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.