The Passion Flower is the rather cinematographic title given to the English-language version of Jacinto Benavente y Martínez’s La malquerida, the drama on which Benavente’s British and American reputation largely rests. Its production by Nance O’Neil in 1920 met with huge success and was in part responsible for the author’s receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1922.
Some critics have referred to the play as a classical drama, but scholars attempting to analyze the play according to Aristotelian principles would find it difficult to discover unity of action. The protagonist is at one juncture Raimunda, at another Esteban, and at yet another Acacia. It is impossible to designate any one of the three as the hero or heroine of the tragedy. Indeed, it would be more realistic to call the play’s real protagonist the people and the chief theme of the drama the gradual awakening of public consciousness in this village of the Castilian uplands. In each successive act, public opinion in favor of punishing the guilty sinner increases in strength. Initially, the innocent Norbert is considered guilty, but after public opinion has sifted the evidence, he is led home in triumph by large crowds. Though the people of the village do not actually appear onstage, they function like an invisible chorus, constantly commenting on the tragic fatality of human beings.
More than any of the author’s other works, The Passion Flower shows the strength of Benavente’s female characters. Indeed, it is difficult to visualize the traditional character of the proud Castilian male in Esteban, who becomes a whimpering coward by the end of the play. Esteban, who can hardly face the glance of his wife, is far...
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