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Last Updated on July 9, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1136

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Don Carlos, Infante of Spain by Friedrich Schiller is a five-act play written as a dramatic poem about the life of the titular character and the tension between him and his father, King Phillip II of Spain.

Plot Summary

In act 1, scene 1, the audience learns that Don Carlos, son of King Phillip, was once betrothed to the woman to whom his father is now married. Despite his continued feelings for her, Don Carlos keeps his love a secret from her. In scene 2, Don Carlos reunites with his friend the Marquis Roderick Posa, to whom Don Carlos discloses his love for his now-stepmother, the Queen of Spain. The Marquis suggests that Don Carlos visit the Queen in secret at Aranjuez while the King is away.

In scenes 3 and 4, the Marquis visits the Queen and her attendants at the royal country estate. The Marquis relates a fictional tale that serves as a mirror for what has happened between the Queen and Don Carlos. In the next several scenes, Don Carlos confesses his affections to Queen Elisabeth and then asks for the Marquis's support in securing an appointment from the King so that he may carry out the Marquis's wishes in Flanders.

Act 2 begins with Don Carlos ingratiating himself to his father, who has grown suspicious of Don Carlos since he returned from Alcala. Don Carlos then asks his father to take Duke Alba's place in leading the army to Flanders. After staunchly refusing, Phillip tells Alba that he will go to Flanders as planned but that he must be nicer to Don Carlos. Enraged, Alba intercepts Don Carlos on his way to the Queen's quarters, to which he has been summoned by a secret letter confessing her love. Alba and Don Carlos quarrel and then fence before the Queen interrupts them. It is then revealed that the page who delivered the letter to Don Carlos was carrying a letter from Princess Eboli, not the Queen.

Don Carlos soon enters Eboli's boudoir, embarrassed and confused. Though he rejects her, Don Carlos is impressed with Eboli's virtue. Secretly, Eboli has been communicating with the King—who intends to make her his mistress—and intends to expose Don Carlos's affections for the Queen. Eboli is hurt by Don Carlos's rejection and decides she will be the King's mistress since Don Carlos does not return her love. Don Carlos speaks to the Marquis about the King's intentions toward Eboli, believing that she would never betray her self-exalted virtue.

Act 3 begins with the King worrying about the Queen's affections, his son's suspicious behavior, and other matters. Duke Alba goes to the King and informs him that his wife is in love with his son, news that astonishes Phillip. Eboli, Alba, and the King's confessor, Domingo, conspire to catch Don Carlos and the Queen together, but Phillip does not trust their intentions. Instead, he enlists the help of the Marquis to find out the truth.

At the beginning of act 4, the Marquis visits the Queen to inform her of his new role with the King. Don Carlos then finds out that the Marquis is working with the King from Count Lerma. Don Carlos believes he has been betrayed until he sees the Marquis, who assures him that he is still on Don Carlos's side. The Queen confronts the King after discovering the theft of one of her caskets, which held some jewelry, letters from Don Carlos during their courtship, and a medallion from Don Carlos.

The King grows angry with her for keeping these objects and speaking about them so freely, hitting the Infanta—their daughter—in the process. The Queen falls ill, and the King reprimands the conspirators for filling his head with suspicions about his wife. The King then enlists the help of the Marquis in discovering whether or not Don Carlos is plotting treason in Flanders. Lerma once again makes Don Carlos think the Marquis has betrayed him to the King. As a result, Don Carlos goes to Eboli to ask if she will let him see the Queen in secret.

The Marquis bursts into Eboli's chamber to intervene, then has Don Carlos arrested for treachery as a means of protecting him from the wrath of his true foes. The Marquis nearly kills Eboli to keep her from revealing the truth about Don Carlos but decides he can't. Eboli then confesses to the Queen that she is the one responsible for alerting the King about Don Carlos's feelings for her; she also admits to letting the King seduce her. The Queen dismisses Eboli from court, and the Marquis goes to bid farewell to the Queen, for he has made a decision.

This decision is revealed at the end of the act, in which the King receives a letter naming the Marquis as a traitorous schemer against him. At the beginning of act 5, Don Carlos is released from prison after Eboli intercedes on his behalf with the King. The Marquis then visits Don Carlos and explains his actions. The Marquis wrote to William of Orange that he was in love with the Queen and had framed Don Carlos. When the King opened the letter before being sent, as was customary for all letters sent to Brabant and Flanders, he believed the Marquis's falsified story.

Before Don Carlos can take the Marquis before the King and confess all, an assassin shoots and kills the Marquis through the grating of the prison cell. When the King arrives at the prison to escort Don Carlos, as he had requested, Don Carlos tells his father the truth—that the Marquis was a noble and true friend who had died for Don Carlos. At the same time, Madrid erupts in rebellion, and the King faints after declaring his son the new ruler. While the King shuts himself up in his chamber, the Queen arranges for Don Carlos to escape Madrid in the night under cover of the rebellion.

However, Alba discovers this plot after intercepting the monk who delivered the letters to Don Carlos from the Queen. When Alba goes to tell the King, Phillip expresses remorse for having the Marquis killed, saying he was a lover of all humanity. Shortly afterward, the Grand Inquisitor pays the King a visit, telling him that the Marquis was a known heretic and should never have been allowed so close to the King's counsel. The King asks if he could kill his own child and whether their religion would accept it.

In the final scene of the play, Don Carlos and the Queen discuss their newfound dedication to each other in friendship. Don Carlos intends to go to Flanders and meet his father in battle for the Spanish throne. Just as they are about to part, the King enters, killing the Queen and asking the Grand Inquisitor to "do his part."

