Lope Félix de Vega Carpio. La moza de cántaro.


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Aside from his literary works the following twelve years of the life of Lope offer us but little of interest. The first few years of the period saw the appearance of La Dragontea, an epic poem on Sir Francis Drake, and Isidro, a long narrative poem on the life and achievements of San Isidro, patron of Madrid. These two works were followed in 1605 by his epic, Jerusalén Conquistada, an untrustworthy narration of the achievements of Richard Cœur-de-Lion and Alfonso VIII in the crusade at the close of the twelfth century. Lope left the service of the Duke of Alba on his return to Madrid, or about that time, and during the next decade held similar positions under the Marqués de Malpica and the Conde de Lemos, and during a large part of this period he led a more or less vagabond existence wherever the whims of his employers or his own gallant adventures led him. About 1605 he made the acquaintance of the Duque de Sessa, who shortly afterwards became his patron and so continued until the death of the poet about thirty years later. The correspondence of the two forms the best source for the biography of this part of Lope's career. From 1605 until 1610 he lived in Toledo with his much neglected wife, of whom we have no mention since their marriage in 1598. But in 1610 they moved to Madrid, where Lope bought the little house in what is now the Calle de Cervantes, and in this house the great poet passed the last quarter of a century of his long and eventful life.

The next few years following this return to the capital were made sorrowful to Lope by the sickness and death of both his wife and his beloved little son, Carlos Félix, in whom the father had founded the fondest hopes. Then it was that Lope, now past the fiftieth year of his age, sought refuge, like so many of his contemporaries and compatriots, in the protecting fold of the Church. Before the death of his wife he had given evidence of religious fervor by numerous short poems and in his sacred work, los Pastores de Belén, a long pastoral in prose and in verse relating the early history of the Holy Family. Whether Lope was influenced to take orders by motives of pure devotion or by reasons of interest has been a question of speculation for scholars ever since his time. From his works we can easily believe that both of these motives entered into it; in fact he says as much in his correspondence with the Duque de Sessa. Speaking of this phase of the poet's life, Fitzmaurice-Kelly says: "It was an ill-advised move. Ticknor, indeed, speaks of a 'Lope, no longer at an age to be deluded by his passions'; but no such Lope is known to history. While a Familiar of the Inquisition the true Lope wrote love-letters for the loose-living Duque de Sessa, till at last his confessor threatened to deny him absolution. Nor is this all: his intrigue with Marta de Navares Santoyo, wife of Roque Hernández de Ayala, was notorious." But later, speaking of those who may study these darker pages of Lope's career, he adds: "If they judge by the standards of Lope's time, they will deal gently with a miracle of genius, unchaste but not licentious; like that old Dumas, who, in matters of gaiety, energy and strength, is his nearest modern compeer." We may say further that Lope, with no motive to deceive or shield himself, for he seems to have almost sought to give publicity to his licentiousness, was faithful in the discharge of his religious offices, evincing therein a fervor and devotion quite exemplary. Yet neither does his gallantry nor his devotion seem to have ever halted his pen for a moment in the years that succeeded his ordination. His dramatic composition of this period is quite abundant and other literary forms are not neglected.

Two interesting incidents in the poet's life are never omitted by his biographers. They are the beatification, in 1620, of San Isidro and his canonization, two years later, with their accompanying poet "jousts," at both of which Lope presided and assumed a leading rôle. Before this time he was known as a great author and worshiped by the element interested in the drama, but on both these occasions he had an opportunity to declaim his incomparable verses and those of the other contesting poets, revealing his majestic bearing and versatility to the great populace of Madrid, his native city. He was thereafter its literary lion, whose very appearance in the streets furnished an occasion for tumultuous demonstration of affection.

The last decade of the life of Lope de Vega saw him seeking no rest or retirement behind the friendly walls of some monastic retreat, but rather was it the most active period of his literary career. Well may we say that he had no declining years, for he never knew rest or realized a decline of his mental faculties. He did not devote by any means all his time to his literary pursuits, but found time to attend faithfully to his religious duties and to the cares of his home, for he had gathered about him his children, Feliciana, Lope Félix and Antonia Clara, of whom the last two and Marcela, in a convent since 1621, were the gifted fruit of illicit loves. In 1627 he published his Corona Trágica, a long religious epic written on the history of the life and fate of Mary, Queen of Scots. This work won for him the degree of Doctor of Divinity, conferred with other evidences of favor by Pope Urban VIII. Three years later appeared Lope's Laurel de Apolo, a poem of some seven thousand lines describing an imaginary festival given on Mount Helicon in April, 1628, by Apollo, at which he rewards the poets of merit. The work is devoted to the praise of about three hundred contemporary poets. In 1632 the poet published his prose romance, Dorotea, written in the form of drama, but not adapted to representation on the stage. It is a very interesting work drawn from the author's youth and styled by him as "the posthumous child of my Muse, the most beloved of my long-protracted life."[2] It is most important for the light it sheds on the early years of his life, for it is largely autobiographical. Another volume, issued from the pen of Lope in 1634 under the title of Rimas del licenciado Tomé de Burguillos, contains the mock-heroic, La Gatomaquia, the highly humorous account of the love of two cats for a third. Fitzmaurice-Kelly describes this poem as, "a vigorous and brilliant travesty of the Italian epics, replenished with such gay wit as suffices to keep it sweet for all time."

Broken in health and disappointed in some of his fondest dreams, the great poet was now rapidly approaching the end of his life. It is believed that domestic disappointments and sorrows hastened greatly his end. It would appear from some of his works that his son, Lope Félix, to whom he dedicated the last volume mentioned above, was lost at sea the same year, and that his favorite daughter, Antonia Clara, eloped with a gallant at the court of Philip IV. Four days before his death Lope composed his last work, El Siglo de Oro, and on August 27, 1635, after a brief serious illness, the prince of Spanish drama and one of the world's greatest authors, Lope Félix de Vega Carpio breathed his last in the little home in the Calle de Francos, now the Calle de Cervantes. His funeral, with the possible exception of that of Victor Hugo, was the greatest ever accorded to any man of letters, for it was made the occasion of national mourning. The funeral procession on its way to the church of San Sebastian turned aside from its course so that the poet's daughter, Marcela, might see from her cell window in the convent of the Descalzadas the remains of her great father on the way to their last resting-place.

II. THE EARLY SPANISH THEATER AND THE DRAMA OF LOPE DE VEGA

The theater of the Golden Age of Spanish letters occupies a position unique in the history of the theaters of modern Europe, for it is practically free from foreign influence and is largely the product of the popular will. Like other modern theaters, however, the Spanish theater springs directly from the Church, having its origin in the early mysteries, in which the principal themes were incidents taken from the lives of the saints and other events recorded in the Old and the New Testament, and in the moralities, in which the personages were abstract qualities of vices and virtues. These somewhat somber themes in time failed to satisfy the popular will and gradually subjects of a more secular nature were introduced. This innovation in England and France was the signal for the disappearance of the sacred plays; but not so in Spain, where they were continued several centuries, under the title of autos, after they had disappeared in other parts of Europe.

Lope Félix de Vega Carpio. La moza de cántaro.
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