Vega Carpio, Lope Félix de 1562–1635 Spanish Writer

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Vega Carpio,
Lope Félix de
Spanish writer

The Spanish author Lope Félix de Vega Carpio was one of the most productive writers of the Renaissance. With hundreds of titles to his credit, he produced works in nearly every literary style of his time. Lope played a major role in transforming Spanish theater during the Renaissance, creating the popular "new theater" that drew large crowds to open-air performances in the city of Madrid.

A Dramatic Life. As a child, Lope composed poetry even before he could write. By age 5 he could read Latin as well as his native language, Castilian. He wrote his first play at the age of 12. At age 14 Lope attended the University of Alcalá, and at 21 he joined a military expedition to the Azores, a group of islands owned by Portugal in the north Atlantic Ocean. In 1588 Lope was banished from Madrid for eight years for libel* after circulating satiric* verses that attacked his former lover, the married daughter of a producer-director, and her family. He returned to Madrid illegally, however, and had his sentence lifted after serving seven years.

During his exile Lope became familiar with several dramatists from Valencia in eastern Spain. Their influence led Lope to introduce several innovations to theater in Madrid that challenged the classical* principles of the earlier Renaissance. Lope discussed these changes in his book New Art of Playwriting in this Kingdom, published in 1609. In one of the work's most important passages, Lope defended tragicomedy—the use of comic scenes, characters, and subplots in tragic plays.

Literary Achievements. At least 314 plays written by Lope have survived. Scholars have grouped these works into several broad, overlapping categories based on their themes and source material. One major grouping is Lope's honor plays, such as The Sheep-Well. This "peasant honor play," based on an actual peasant uprising from the 1300s, celebrates revenge as an effective way to resolve questions of honor.

Historical dramas form another large group. Many of Lope's most powerful plays dramatized scenes from medieval* Castilian history, using such sources as legends and ballads. Examples include The Knight from Olmedo, based on a popular ballad about the murder of a young man by the servants of his rival, and Punishment Without Vengeance, a tragedy about the murder of a young wife who has committed adultery*. In a more comic vein, Lope wrote many cloak-and-sword plays, drawing on a long tradition of humorous dramas about secret schemes that dates back to the ancient Roman authors Plautus and Terence. Many of these, such as The Prudent Woman in Love and Loving Without Knowing Whom, ridicule the customs and prejudices of Spanish society in Lope's time.

Along with his plays, Lope wrote poetry in a variety of different forms. Unlike his fairly brief three-act plays, Lope's epics* gave him an opportunity to write in a grand, dramatic style. He based some of these long poems on earlier works by other poets. For instance, Angelica's Beauty continued the plot of Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (Mad Roland), while Jerusalem Regained was a response to Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered. Lope also produced love sonnets*, popular ballads such as "Poor Little Boat of Mine," and extensive prose works, which often included large portions of verse. His La Arcadia, published in 1598, was the last major Spanish pastoral* novel.

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

* libel

leveling false charges against someone, especially in writing

* satiric

involving the use of satire, the ridicule of human wickedness and foolishness in a literary or artistic work

* classical

in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome

* medieval

referring to the Middle Ages, a period that began around a.d. 400 and ended around 1400 in Italy and 1500 in the rest of Europe

* adultery

sexual relationship outside of marriage

* epic

long poem about the adventures of a hero

* sonnet

poem of 14 lines with a fixed pattern of meter and rhyme

* pastoral

relating to the countryside; often used to draw a contrast between the innocence and serenity of rural life and the corruption and extravagance of court life