With the reasoning that The Star of Seville is an excellent play and Lope de Vega Carpio was an excellent playwright, people have believed for centuries that the play is the work of Vega Carpio; however, modern scholars have taken a closer look at the two extant versions and have begun to doubt his authorship. The play is unlike dramas that Vega Carpio is known to have written. Whoever the author may have been, he produced a masterpiece of the Spanish Golden Age.
The Star of Seville is frequently cited as the best example of the Spanish honor play, a form popular during that country’s Golden Age of drama and related to similar productions in France and England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is no surprise that The Star of Seville was long thought to be the work of Vega Carpio, since that popular and prolific playwright wrote a number of dramas characteristic of the genre. The interest in grand themes and in characters whose actions could determine the fate of a city, a kingdom, or an empire seems to have gripped audiences throughout Europe.
No audience or reader of The Star of Seville can appreciate the play without a sound understanding of the importance of honor in sixteenth and seventeenth century Spain. The term “honor” had both private and public meanings, and Don Sancho’s predicament is a perfect example of the problems that arise from the demands of private and public honor. Honor regulated all social relationships: those between king and subject, between superior and inferior, between friend and friend, and between family members. It lay at the root of all personal transactions and established a foundation for social interactions. Upholding one’s honor took precedence over personal satisfaction and over other commitments one might make. Such an attitude may seem extreme to succeeding generations, but it served as the informing principle of the society depicted in The Star of Seville.
Similarly, for the first audiences who viewed this play, the king remained a figure of paramount importance in their lives, and people believed in the special privileges of monarchs, who, when acting as heads of state, were not subject to the laws that governed ordinary individuals. That idea, coupled with the belief that the sovereign was protected by God and enjoyed special favors from God, made it possible for Sancho the Brave to act with impunity. The assumption was that the king would always act in accord with the dictates of honor. When he did not, the potential for chaos hovered over society and served as the breeding ground for tragedy. Such is the situation that the author of The Star of Seville dramatizes in his play.
The admirable male characters in the play, Bustos Tabera and Sancho Ortiz, believe in honor as a quality inherent in the individual and earned through deeds. Not surprisingly, their adherence to this demanding code of behavior leads them into conflict with the king, who has a very different sense of how his subjects should behave. Hence, when Sancho offers Bustos a key military appointment, Bustos refuses because he is not worthy, making it impossible for the king to use the commission as a bribe for Bustos’s cooperation in the king’s seduction of Estrella. Sancho is forced to use other means to gain his evil end. Similarly, Don Sancho is quick to agree to be the king’s emissary in eliminating the purported traitor; he never questions the king’s motives, and even though he is distraught at having to kill the brother of his betrothed, he carries out his promise rather than stain his honor. The king refuses to come to Don Sancho’s aid when the citizens of Seville demand the killer’s execution, so Sancho nearly loses his life for a deed he committed as a matter of honor.
The king and his confidant Don Arias...
(The entire section is 1582 words.)