Tirso de Molina Molina, Tirso de - Essay

Gabriel Téllez


(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Tirso de Molina 1580?-1648

(Born Gabriel Téllez) Spanish playwright.

Tirso de Molina is regarded as one of the greatest dramatists of the Spanish Golden Age and is best remembered for his play El burlador de Sevilla (c. 1626; The Trickster of Seville), which introduced his best-known character, the seducer Don Juan, to European audiences. Influenced greatly by the most famous and prolific of Spain's Golden Age playwrights, Lope de Vega, Tirso excelled in writing comedias, dramas combining tragedy with burlesque humor and often questioning many of the time-honored social and moral traditions of the age. Tirso wrote what many consider to be Spain's greatest religious play, El condenado por desconfiado (c. 1624; The Man Condemned for Lack of Faith). Although critics continue to debate the authorship of some of the 400 plays Tirso is reputed to have written, several of his eighty surviving plays are praised as equaling the greatest work of Shakespeare, especially in regards to plot and character development. Outside his native Spain, Tirso's legacy rests almost completely with his character Don Juan, whose sexual escapades have been reinterpreted famously in Moliere's play Dom Juan, ou Le Festin de Pierre, Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, and numerous films.

Biographical Information

Few facts in Tirso de Molina's early life are certain. Born Gabriel Téllez in Madrid around 1580, Tirso may have been the illegitimate son of a duke, a social stigma which might account for Tirso's rebellious nature and scorn for nobility, hierarchy, and social convention. He studied at the universities of Alcalá and Guadalajara, and in 1601 he joined the Mercedarian Order, where he gained high rank as a theologian and as the order's official historian. In 1613 he moved to Toledo, became a friar, and wrote a number of plays, mostly religious and philosophical in nature. In 1621 Tirso returned to Madrid, where he wrote a great number of his comedias. In 1622 he submitted poetry for a literary celebration presided over by Lope de Vega but did not win any awards. In 1625 Tirso was banished to a remote friary in Trujillo for alleged obscenities, and he was ordered to desist from writing further plays or poetry. He appears to have mostly followed this edict, yet in 1630 his most famous work, El burlador de Sevilla, was published. During the 1630s Tirso lived in Barcelona, Madrid, and Toledo. Toward the end of his life Tirso again ran afoul of his religious order and was banished to a friary in Soria, where he served as prior from 1645 to 1647. In 1648 Tirso died in Almazán.

Major Works

Much of Tirso's early drama is indebted to his renowned contemporary, Lope de Vega, father of the Spanish dramatic form known as the comedia. One of Tirso's earliest plays, Los lagos de San Vicente (c. 1607; The Miraculous Lakes of Saint Vincent) clearly imitates Lope's Santa Casilda. As Tirso continued to experiment with a variety of dramatic genres, including comedies, tragedies, and historical plays, however, he began to develop a voice uniquely his own. Believing that the most successful way to write plays was to compose according to public taste, Tirso developed three-dimensional characters who despite their moral scruples could make an audience laugh. Even though Tirso's drama usually contained a great deal of the moralizing undercurrents common to plays written and produced during the Counter-Reformation, he added a new secular element, most commonly a critique of decadent nobility and social mores. Often Tirso's plots revolve around manipulative lovers intent on dominating or deceiving their victims. In El burlador de Sevilla Don Juan takes great satisfaction in seducing women, not only for sexual gratification, but also for the simple enjoyment of competitive deceit. As great as Don Juan's moral transgressions are, his most egregious crime may be disgracing his status as a nobleman. Tirso's greatest religious drama, El condenado por desconfiado, concerns itself with questions of free will versus divine determinism by contrasting an evil man who gains faith and is granted salvation with a pious hermit who is damned when his faith wavers. Among Tirso's best-known historical dramas, his Las hazañas de los Pizarros (1631; The Pizarro Trilogy) is remembered for its attempt to rehabilitate the family name of the disgraced Pizarro family, conquerors of Peru, and for its depiction of Native Americans in Spanish drama.

