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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