Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1136
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.
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,...
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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."