Critical Reception

The overwhelming majority of critical attention given to Tirso's dramatic work is reserved for his masterpiece, El burlador de Sevilla. The psychological complexity of its main character, Don Juan, has elicited great praise, both as one of the earliest examples of a villainous hero and for the dramatic tension at the conclusion of the play, in which the great seducer is finally confronted by the ghost of the man he has murdered. A great deal of scholarly debate has emerged centering on whether or not Don Juan was actually able to seduce his final victim, Doña Ana, resulting in competing arguments of how to interpret the play's ultimate message. El condenado por desconfiado is usually considered the greatest of the religious plays of the Spanish Golden Age, its religious and philosophical underpinnings propelled by an engaging and realistic story line. Although several critics have complained that Tirso's drama contains a misogynistic streak, more commonly his work is praised for its bold and strong female characters, many of whom prove to be more clever or daring than their male competitors. In the end, most critics agree that Tirso's originality lies in his thematic concerns, challenging the established social, religious, and political institutions of his age.

Principal Works

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Los lagos de San Vicente [The Miraculous Lakes of Saint Vincent] c. 1607 (play)

El vergonzoso en palacio [The Shy Young Man at Court] (play) 1611

La elección por la virtud [Elected for His Virtue] (play) 1612

Tanto es lo de más como lo de menos [Enough is as Good as a Feast] (play) 1612

La ninfa del Cielo [The Heavenly Nymph] (play) 1613

Santa Juana (play trilogy) 1613-14

¡Tan largo me lo fiáis! [What Long Credit You Give Me!] (play) 1616

Los Cigarrales de Toledo [The Country Houses of Toledo] (prose miscellany) 1621

Privar contra su gusto [The Reluctant Favorite] (play) c. 1621

El melancólico [The Melancholiac] (play) 1622

La prudencia en la mujer [Prudence in a Woman] (play) 1622

La venganza de Tamar [The Vengeance of Tamar] (play) c. 1623

El condenado por desconfiado [The Man Condemned for Lack of Faith] (play) c. 1624

El amor médico [Love Turned Doctor] (play) 1625

El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra [The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest] (play) c. 1626

*Amazonas en las Indias [The Amazons of the West Indies] (play) 1631

Quien no cae no se levanta [Who Never Falls Never Rises] (play) 1628

*La lealtad contra la envidia (play) 1631

*Todo es dar en una cosa (play) 1631

Deleitar aprovechado [Pleasure with Profit] (prose miscellany) 1632

Historia general de la Orden de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes [History of the Mercedarian Order] (church history) 1639

*These three works comprise Las hazañas de los Pizarros (The Pizarro Trilogy).

Otis H. Green (essay date 1936)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Green, Otis H. “Notes on the Pizarro Trilogy of Tirso de Molina.” Hispanic Review 4, No. 3 (July 1936): 201-25.

[In the following essay, Green argues that Tirso's trilogy Las hazañas de los Pizarros is designed to rehabilitate the family name of the Pizarros, principal conquerors of Peru.]

The reader of the three plays which comprise Tirso's trilogy Las hazañas de los Pizarros1 is at once struck by the fact that the historical material is treated in a manner differing widely from that employed in La prudencia en la mujer.2 As Hartzenbusch remarked in 1842,

… son tres...

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Frank G. Halstead (essay date 1943)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Halstead, Frank G. “The Optics of Love: Notes on a Concept of Atomistic Philosophy in the Theatre of Tirso de Molina.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America LVIII, No. 1, Part 1 (March 1943): 108-21.

[In the following essay, Halstead analyzes Tirso's philosophical arguments in El amor médico regarding the connection between vision and love.]

Somewhat more than a century and a quarter past, Dugald Stewart, philosopher and critic second only to Sir William Hamilton, wrote:

In considering the phenomena of perception, it is natural to suppose that the attention of philosophers would be directed,...

(The entire section is 6410 words.)

Mathé Allain (essay date 1966)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Allain, Mathé. “El burlador Burlado: Tirso de Molina's Don Juan.” Modern Language Quarterly XXVII, No. 2 (June 1966): 174-84.

[In the following essay, Allain argues that El burlador de Sevilla is “a carefully constructed aesthetic whole in which form and content are inextricably united.”]

It was Tirso de Molina, a devout Mercenarian priest, who introduced into Western literature the figure of the archlibertine, Don Juan Tenorio. Rakes there had been aplenty since the Satyricon and the Golden Ass, but Tirso gave the libertine a new dimension when he added the defiant invitation to the dead to the traditional stories of sin...

