Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1327

Illustration of PDF document

Download It Is Worse than It Was Study Guide

Subscribe Now

First produced: Peor está que estaba, 1630

First published: Partes, 1636-1684

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Cloak-and-sword comedy

Time of work: Seventeenth century

Locale: Gaeta, Italy

Principal Characters:

Cesar Ursino, a fugitive from justice

Camacho, his servant

Flerida Colona, whom Cesar loves

Juan De Aragon, Governor of Gaeta

Lisarda, his daughter

Celia, her servant

Don Juan, Lisarda's suitor and Cesar's friend


In his early days, Calderón imitated the complicated plots of Lope de Vega's cloak-and-sword plays with their disguises and mistaken identities. A good example is IT IS WORSE THAN IT WAS (PEOR ESTA QUE ESTABA), first presented in 1630 and appearing in the first "Parte" of twelve plays by Calderón published in 1635. Later it was corrected and reprinted in 1682 by Calderón's friend, Juan de Vera Tassis. Because many seventeenth-century Spanish dramatists were competing with Lope for popularity, the Jesuit-trained Calderón, to make his plays different, added an interest in philosophy and logic. His characters, as one critic has put it, make love like debaters. Lisarda, inquiring how Cesar can love her without having seen her, is answered by an exposition of how blind people can admire what they cannot see. For additional differentiation, Calderón borrowed from the Gongoristic literary practice, then popular, and provided word puzzles for his audiences, as when he refers to a diamond bribe given a servant as an "errant star," or played with metaphors, as when Cesar speaks of the dawn "crowned with roses and carnations." But Calderón was also a skilled poet and dramatist, even in his early days. His thoughts are clothed in word music, and his plots, in spite of their complications, are mechanically correct and exciting to follow.

The Story:

When Juan de Aragon, Governor of Gaeta, received a letter from his old friend Alonso Colona of Naples, saying that his daughter had run off with a murderer, Cesar Ursino, that official was so upset and incoherent that his daughter Lisarda was sure that her own guilty secret had been discovered, for she had been going veiled to assignations with a romantic wooer. This gallant, who called himself Fabio, was really Cesar. He was deeply interested in the veiled girl whom he was meeting, much to the dismay of his servant Camacho, who remonstrated with his master and reminded him that he was to marry Flerida.

One day Cesar ran across his old friend, Don Juan, who had returned from Flanders to visit an old soldier friend of his and to pay court to Lisarda. About the same time Flerida Colona arrived in Gaeta from Naples and appealed for help to the governor's daughter. Calling herself Laura, she explained that her sweetheart was in flight after having killed a man who had molested her, and that she was following him.

During her next meeting with Cesar, Lisarda was persuaded to unveil herself. Her maid Celia, flirting with Camacho, also revealed herself. At that moment they were discovered by the governor, who was searching for Cesar. The fugitive declared: "Things are worse than they were." The governor sent him a prisoner to the tower, and ordered the veiled girl, whom he took for the daughter of his old friend, to be taken under guard to his own house.

Returning home before her father, Lisarda was able to make him believe on his arrival that his captive had been Flerida, the girl whom Lisarda was already sheltering in the house. Satisfied with the way matters had turned out, the governor dispatched a messenger to his friend in Naples and promised to keep the runaway girl out of mischief until she was safely married. Meanwhile, Don Juan had been accepted as Lisarda's suitor and was being entertained in the governor's house.

Lisarda, remorseful that Cesar had been jailed because of his passion for her, sent Celia to him with a note arranging for another meeting that night. The servant found him and Camacho comparing Flerida and his new lady. Cesar, immediately accepting the invitation, promised to bribe the jailer for a night of freedom. Bribery was not necessary, however. Don Juan, on his arrival to visit the prisoner, announced that the jailer was his old military comrade, who would let Cesar out on parole. Cesar had hoped to keep his friend from learning about the veiled woman, but was glad of Don Juan's help when his pistol went off unexpectedly, revealing his presence in Lisarda's room. Don Juan, who was staying in the governor's house, arrived first on the scene, recognized Cesar, and aided him to escape.

Don Juan debated all night whether to challenge Cesar as a rival or to aid him as a friend. Unable to make up his mind, he hesitated about accepting the governor's offer of immediate marriage to Lisarda. While he was debating with himself, the early-rising Flerida found him in the patio. Her general remarks about Cesar and their adventures together in the past convinced Don Juan that she had been the girl in Cesar's company the night before. During their discussion Flerida learned for the first time that Cesar was in the Gaeta jail.

When her attempts to visit him aroused Lisarda's jealousy, the governor, overhearing part of the conversation between the girls, almost uncovered the truth about Lisarda's secret meetings. But Lisarda managed to keep her secret from her father. She also promised Flerida a full explanation of everything that had happened.

Once more Don Juan visited Cesar in jail. Camacho, by his quick wit, managed to save Lisarda's good name, but all was nearly discovered when the governor arrived with news that he had made arrangements for Cesar's immediate marriage to Flerida. Unable to understand the young man's surprise at news of his sweetheart, he insisted that he had found them together the previous night.

To get the truth, Don Juan gathered everyone concerned at the governor's house. There Lisarda, to escape scandal, was compelled to see Flerida paired off with Cesar while she had to be satisfied with Don Juan. To complete the round of weddings, Celia and Camacho were paired off with each other.

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work:

IT IS WORSE THAN IT WAS is a fairly representative example of a cloak-and-sword play, so-called because of the cloak and sword worn by the gentlemen of the era depicted in the play. This type of play, the purpose of which is to amuse, reached its zenith with Calderón de la Barca. IT IS WORSE THAN IT WAS, while not being as important as some of Calderón's other cloak-and-sword plays, notably THE HOUSE WITH TWO DOORS, excellently showcases the traits of the genre. It contains the zestful ingredients of a romantic love, universal in its appeal: Boy (Cesar) meets girl (Lisarda), all kinds of obstacles arise, especially a vigilant father, and the audience is kept on edge by the rapidity of the action, the excitement of the chase, and the various intrigues, deceits, and misunderstandings.

The character portrayals are the weakest part of the play's fabric, as they usually are in cloak-and-sword plays. Cesar is somewhat insipid in professing to love Lisarda, whose face he has not seen. Lisarda is a little better portrayed. She is forward, clever, bold, and deceitful. She is of major importance in determining the flow of the action.

The play makes use of a number of stock devices inherited from classical Roman comedy as found in the works of Plautus and Terence and continued in the Italian comedies of intrigue. Some of these devices are seen in the manipulation of the intrigue where mistakes, identity, trickery, misunderstanding, and surprise disclosures combine to produce an effect of suspense, bewilderment, and comic irony. The purpose of the intrigue is to create a farcical situation which reveals character and satirizes manners of the day. The audience enjoys sorting out the deceptions, and interest is sustained by the onlookers' natural desire to determine the workings and outcome of the intrigues.