Juan del Encina was one of the many children of a humble shoemaker in Salamanca named Juan de Fermoselle. His mother’s name probably was Encina. There is documental evidence that by 1490 Juan had changed his name from Fermoselle to Encina. This change of name was not an unusual practice among the humanists and artists of the Spanish Renaissance.
In 1484, Encina became a chorister in the Cathedral of Salamanca. Besides music, Encina studied law, Latin, and Greek at the university of Salamanca. At that early age, he also took minor orders, but only many years later, in 1519, was he finally ordained a priest. After the termination of his university studies, around 1492, Encina entered the household of the duke of Alba as a kind of program director for the entertainment presented on specific religious festivals and special occasions. The years Encina spent at the ducal palace of Alba de Tormes, a provincial town near Salamanca, until his departure in 1498 or 1499 mark the crucial period of his greatest literary and musical creations. It was also during this period that Encina’s professional and literary activities became closely connected with those of his great imitator, and possibly rival, Lucas Fernández, who in 1495 also had become part of the duke’s household, probably as a part-time actor serving on programs directed by Encina. The importance of Fernández’s role as cofounder of Spain’s secular drama has been borne out by most recent research on the origins of Spanish theater. Although very little documental evidence is available to shed light on the personal relationship between Encina and Fernández during those years in Alba de Tormes, the direct and immediate dependence of Fernández’s farsas and comedias on Encina’s eclogues, as well as the new dramatic ingredients that the former incorporated in his plays, have made modern students of early Spanish theater more aware of the fact that the dramatic productions of both playwrights during that crucial period of their associated activities at the ducal palace are so closely linked as to be almost inseparable. In effect, if Fernández’s dramatic production is conditioned to a great extent by that of Encina, it constitutes at the same time a short but decisive step away from the theatrical art of Encina. Fernández and not Encina...
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