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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