The brothers Serafín Álvarez Quintero and Joaquín Álvarez Quintero, as playwrights, can best be described as being realistic without being realists, for, although their depictions of life-as-it-is are extremely accurate in the details, taken as a whole, their perspective is not objective but subjective. Their viewpoint is positive and optimistic, and their plays celebrate the joy of life and the power of human love and understanding. Their comedy can best be described as delicate and delightful. Their serious drama tends toward an exploration of the beauty of life even in the midst of sorrow, and their satire, rather than presenting the biting excoriations of some of their predecessors in the Spanish drama, is a gentle and indulgent reminder of the many foibles of human life.
Although critical opinion does not rank the Álvarez Quinteros with the great names of Spanish literature— Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega Carpio, Jacinto Benavente y Martínez—when one considers the usual rankings of collaborators who write primarily light comedy, it is a genuine tribute to their abilities that they rank as high as they do. Although there is no doubt that the brothers strove first to entertain and to delight, they also achieved something more: They brought to the stage dramas that did not have something to say but something to show. What their dramas show is that although life can have its misfortunes and people can do petty, silly, even evil things, those who live with patience, understanding, and the redeeming power of love will find that life can be not merely worthwhile, but also joyous.
The Women’s Town
In all probability, the two best-known, and most characteristic, of the brothers’ plays are the light comedy The Women’s Town and the serious drama Malvaloca. A close analysis of these two plays reveals not only correspondences between them but also certain characteristic methods, motifs, symbols, and themes that run throughout the Álvarez Quinteros’ works.
The Women’s Town, a brief two-act comedy, was first presented in the Teatro Lara of Madrid, January 17, 1912. Highly successful, this pleasant and humane satire was twice translated into English—by Charles A. Turrell in 1919, and by Helen and Harley Granville-Barker as The Women Have Their Way in 1927. This play begins, as many of the Álvarez Quinteros’ plays do, with the appearance of a stranger in a small Andalucian town, thus giving both an internal and external view of the play’s milieu. The stranger in this case is Adolfo, the hero, a young lawyer who has come to the town on behalf of his aunt in order to settle the affairs of his late uncle’s entangled estate. Before the handsome young man is introduced to the pretty young heroine, Juanita, however, the women of the town, by means of rumor and gossip, have already established that the two young people are quite in love with each other. The women, therefore, connive to bring the young couple together, much to the discomfiture of Adolfo, who finds that he is constantly thrust into Juanita’s presence but is always under the prying eyes of the women. This situation brings about much hilarity involving Concha, the town gossip; Pepe Laura, a bungling rejected suitor; Don Julian, the village priest; and many others. Eventually and inevitably, however, Adolfo and Juanita are brought together through the women’s machination—or perhaps in spite of them—and the ending, like most of the Álvarez Quinteros’ endings, is one of undiluted happiness.
Also, as with many of their plays, there is an undercurrent of symbolism that is so natural and appropriate that it passes almost unnoticed by the...
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