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Last Updated on January 16, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1381

First produced: Mejor está que estaba, 1631

First published: Partes, 1636-1684

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Cloak-and-sword comedy

Time of work: Seventeenth century

Locale: Vienna

Principal Characters:

Carlos Colona, son of the Governor of Brandenburg

Don Cesar, a Viennese magistrate

Flora, his daughter

...

(The entire section contains 1381 words.)

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First produced: Mejor está que estaba, 1631

First published: Partes, 1636-1684

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Cloak-and-sword comedy

Time of work: Seventeenth century

Locale: Vienna

Principal Characters:

Carlos Colona, son of the Governor of Brandenburg

Don Cesar, a Viennese magistrate

Flora, his daughter

Laura, Flora's friend

Fabio, Laura's brother

Arnaldo, Laura's suitor

Dinero, Carlos' servant

Critique:

In his early days, Calderón, as the inheritor of the good and the bad of sixteenth-century drama, followed Lope de Vega's formula for comedy, but with a tightening of the plot and the illumination of some of the extra threads. His cloak-and-sword plays dealt with veiled women, secret rooms, and the hoodwinking of fathers and guardian brothers by sweethearts who, like Lope's heroines, are frequently motherless, lest fooling a mother might be regarded as disrespect for womanhood. Calderón's servants, derived from the gracioso invented by Lope, are a combination of a shrewd rascal faithful to his master and a character added to the cast to provide humor. During his ten years of service in Spanish armies (1625-1635) Calderón sent back from Flanders and Italy about ten plays, including IT IS BETTER THAN IT WAS, an optimistic contrast to the earlier IT IS WORSE THAN IT WAS. In the celebrated letter to the Duke of Veragua, written ten months before his death and listing the 111 plays from his pen, Calderón mentioned it as among those still unpublished. There is little philosophy in this drama, aside from the shrewd wisdom and salty comments of the skeptical servant. It is a comedy of love-making among the nobility, with the outcome not definitely known until the lines spoken just before the hero puts in a good word for the author to end the play.

The Story:

Flora and her friend Laura, both motherless, went out veiled into the streets of Vienna to witness the city's welcome to the Spanish princess Maria. Unfortunately, they were recognized by Arnaldo, in love with Laura, and by Licio, chosen by Flora's father as the future husband of his daughter. Flora became intrigued by the attempts of a handsome stranger to talk to her. When a quarrel between him and Licio seemed imminent, both ladies fled to their homes.

Into Flora's home rushed the stranger, Carlos Colona, in search of asylum. He said that he had been forced into a duel over a veiled woman and had killed his challenger. Without identifying herself, Flora promised him protection and hid him in a closet as Arnaldo appeared, seeking to kill the man who had murdered Licio. Her father, Don Cesar, also came in, having learned from Dinero, the stranger's servant, that the murderer was the son of his old friend, the Governor of Brandenburg. He faced a predicament. His ties of friendship required that he help the young fugitive, but as magistrate he must hunt him down and execute him.

In the meantime Arnaldo had carried the news to Laura as an excuse to enter her house without objections from her brother and guardian, Fabio; but Fabio warned the young man never again to try to talk to Laura while she was unchaperoned. Then, seeing in Flora's grief a chance to further his own courtship, Fabio left to visit her and in doing so interrupted her plans to get Don Carlos to a place of safety.

Because there were too many people around the house, visitors come to see the magistrate, Flora and her servant Silvia decided to hide Don Carlos in the tower of the building, formerly the town jail. Later Silvia returned to tell the fugitive that a heavily muffled woman wanted to talk to him. Flora, the caller, knew that it was impossible for her to go openly calling on the man who had just killed her fiance. Don Carlos decided that the women of Vienna were kind to strangers. The visitor, after making him promise not to try to discover her identity, explained that she had come because she was the cause of all his trouble, the motive for the duel, and she wanted to make amends. He answered that he was leaving Vienna as soon as possible in order not to harm her reputation. But the arrival of Dinero again delayed his escape. The servant, learning Flora's identity, prevented her father's discovery of her secret by claiming that he had brought a cloak which the girl was merely trying on.

Don Cesar having gone to post guards at the gates, Don Carlos gave Flora a jewel as a token and then slipped over the wall into the next house. There he interrupted the love-making of Arnaldo and Laura, but he won their sympathy by telling a story about fleeing from a jealous husband. Arnaldo, having boosted the fugitive over a high fence to safety, was himself caught by Don Cesar, who was pursuing the fugitive, and by Fabio, who had been awakened by the noise. By keeping muffled, Arnaldo tricked the magistrate into believing him the escaping Don Carlos. Don Cesar ordered a jailer to return the fugitive to the tower prison.

Don Carlos had already taken refuge there, convinced it was the safest place in which he could hide. The young man's presence now offered Don Cesar a triple problem of honor: his conflicting duties as father, friend, and magistrate. Meanwhile, Arnaldo, finding Don Carlos in the tower, started a quarrel. The noise of the fight brought Don Cesar to the scene. He scoffed at Arnaldo's accusations that the young man was secretly visiting Flora; his own jailer had brought the young man there. Denounced as a scandalmonger, Arnaldo was thrown out of the house.

Laura, veiled, was an early morning visitor to the tower. At first Flora, also in disguise, saw in her friend a possible rival; but Laura, thinking that the prisoner was Arnaldo, had come to confess her indiscretion, if necessary, in order to free him. The others, bursting in, found the two veiled women. Arnaldo, realizing that one was Laura, confessed his misdeeds and asked to marry her, but only after he had killed Don Carlos. The prisoner then concocted a story that placated everybody. Laura's honor was now safe. Don Carlos also assured Don Cesar that he had sought asylum in the house of his father's friend, not of his sweetheart's father; and he pointed out his marriage to Flora would resolve all problems. So all ended happily with a double wedding.

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work:

Calderón's IT IS BETTER THAN IT WAS falls into that subdivision of his cloak-and-sword plays known as the Palace Plays. Although the techniques applied to this type are essentially the same as in the cloak-and-sword plays, the distinguishing feature is that the Palace Plays revolve around incidents in the lives of the upper nobility.

The primary purpose of IT IS BETTER THAN IT WAS is simple amusement, and consequently there is little of the philosophy of Calderón's later plays. Yet there are on display many of the traits for which the playwright is noted. The stylization of balance and contrast for which Calderón had so strong a penchant is found not only in the linguistic style and imagery, but also in the arrangement of the plot. The main plot deals with Don Carlos' love for Flora, who is aiding his escape from his pursuers. The secondary plot centers around the love of Arnaldo and Laura. This situation turns on the appearance versus reality theme brought by misunderstanding, deceptions, veiled ladies, and forbidden suitors. Comic situations arise because of the discrepancy between illusion and reality and are accentuated by the compromising circumstances in which the characters find themselves.

The linguistic style and imagery are full of the gyrations of conceptual and formal language, particularly characteristic of the seventeenth century Spanish court. The rigid formality of this style and imagery, although seeming artificial today, served to create the courtly atmosphere of the society in which the action took place and its vogue for expressing matters of the heart in veiled language.

IT IS BETTER THAN IT WAS, while not being one of Calderón's most notable plays, was characteristic of his early efforts and was a great favorite of audiences who enjoyed the tricks and deceptions of Calderón's comedies.

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