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1172

King Philip II of Spain does not wish to trust his son, Don Carlos, with any of the crown’s affairs, ostensibly because, even though Don Carlos is twenty-three years old, he is too hot-blooded. Probably the real reason is that Philip, who forced his father, Charles V, from the throne, now fears his own son. The differences and coldness between the king and his son are aggravated by the fact that Philip is married to Elizabeth de Valois, with whom Don Carlos was in love. Indeed, the courtship between the two was sanctioned by France and Spain, until Philip decided to take Elizabeth for himself.

Don Carlos hides his continuing love for Elizabeth, now his stepmother, until his friend, the Marquis de Posa, returns from Flanders, at which time Don Carlos confides in him. The marquis is horrified but swears upon their boyhood friendship to help the prince, if the prince in turn will try to help the people of Flanders escape from the heavy and tyrannic policies forced upon them by Philip through his emissary, the duke of Alva.

Don Carlos goes to his father and pleads that he be made the king’s agent in Flanders, declaring that he will act humanely toward the people. Philip refuses to listen and sends the duke over Don Carlos’s protests. He does, however, request that the duke be better disposed toward his son. When the duke goes to speak to the prince, he finds Don Carlos in the queen’s antechamber. They have words and fight, until the queen intervenes.

From one of the queen’s pages Don Carlos receives a mysterious note and a key to a room in the queen’s apartments. Hoping against hope that the queen sent it to him, he goes to the room, an act for which his jealous father would have punished him severely. Instead of the queen, he finds the Princess de Eboli, who sent him the note because she fell in love with him. She asks his help in evading the importunities of the king, who seeks her for his mistress, but Don Carlos repels her advances and thus incurs her anger. When he leaves, he takes with him a letter that the king sent her. Hoping to use the letter as proof that the king is a tyrant and an evil man, he shows it to the Marquis de Posa. The marquis tears up the letter, however, saying that it is too dangerous a weapon and might hurt Don Carlos and the queen more than the king.

In the meantime, the Princess de Eboli, infuriated at Don Carlos’s refusal of her love, goes to Domingo, the king’s confessor and pander, and tells him of her decision to become Philip’s mistress. She also tells about meeting the prince and that he obviously hoped to meet the queen. That information pleases Domingo and the duke of Alva, who want to rid the kingdom of both Don Carlos and the queen.

With the help of the princess, the duke and the confessor lay a trap for Don Carlos and the queen. Becoming suspicious of the conspirators’ motives, Philip calls in a man he thinks will be completely honest in solving the problem. Ironically, that man is Don Carlos’s friend, the Marquis de Posa. He quickly gains the king’s confidence, even though some of his religious ideas are heretical, and he does his best to help Don Carlos. Because the marquis works in secret, Don Carlos considers him disloyal. Other courtiers report to Don Carlos that a file of letters he gave to the marquis were seen in the king’s chamber. What Don Carlos hears is true, for the marquis finds it necessary to tell the truth about the letters to clear Don Carlos of the charge of illicit relations with the queen.

Don Carlos, not knowing the truth concerning the marquis’s activities, goes to Princess de Eboli to seek her help. The Marquis de Posa, learning of Don Carlos’s visit to the princess, enters immediately after the prince. Using the authority given him by the king to arrest Don Carlos, the marquis puts him incommunicado in prison, lest he talk to others who can do him harm. The easiest way to keep Don Carlos safe would be to murder Princess de Eboli, but the marquis does not have the heart to kill her, even when his dagger is at her breast.

Instead of assuming the guilt of murder, the marquis resolves to make himself the victim. The king is convinced that Don Carlos and the queen are involved in a treasonable plot against the crown in Flanders. To clear them, the marquis sends a letter he knows will be put into the king’s hands. In it he states that he, the marquis, is the real conspirator. Afterward the marquis has only enough time to go to the prison and reveal his true actions to Don Carlos before a shot is fired through the gratings by an assassin sent by Philip.

Popular wrath and the indignation of the grandees force Philip to release his son, but Don Carlos refuses to leave the prison until his father comes in person to give him back his sword and his freedom. When Philip arrives, in the company of the grandees of the council, Don Carlos confronts him with the marquis’s corpse and tells him that he caused the murder of an innocent man. Philip, seeing the truth of the accusation and filled with remorse, becomes ill in the prison and is carried away by the grandees.

A friend reports to Don Carlos that the king and the duke of Alva are enraged by public reaction in favor of the imprisoned prince. Hoping to lift the yoke of tyranny that his father and the duke of Alva imposed on that country and its people, Don Carlos decides to leave Spain immediately and go to Flanders. Before he leaves, he plans to see the queen once more and tell her of his plans. Donning a mask and the garb of a monk, he goes through a secret passage to the queen’s wing of the castle. Once there he walks openly through the corridors to her rooms, able to do so because of a superstition that Charles V, garbed in like manner, haunts the castle. The superstitious soldiers let him pass.

The king, meanwhile, sends for the Cardinal Inquisitor. Asked for his advice, the churchman rebukes Philip for his waywardness in letting the heretic marquis escape proper punishment for so long and then having him killed for political reasons. They discuss also the heresy of the young prince, and Philip resolves to turn his son over to the Inquisition for punishment. Philip leads the cardinal to the queen’s apartments, for, having heard reports of the ghost, he guesses who is beneath the disguise. Don Carlos is found with the queen and handed over to the authorities of the Inquisition.

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