But it lacks a good development of the characters, as well as life and poetical warmth in the action; and being, in fact, an attempt to carry the Spanish drama in a direction exactly opposite to that of its destiny, it did not succeed. Such an attempt, however, was not unlikely to be made more than once; and this was certainly an age favorable for it. The theatre of the ancients was now known in Spain.
But there is a great difference in their respective merits. Three tragedies by Lupercio Leonardo de Argensola, the accomplished lyric poet, who will hereafter be amply noticed, produced a much more considerable sensation, when they first appeared, though they were soon afterwards as much neglected as their predecessors. He wrote them when he was hardly more than twenty years old, and they were acted about the year This statement of Cervantes is certainly extraordinary, and the more so from being put into the mouth of the wise canon of Toledo.
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But notwithstanding the flush of immediate success which it implies, all trace of these plays was soon so completely lost, that, for a long period, the name of the famous poet Cervantes had referred to was not known, and it was even suspected that he had intended to compliment himself.
They were found to be the work of Lupercio Leonardo de Argensola. But, unhappily, they quite failed to satisfy the expec [p. They are in various verse, fluent and pure, and were intended to be imitations of the Greek style of tragedy, called forth, perhaps, by the recent attempts of Bermudez.
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Each, however, is divided into three acts; and the choruses, originally prepared for them, are omitted. The Alexandra is the worse of the two. Its scene is laid in Egypt; and the story, which is fictitious, is full of loathsome horrors. Treason and rebellion form the lights in a picture composed mainly of such atrocities. The Isabela is better; but still is not to be praised. The story relates to one of the early Moorish kings of Saragossa, who exiles the Christians from his kingdom in a vain attempt to obtain possession of Isabela, a Christian maiden with whom he is desperately in love, but who is herself already attached to a noble Moor whom she has converted, and with whom, at last, she suffers a triumphant martyrdom.
The incidents are numerous, and sometimes well imagined; but no dramatic skill is shown in their management and combination, and there is little easy or living dialogue to give them effect.
Like the Alexandra, it is full of horrors. The nine most prominent personages it represents come to an untimely end, and the bodies, or at least the heads, of most of them are exhibited on the stage, though some reluctance is shown at the conclusion about committing a supernumerary suicide before the audience. Fame [p. But still it seems incomprehensible how such a piece should have produced the popular dramatic effect attributed to it, unless we suppose that the Spaniards had from the first a passion for theatrical exhibitions, which, down to this period, had been so imperfectly gratified, that any thing dramatic, produced under favorable circumstances, was run after and admired.
The dramas of Argensola, by their date, though not by their character and spirit, bring us at once within the period which opens with the great and prevalent names of Cervantes and Lope de Vega. They, therefore, mark the extreme limits of the history of the early Spanish theatre; and if we now look back and consider its condition and character during the long period we have just gone over, we shall easily come to three conclusions of some consequence. The first is, that the attempts to form and develop a national drama in Spain have been few and rare.
During the two centuries following the first notice of it, about , we cannot learn distinctly that any thing was undertaken but rude exhibitions in pantomime; though it is not unlikely dialogues may sometimes have been added, such as we find in the more imperfect religious pageants produced at the same period in England and France. And during the half-century which Lope de Rueda opened with an attempt to create a popular drama, we have obtained only a few farces from himself and his followers, the little that was done at Seville and Valencia, and the countervailing tragedies of Bermudez and Argensola, who intended, no doubt, to follow what they considered the safer and more respectable traces of the ancient Greek masters.
Three centuries and a half, therefore, or four centuries, furnished less dramatic literature to Spain, than the last half-century of the same portion of time had furnished to France and Italy; and near the end of the whole period, or about , it is apparent that the national genius was not more turned towards the drama than it was at the same period in England, where Greene and Peele were just preparing the way for Marlowe and Shakspeare.
In the next place, the apparatus of the stage, including scenery and dresses, was very imperfect. During the greater part of the period we have gone over, dra [p. Lope de Rueda brought them out into the public squares, and adapted them to the comprehension, the taste, and the humors of the multitude. But he had no theatre anywhere, and his genial farces were represented on temporary scaffolds, by his own company of strolling players, who stayed but a few days at a time in even the largest cities, and were sought, when there, chiefly by the lower classes of the people. The first notice, therefore, we have of any thing approaching to a regular establishment—and this is far removed from what that phrase generally implies—is in , when an arrangement or compromise between the Church and the theatre was begun, traces of which have subsisted at Madrid and elsewhere down to our own times.
