Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1492
Antonio and Manuel Machado’s interest in drama was inspired by translations of classical French and British dramas and adaptations of Golden Age plays. They developed a theory of theater as they collaborated, from scriptwriting to staging. They respected the traditions of playwrights who set the standards for themes and structure, from Lope de Vega and Pedro Calderón de la Barca to William Shakespeare. Their staging demonstrates modern trends practiced in twentieth century theater. Frequent monologues and asides to the audience invite its participation and the dissolution of the third wall. As playwrights, they favored popular theater trends over classical approaches to staging, while their language and verse structure were erudite.
Desdichas de la fortuna, o Julianillo Valcárcel
The brothers’ first dramatic collaboration opened at the Teatro de la Princesa in Madrid on February 9, 1926. María Guerrero and her theater company, the most renowned Spanish theater company at the time, performed the drama. It was based on a legend about the illegitimate Julián, adopted by the duke of Olivares. He falls in love with Leonor but weds Juana according to the duke’s wishes. Leonor disguises herself as Don César in order to befriend Julián, who does not discover her identity until his death.
The brothers’ use of Golden Age plot twists, disguises, monologues, asides, and references to stock characters and proverbs resulted in a play that was basically an updated version of the cape and sword play. The lines were written in eight-syllable verse, following classical Spanish versification. Contemporary audiences familiar with Golden Age drama responded favorably to Machado’s dramatic adaptation.
Juan de Mañara
Antonio and Manuel Machado’s second collaboration debuted in Madrid on March 16, 1927. The tragedy was based on a legend about a man who followed selfish desires until his spiritual transformation. In the Machado version, Mañara is symbolically a hunter as he is literally hunting for fulfillment. He is also deceived by a woman whom he helps escape from the law. Juan de Mañara’s plot and characters resemble those of the Romantic play Don Juan Tenorio (pr., pb. 1844; English translation, 1944) by José Zorrilla y Moral. The Juan depicted by the Machado brothers is more complex than that of Zorrilla; he questions his actions and motives as he undergoes the process of spiritual transformation. In addition, the female characters are more developed than those of the nineteenth century play, fluctuating between good and evil forces.
The play, a psychological drama in the style of Henrik Ibsen, opened in Madrid on October 22, 1928. The plot revolves around several complex characters, and dialogues and monologues explore psychoanalytic approaches to dreams and life experiences. Characters suffer from spiritual crises and interpersonal confrontations. The speech patterns incorporate foreign and invented vocabulary from scientific and dialectical usage. Telephone conversations and disjointed speech with noncorresponding dialogue refer to the disillusioned post-World War I European society. Although the drama won critical acclaim, its run was shortened by the lack of financial and popular success.
La Lola se va a los puertos
The play debuted November 8, 1929, at the Teatro Fontalba in Madrid. Its popular appeal and long run made the play the most successful of all the Machado plays. It incorporated elements of the andaluzada, flamenco themes and plots popular in Andalucía. The brothers’ expertise in versification elevated the dialogue to the satisfaction of Madrid’s cosmopolitan audiences. A film version and later a zarzuela, or type of operetta, were inspired by the play. The influence of La Lola se va a los puertos on García Lorca can be seen in the Andalusian themes, folklore, and flamenco in his plays La zapatera prodigiosa (pr. 1930; The Shoemaker’s Prodigious Wife, 1941) and Bodas de sangre (pr. 1933; Blood Wedding, 1939).
The play follows the classical model formulated by Lope de Vega. The plot and characters poeticize the theme of ideal love, and the dialogue follows the eleven-syllable verse structure common in Golden Age drama. Modernist elements work to blend Golden Age verse patterns with those of southern coastal Spain before the civil war. Several dialogues occur at once, and protagonists represent common porteños, not glamorized nobility. The set and characters merge twentieth century technology with patriotic and romantic traditions.
