Of the fifty-odd plays by José Echegaray y Eizaguirre, The Great Galeoto perhaps has gained a reputation above the others because its prologue claims to be an intellectual discussion of a new dramatic form. The newness does not manifest itself in the play, however, and in the final analysis The Great Galeoto is as formulaic as all the Spanish plays of the era.
Spanish drama gets its formula from the Golden Age of Lope de Vega Carpio, Tirso de Molina, and, above all, Pedro Calderón de la Barca. These playwrights in turn took as their criteria for perfect dramaturgy not so much the Greek models as the ideals of their times: honor above life, devotion to the monarchy above self-service, family reputation above expediency. In a world where El Cid can be both praised and damned, where defending one’s name includes deadly fights over imagined slights, and where a lady’s shame begins even with the appearance of impropriety, the playwright need only set the great moral machine in motion with some misunderstanding, and the machine will run itself into destruction.
Echegaray’s particular approach to this formula is to turn on the phrase “he is with a lady.” In fact, Ernesto is talking with Teodora, and their discussion is pure. When Teodora’s husband discovers her in Ernesto’s room, the entire drama would dissipate if Don Julián would simply ask questions and trust Ernesto and Teodora’s answers. Echegaray’s talent, however, is to suggest that the relationship is not pure in heart—Ernesto and Teodora love each other, without even admitting it to themselves. The underlying passions, held in by self-discipline and by subtle ambiguities, do not come to fruition. Ernesto especially feels that his emotions may not be pure, and he cannot forgive himself or clear his name in good faith...
(The entire section is 749 words.)