Article abstract: Lope de Vega was the creator of the Spanish national theater of the Golden Age. He established the norms that would characterize Spanish theater until the late seventeenth century.
Lope de Vega Carpio was of humble origins. His father, an embroiderer, died when Lope de Vega was still a boy. At an early age, Lope de Vega was taken to Seville for a brief period, but he spent most of his life in Madrid, at that time a highly stimulating city and cultural center. Juan Pérez de Montalbán, Lope de Vega’s disciple and first biographer, relates that at five years of age, Lope de Vega could read in Spanish and in Latin. At seven, he was writing his first compositions, and at ten, his first plays. Lope de Vega continued his studies at the Colegio de la Compañía de Jesús. About 1576, he entered into the service of Jerónimo Manrique de Lara, Bishop of Ávila. He probably later attended the University of Alcalá. In 1580, he left for Salamanca, where he was a student at the university.
Lope de Vega was involved in many amorous relationships and participated in several military campaigns. In 1579, when he had just turned seventeen, he fell in love with María de Aragón, then fifteen. In 1583, he accompanied Alvaro de Bazán on a military campaign to Terceira Island. It was upon his return that he met Elena Osorio, then unhappily married to a comic actor, and became her lover. By this time, Lope de Vega’s reputation as a writer was starting to grow, and Elena’s father, who recognized the young man’s potential, did not oppose the relationship, but Lope de Vega, fiercely jealous of Elena’s husband, wrote some provocative verses that caused a scandal. Elena reacted violently to his behavior, and the playwright then responded by attacking Elena and her family, once more in verse. In 1587, Lope de Vega was detained by the authorities for libel, and the following year he was condemned to exile. He then ran away with Isabel de Urbina, whom he married before embarking on the ill-fated Spanish Armada.
After Isabel’s death in 1595, Lope de Vega was permitted to return to Madrid. During the following years, he developed into the leading Spanish playwright. It was during this period that he became embroiled in a heated literary polemic with the poet Luis de Góngora, whose ornate style Lope de Vega disliked intensely. In 1598, Lope de Vega married Juana de Guardo, while continuing his amorous relationship with Micaela de Luján, called Camila Lucinda in his verses. During the fifteen years he was married to Juana, he engaged in numerous affairs. In 1605, he entered into the service of the Duke of Sessa, who became his patron. When Juana died in 1613, Lope de Vega took holy orders without diminishing either his involvement in love intrigues or his literary production. By this point in his life, he had become the model for all the playwrights of his generation.
Lope de Vega’s active love life did not distract him from writing. He was one of the most prolific literary figures in Spanish history. He claimed to have written about fifteen hundred plays, although modern critics maintain that this figure is certainly an exaggeration. About 470 of his full-length plays survive. In addition, he wrote short, one-act religious plays known as autos sacramentales, as well as poetry and novels. Because of his almost superhuman talents and energy, he was called the “Phoenix of Geniuses” and the “Monster of Nature.”
Following the lead of Lope de Rueda, Lope de Vega began early in his career to write for the masses. He chose themes that would interest the common man, often dramatizing well-known and popular legends or historical events. Many of his plays were based on episodes from chronicles or on folk songs. By selecting subjects that were familiar and popular, Lope de Vega created a theater that would hold the interest of his audience, and one that was distinctly Spanish in nature.
In El arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo (The New Art of Writing Plays, 1914), published in 1609, Lope de Vega explained his dramatic theory. He recommended that playwrights choose subjects, such as love and honor, that would elicit strong reactions from the audience. He abandoned many of the conventions that characterized earlier Spanish theater. For example, classical tradition dictated that dramatists respect the unities of time, place, and action, according to which a plot...
(The entire section is 1855 words.)