VII. The Spanish Theatre to 1700
During the 16th & 17th centuries the Spanish theatre flourished--with religion as its primary source. During the 16th century, Spain held a religious festival three times annually called the Corpus Christie festival which emphasized the power of the Church. At the festival, they performed plays called autos sacramentales.The autos sacramentales had some of the aspects of morality plays as well as some aspects of cycle plays, and they featured human as well as supernatural characters. The plays that were presented, sometimes old plays and sometimes new, were performed by a single company and later by two companies. The plays were presented on carros, or wagons, which held everything needed for performance.
By 1500 secular dramas had begun to emerge. One of the most important early works was The Comedy of Calisto and Melibea which first consisted of sixteen acts, and later was increased to twenty-one acts. Although written by many men, the work is attributed to Fernando de Rojas.
A man who is often referred to as the founder of Spanish drama is Juan del Encina. His first works were religious, but later he also wrote secular plays. The most noted of these is The Ecologue of Placida and Victoriano.
Professional theatre in Spain began around 1550 led by Lope de Rueda, who was an actor and author. He was first noticed in religious plays, but later he wrote plays for popular audiences. A few of his works include The Frauds, Medore, Aumelina, and Eufemia. Rueda normally played fools or simpletons, but his characters were the most fully developed of the time. He is considered the father of the Spanish professional theatre and also was the most successful performer of his day.
Theatre popularity was on the rise in the 1570s, and Madrid and Seville were the theatrical centers, though other cities had acting troupes. The playwrights/dramatists which also were popular at the time were Juan de la Cueva and Miguel de Cervantes. Cueva was the first playwright to use Spanish history in his play, The Seven Children of Lara. Cuevantes also wrote of everyday life, as well as of classical subjects. Cervantes is best known for his novel Don Quixote, but he also wrote about thirty plays during his career. The Siege of Nurmanas, The Traffic of Argel, and The Fortunate Ruffian are a few of Cervantes' surviving dramatic works.
In Spain, Comedia was the word used to describe any full-length play, whether it was serious or comic. Most Comedias were divided into three acts and began with a loa, or prologue. The most well-known Spanish playwright is Lope Felix de Voga Carpio. Vega is believed to have written 800 comedies, 450 of which survived. His plays have clearly defined actions which keep the audience interested, and most of his plays deal with the theme of love and honor. Vega's plays almost always had happy endings. Fuante Ovgriva ( The Shape Well), The Gardener's Dog, and Madrid Steal are just a few of Voga's numerous works.
Pedro Calderon de la Barca is another well-known Spanish playwright known for plays such as The Phantom Lady, The Physicians to His Own Honor, and Life is a Dream. Calderon wrote 200 plays, but only 100 have survived to the present day.
Public theatres in Spain were known as corrales. The first corrales was built in Madrid and was called the Corral de la Cruz. A few public theatres were also built in these cities. Performances began at 2:00 p.m. in the fall and 4:00 p.m. in spring and were required to end at least one hour before nightfall.
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