Jacinto Benavente y Martínez Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Jacinto Benavente y Martínez was the youngest of three sons born to Venancia Martínez, a native of Villarejo de Salvanés, and Dr. Mariano Benavente, a native of Murcia who had struggled to achieve success as a pediatrician. Among his patients were the children of prominent literary and political figures and some of their parents as well; he was director of the Hospital of the Child Jesus, a member of the Royal Academy of Medicine, and a recognized author of professional articles in whose honor a statue was erected in the Retiro Park. Hence, his family was assured a secure place in the upper-middle class of the time. He supervised the education of his children, who had in their home library a wide range of books. He was clearly the stronger figure of the two parents. Biographers of his son agree that the mother remained in the background, attending to the children’s religious and social education, and that she often took her youngest son with her on afternoon visits to her friends. It was during these visits, no doubt, that Benavente was first exposed to the dialogue of middle-class ladies and the bourgeois problems that he was to portray in his plays.

As a child Benavente was quiet and studious. He was an avid reader, fascinated by the theater, who took pleasure in creating skits in which he would appear with his friends. He often dressed as a clergyman, delivering his sermons to playmates and his mother’s guests. He attended the nearby Colegio San José and the Instituto San Isidro without distinction. He read William Shakespeare, Alfred de Musset, and Molière in addition to the Spanish classics. He allegedly learned English, French, and Italian during his adolescent years,...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jacinto Benavente y Martínez (bay-nah-VAHN-tay ee mahr-TEE-nehz), who was born in Madrid on August 12, 1866, began writing plays in 1894 for Spanish theatergoers who were accustomed to the artificiality and melodrama of José de Echegaray. After some experience with youthful puppet plays, brief appearances before the public as an actor, and a season as a circus clown on a European tour, this son of a Madrid physician offered a manuscript to a theatrical manager who had been one of his father’s patients. Another’s Nest (also translated as The Strange Nest), produced in 1894, had no thesis, no action, and no emotion. It merely satirized upper-and middle-class Madrid society. The author concentrated on the rich because, as he explained, the poor had troubles enough and he did not admire a dramatist who could find humor in poverty. The comedy had a chilly reception. A second attempt at social satire, Gente conocida (people you know), was better received in 1896. From then until 1902, the end of his first period, Benavente wrote twenty-two plays that held a magnifying glass over the vices of society but never offered a solution. Though he translated the plays of Henrik Ibsen, as well as of William Shakespeare and Molière, the more recent dramatists of France were his chief models, especially Henri Lavedan.

In 1903, Benavente adopted a new technique in Saturday Night. Less realism, more idealism, and a feminine slant characterized this work. Most of the plays that followed it were set outside Spain, sometimes in imaginary countries. Well-intentioned women who try to remake the morals and lives of others were the target in one of his greatest plays, The Evil of Good, in 1905. Tradition had it that the first-night audience considered it antireligious and walked out of the Lara Theater, but one of those present later refuted that legend.

The Bonds of...

(The entire section is 785 words.)