Benito Pérez Galdós Drama Analysis

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Benito Pérez Galdós sought to develop his own dramatic technique and thus deliberately divorced himself from prevailing conventions. He recognized that his tendencies toward psychological analysis, slow exposition, long scenes, and occasional use of obscure symbolism ran against current tastes but argued for an open-minded approach to theater. Pérez Galdós believed that dramatic art was in a constant state of evolution and should never be fixed by canons.

Like his novels, Pérez Galdós’s plays depict Spanish reality in great detail, although toward the end of his career his theater tended to become less local and more universal. In many works, he analyzed the national state of mind and those aspects of Hispanic society that he viewed as stifling or degenerating—among these, political and moral corruption, the obsession with family honor and lineage, decadent aristocracy, social climbing, and the adherence to a social hierarchy that made the use of connections and interpersonal protection inevitable.

Pérez Galdós was fascinated with the complexities of human behavior, and much of his drama reveals considerable psychological understanding. Although his characters usually represent a particular idea and in this sense are philosophical abstractions, they are often vivid and convincing. The array of characters Pérez Galdós created for the theater is nearly as wide as that which he created for his novels. His gallery of creations is a cross section of nineteenth century Spain. It includes people from all walks of life: sophisticated, cosmopolitan types, provincial figures, rural folks. Aristocrats, professionals, government workers, petty officials, clerks, peasants, Gypsies, servants, beggars, and bums all appear in this microcosm of Spanish society. There are religious men and women and degenerates, idealists and opportunists, dreamers and visionaries, fanatics and moderates. There are Spaniards and foreigners. Pérez Galdós’s characters are of every occupation, every background, every age, and a variety of origins.

The Grandfather

One type that appears frequently in both Pérez Galdós’s novels and his plays is the impoverished aristocrat who retains a keen sense of social superiority. In The Grandfather, one of Pérez Galdós’s most successful dramas from both the commercial and the literary standpoint, the aging Count of Albrit, Don Rodrigo de Arista-Potestad, returns from an unsuccessful venture in Peru to his family lands in the north of Spain. Now penniless, the count must accept hospitality from Venancio and his wife, Gregoria, former tenant-farmers on the Albrit estate who are currently the owners of the manor, known as La Pardina. Don Rodrigo’s son has died, and his daughter-in-law, Lucrecia, Countess of Laín, is a foreigner and a libertine who has engaged in several affairs. Her daughters, Dolly and Nell, live at La Pardina with Venancio and Gregoria.

The play’s plot and philosophical message revolve around the paternity of Don Rodrigo’s two grandchildren, Dolly and Nell. When the count learns that one of the girls is not the daughter of his deceased son and therefore not a legitimate Albrit, he is torn with anguish. Proud, arrogant, and obsessed with his bygone glory, he seeks desperately to verify which granddaughter is genuine and which is fraudulent, but Don Rodrigo is nearly blind and cannot distinguish between them. In any event, the physical evidence is inconclusive, and both girls seem to love the count equally. Furthermore, both are independent and rebellious. There seems to be no unmistakable sign of the superiority of either one. Don Rodrigo’s sightlessness symbolizes his doubt or inability to “see” the truth.

The only clue is that Dolly (the illegitimate granddaughter) is a talented painter; her mother’s lover was an artist. Don Rodrigo, however, sees Dolly’s gift only as an indication of her greater sensitivity. Throughout most of the play, he grapples with evidence—all of it circumstantial—and finally reaches the conclusion that Dolly is his legitimate heir, for he sees in her the pride, loyalty, and hauteur he associates with the aristocracy.

Like Pérez Galdós’s finest novelistic creations, the Count of Albrit is a complex character who is both pathetic and irritating, lovable and abominable. An irascible old man who insists on having his own way, he demands submissiveness from all who surround him. Given his circumstances, his pretentiousness is as offensive as it is absurd. Although Pérez Galdós is known as a realist, his characters are often distortions in which one or two features are exaggerated. Indignant when he is not served the finest coffee and infuriated that his servant is taken away, Don Rodrigo borders on the caricaturesque. The shabby old man does elicit sympathy, however, for he has been deeply afflicted by the death of his son and suffers greatly from his present disgrace. Furthermore, the anguish that his uncertainty causes him is genuine. The count truly loves Dolly and Nell, and the knowledge that one of them is not of his blood torments him....

(The entire section is 2094 words.)