Pedro Calderón (de la Barca)



  • (1600 - 81) Spanish playwright, the chief successor toLope de Vega. Calderón's nearly 200 works are morecerebral and stylized than Lope's and many turn on the now remoteconcept of the pundonor (point of honour). Nevertheless, heis usually considered the most important Spanish dramatist owing tohis skill in constructing plots, his intellectual power, and his abilityto create outstanding characters. His output encompassed comedies,tragedies, cloak-and-sword plays, histories, romances, philosophicaldramas, and religious works. He has had a major influence on Europeandrama: English adaptations include Wycherley's The Gentleman Dancing-Master(1672), while Goethe produced translations for the Court Theatre atWeimar.

    The son of a government official, Calderón began towrite plays at the age of 14. In 1623 he abandoned his religious studiesto turn out works for the royal palace. Between 1625 and 1640 he wrotehis best comedies of intrigue (see comedy of intrigue)and such tragedies as The Surgeon of His Own Honour (1635),depicting the grimness of a society ruled by a rigid code of honour,and The Mayor of Zalamea (1640), about a father's revenge onthe seducer of his daughter.

    In 1636 Philip IV made Calderón a Knight of the MilitaryOrder of St James. The following years saw the production of someof his finest religious plays, such as The Wonder-Working Magician(El mágico prodigioso; 1637), inspired by the life ofSt Cyprian, and the auto sacramental The Great Theatreof the World (1641). Of his secular plays, Life is a Dream(1638) is regarded as the best; it depicts the mental state of a princereleased from life-long imprisonment.

    When Philip IV's newly built palace of Buen Retiro openedin 1640, Calderón began to produce elaborate spectacles usingthe new Italian lighting and perspective scenery. In 1648 he wrotehis first zarzuela, the two-act The Garden of Falerina,in which spoken and sung dialogue alternate. His first opera, theone-act The Purple of the Rose, was produced in 1660.

    After being ordained in 1651, Calderón announced thathe would write no more plays. The king, however, commanded him towrite for the court theater; as a result he produced The Daughterof Air (1653), dealing with the conflict between passion and reason.In 1666 Calderón became the king's chaplain of honour and concentratedon writing auto sacramentales (66 have survived).