The Literature of the Spanish People: From Roman Times to the Present Day

By Gerald Brenan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
THE SIGLO DE ORO. CHARLES V AND PHILIP II

WE HAVE now reached the great period of Spanish literature known as the Siglo de Oro, which begins when Spain is at the height of her power and influence under the Emperor Charles V and ends when she is entering the last stages of decay and inanition. This period can be conveniently divided into two parts, each of which has very different characteristics. In the first Spain is a rising and growing power. The influences that move and inspire her come from two quarters: from Flanders--these are the deeper and more potent; and from Italy--these are the more cultured and artistic. One can sum them up as Reformation and Renaissance. In the second period, which begins towards the end of the sixteenth century, both these movements are exhausted. Spain follows Italy into a gradual decline, though at first it is only in economic matters that the descent is apparent. Indeed art and literature, which for obvious reasons lag behind their political and social stimuli, are for a time more brilliantly displayed than ever. But their style and temper have changed into that known by the rather vague term baroque.

It is sometimes said that baroque is the art type of the Counter- Reformation. In Spain, however, this is only partly true. The Counter-Reformation was in full swing by the time of the conclusion of the Council of Trent in 1563, but with the exception of El Greco, who was a Greek trained in Italy, there are few signs of anything one can call baroque before 1600. The literature of the reign of Philip II, when the religious current ran more strongly than at any other time, was built out of the elements of an earlier Spanish Reformation, which had grown up under the influence of Erasmus and of the German and Flemish humanists and devotional writers of the beginning of the century. It is true that many of

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