Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1493
As the troops of Don Lope de Figueroa approach the village of Zalamea, old campaigner Rebolledo grumbles in true veteran fashion about the hardships of the march. Quite ready to stop and relax in the village, Rebolledo predicts that the mayor of the village will bribe the officers to march the regiment through and beyond the little community. When he is taken to task by his fellows for this unsoldierly talk, Rebolledo declares that he is mainly concerned for the welfare of his mistress, Chispa, who accompanied the troops. Chispa retorts that, although she is a woman, she can endure the march as well as any man. To cheer up the men, she sings a marching song.
Chispa’s song is barely finished when the column reaches Zalamea. It is announced that the troops will be billeted in the village to await the imminent arrival of their commander, Don Lope. The captain of the column is pleased to learn that he will be billeted in the home of a proud farmer whose daughter is reputed to be the beauty of the neighborhood.
At the same time that the troops enter Zalamea, an impoverished squire, Don Mendo, accompanied by his servant, Nuno—the pair bore a marked resemblance to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza—arrives in the village also. Don Mendo seeks the favors of Isabel, the daughter of the proud farmer, Pedro Crespo. Isabel bangs together the shutters of her window when Don Mendo greets her in foolishly extravagant terms. Crespo and his son Juan find the presence of Don Mendo highly objectionable.
When the sergeant announces to Crespo that the captain, Don Alvaro de Ataide, will be quartered in Crespo’s house, the farmer graciously accepts this imposition; Juan, however, is displeased and suggests to his father that he purchase a patent of gentility so that he might avoid having to billet troops in his home. Crespo declares that as long as he is not of gentle blood he can see no point, even though he is rich, in assuming gentility.
Isabel and her cousin, Inés, having learned of the presence of the troops, go to the attic of the house, where they will remain as long as the soldiers are in the town. On the captain’s arrival, the sergeant searches the house but is unable to find Isabel. He reports, however, that a servant tells him the woman is in the attic and will stay there until the troops depart. The captain plans to win Isabel by any means.
Rebolledo asks the captain for the privilege of officially conducting gambling among the soldiers. The captain grants the privilege in return for Rebolledo’s help in his plan to discover Isabel. The captain and Rebolledo then pretend to fight; Rebolledo, feigning great fright, flees, followed by the captain, up the stairs to the attic. Isabel admits him to her retreat and, in pleading to the captain for his life, she presents such a charming aspect to the young officer that he is completely smitten.
The clamor of the pretend fight draws Crespo home. He and Juan, with swords drawn, race upstairs to the attic. Juan senses the trick and hints as much, but Crespo, impressed by the captain’s courtesy, is duped. Insulted by Juan’s innuendoes, the captain is about to come to blows with Juan when Don Lope, the regimental commander, enters. When he demands an explanation of the scene, the captain says that Rebolledo’s insubordination had been the cause. Rebolledo, in denial, explains that the disturbance was intended to discover Crespo’s daughter. Don Lope orders the captain to change his quarters and the troops to remain in their billets; he himself chooses to stay in Crespo’s house.
Crespo, jealous of his honor, declares that he will give up all of his worldly goods in submission to the will of the king, but that he will destroy the man who would jeopardize his good name. The captain, stricken with desire for Isabel, courts her under her window; she remains disdainful. Don Mendo, hearing what has happened, arms himself and sets out to meet the captain on the field of honor. Meanwhile, the captain prevails upon Rebolledo to assist him further in his suit. Rebolledo, reconciled, suggests that Isabel can be overcome with song.
At Crespo’s, the proud farmer, mollified by Don Lope’s seeming gentility, invites the commander to sup in the garden. Don Lope, wounded in the leg in the Flemish wars, so that he is in constant pain, plays upon his infirmity to arouse Crespo’s pity. When he requests the company of Isabel at supper, Crespo readily assents, assuring Don Lope that he will be proud to have his daughter wait on such a fine gentleman. After Isabel joins Don Lope, a guitar and a vocal serenade can be heard from the street. Those in the garden are so disturbed by the serenade that the supper abruptly ends.
Outside, an armed, skinny Don Mendo says he can barely refrain from attacking the captain and his followers, but as long as Isabel does not appear in her window he will not attack. As Chispa sings a particularly vulgar song, Crespo and Don Lope, swords drawn, fall upon the serenaders and scatter them. In the fray, Don Lope belabors Don Mendo, who has somehow become involved. A short time later the captain reappears with soldiers in an official capacity to maintain the peace. Don Lope commends the captain and assures him that the trouble is of no importance. Because dawn is approaching, Don Lope tells the captain to order the regiment out of Zalamea.
The next day, the troops having left, the captain expresses his determination to stay and make a last attempt to enjoy Isabel’s favors. Further encouraged by the news that Juan has decided to become a soldier and that he will leave that day with Don Lope, he orders Rebolledo to accompany him and the sergeant on his mission. Chispa declares that she will go along, disguised as a man.
Toward sundown, Don Lope says his farewell to Crespo and gives Isabel a diamond brooch. Crespo gives fatherly advice to Juan. As father and daughter watch Don Lope and Juan gallop away, Isabel observes that it is the day for the election of municipal officers. Suddenly the captain and his followers come upon them. The captain seizes Isabel; the sergeant and Rebolledo seize Crespo.
Later that night, in the forest near Zalamea, a distracted Isabel comes upon her father tied to a tree. She tells how Juan had come upon the scene of her rape and had fought the captain. Frightened, she had run away from the fight. Crespo, comforting Isabel, vows revenge. As the old man and his daughter start for home, they encounter the town notary, who announces that Crespo has been elected mayor. He adds that the wounded captain is in the village.
In Zalamea, Crespo confronts the captain in private. He suggests that the captain, having disgraced the family honor, take Isabel as his wife, but the captain, not fearing a provincial mayor, scoffs at Crespo’s request. Crespo then orders his officers to place the captain and his followers in jail to await the judgment of the king, who is approaching Zalamea.
Returning to his house, Crespo finds Juan prepared to take Isabel’s life, to wipe out the disgrace she has innocently brought on her family. Crespo, sternly just, orders his officers to take Juan to jail for having fought his superior officer, the captain. Don Lope, on the highway, is informed that the captain has been jailed by the mayor of Zalamea. He returns to the village, goes to Crespo, and, unaware that Crespo has been elected mayor, declares that he will thrash the town official for arresting one of the king’s officers. Crespo reveals that he is the mayor and that he fully intends to see the captain hanged. Don Lope orders the regiment to return to the public square of Zalamea.
The soldiers having returned, a pitched battle between them and the townspeople of Zalamea seems imminent when King Philip II enters the village with his entourage. Don Lope explains the situation to the king, and Crespo shows his majesty depositions taken from the captain’s associates. The king agrees that the captain’s crime is vile; he declares, however, that Crespo has authority neither to judge nor to punish an officer of the king. When Crespo reveals that the captain has already been garroted in his cell and that no one knows who strangled him, the king, unable to deny that Zalamea had meted out true justice upon the captain, appoints Crespo perpetual mayor of the village. Crespo, after declaring that Isabel will take the veil of a nun, releases Rebolledo, Chispa, and Juan from jail, and returns Juan to the charge of his military mentor, Don Lope.
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