Tirso de Molina 1580?-1648
(Born Gabriel Téllez) Spanish playwright of the Golden Age.
Tirso de Molina was one of the four most famous and revered playwrights of Spain's Golden Age. De Molina was a disciple of the first, most famous, and most prolific of these dramatists, Lope de Vega. Although he is supposed to have written nearly 400 plays, not all are assuredly his writings, and today less than 90 are extant. Because de Molina's plays range from the highly comic to the tragic and because he wrote as much to serve principle as to please an audience, comparisons to Shakespeare are common. De Molina's greatest contribution to both life and letters is Don Juan, the character who first appeared in El burlador de Sevilla (1630; The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest).
De Molina was born Gabriel Téllez in Madrid around 1580. His parentage is uncertain, but he was probably the illegitimate son of a duke, a status that might account for de Molina's complaints about his lack of social position, the injustice of certain social conventions, and his dislike of nobility and hierarchy. He studied at the universities of Alcalá and Guadalajara. In 1601 he joined the large and noble Mercedarian Order in which he held high office, winning prestige as a theologian and acting as the Order's chronicler. In 1613 he relocated to Toledo, becoming a friar, and later moved to Santo Domingo. In 1621 de Molina traveled to Madrid, where he wrote a great many of his plays. He gook part in the literary celebration in 1622 for San Isidro—presided over by Lope de Vega—but did not win any prizes for the poetry he submitted. In 1625 de Molina was banished from the Junta de Reformación for alleged obscenities and was transferred to a remote friary in Trujillo where he served as Prior for three years. He was told never to write further plays or poems, and it appears he mostly followed this edict since most of his plays appear to have been written from 1605–1625, the latter being the date of his reprimand. At Trujillo, he served as official chronicler of the Order. During the thirties he was in Barcelona, Madrid, and Toldedo, and was again banished to a friary in Soria, where he became its Prior from 1645–47. He is said to have written three to four hundred plays in his lifetime. He died in Almazán in 1648.
De Molina initially depended greatly on his renowned contemporary, Lope de Vega, whose influence is evident in one of de Molina's earliest plays, Los lagos de San Vicente, (1607; The Miraculous Lakes of Saint Vincent) which closely imitates de Vega's Santa Casilda. The progression from imitation to mastery can be seen in de Molina's body of work, which came to include comedies, tragedies, historical plays, and novels. De Molina is best known for his religious plays, the most significant of which are El burlador de Sevilla and El condenado por desconfiado(1624; Damned for Despair). El burlador is attributed with introducing the theme of Don Juan into European literature. Later, this theme became famous in world literature through Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. De Molina also wrote many serious plays inspired by stories from the Old Testament, including La venganza de Tamar (1634; The Vengeance of Tamar). As a playwright of the Golden Age, de Molina had to concentrate on amusing his audience despite his serious subject matter. Don Gil de la calzas verdes (1611; Don Gil in Green Breeches), in which de Molina uses the convention of women disguised as men, and El vergonzoso en palacio (1612; The Shy Young Man at Court) are among his most spirited comedies.
The traditional, yet adventurous themes and memorable characters de Molina created throughout his career undoubtedly contributed to his literary significance during and since the Golden Age. His El burlador de Sevilla is generally considered his masterpiece, although his religious play El condenado por desconfiado also is much admired. His comedies employing the comic device of women disguised as men, including Don Gil de la calzas verdes and El vergonzoso en palacio, are admired for the depth of characterization given the female characters. His historical drama, La prudencia en la mujer (1622; Prudence in a Woman), depicting the reign of Queen Maria, garnered critical praise for its insight into Spanish politics and morality. Another strong female character of de Molina is the protagonist of Marta la piadosa (1615; Pious Martha), in which a woman employs deceitful tactics to flummox the rigid patriarchal establishment in order to marry the man of her choosing. His religious plays are often thought to be imitative and less successfully accomplished than the similarly themed plays of Lope de Vega. In fact, de Molina is considered second only to de Vega as the era's most significant writer.