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Gerald E. Wade (essay date 1966)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Wade, Gerald E. “The Character of Don Juan of El burlador de Sevilla.” In Hispanic Studies in Honor of Nicholson B. Adams, edited by John Esten Keller and Karl-Ludwig Selig, pp. 167-78. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1966.

[In the following essay, Wade analyzes the character of Don Juan, concluding that the trickster's lone virtue is his courage.]

If measured by its progeny in world literature, El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra is the most important play of all time.1 Surprisingly, no book of criticism has been written about the play; one may contrast Hamlet, for example, about which many...

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Ruth Lundelius (essay date 1975)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Lundelius, Ruth. “Tirso's View of Women in El burlador de Sevilla.Bulletin of the Comediantes 27, No. 1 (Spring 1975): 5-14.

[In the following essay, Lundelius views the moral weakness of the four women Don Juan seduces in El burlador de Sevilla as proof of Tirso's misogyny.]

That Tirso brought before his audiences a rich variety of feminine dramatis personae, whom he often drew with a certain rare verve and empathy, is now little more than a critical cliché. But a bolder view, first propounded around the turn of the century by that untiring enthusiast of Tirso, Blanca de los Ríos, would align Tirso with the more extravagant admirers...

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Luis González-del-Valle (essay date 1978)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: González-del-Valle, Luis. “Doña Ana's Seduction in El burlador de Sevilla: A Reconsideration.” Bulletin of the Comediantes 30, No. 1 (Spring 1978): 42-5.

[In the following essay, González-del-Valle argues that Doña Ana was not seduced by Don Juan in El burlador de Sevilla, observing that to interpret the play otherwise would call its moral and thematic unity into question.]

For a number of years there has been a controversy concerning Doña Ana's seduction by Don Juan in Tirso de Molina's El Burlador de Sevilla. Among those critics who do not think Don Juan was successful in the consummation of the sexual act with Doña Ana are M....

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Alfred Rodríguez (essay date 1978)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Rodríguez, Alfred. “Tirso's Don Juan as Social Rebel.” Bulletin of the Comediantes 30, No. 1 (Spring 1978): 46-55.

[In the following essay, Rodríguez concentrates on Don Juan's pattern of “social defiance” in El burlador de Sevilla.]

Ortega y Gasset's identification of Don Juan with vital authenticity—with that fundamental exigency of life that makes all impediments to its fulfillment, whether imposed by reason or society, cause for rebellion—clarified this literary creature's myth-figure status:

Tal es la ironía irrespetuosa de Don Juan, figura equívoca, que nuestro tiempo va refinando, puliendo, hasta...

(The entire section is 4540 words.)

Jose M. Ruano de la Haza (essay date 1980)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Ruano de la Haza, Jose M. “Doña Ana's Seduction in El burlador de Sevilla: Further Evidence Against.” Bulletin of the Comediantes 32, No. 2 (Fall 1980): 131-33.

[In the following essay, Ruano de la Haza argues that Don Juan's actions in El burlador de Sevilla suggest that Doña Ana was not seduced by the infamous deceiver.]

Was Doña Ana physically seduced by Don Juan? In attempting to answer this question, two articles, published in the pages of this journal, have arrived at diametrically opposite conclusions.1 This was probably inevitable, for Tirso has left us with little positive evidence on which to found our assumptions. On...

(The entire section is 1035 words.)

Eleanor Jean Martin (essay date 1980)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Martin, Eleanor Jean. “A Consideration of the Role of Honor in Tirso de Molina's El burlador de Sevilla.Kentucky Romance Quarterly XXVII, No. 3 (1980): 273-80.

[In the following essay, Martin argues that critics have been incorrect to depict Don Juan as the only villain in El burlador de Sevilla; society and its notion of honor, she insists, are also partly to blame for the social disorder caused by Don Juan's actions.]

The mention of El burlador de Sevilla immediately brings to mind the plight of four women, deceived and dishonored by the villainous, unscrupulous, immoral Don Juan. The protagonist's mockery of women's honor is...

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Armand E. Singer (essay date 1981)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Singer, Armand E. “Don Juan's Women in El burlador de Sevilla.Bulletin of the Comediantes 33, No. 1 (Spring 1981): 67-71.

