José Zorrilla y Moral left an unparalleled chronicle of his life in his works, his letters, and his autobiography. If to these sources is added the information provided by contemporary newspaper accounts of the productions of his plays and of the many public readings he gave of his poetry, it is possible that more is known of him than of any other Spanish author of his time.
He was born in Valladolid, Spain, in 1817, into a middle-class family. His father was a lawyer who worked for the government in different capacities, and the young Zorrilla y Moral moved with his family first to Seville in 1826, then to Madrid in 1827. In both cities, the boy was enrolled in prestigious schools but was not a good student. A hyperactive imagination, sensitive personality, and precocious capacity for versifying drove him to write and to recite verses at twelve years old. He began the study of law in Toledo in 1833 but experienced little interest and even less success in the field. Two years later, he published both his first poem and short story. It was then that his very strict father decided to take direct control of Zorrilla y Moral’s life, and as a result, the young poet fled to Madrid without a cent. This obscure existence would soon change, however, and for an unusual reason: After attending the burial of the great satirist José de Larra y Sánchez de Castro, the young Zorrilla y Moral stepped forward and read with trembling voice a deeply expressive poem much in the spirit of Larra’s work. Some of the writers present at the funeral offered him work in literary magazines and solicited his collaboration.
Zorrilla y Moral soon enjoyed the friendship of the most important writers of the day, and in 1837, he published one of his his first plays, Vivir loco y morir más (to live crazy and die crazier). In 1839, he was married to Florentina O’Reilly, a woman several years his senior, who brought him a son from a previous marriage. The same year,...
(The entire section is 806 words.)