Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1817
First produced: 1907
First published: 1908
Type of work: Drama
Type of plot: Comic romance
Time of work: Early seventeenth century
Leander, a rogue with gentlemanly attainments
Crispin, his accomplice
Silvia Polichinelle, an heiress
Signor Polichinelle, Silvia's miserly father
Dona Sirena, a well-placed, but penniless aristocrat
Columbine, Dona Sirena's confidante and servant
Harlequin, poet and lover of Columbine
This play was a product of the Nobel Prize winner in 1922 and one of the most important authors in the Spanish literary world of the twentieth century. In this particular work we find Benavente y Martínez playing the part of satirist, demonstrating the duality of man's nature. He has attempted to reveal the mixture of good and evil in every man by showing that the human personality is a complex one, that generosity and friendliness mingle freely, but irreconcilably, with the sordid and base. In addition, Benavente y Martínez shows by means of the characters and the action in THE BONDS OF INTEREST that every person must be made aware of the practical implications of one's conduct and the effect that these implications have on every person's ethical outlook. One point that this play, and Benavente y Martínez's work in general, makes clear: he was primarily interested in man as an individual. Benavente y Martínez, a Loyalist sympathizer, disappeared during the Spanish Civil War; his fate has not definitely been determined.
Crispin and Leander, two rascals with gentlemanly airs, arrived penniless in a strange city. Crispin, the more realistic of the two, pointed out that there were actually two cities, one of the rich and one of the poor. He hoped that they would chance upon the better one. Being penniless, the two rogues plotted to make their way by putting on the best possible front. Leander suggested that they make use of some letters of introduction which he had received to present to persons of mark in the city, but Crispin scoffed at the idea.
Instead, he proposed that Leander impersonate a great nobleman who came to the city on official but mysterious business. He further proposed that he, Crispin, would act as a servant and carry off the whole plan, if Leander would remain quiet and speak only when necessary. Leander having agreed, Crispin proceeded to pound on the door of an inn. By treating the innkeeper with blows and scurrilous language, they convinced him that Leander was indeed a great man and one whom the innkeeper should welcome to his establishment. So deceived was he that he had his best rooms made ready for the two guests.
Shortly after Leander and Crispin had been treated so royally by the innkeeper and his household, two other down-at-heels rogues—a poet named Harlequin, and a captain—approached the inn. Knowing that they were penniless, the innkeeper refused to serve them. Crispin, hearing of their plight, forced the innkeeper to give them a fine dinner by putting them under the protection of his so-called master. The poet and the captain, pleased to be so treated, vowed friendship for the great man who had caused them to be treated like gentlemen. When asked by Leander why he helped the two, Crispin answered that by so doing they had enlisted the aid of both poetry and arms, and that with such support they could win the entire world.
In another quarter of the city a well-placed but penniless and middle-aged widow was also concerned with affairs of money. The woman, Dona Sirena, had been informed by Columbine, her maid, that the servants, musicians, and trades-people had all refused to serve her until she paid her overdue bills. Dona Sirena had planned a garden fete for the same day, at which were to appear Signor and Signora Polichinelle, along with Silvia, their only daughter. Since Signor Polichinelle was extremely rich, Dona Sirena was trying to wed their daughter to one of her own friends, all of whom had signed statements agreeing to pay a large sum of money to Dona Sirena for arranging the match.
Columbine, in love with Harlequin, promised to get help from him for her mistress, for he had many friends who would be willing to help put on the garden fete. But when Columbine went to find Harlequin, she found Crispin instead. Crispin introduced himself as her lover's friend and told her that if his master were invited to the fete he would see that the affair went off well. Crispin pointed out that his master wished to marry Silvia Polichinelle and would amply reward Dona Sirena for her aid as matchmaker.
The fete began in grand style that afternoon. When he arrived, Crispin gave Dona Sirena a promissory note in which his master agreed to pay a large sum at the time of the marriage and another large sum upon the death of Signor Polichinelle. Dona Sirena did not know who Leander was, but she found the prospect of money too pleasant to be ignored, and so she agreed.
The fete was a success in every way. Everyone was anxious to learn the identity of the great but mysterious nobleman who paid marked attentions to Silvia Polichinelle, and all except Signor Polichinelle seemed happy at the prospect of a match between the two. Silvia herself had quickly fallen in love with the handsome young man and her mother, despising her own husband as a vulgar tradesman, seconded the daughter in preferring the young nobleman for a prospective husband. Leander was in love with Silvia the moment he saw her. Crispin, seeing that the only possible trouble lay with Signor Polichinelle, plotted to keep him in the background.
