José Zorrilla y Moral Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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,...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

José Zorrilla y Moral (zawr-REE-yah ee moh-RAHL) is representative of Spanish Romanticism not only in his writing but in his life. As a young man he was, despite parental opposition, lured from the study of law by his love for poetry. His marriage to a woman of whom his father disapproved widened the breach, and as a bohemian, he frequently lived in poverty. He was able, however, to visit France in 1846 to meet the leading poets of Paris and later to travel to Mexico at the request of Emperor Maximilian to direct the National Theater. He lived in Mexico from 1855 until 1866.{$S[A]Moral, José Zorrilla y;Zorrilla y Moral, José}

He became famous in 1837, when as a gaunt youth he leaped into the grave of the suicide Mariano José de Larra, a poet and journalist who wrote under the name Figaro, and read emotional verses about the loneliness of a poet and the sacredness of his mission. This act initiated fifty years of literary production. He became a member of the Royal Academy in 1848. His lyrical and dramatic poetry was characterized by themes of mystery, melancholy, and religion against a background of wild nature. Old legends provided him with themes, and he wrapped himself in the splendor of his country’s past.

Zorrilla was also the author of about twenty original dramas, all written with speed and facility and many patterned on the cloak-and-sword dramas of the Golden Age. His mastery of many verse forms established him as one of Spain’s leading poets, and in 1881, appropriately in Granada, he was proclaimed poet laureate of Spain. Don Juan Tenorio brought him his highest fame, though he called it “the greatest nonsense ever written.” In spite of its exaggerations, melodramatic improbability, and technical flaws, the drama expresses the spirit of Spanish Romanticism and is performed throughout the Spanish-speaking world on the first of November for the Day of the Dead. A good performance of it is an artistic delight. Many like to believe that the play dramatizes fundamental eternal truths and that the characters personify the inner duality of the earthy and spiritual elements inherent in human nature. Zorilla’s Don Juan, the archetypal Romantic hero, is saved by the pure love of his Inés.