Recollecting, no doubt, the origin of dramatic representations in Spain for religious edification, the government ordered, in form, that no actors should make an exhibition in Madrid, except in some place to be appointed by two religious brotherhoods designated in the decree, and for a rent to be paid to them;—an order in which, after , the general hospital of the city was included. In this state things continued several years. None but strolling companies of actors were known, and they remained but a few days at a time even in Madrid.
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No fixed place was prepared for their reception; but sometimes they were sent by the pious brotherhoods to one court-yard, and sometimes to another. They acted in the day-time, on Sundays and other holidays, and then only if the weather permitted a performance in the open air;—the women separated from the men,  and the entire audience so small, that the profit yielded by the exhibitions to the religious societies and the hospital rose only to eight or ten dollars each time. The theatres, therefore, at Madrid, as late as , could not be said to be in a condition materially to further any efforts that might be made to produce a respectable national drama.
In the last place, the pieces that had been written had not the decided, common character on which a national drama could be fairly founded, even if their number had been greater. There were, therefore, before , only two persons to whom it was possible to look for the establishment of a popular and permanent drama.
The first of them was Argensola, whose three tragedies enjoyed a degree of success before unknown; but they were so little in the national spirit, that they were early overlooked, and soon completely forgotten. The other was Lope de Rueda, who, himself an actor, wrote such farces as he found would amuse the common audiences he served, and thus created a school in which other actors, like Alonso de la Vega and Cisneros, wrote the same kind of farces, chiefly in prose, and intended so completely for temporary effect, that hardly one of them has come down to our own times.
Of course, the few and rare efforts made before to produce a drama in Spain had been made upon such various or contradictory principles, that they could not be combined so as to constitute the safe foundation for a national theatre.
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But though the proper foundation was not yet laid, all was tending to it and preparing for it. The stage, rude as it was, had still the great advantage of being confined to two spots, which, it is worth notice, have [p. Luis de Leon.
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It should not be forgotten, that, while we have gone over the beginnings of the Italian school and of the existing theatre, we have had little occasion to notice one distinctive element of the Spanish character, which is yet almost constantly present in the great mass of the national literature: I mean, the religious element.
A reverence for the Church, or, more properly, for the religion of the Church, and a deep sentiment of devotion, however mistaken in the forms it wore or in the direction it took, had been developed in the old Castilian character by the wars against Islamism, as much as the spirit of loyalty and knighthood, and had, from the first, found no less fitting poetical forms of expression. That no change took place in this respect in the sixteenth century, we find striking proof in the character of a noble Spaniard born in the city of Granada about twenty years later than Diego de Mendoza; but one whose gentler and graver genius easily took the direction which that of the elder cavalier so decidedly refused.
He was early sent to Salamanca, and there, when only sixteen years old, voluntarily entered the order of Saint Augustin. From this moment, the final direction was given to his life. He never ceased to be a monk; and he never ceased to be attached to the University where he was bred. In , he became a Licentiate in Theology, and immediately afterwards was made a Doctor of Divinity. The next year, at the age of thirty-four, he obtained the chair of Saint Thomas Aquinas, which he won after a public competition against several opponents, four of whom were already professors; and to these honors he added, ten years later, that of the chair of Sacred Literature.
By this time, however, his influence and success had gathered round him a body of enemies, who soon found means to disturb his peace.
This he had done; and the version which he thus made is commonly regarded as the earliest, or one of the earliest, among his known works. But in making it, he had treated the whole poem as a pastoral eclogue, in which the different personages converse together like shepherds. His manuscript, however, was copied and circulated by the treachery of a servant. One of the copies thus obtained fell into the hands of an enemy, and its author, in , was brought before the Inquisition of Valladolid, charged with Lutheranism and with making a vernacular translation from the Scriptures, contrary to the decree of the Council of Trent.
It was easy to answer the first part of the complaint, for Luis de Leon was no Protestant; but it was not possible to give a sufficient answer to the last.