Before long Leander and Crispin found their own affairs in a sorry state. Having paid for nothing since their arrival in the city, they were faced by many creditors demanding payment. In addition, Leander had become over-scrupulous in the plan to have him marry Silvia Polichinelle. Having fallen in love with the girl, he did not want to marry her under false pretenses. The only successful aspect of the adventure seemed to be Crispin's; he was plotting to undermine the name of Silvia's father so that he could not very well oppose the marriage. Crispin's last stratagem had been to have Leander attacked by a group of rascals and then to spread the word that the bravos had been hired by Signor Polichinelle to assassinate Leander.
One morning Dona Sirena arrived to press for an immediate marriage between Silvia and Leander, for she wanted money without delay. Silvia, she declared, was at her house and quite ready for the ceremony. She also reported that the authorities, including a lawyer from Bologna, were hot on the trail of Leander and Crispin, and she pointed out that the marriage must take place quickly, if it was to take place at all. At that moment Silvia arrived and proposed an immediate ceremony. Leander began to tell her of the plot by which he had hoped to make her his wife. He was interrupted when the authorities and the rogues' angry creditors arrived at the door. Crispin, after hiding Silvia and helping Leander to escape through a window, prepared to meet the men clamoring at the door.
The creditors stormed in, announcing their intention to send Leander and Crispin to prison and to seize whatever property the two possessed, but after some argument Crispin was able to convince them that such a procedure, while it would hurt him and Leander, would not pay their debts. He then proceeded to point out that it was to everyone's benefit to hush up the matter of credit and promote the marriage between Silvia and Leander. Then Leander would be in control of a fortune and would be able to pay his bills.
The practical aspects of Crispin's proposals appealed to everyone but Signor Polichinelle. The creditors immediately pounced on him, however, and badgered him into consenting to the wedding. He also was forced into agreeing to give his daughter a large sum of money as a dowry, to be paid over to Leander. Everyone was then completely happy. Leander confessed his true identity to Silvia, who said it mattered not to her. Even Silvia's mother was so pleased with his manners and appearance that she made no protest. Silvia replied to her lover that everyone was moved by the bonds of interest between himself and other people. She added that the strongest bond was love, the bond that had drawn her and Leander together.
Further Critical Evaluation of the Work:
Benavente y Martínez is a piquant realist at heart, but also a master of fantasy and always a proponent for the good, the beautiful, and the true. As is evident from THE BONDS OF INTEREST, he is most concerned with devising ingenious plots, like his Spanish predecessors, or illustrating the need for some reform, like the Northern writers in the theater of social criticism. Beneath the surface of the world as it is, he perceives an underlying reality, often opposed to the phenomenal world. In THE BONDS OF INTEREST, the best of Benavente y Martínez's plays in a lighter vein, the playwright makes a moral use of the old Italian comedy of masks, but does so with a poetic delicacy intermixed with picaresque spice.
What interests Benavente y Martínez in this work is the contrast between body and soul so often set forth in Spanish literature and in the works of the French romanticists. Crispin is that within us which contrives and seeks gain. Leander, redeemed by his love for Silvia, disputes Crispin's statement that "the ties of love are as nothing to the bonds of interest." As for Silvia, she affirms the existence of some divine element in our lives which will live on after the physical death of the body. This affirmation poses a dilemma to some critics who regard Benavente y Martínez as a pessimist and see a dark shadow in the irony of the play. But although the author is a master of irony, he is surely not a pessimist. He is rather a keen observer commenting upon life agreeably and wisely, and with faith in the possibility of making it finer by educating the public; he writes in the hope that his dramas will affect meaningful changes in the attitudes of his audience.
THE BONDS OF INTEREST is an airy piece with a moral. Charming as it is in its fantasy, the comedy lacks the dramatic quality of some of Benavente y Martínez's other works, but it is a favorite on many stages. Its morality is cheerful, sound, and sensible and requires no ardent revolt against established institutions, but is content to flick with a satiric whip those ancient butts of comedy—hypocrisy and vanity—so far as they affect the individual, rather than society as a whole.