Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Four Fighting Artists
Cervantes, de Vega, and Calderón sat in the open air under the shade of an olive tree discussing their plays while drinking red wine. Well known playwrights of their time, the men were adept at hiding underlying statements about society in their words, and they were skilled in their theatrical artistry and for their lyrical manipulation of the Spanish language.
Cervantes, known for his satire and for his biting wit, led the conversation with a disguised remark about the hypocrisy of nobility. Quick with a completely impertinent and ludicrous response, de Vega, himself being of noble but poor blood, interjected that the need for nobility would not exist without the common rabble. But then he followed with a more serious note and genuinely believed himself when he stated that, of course, someone had to be in charge of everything. In his head, he added "and everyone," as did Cervantes and Calderón, although no one spoke the words.
Quietly listening and thinking during the exchange, Calderón lifted his glass and took a sip of wine. A very spiritual man, he took seriously the matters of the human condition. He also believed in the illusion of worldly things. Cervantes and de Vega paused and looked at Calderón, for they knew that he might probably say something that made terribly good sense at that moment. They were not surprised when he said that one's station in life determined not the hypocrisy of the spirit and that among both groups genuine sentiments were lacking in most men. Wise men uttered the same sentiments for millennium before and would continue to utter them into the twenty-first century and beyond.
De Vega was in the midst of a long-winded superfluous monologic response when a shadow fell across his shoulder. The three masters raised their eyes to the face of Ruiz de Alarcón, the Mexican born noble with a well-established pedigree. Besides his foreign criollo status, his red hair, hunched back and arrogance won him few, if any, friends. The charming, womanizing de Vega took great pleasure in constantly ridiculing the misshapen outsider. Once, he and Mira de Amescua sabotaged the opening of one of Alarcón's plays with a tremendous stink bomb. Alarcón would often strike back at de Vega in his writing. Rather than get along, the three Spanish born continued to berate, though to varying degrees, the hunchback, while he continued to fire back at them.
Nearly five hundred years later, Cervantes is remembered as the author of Don Quijote. Most people have heard of Don Quijote, yet few have any idea who he was, let alone who Cervantes was. De Vega burned new trails in theatre and penned some of the most passionate honor plays of the sixteenth century. His star, however, is overshadowed by a couple of other men from neighboring countries -- Shakespeare and Molière. Calderón, the most spiritually profound of playwrights of any age, has been alternately popular and banned. The hero in his most famous play La Vida Es Sueño (Life Is A Dream) triumphs over his passions through his reasoning. Alarcón's work, like himself, was outside the accepted standard for its time -- he was ahead of his time. Several of his works were modeled by other playwrights in his own day and for centuries to come. In his most famous work, La Verdad Sospechosa (The Truth Suspected), the main character loses the woman he loves because of his lies and deceptions. Corneille, Le Menteur, said that he would have given his two best plays to have written this play of Alarcón.
**I feel obliged to add that de Vega's work is my favorite, though I can see myself fighting with him. Notes to follow.