Born in what is now Mexico, Juan Ruiz de Alarcón became one of the leading dramatists of the Golden Age in Spain. The twenty-six plays now identified as his are divided into two groups. His early plays, in keeping with the romantic tradition, are marked by complicated plots. His later works are more concerned with the human qualities of his characters and less with dramatic situations. His two best plays belong to his second period. Las paredes oyen (pr. 1617; The Walls Have Ears, 1942) attacks slander, and The Truth Suspected presents an excellent character study of a compulsive liar. The latter play inspired Pierre Corneille’s Le Menteur (pr. 1643; English translation, 1671).
While lying breaks one of the Ten Commandments, it is not listed among the seven deadly sins, which were central to the imagination of the Middle Ages. Lying as a sin was more fascinating to the minds of the Renaissance. Medieval moralists tended to externalize evil, visualizing it in the forms of assorted evil spirits and human actions, whereas Renaissance moralists were more eager to search for evil within, in emotions and thoughts. Medieval thinkers habitually cited Nero as representative of the worst sinner, while William Shakespeare’s Iago is quite possibly the most evil man created by a Renaissance mind. Nero was guilty of such overt crimes as adultery, incest, and wanton slaughter; Iago’s most destructive acts were his lies.
It is not surprising, then, that Ruiz de Alarcón should construct one of his best plays with this one vice as its cornerstone. The play deals solely and entirely with that disjunction of reality and human relationships called lying. Don García not only cannot tell the truth, but he also cannot hear it. That is to say, he does not believe the truth when he hears it, even though everyone around him does tell the truth. Lucrecia makes a vain attempt to set straight his identification of the two women, and Don Beltrán forcefully informs him of the disastrous circumstances inevitably resulting from lying, but still the young man persists almost mindlessly in distorting the truth.
Jacinta obviously is meant to be Don García’s wife, for not only does he love her at first sight, with her evident approval, but she is also the one young lady of the entire city of Madrid who is chosen by Don Beltrán to become his son’s bride. These two events, independent as they are, indicate by their coincidence a kind of providence at work that is subverted by Don García’s affliction. In the final analysis, Don García’s pathological lying is a disease that results in sterility and death.
This is a departure from the mainstream of sixteenth and...
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