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

By Gerald Brenan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
CALDERON AND THE LATE DRAMA

WHEN Lope de Vega died in 1635, Calderon stepped into his place as the first of Spanish dramatists. Each of these men represented to a remarkable degree his own age. Whereas Lope had been a romantic and naturalistic writer and the pioneer of a vast, unexplored territory, Calderon was a formal and baroque writer, whose career shows a steady retreat and contraction from the human scene to that of mythology and religious allegory. Lope too had been a popular figure, writing for the Madrid theatres and idolized by the people, whereas Calderon wrote almost entirely for the court, except when he was turning out religious dramas for various municipalities. In other words Lope was the culminating figure of a great and glorious era, the Siglo de Oro, and Calderon the poet of a catastrophic decline and decadence. When he died in 1681, there was nothing left.

Let us look first at the bare collection of facts that are all that we know of his life. Pedro Calderόn de la Barca was born at Madrid in 1600, one year after Velazquez. His family, like those of Lope de Vega and Quevedo, came from La Montaόa in the north of Castile and his father had a good though modest position as secretary to the Council of the Treasury. The boy was sent to the Jesuit college at Madrid and then to Salamanca, but before his education was completed both his parents had died, and he and his two brothers were involved in a lawsuit with their stepmother over their father's property.

Pedro had been intended for the Church, but chose instead the stage. He made his debut at the literary fêtes held in 1622 in honour of the canonization of San Isidro. But in the following year he seems to have changed his mind. At all events he was away from Madrid for two years and, if his first biographer is to be trusted, he

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