The setting for the play is a depressed Andalusian port town, home to Lola, who embodies the ideal woman and therefore is envied by Rosario, more representative of contemporary Andalusia. A father and son battle each other to win Lola’s favor, but she prefers her constant companion, her guitar Heredia. Lola takes her guitar and leaves for Buenos Aires after the other characters have reconciled.
The verse structure allows the cante hondo, the deep song, to emerge from the dialogue, enabling actors to portray a wide range of emotions. The Machado brothers reveal their poetic expertise in lyrical dialogue and song segments that maintain the flow of action. They wrote the role of Lola for Lola Membrives, an internationally famous Argentine actress and flamenco singer. Her performance was widely regarded as the best of her long and successful career.
La prima Fernanda
La prima Fernanda opened in Madrid’s Teatro Victoria on April 24, 1931. It explores the issues arising from bourgeois and working-class conflicts as well as relationships thwarted by class inequity and societal expectations. In this play, the Machado brothers used dramatic verse to examine contemporary Spanish political and social issues. The drama addressed the dehumanized nature of artistic trends; the buying of influence by high-ranking military personnel, bankers, and unethical opportunists; monetary issues in marriage and divorce; and various aspects of the disintegration of Spanish society. However, the dramatic verse dialogue structure proved somewhat unsuitable for conveying contemporary themes. Critics expressed the view that modern prose would have been a better medium for the complex issues-oriented plot. The play’s short run seemed to mark it a failure after the great success of La Lola se va a los puertos. The Machado brothers were concerned by the lack of critical success for La prima Fernanda, their first attempt to address contemporary themes in their drama.
La duquesa de Benamejí
La duquesa de Benamejí debuted at the Teatro Español in Madrid on March 26, 1932. The tragedy is set in Andalusia during the Napoleonic occupation. Its plot revolves around Lorenzo, a heroic character admired for deeds that resemble those of Robin Hood. After Lorenzo is captured and imprisoned, the Duchess of Benamejí pleads for his release, defending him before the Andalusian nobility. The jealous Rocío stabs her as she delivers Lorenzo’s pardon. Lorenzo chooses to release all the other prisoners rather than free himself. As a consequence of his noble decision, he faces execution.
The three-act tragedy was the first of the Machado collaborations to combine verse with prose passages. The scenes rendered in prose are those that were used to maintain realism and thematic coherence and include battle scenes, conversations among peasants and military officers, and prison scenes. Scenes devoted to conversations involving royalty and formal affairs are rendered in eleven-syllable verse. The action of this romantic tragedy is propelled by its detailed characters rather than by the loosely defined plot. The protagonists follow the patterns of nineteenth century French Romanticism. As romantic heroes, they lose the opportunity to fulfill their mutual love because of their self-sacrificing and heroic deaths. The tragedy gained critical approval and audience support.
El hombre que murió en la guerra
Although El hombre que murió en la guerra was written in 1928, it was not performed until April 18, 1941, at the Teatro Español in Madrid. The play focuses on Juan, an orphan who joins the Spanish Legion to fight in France during World War I. He is listed among those killed in action, and the townspeople honor him with a yearly memorial. Juan, however, returns to the town in the guise of Miguel. Some townspeople believe his alias, while others accuse him of dishonoring their fallen hero or causing his death. Juliana loves him and knows his true identity. The townspeople force Juan to leave, and Juliana promises to accept him when he returns in a more honorable way.
Juan, the protagonist, has become disillusioned by the horror and futility of war. In the guise of a comrade who was not revered, Juan criticizes war for its stupidity and the waste of innocent and ignorant lives on both sides. This philosophical discussion of war is used to relate the Juan-Miguel character to the Spanish experience in World War I and the Spanish Civil War, which occurred two years before Manuel Machado produced the play. Machado used the play to honor his brother and mother, whose deaths resulted from illnesses contracted while fleeing war-torn Spain for the French border in 1939. The play served to heal some of his family’s wounds as well as address the national condition. Manuel was a supporter of Fascist Francisco Franco during the Civil War, while Antonio was an outspoken Republican in his anti-Franco politics and writings.