect: the Mario/Vicente conflict, the skylight, the...

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J. J. Macklin (essay date October 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Tragedy and Politics in Jueces en la noche,” in Neophilologus, Vol. LXXVII, No. 4, October, 1993, pp. 587–600.

[In the following essay, Macklin traces how the private and political intersect to create the tragedy in Buero Vallejo's Jueces en la noche.]

Jueces en la noche (1979)1 may not be one of Buero Vallejo's best plays, but it is the one which most directly engages with the issues of the day, namely, the political dangers besetting the Spanish state in the immediate post-Franco era.2 On one level, then, it is an overtly political play, dealing with the transition from the old to the new order and with the difficult...

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F. Komla Aggor (essay date Winter 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Derealizing the Present: Evasion and Madness in El tragaluz,” in Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, Winter, 1994, pp. 141–50.

[In the following essay, Aggor uses a psychoanalytical approach to deconstruct El padre's madness in Buero Vallejo's El tragaluz.]

Un estudio riguroso de la locura en El tragaluz de Antonio Buero Vallejo abre paso a una nueva interpretación del estado psíquico del personaje enigmático, El Padre. La locura de El Padre nace, primero, porque no logra expresar abiertamente su dolor producido por la muerte de Elvirita, y segundo, porque la familia no quiere discutir...

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John P. Gabriele (essay date April 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Projections of the Unconscious Self in Buero's Theatre (El concierto de San Ovidio, La Fundación, Diálogo secreto),” in Neophilologus, Vol. 78, No. 2, April, 1994, pp. 251–61.

[In the following essay, Gabriele studies the protagonists from Buero Vallejo's El concierto de San Ovidio, La Fundación, and Diálogo secreto and concludes, “Exploring his protagonists from a psychological standpoint intensifies dramatic tension and gives profound meaning to the process of interiorization and catharsis that so uniquely characterizes Buerian tragedy.”]

In their symbolic journey from darkness to light, the protagonists of...

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Michael Thompson (essay date Autumn 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Framing on Stage and Screen: Antonio Buero Vallejo's Un soñador para un pueblo and Josefina Molina's Esquilache,” in Romance Studies, No. 26, Autumn, 1995, pp. 61–76.

[In the following essay, Thompson compares the stage production of Buero Vallejo's Un soñador para un pueblo to its film adaptation Esquilache.]

Film has always been an intertextually promiscuous medium, frequently producing offspring from liaisons (some committed and deeply-felt, some casual, some provoking accusations of rape) with narrative and theatre. After a hundred years of development, the distinctive features of cinema are well established, but the genes of...

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F. Komla Aggor (review date July 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of A Dreamer for the People, in Modern Language Review, Vol. 91, No. 3, July, 1996, pp. 770–71.

[In the following review, Aggor praises Michael Thompson's translation of Buero Vallejo's Un soñador para un pueblo.]

Any serious project undertaken to advance accessibility to and interest in the works of Antonio Buero Vallejo beyond the category of Spanish speakers must be celebrated. Buero's drama, studded with artistic excellence and innovation, embodies a transcendental, indispensable message ever pertinent to humanity. Michael Thompson's A Dreamer for the People is of particular significance, for it is the piece that inaugurated...

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Martha Halsey (essay date May 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Music as Sign and Symbol: Buero's Lázaro en el laberinto and Música cercana,” in Hispanofila, Vol. 120, No. 3, May, 1997, pp. 47–55.

[In the following essay, Halsey traces Buero Vallejo's use of music in Lázaro en el laberinto and Música cercana.]

Aesthetic beauty provides hints about inner meanings that discursive reason ignores or distorts. In Buero Vallejo's theater there is both revelation and concealment as the playwright speaks through art, music, metaphor and symbol, suggesting truths that transcend any totality of rational explanation. In many of Buero's plays music is important; however, in none is its role more central...

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Alison J. Ridley (essay date Fall 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Judith and Leocadia: The Intertextual Heroines of Buero Vallejo's El sueño de la razõn,” in Estreno, Vol. XXII, No. 2, Fall, 1997, pp. 42–8.

[In the following essay, Ridley presents three representations of the character Leocadia in Buero Vallejo's El sueño de la razón.]

As the character who holds the key to Francisco de Goya's survival or demise in Buero Vallejo's El sueño de la razón, Leocadia Zorrilla, the painter's young mistress, has been decidedly overlooked as one of the drama's central figures. She has been studied primarily from the perspective of her role as the young, passionate woman who serves as a constant reminder to...

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Martha T. Halsey (essay date December 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of La doble historia del Doctor Valmy, in Hispania, Vol. 80, No. 4, December, 1997, pp. 807–08.

[In the following essay, Halsey lauds Barry Jordan's analysis of Buero Vallejo's La doble historia del Doctor Valmy.]

Jordan's edition [of Buero Vallejo's La doble historia del Doctor Valmy] forms part of Manchester's Hispanic Texts series, which aims to select works that “contribute to a fuller understanding of the societies in which they were written.” The text continues the tradition of text-book editions of contemporary plays largely lost in the United States since the 1960s and 1970s, when companies such as Appleton-Century-Crofts...

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