Gabriel Téllez Biography


Not only does uncertainty exist involving the authorship of two plays considered to be the masterpieces of Gabriel Téllez (known best as Tirso de Molina), but also his life is shrouded in mystery. The identity of his parents is unknown, and even the date of his birth is uncertain. An eighteenth century portrait indicates that he was born in 1572. The same portrait, however, indicates that he died at the age of seventy-six years and five months on March 12, 1648 (for which he would necessarily have been born in 1571). On the other hand, a royal authorization for a party of monks to travel to the West Indies in 1616 lists his age as thirty-three years, suggesting a 1583 birth date, and in a deposition made by Tirso himself in 1638, the dramatist listed his age as fifty-seven, so that most scholars assume he was born in 1580 or early 1581 and died in February, 1648.

A fourth alternative—and a dramatic theory concerning Tirso’s parentage—has been suggested by Blanca de los Ríos, the editor of the standard Spanish edition of Tirso’s complete works, who bases her conclusions on the 1584 baptismal record of a child named Gabriel. Three lines of this document have been heavily crossed out, but Ríos believes that she has deciphered the obliterated words as reading: “Téllez Girón, son of the duke of Osuna.” Such a reading would indicate that Tirso was the illegitimate son of one of the most important men in sixteenth century Spain, and it might also explain the many puzzling vicissitudes in Tirso’s career as well as his fondness for underdogs and his antipathy toward noblemen who abuse their power. The reading suggested by Ríos, however, has not been accepted by a majority of Tirso scholars.

The scant factual material available on Tirso’s life must be gleaned from his own writings and from the records of the Mercedarian order, which he entered in 1600....

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Tirso de Molina (TEER-soh day moh-LEE-nah), Lope de Vega Carpio, and Pedro Calderón de la Barca are the triad of the great Golden Age dramatists of Spain. Tirso’s birth, around 1580, places him chronologically between the two other masters; in style and content, however, he belongs more to Lope’s dramatic cycle, and Tirso’s Los cigarrales de Toledo (the orchards of Toledo) contains a defense of Lopean theater.{$S[A]Téllez, Gabriel;Tirso de Molina}

Little is known of Tirso’s early life, although there is much speculation that he was born Gabriel Téllez of aristocratic, though illegitimate, birth. He studied at the University of Alcalá de Henares and entered the Mercedarian Order of Friars in 1600 or 1601. He was living in Toledo in 1613 when he met Lope de Vega, and his play Don Gil of the Green Breeches was performed in that city in 1615. Tirso had started writing for the theater several years before, and The Bashful Man at Court is probably the first play he wrote. (Because of the uncertainty surrounding the first performance of many Golden Age plays, the date given is generally that of the first appearance in print.)

In 1616 he was sent by his order to Hispaniola. On his return two years later, he increasingly immersed himself in his writing and in the exciting life of Madrid, the capital of the Spanish empire. His friendship with Lope opened many doors, and more of his plays were performed; soon he was basking in the applause of both public and critics. The authorities, however, were not won over. In 1626, he was banished to the backwater of Trujillo. The reason given was that a priest should not contribute to the “corruption” of others nor be seen in the “lewd” company of actors. No one knows the real motive behind this punishment, but it is widely believed that those in power had little or no toleration for Tirso’s thinly...

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