A precursor of the Spanish Golden Age dramatists, Lope de Rueda was instrumental in the popularization of theater in the middle of the sixteenth century. Distancing himself from the liturgical works then in vogue and the pastoral coloquios that were occasionally performed for the Renaissance elite, he created comical plays in everyday language that appealed to uncultured, rowdy audiences. He was the first in Spain to write pasos brief, dramatic interludes in prose in which ordinary characters confronted one another.
Often pasos were based on popular proverbs or stories. The Olives, for example, the seventh paso in El deleitoso, is based on the Spanish equivalent of “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” In this popular paso, Agueda and her husband, Toruvio, are engaged in a loud argument about the price for which their daughter Mencigüela should sell their olives in the plaza. Both parents shove and coax the girl in an effort to convince her. Finally, Mencigüela’s cries and her parents’ screams attract the attention of their neighbor Aloxa, who offers to buy the olives himself in the interest of peace and quiet. It is then that the bumpkins admit that Toruvio has just planted the olive trees that afternoon. It will be thirty years before they produce enough fruit to sell in the plaza.
The language of the pasos is that of the common people. Often, it is witty and racy and includes local jargon. After Lope de Rueda’s time, this type of sketch became an integral part of Spanish drama. Miguel de Cervantes was influenced by Lope de Rueda when he wrote his entremeses, short theatrical interludes to be performed between the acts of a longer play. In his prologue to Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses (1615; eight plays and eight interludes), Cervantes describes the primitive nature of Lope de Rueda’s theater and the excellence of his verses. Cervantes considered Lope de Rueda to be the initiator of theater in Spain, noting that it was he who took the comedia “out of swaddling clothes . . . and dressed it in elegance and ostentation.” Lope de Rueda contributed more to the art of acting and to the germination of theater groups than to the development of dramatic literature. Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo and Fernando González Ollé both argue that Lope de Rueda’s importance as a writer has been exaggerated because during his lifetime he was known as an actor rather than as a playwright.
On the other hand, the Spanish critic Francisco García Pavón writes that if it had not been for Fernando de Rojas, author of the lengthy...
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Adams, Kenneth, Ciaran Cosgrove, and James Whiston, eds. Spanish Theatre: Studies in Honour of Victor F. Dixon. Rochester, N.Y.: Tamesis, 2001. A collection of studies on various aspects of the theater in Spain. Bibliography.
Hesler, R. “A New Look at the Theater of Lope de Rueda.” Educational Theatre Journal (1964): 47-54. Hesler examines the Spanish theater during the time of Lope de Rueda, including his dramatic works.
Listerman, R. W. “Lope de Vega’s Formula for Success: Practiced Previously by Lope de Rueda.” Language Quarterly (1977): 23-24. The essay examines the similarities between the structures of Lope de Vega Carpio’s works and those of Lope de Rueda, demonstrating the latter’s influence on the former.
Rueda, Lope de. Las cuatro comedias. Madrid: Cátedra, 2001. A collection of Lope de Rueda’s comedies that also contains criticism and interpretation of his works. Bibliography. In Spanish.