Lope de Vega Carpio was the central figure of the great dramatic movement in Spain during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Acclaimed by many scholars as having created the comedia that provided the model for the Golden Age of Spanish theater in the seventeenth century, Vega Carpio received the honorary title of doctor of theology before terminating a career that produced hundreds of plays and extensive volumes of classical epics, lyric verse, one-acts, ballads, epistles, prose stories, and a novelized autobiography.
Vega Carpio was popular with the different levels of society; he was awarded the position of judge by the Spanish Inquisition, becoming an official censor. His popularity reflected his choice to represent the various social strata in his comedia instead of limiting his characters to the gentlemen of society. The best of his plays are those, such as The Sheep Well, that use peasants as heroes and heroines. Vega Carpio had a sympathy and feeling for those people, because they were of the same class from which he had come. The Sheep Well, because of its use of the entire population of a Spanish village as the hero, is sometimes referred to as the first proletarian drama, written some three hundred years before the flood of proletarian literature came out of the Great Depression in the United States.
Vega Carpio formulated concepts regarding the composition of the comedia toward the beginning of his career and, in El arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo (1609; The New Art of Writing Plays, 1914), read them to the Madrid literary society, who preferred the Aristotelian rules of dramatic composition. Vega Carpio rejected these classical rules in favor of popular dramatic style; his treatise in verse clarified two principal reasons for favoring this style: to give pleasure and to be true to life. In order to impart pleasure to the audience, Vega Carpio decided that comedy could be mixed with tragedy for variety and that the play, observing the unity of action, should be well constructed, with the denouement occurring in the last scene to sustain interest.
In the comedia, Vega Carpio portrays realism through natural speech that depicts the social class of the character and through the variety of verse forms that sets the mood of the characters. This treatise establishes Vega Carpio’s main theatrical theme as honor, chosen to move people of any age or social class. Soon after Vega Carpio read his formula for composing comedia, he wrote The Sheep Well, which illustrates his contribution to the development of the Spanish comedia: the perspective of the society dedicated to the code of honor. The Sheep Well reflects...
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