Although Pedro Calderón de la Barca is remembered primarily as a verse dramatist, he is also noted for his lyric poetry, some of which was not incorporated into his plays. The sonnet was the most prevalent poetic form used by Calderón. The collection Los sonetos de Calderón en sus obras dramáticas (1974) contains his nondramatic sonnets, those included in his plays, and the one sonnet from his long poem, Psalle et sile (1741).
Pedro Calderón de la Barca, whose death in 1681 marks the end of Spain’s great period of literary and artistic excellence known as its Golden Age , is generally recognized as one of the most accomplished Spanish dramatists of all time. His plays differ from the plays of his predecessor Lope de Vega Carpio (the “father of Spanish theater”) in several ways. Calderón’s dramas are generally regarded as more polished than Lope de Vega’s, and their complex structure contrasts with the seeming naturalness of Lope de Vega’s works. Although Lope de Vega often seems primarily interested in capturing the essence of seventeenth century Spanish life, Calderón’s dramas demonstrate the author’s concern with more universal—and often abstract—questions of human existence. It is probably because of his more universal focus that Calderón’s work has had a wider appeal than Lope de Vega’s. Life Is a Dream, his most famous drama, ranks as one of the unquestioned masterpieces of world theater.
Calderón is particularly noted for his religious theater. He is the undisputed master of the auto sacramental —the one-act, allegorical, religious drama performed as part of Spain’s celebration of Corpus Christi. This genre accounts for 74 of the 182 works included in the standard Spanish edition of his complete works, and many of his full-length plays are also about religious topics. Surprisingly, even these works continue to enjoy a wide appeal in an age in which religious faith is declining. The Devotion to the Cross, for example, was much admired by the agnostic philosopher Albert Camus, who translated this play into French in 1953.
If Pedro Calderón de la Barca is indeed a major writer of the Spanish Golden Age, what do his plays suggest about the literary traits that Spaniards of that age admired or expected?
To what extent does the auto sacramental resemble English religious plays with which you are familiar?
How does the theme of the Rosaura plot in Life Is a Dream relate to the plot involving Segismundo?
Why must humans consider life as a dream?
What features of Life Is a Dream seem most like comedy as William Shakespeare practiced it? What features seem significantly different?
Acker, Thomas S. The Baroque Vortex: Velázquez, Calderón, and Gracián Under Philip IV. New York: P. Lang, 2000. This comparative study places Calderón in both a literary and historical context. Contains bibliographical references.
Aycock, Wendell M., and Sydney P. Cravens, eds. Calderón de la Barca at the Tercentenary: Comparative Views. Lubbock: Texas Tech Press, 1982. An important collection of papers on the three-hundredth anniversary of Calderón’s death. The essayists concentrate on comparing some of Calderón’s contributions with other artistic impulses, such as German Idealist philosophy, Euripides, Mexican cleric characters, and William Shakespeare.
Cascardi, Anthony J. The Limits of Illusion: A Critical Study of Calderón. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Valuable for the breadth and variety of its inquiry. Concentrates on Calderón’s unique notion of a universal dramatic theme—illusion. Index.
De Armas, Frederick A. The Prince in the Tower: Perceptions of “La vida es sueño.” Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1993. Various perspectives on Calderón’s Life Is a Dream. Bibliography and index.
Delgado Morales, Manuel, ed. The Calderonian Stage: Body and Soul. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1997. An analysis of the staging and production of the dramas of Calderón. Bibliography and index.
Edwards, Gwynne. The Prison and the Labyrinth. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1978. This imagery study of Calderón’s tragedies illuminates the texts by characterizing his moral dilemma as physical enclosures from which his true psychological and spiritual self cannot escape without free will. “Disposition and environment may incline” the will in one direction or another, says Edwards, but “they cannot force.” Contains a bibliography and an index.
Fitzgerald, Edward. Eight Dramas of Calderón. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000. Fitzgerald adheres to the lyrical quality of the original text in this English version. Includes the latest editions of the classic translations of The Mayor of...
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