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SPANISH DRAMA IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

DURING the early part of the eighteenth century Spain was very little troubled by any ideas of progress in literature or the arts. The drama was at its lowest ebb. Only the more vulgar plays had survived from the previous century, and their presentation was often accompanied by coarse and brutalizing features. Even the language of Lope de Vega and Calderón had gone under eclipse, French being used at court and in smart society. Fashionable people patronized Italian opera or the occasional performance of a French play. Boileau's theories concerning poetry and the drama were translated into Spanish in 1737, but it was not until the latter half of the century, under the sovereignty of Charles III, that men of letters were encouraged. About that time some of the more severe restrictions of the Church were removed, and there rose the school of Salamanca, whose purpose was to revive interest in the literature of earlier days and in the rich drama of Lope and Calderón. Jovellanos, belonging to this school, left one good comedy, The Honest Criminal, but his powers, for the greater part of his life, were applied to politics rather than to literature.

Another group of writers during the eighteenth century sought to foster French drama. The leaders of this movement, one of whom was the elder Moratin, attacked the autos, representing them as too degrading and blasphemous to be tolerated by civilized people. Moratin wrote the first Spanish play modeled upon the French pattern, The Female Coxcomb (Petimetra) published in 1762. Moratin's son, Leandro, followed his father's ideas concerning the superiority of French importations, and as a dramatist was even more celebrated. He gained the title of the "Spanish Molière," and his works are still admired. The condemnation of the elder Moratin was so effective that in 1768 the performances of the old sacred mysteries was forbidden. The most successful writer for the stage during the century was Ramon de la Cruz, who left upward of three hundred dramatic compositions, based mostly upon the everyday experiences of the middle and lower classes, and faithfully exhibiting national types of character. La Cruz attempted almost every species of stage entertainment, but was most capable in his farces, which display a rough and ready wit and considerable invention.


This article was originally published in A Short History of the Drama. Martha Fletcher Bellinger. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1927. pp. 278-9.

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