Posts Tagged ‘spanish golden age’

Still in Continental Europe, this time during the Spanish Golden Age. It was a tough call between Calderon dela Barca and Lope de Vega. de Vega came first and is arguably the more inventive playwright but dela Barca is the one who perfected the technique, merging Renaissance sensibilities, Neoclassical sensibilities and a whole secular/religious/philosophical trifecta. So, Life is a Dream:

  • It was really funny. Most modern playwrights and critics pride tragedy over comedy but as this reading challenge has shown, being comic is not secondary to being tragic. (Tartuffe, Amphitryo, etc)
  • Harping on one of my ideas on last week’s challenge, the whole anxiety of influence will be kicking in. When dela Barca hits the core of existentialism, in a way, it predicates the theatres of Beckett and Anouilh. Its story is a callback as well to something as formulaic as Oedipus with the whole baby and prophesy thing.
  • Perhaps it is the Spanish disposition, but, although I’ve been joking that King Lear should be adapted into a telenovela, Life is a Dream is a telenovela. Love square – check. Jilted lover – check. Regaining honor – check. Dark family secrets – check. Double identity – check. Put all the tropes of soap opera here and then you realize soap opera is not ground breaking because Calderon de la Barca has been doing it.
  • Such conventions is not an indicator of its quality. Yes, the cape and sword trope is popular among the Spanish crowd, but what makes dela Barca’s work powerful is how it enters the existential problems of human condition without sacrificing spectacle. The opening soliloquiy of the prince shows so much insight into the entire play and when his dream monologues come in by Act II, we can forgive its length because its just so brilliant.
  • At the same time, maybe because it’s Spanish, I felt a great sense of movement. Unexpected – it was surprising – but in no means was it contrived. For instance when the king tells the people to pretend it’s all a dream – that was great. There’s just so much twists (blame it on the Spanish) that as a reader you would have to expect the unexpected.
  • My favorite character in this play would have to be Clarion (known as Fife in other translations – he is Rosaura’s servant). Yes, Prince Segismund is the more brilliantly written character (arguably dela Barca’s vessel), but Clarion is just so funny. It is in his character, but the way his dialogue flows and how his character jumps from scene to scene is just remarkable. I felt sad when he died.

Right. That’s it for this week. I really quite liked it more than the others. Funny but deep. So intimidating for a contemporary playwright, damn it. Next week, we go back to England. William Congreve’s The Way of the World.


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