He had, however, powerful friends, and by their influence escaped the final terrors of the Inquisition, though not until he had been almost five years imprisoned in a way that seriously impaired his health and broke down his spirits. But the University remained faithful to him. It seems, however, to have been thought advisable that he should vindicate his reputation from the suspicions that had been cast upon it; and therefore, in [p.
Another work on the same subject, but in Spanish, and in some respects like the one that had caused his imprisonment, was also prepared by him and found among his manuscripts after his death. But it was not thought advisable to print it till Of this, between and , he published three books, but he never completed it. The form, however, is not adhered to with great strictness. Many parts of it are eloquent, and its eloquence has not unfrequently the gorgeous coloring of the elder Spanish literature; such, for instance, as is found in the following passage, illustrating the title of Christ as the Prince of Peace, and proving the beauty of all harmony in the moral world from its analogies with the physical:—.
For what is it but peace, or, indeed, a perfect image of peace, that we now behold, and that fills us with such deep joy? Since if peace is, as Saint Augustin, with the brevity of truth, declares it to be, a quiet order, or the maintenance of a well-regulated tranquillity in whatever order demands,—then what we now witness is surely its true and faithful image. For while these hosts of stars, arranged and divided into their several bands, shine with such surpassing splendor, and while each one of their multitude inviolably maintains its separate station, neither pressing into the place of that next to it, nor disturbing the move [p.
And therefore may it be most truly said, not only that they do all form a fair and perfect model of peace, but that they all set forth and announce, in clear and gracious words, what excellent things peace contains within herself and carries abroad whithersoever her power extends. The eloquent treatise on the Names of Christ was not, however, the most popular of the prose works of Luis de Leon.
But the characteristics of his prose compositions—even those which from their nature are the most strictly didactic—are the same everywhere; and the rich language and imagery of the passage already cited afford a fair specimen of the style towards which he constantly directed his efforts. He lived, indeed, nearly fourteen years after his release; but most of his works, whether in Castilian or in Latin, were written before his imprisonment or during its continuance, while those he undertook afterwards, as his account of Santa Teresa and some others, were never finished.
His life was always, from choice, very retired, and his austere manners were announced by his habitual reserve and silence. In a letter that he sent with his poems to his friend Puertocarrero, a statesman at the court of Philip the Second and a member of the principal council of the Inquisition, he says, that, in the kingdom of Old Castile, where he had lived from his youth, he could hardly claim to be familiarly acquainted with ten persons.
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In the latter part of his life especially, his talents and sufferings, his religious patience and his sincere faith, had consecrated him in the eyes alike of his friends and his enemies. Nothing relating to the monastic brotherhood of which he was a member, or to the University where he taught, was undertaken without his concurrence and support; and when he [p. But besides the character in which we have thus far considered him, Luis de Leon was a poet, and a poet of no common genius.
He seems, it is true, to have been little conscious, or, at least, little careful, of his poetical talent; for he made hardly an effort to cultivate it, and never took pains to print any thing, in order to prove its existence to the world.
And would to God that no other poetry were ever sounded in our ears; that only these sacred tones were sweet to us; that none else were heard at night in the streets and public squares; that the child might still lisp it, the retired damsel find in it her best solace, and [p. But the Christian name is now sunk to such immodest and reckless degradation, that we set our sins to music, and, not content with indulging them in secret, shout them joyfully forth to all who will listen. But whatever may have been his own feelings on the suitableness of such an occupation to his profession, it is certain, that, while most of the poems he has left us were written in his youth, they were not collected by him till the latter part of his life, and then only to please a personal friend, who never thought of publishing them; so that they were not printed at all till forty years after his death, when Quevedo gave them to the public, in the hope that they might help to reform the corrupted taste of the age.
But from this time they have gone through many editions, though still they never appeared properly collated and arranged till They are, however, of great value. They consist of versions of all the Eclogues and two of the Georgics of Virgil, about thirty Odes of Horace, about forty Psalms, and a few passages from the Greek and Italian poets; all executed with freedom and spirit, and all in a genuinely Castilian style. His translations, however, seem to have been only in the nature of exercises and amusements.
But though he thus acquired great facility and exactness in his versification, he wrote little. His original poems fill no more than about a hundred pages; but there is hardly a line of them which has not its value; and the whole, when taken together, are to be placed at the head of Spanish lyric poetry.