THE writer, generally referred to simply as Lope de Vega, was the greatest and most prolific dramatist of Spain's "Golden Age." He is credited with having written between 1500 and 1800 secular plays dealing with every sort of subject in addition to several hundred autos, those religious plays that resembled the English mysteries of the Middle Ages. It is said that he could write a complete play in a single day, and we may well believe it.
Born in the family of a poverty-stricken nobleman, Lope received his elementary training under the Jesuits in the Imperial College. Before he was twelve he had written two plays which, strangely enough, are among those that have come down to posterity. As a young man he served in the campaign that resulted in the destruction of the Spanish Armada. Military service, however, apparently was not permitted to interrupt the flow of de Vega's literary activity, for, according to tradition, he wrote steadily even on shipboard.
Lope was a poet of great versatility and at some time or other essayed nearly every form of writing, but it is as a dramatist that his genius stands out. His plays are remarkable for fertile imagination, skill in characterization and an always spirited dialogue. His disregard of the three unities did for Spain what Shakespeare did for England . . . gave it a national theater.
Of some 2200 plays, 50 autos and 431 comedies survive; of these The Star of Seville is easily the best. It is probable that the autos stem from the fact that Philip II on his deathbed forbade the presentation of secular drama in Spain for an indefinite time. In addition to the autos, de Vega wrote three other types of plays: (1) "dramas of the cloak and sword" whose spirited and gallant hero overcame all obstacles to win the lady of his love; (2) similar dramas of adventure dealing with historical and semi-historical personages; (3) a small group of "social" dramas portraying contemporary life.
Lope de Vega's plays brought him wealth and renown. Whenever he left his house he was followed by admiring crowds. He was frequently referred to as the "Spanish Phoenix" and "Prodigy of Nature." A couple of years after the death in 1612 of his second wife he took religious orders. At his death no vistage of his great fortune remained; only the memory of his pomp and of his generosity toward the poor. His funeral was observed like a king's with three bishops to officiate and a three-day period of mourning for the city.
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