To Spain, rather than to Italy, belong, as we have seen, the highest honors of the Renaissance; for here was first created and perfected a purely national form of drama. If, in tragedy, Spain possessed no writer with the powers of an Alfieri, or even of a Trissino, in comedy she far surpassed the Italians, while her romantic drama, a form that she made peculiarly her own, was imitated or adapted by nearly all European nations, Teutonic as well as Romance. That the literature of Spain should display a strongly individual character was to be expected in a country that, for centuries after the crusades, had been a battle-ground between the crescent and the cross, the people deriving from their conquerors the rich glow of color characteristic of their national life, especially in literature and art, together with extreme refinement in their treatment of the passion of love. When the drama arose among them they had held little intercourse with other European nations, and being formed on the ancient Castilian taste, and suited to the manners, habits and peculiarities of the people for whom it was intended, it was much more irregular than that of other European countries. It did not display the same learning; nor was it formed upon those ingenious rules to which Aristotle had subjugated the art of poetry. The object of dramatists was to affect the hearts of their countrymen, to harmonize with their opinions and customs, and above all, to flatter their pride. And so, in a measure, it is at the present day. Neither foreign nor native criticism, nor the prizes of their academies, nor the favors of their princes have ever succeeded in persuading them to adopt any of the systems which are predominant elsewhere in Europe.
Even when borrowing from other nations, Castilian poets were very imperfectly acquainted with what they borrowed, and before making use of it, modified and adapted it to their own ideas. The Arabians, their first instructors, were ignorant of the drama; the Provençals and the Catalans had very little knowledge of it; nor could the Castilians themselves boast of a theatre until the time of Charles V. They studied but little, and cared still less for imitating the classical drama; but their officers had beheld, in wars of Italy, the theatrical representations at the court of Ferrara and of many Italian princes. In emulation of these spectacles they attempted to introduce into their native land the form of entertainment that was so much in favor in the country where they had borne arms.
It was the custom of the Spaniards to represent on the stage not only the leading incidents of their national history, but also those complicated intrigues, those feats of dexterity and turns of fortune which delighted their imagination and reminded them of their Moorish romances--infinitely more fertile in adventures than those of the Italians or the French. Moreover, the historic drama of Spain differed essentially from that of Italy, where, at least until the time of Alfieri, the scenes were usually laid in bygone ages, or in distant climes. The Castilians, on the other hand, drew their subjects from their own times and from the history of Castile; or, if the scenes were in other realms or in earlier cycles, they still preserved their own manners, always presenting a more animated and faithful picture than was found on the more conventional stage of Italy. In the Spanish theatre was reflected the glorious era in which the drama was at its best, when the pride of the nation was roused by its victories, and almost every play was filled with "the stern joys of battle." When the age of liberty was passed, the men of Castille placed their pride in chivalry, becoming romantic when it was no longer possible to be heroic, and substituting the pride of honor for the pride of patriotism when the latter had ceased to exist.
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