(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Gregorio Martínez Sierra’s prolific output transcends any brief attempt at analysis. One can, however, analyze the various styles, techniques, and dramatic themes that make his drama unique. Concerning his style, there is a definite movement away from the abstract and poetic language of the modernist mode to a more concrete and realistic portrayal of life. Although his style acquired an ever greater simplicity, his themes remained relatively constant. For example, there is a profound faith in nature’s healing qualities, as well as a strong moralistic overtone in almost all of his plays. It was not until 1910, however, that Martínez Sierra developed the dramatic formula that would become synonymous with his name. With the premiere of El ama de la casa, Martínez Sierra combined a simple and direct style with the recurring theme of maternal love. Given the substantial contributions of María Martínez Sierra, it is not surprising that the women in Martínez Sierra’s plays are more believable than the men. In Spanish society, which frequently stereotyped its women as either pure and innocent maidens to be cared for by their husbands, or dangerous and alluring temptresses to be encountered as prostitutes or mistresses, the plays of the Martínez Sierras reminded audiences that women transcend any stereotype and are more than capable of contributing equally with men to society’s well-being.

Martínez Sierra’s theatrical career as dramatist and director spanned almost the entire first half of the twentieth century. Beginning in 1907, with his first dramatic production, Vida y dulzura, his presence on the Spanish stage continued to grow in stature. For example, four years later, in 1911, with the performance of The Cradle Song, he was given one of the Spanish Royal Academy’s highest recognitions when his play was chosen as that year’s outstanding drama. The three decades that were to follow saw the production of more than forty original plays, as well as the direction of many other Spanish and foreign dramas. During the years 1916 through 1924, he managed his own drama company, producing highly acclaimed plays from Madrid’s Eslava Theater and introducing many innovative techniques in the art of directing. Although the last decade of his life was lived mostly outside Spain, first in the United States and later in Argentina, his influence both within and without his mother country continued unabated until his death in 1947. Because of the large number of plays credited to Martínez Sierra, the analysis of individual dramas will focus on those plays that are considered most representative.

Martínez Sierra’s early drama reflected a modernist heritage characterized by a rather languid style, melancholy in tone and moralistic in content. Nevertheless, there is a definite progression away from the ethereal and toward the concrete. Through the influence of Santiago Rusiñol, the renowned Catalonian dramatist, Martínez Sierra began to cultivate a simple and more direct style that focused on the everyday domestic occurrences that would be more likely to please the Spanish public.

Teatro de ensueño

Martínez Sierra’s initial attempt at theater, Teatro de ensueño (dream theater), consisted of a collection of modernist pieces that, for the most part, lacked the necessary dramatic tension to be produced onstage. Nevertheless, it included a work entitled Saltimbanquis (the tumblers), which was later set to music. Teatro de ensueño’s first dramatic sketch, “Por el sendero florido” (along the flowery path), tells of the grief experienced by a young man whose wife literally works herself to death for love of her husband. A source of joy to her husband when alive, she becomes an even greater blessing to him when he associates his wife’s love with the life-giving warmth of the sun.

The second piece, “Pastoral,” depicts, in allegorical terms, humankind’s often misguided quest for happiness. The protagonist, Alcino, represents Everyman, as he searches for his idyllic Sun Queen. Unable to recognize the pure and innocent love of his companion Rosa María, who represents opportunity, Alcino loses his chance for true love. Nevertheless, he has learned the important lesson that happiness often is very close at hand if one but opens one’s eyes.

Teatro de ensueño’s third sketch is entitled “Cuento de labios en flor” (story of lips in flower). Of the three sketches, this is the most poetic. Two sisters, Blanca and Rosalina, fall in love with a young artist. Their love for each other, however, moves each one to sacrifice her own happiness for that of the other. Each sister throws herself into a stream so that the other might experience the artist’s love. All ends well when they are reunited through nature as two water lilies.

Although these poetic sketches, with their clear moral teachings, resemble stylized parables rather than complex human dramas, they do possess, in embryonic form, the seeds of dramatic conflict that would come to full fruition by 1911. For example, from the protagonist of “Pastoral” would develop the more believable yet equally weak-willed and dependent male characters of Martínez Sierra’s later plays. Similarly, the self-sacrificing wife of “Por el sendero florido” and the sisters of “Cuento de labios en flor” foreshadow the strong-willed, self-sacrificing, and intelligent female characters that have come to be associated with his better-known dramas.

Vida y dulzura

Martínez Sierra’s first play performed for a Madrid audience, Vida y dulzura, was written in collaboration with Santiago Rusiñol. The dramatic action revolves around a young woman’s quest to choose her own destiny. Reared in a highly intellectual atmosphere, Marcela has acquired a true love of learning and scientific investigation. Nevertheless, she sees in her parents’ fondness for intellectual pursuits a certain lack of openness and spontaneity. Although her parents hope that she will marry the learned but dull Dr. Dalmau, she finds herself attracted to Enrique, a pleasant young man whose simple manner fails to impress Marcela’s parents. By her shrewdness, Marcela eventually convinces...

(The entire section is 2571 words.)