Don Juan Ruiz de Alarcón y Mendoza was born in Mexico City or environs, possibly in Taxco. The year was 1581, almost certainly, but there are no records to substantiate the day or the month. His parents had emigrated from Spain, but very little is known about them beyond the fact that both bore illustrious family names; the father had some connection to the silver mines of Taxco, perhaps as an overseer, and the mother was known as Doña Leonor. The playwright’s ostentatious addition of the title “Don” later in life derives from a claim to hereditary nobility through the maternal line of Mendoza.
Ruiz de Alarcón completed several courses in canon law at the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico by 1600, but apparently he did not graduate. By October of that year, he was in Spain, enrolled at the University of Salamanca. In very short order—a matter of two weeks—he received a bachelor’s degree in canon law and immediately registered to pursue the equivalent degree in civil law.
Records at the University of Salamanca suggest that he initially matriculated as simply Juan Ruiz. In time, he added “de Alarcón,” and as he became more acclimatized to a new and often hostile environment, the mother’s family name was appended, which served to justify the addition of Don at the other end. By the time his name assumed its full form, he was established in Madrid as a dramatist. At least one wit of the day made the comment that Ruiz de Alarcón’s name had by then come to exceed the bearer’s height by its inordinate length. Another commented that the somewhat questionable use of D. (the abbreviation of Don) could serve as the writer’s half portrait in profile, since he was both humpbacked and pigeon-breasted. Another observed that it was impossible to tell, seen from a distance, whether he was coming or going. It was also held against him that he had...
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