Lope de Rueda’s pasos are short, anecdotal skits designed to entertain; they contain no philosophical or moral message. Although they depict the subculture of the poor, the pasos were not construed as instruments of social reform. Survival, not injustice, is Lope de Rueda’s primary theme.
Even so, the pasos provide a telling picture of the situation of the poor during the early part of the sixteenth century. Hunger is a constant preoccupation. In nearly all the pasos, characters are concerned about where they will obtain their next meal. In the first paso of El deleitoso, Luquitas and Alameda spend the afternoon enjoying themselves in a pastry shop, then worry about how to avoid punishment from their master, Salcedo. The entire first part of the play consists of comments on the excellence of the buñuelos, or doughnuts, that the servants have eaten. The dialogue reveals that for Alameda, especially, the visit to the pastry shop has been a special treat because he is not accustomed to eating so well.
In the second paso, Salcedo tries to frighten Alameda by pretending to be a ghost. One of the first questions Alameda asks his disguised master is whether ghosts eat, and if so, what. In the fourth paso, a hungry traveler arrives in a village, where he claims to be the friend of a certain Licenciado Xáquima, from whom he expects hospitality. Licenciado Xáquima is even poorer and hungrier than he, but feeling obligated, he invites the traveler to dinner, even though he has no money to provide a meal. In order to extricate Xáquima from this embarrassing situation, Bachiller Brazuelos hides him under the table and promises to tell the traveler that his host was called away by the archbishop on important business, but when the guest arrives, Brazuelos ruins everything by telling him the truth. In the fifth paso, two thieves distract their victim by describing an imaginary land full of good things to eat. All of these sketches reveal the extreme importance that getting food had for the Spanish underclass.
Because they are needy, Lope de Rueda’s paso characters are crafty and manipulative. Among the indigent, survival demands nimble wits. An astute liar or thief is the object of admiration. In El rufián cobarde y barrera, the fifth paso of Registro de representantes, the thief Sigüenza brags about his “art,” which consists of bringing home “four or five bags and purses,” without buying even “the leather that they’re made of.” In the first paso of El deleitoso, Alameda is impressed with Luquitas’s talent for filching. Hunger breeds distrust and selfishness. In Tantico pan, a paso from Rueda’s comedia, Medora, Perico uses all of his resources to protect a piece of bread from Ortega, who labors to bargain it away.
Those who are dull are exploited. The simple, or simpleton, is a stock Lope de Rueda character, an object of hilarity rather than of compassion; just as Lope de Rueda shows no moral contempt for petty thieves, so he shows no sympathy for their victims. In the fifth paso of El deleitoso, for example, two thieves who are “dizzy with hunger” pounce on a victim and succeed with their scheme because he is too stupid to see through it.
Hunger makes many of Lope de Rueda’s characters irrational or gullible. The two bumpkins in the seventh paso, known as The Olives, fantasize about a windfall precisely because they are so poor. Mendrugo, the simpleton of the fifth paso, falls for the thieves’ story because the image of a land filled with delicacies that cry, “Eat me! Eat me!” is irresistible to a pauper. In many of Lope de Rueda’s pasos, clever swindlers play on the dreams of their victims to cheat them out of their last coin.
To the characters who populate Lope de Rueda’s underworld, the universe is a chaotic interplay of incomprehensible forces. An individual must be alert because unexpected turns of events can catch him off guard and because the strong and the clever routinely abuse the weak. Lope de Rueda’s characters are plagued by superstition and fear. They feel menaced by external forces and by one another. Alameda is afraid of ghosts, which makes him easy to manipulate; he and Luquitas are both afraid of their master. In El rufián cobarde y barrera, the braggart-thug Sigüenza is afraid to fight Estepa, who punishes him for his cowardice by running away with Sebastiana, Sigüenza’s girlfriend.
The pasos depict a fixed group of stock characters, the most common of which is the simpleton. Much of the humor of the pasos derives from the simpleton’s candor, gullibility, and lack of verbal sophistication. Typically, the simpleton is manipulated by a more clever character who tells him what to do or say, but the simpleton misunderstands the instructions and says or does the wrong thing. One of the most amusing exchanges in the fourth paso, Los lacayos ladrones, of Registro de representantes, is a conversation between a lackey named Molina and a constable, in which the thief Madrigalejo puts words into Molina’s mouth:Constable: Where are you from? Madrigalejo: Say from Salamanca.
(The entire section is 2244 words.)