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

By Gerald Brenan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
LOPE DE VEGA AND THE NEW COMEDY

A REACTION against the poetry of the Italian Renaissance, which had been introduced by Garcilaso de la Vega and developed by Herrera, set in about the time of the Spanish Armada. It took the form of a return to Spanish measures. The hendecasyllable did not disappear, but remained the metre for poems of a grave and stately kind, as well as for sonnets. But for other purposes the octosyllables of the romance became the fashion. The cause of this change was the strong popular and romantic movement that was making its appearance in the large towns, in defiance of the economic difficulties through which the country was passing. It expressed itself in the new sentimental romances that were coming out in bulky collections, and still more in the comedias, or verse plays, that were written on the same subjects and very largely in the same metre. All the poets of this age show the influence of this popular romanticism.

Another tendency of the time was that towards culteranismo, which was the name given to the search for a more refined and stylized diction, influenced by Latin syntax. This met with a strong resistance from the purists. The names associated with these two schools were, respectively, Gόngora and Lope de Vega, and their opposition led to a war of poets, which became more fierce and unrelenting when, in the following century, new writers appeared upon the scene. But there is one thing that all the poets and dramatists of this generation, whatever school they belonged to, had in common--their insularity. Lope de Vega and Gόngora were only fifteen years younger than Cervantes, but they lacked both his humanist background and his acquantance with foreign countries. This meant that they took the Spanish scene for granted and showed no trace of his critical and moral approach to life. If we except Quevedo and Gracián, who both saw further than their

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