(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 1172 words.)