The Case against Tirso De Molina's "Nephew"

By Albrecht, Jane W. | Bulletin of the Comediantes, July 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Case against Tirso De Molina's "Nephew"


Albrecht, Jane W., Bulletin of the Comediantes


FRAY GABRIEL TELLEZ, the Mercedarian priest known as Maestro Tirso de Molina, is purported to have handed publishing responsibilities to a nephew, Francisco Lucas de Ávila, naming him the compiler of his plays in Partes beginning in 1634. Scholars have debated whether the nephew lived in the world or only in the dramatist's imagination. Vázquez Fernández, Florit Durán, and others affirm that the nephew was invented as an alter ego responsible for publishing his "uncle's" works.1 On the other hand, Paterson believes that he was an historical figure: in 1635 Francisco Lucas was granted legal license to publish the plays of Parte V. If he were a fictitious character, the playwright would be involved in fraud ("Tirso de Molina como invento literario" 351 n9). In a 2012 article published in this journal, Sullivan and da Cunha offer some arguments that the nephew existed as well. Pondering whether Tirso had an illegitimate son whom he called nephew or whether his sister, the prioress who entered the convent at age thirteen, gave birth to a son, they soundly reject both circumstances as highly unlikely (104). Instead, Sullivan and da Cunha conjure a different sister for Tirso, who married and had a child with Francisco de Ávila. This de Ávila was a writer and somewhat disreputable middleman who in the 1610s collected and readied some of Lope de Vega's manuscripts for publication in Partes and later won a court fight with Lope over the rights to do so (118). Sullivan and da Cunha note the coincidence in names, a striking detail that had led Paterson to assume that they were the same individual.2

Whereas for Sullivan and da Cunha the concurrent names Francisco de Ávila and Francisco Lucas de Ávila can be interpreted to suggest that the elder de Ávila sired a son with Tirso's "sister," for me the repetition creates irony around the figure of the nephew. After all, the name adapts that of the "thief" of some of Lope's plays, transferring it to a man who claims to be the "domestic thief" of his Uncle Tirso's works. That is, it could be a riff on the name of the person who tangled with Lope over publishing his plays before Alonso Pérez, Juan Pérez de Montalbán's father, became the official editor of his Partes in the early 1620s.

The story that Sullivan and da Cunha weave about Tirso and his family is nonetheless intriguing, and it exposes the need to further elaborate the competing account that the nephew never existed. Since to date the only real traces of the man called Tirso's nephew are found in the preliminary material of Partes II-V of Tirso's plays, those pages are the focus of interest: the title pages of Partes II-V (1634-36) list him as the plays' compiler; the prologue and dedication to Tirso's Parte III (1634) are written under his name, indicating that he is now in charge of publishing his uncle's plays; and the suma del privilegio of Parte V, dated July, 1635, authorizes him to publish that volume for a period of ten years. Before considering the fragments of Francisco Lucas found in the preliminary matter, it is fitting to provide the setting of his arrival on the scene in 1634 by reviewing some relevant facts of Tirso's life and the publication history of the five Partes. The results of studying the texts of the prologues in the context of the Partes' chronology add substance to the contention that the nephew never existed.

In the mid-1620s, Maestro Tirso de Molina faced great difficulty in getting his plays before the reading public. On March 6, 1625, he was targeted by a government commission, the Junta de Reformación, which reprimanded him, threatened him with excommunication, prohibited his writing "comedias que hace profanas y de malos incentivos y ejemplos," and recommended his banishment from Madrid (qtd. in Cotarelo xlii). In April, in hot water in Madrid, Tirso traveled to Seville, where he resided for one year. He then moved to his order convent in Trujillo to become its comendador from 1626 to 1629 (Vázquez, "Introducción" 13). …

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