[In the following essay, Singer questions the conclusion drawn by Ruth Lundelius and others that El burlador de Sevilla clearly shows Tirso's misogyny, arguing instead that the play should be seen as an expression of men's desire to conquer women.]

Psychological analysis, Freudian or otherwise, is a mark of our introspective age.1 Recent years have seen several attempts to probe into the character of Tirso's burlador (notably two articles by Gerald Wade2) and to penetrate the nature of the...

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Raymond Conlon (essay date 1986)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Conlon, Raymond. “Enrico in El condenado por desconfiado: A Psychoanalytical View.” Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos X, No. 2 (Winter 1986): 173-82.

[In the following essay, Conlon makes use of Freudian theory about the connection between a person's conception of God and the relationship with one's father to examine the character of the bandit Enrico in El condenado por desconfiado. Conlon argues that “Enrico, like the rest of humanity, simply has no choice but to use his father as a model for the divine, and, therefore, to assume that his divine Father will be as tolerant as his human one.”]

A pesar del hecho...

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Robert L. Hathaway (essay date 1988)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Hathaway, Robert L. “The Proto-Tenorios in Tirso's Santa Juana, II-III.” In Tirso's Don Juan: The Metamorphosis of a Theme, edited by Josep M. Sola-Solé and George E. Gingras, pp. 45-55. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1988.

[In the following essay, Hathaway finds in the final two plays of Tirso's Santa Juana trilogy early versions of the Don Juan character that would become fully developed in the playwright's most famous work, El burlador de Sevilla.]

In her edition of Tirso's Obras dramáticas completas, Doña Blanca de los Rios included within her introduction to the three Santa Juana plays a...

(The entire section is 3381 words.)

Mario F. Trubiano (essay date 1988)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Trubiano, Mario F. “The Theological Disputes and the Guzmán Affair in El burlador and El condenado: Theological Preoccupation or Satirical Intention?” In Tirso's Don Juan: The Metamorphosis of a Theme, edited by Josep M. Sola-Solé and George E. Gingras, pp. 95-105. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1988.

[In the following essay, Trubiano views El burlador de Sevilla and El condenada por desconfiado as reflective of contemporary debates regarding the relationship between free will and divine grace.]

The problem of whether the “new” man, novus homo, was truly endowed with free will even...

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Joan Ramon Resina (essay date 1996)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Resina, Joan Ramon. “What Sort of Wedding? The Orders of Discourse in El burlador de Sevilla.Modern Language Quarterly 57, No. 4 (December 1996): 545-78.

[In the following essay, Resina argues that El burlador de Sevilla reflects the growing social instability of early seventeenth-century Spain.]

As an age of transition between social paradigms, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were eminently characterized by destabilization and efforts at containment. At the beginning of the period early bourgeois individualism set off internal wars and revolts that shook all of European society. The growing emphasis on order and integration revealed...

(The entire section is 13025 words.)

James T. Abraham (essay date 1996)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Abraham, James T. “The Other Speaks: Tirso de Molina's Amazonas en las Indias.” In El arte nuevo de estudiar comedias: Literary Theory and Spanish Golden Age Drama, edited by Barbara Simerka, pp. 143-61. Lewisburg, Penn.: Bucknell University Press, 1996.

[In the following essay, Abraham deconstructs Amazonas en las Indias, the second play of Tirso's Pizarro trilogy, in order to demonstrate how the playwright privileges European culture and negates that of Native Americans.]

The encounter between Europeans and the native peoples of America provides much material for debate and analysis by scholars in all areas of study. Perhaps no other event...

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Further Reading

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))


Agheana, Ion Tudor. The Situational Drama of Tirso de Molina. New York: Plaza Mayar Ediciones, 1972, 135 p.

Full-length study concentrating on Tirso's artistic individuality.

Cabrera, Vicente. “Doña Ana's Seduction in El burlador de Sevilla.Bulletin of the Comediantes 26, No. 2 (Fall 1974): 49-51.

Presents several critics' arguments for whether or not Don Juan seduced Doña Ana in El burlador de Sevilla, and concludes that Doña Ana was indeed seduced, which proves thematically important when Don Juan's day of reckoning finally comes.

Darst, David H. The Comic...

(The entire section is 604 words.)