Calderón de la Barca, Pedro 1600–1681 Spanish Playwright

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Calderón de la Barca, Pedro
Spanish playwright

Pedro Calderón de la Barca of Madrid was one of the greatest Spanish playwrights of the Renaissance. During his career Calderón wrote several poems and approximately 120 three-act plays. His later work with musical theater contributed to the development of opera in Spain.

As a young man, Calderón respected his father's dying wish for him to study to become a priest. After four years of studying church law, he changed his focus to literature, writing plays and poems. In 1621, Calderón took a position at the royal court in Castile, and two years later he produced his first play for the court. This production, Love, Honor, and Power, revolved around the conflicts between desire, honor, and the demands of those in authority. These themes reappear in many of his later works.

Calderón wrote most of his well-known works early in his career, including comedies such as The Phantom Lady and murderous tragedies like The Surgeon of His Honor. Father-son conflicts appeared frequently in Calderón's work. They formed the basis for his most celebrated play, Life Is a Dream, written in 1630. In this drama, Calderón questioned faith, knowledge, freedom, and political power.

In 1637 Calderón became a knight. Between 1640 and 1642 he served in two campaigns to crush a revolt in the community of Catalonia. The Catalonian revolt closed Spanish theaters for several years, possibly influencing Calderón's decision to join the priesthood in 1651. Afterward he wrote less for the public theater, but he composed several elaborate "spectacle-plays" for the court. These pieces were tragicomedies based on mythological themes that used music, dance, scenery, and stage effects lavishly. Such works contributed to the beginnings of opera in Spain.

Translations of Calderón's works and adaptations of his plots spread his influence throughout Europe. In Germany, especially, they helped create a renewed appreciation of Spanish drama. As his work spread, Calderón gained a reputation as Spain's master playwright.

(See alsoDrama, Spanish; Spanish Language and Literature. )

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Calderón de la Barca, Pedro 1600–1681 Spanish Playwright

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Calderón de la Barca, Pedro 1600–1681 Spanish Playwright