Monday, June 2, 2014

The King, the Greatest Alcalde - 99

I did find a copy and it turned out to be easier than I expected.  Thank God for used bookstores, right?  It was in an anthology of world drama.

Probably the most important thing to know about this play is the author, Lope de Vega (biographical link).  He was the father of Spanish theater and a man of prodigious work.  He is thought to have written some 1800 plays and around 3000 sonnets.  Cervantes called him a 'monster of nature' for his ability to write such sheer quantity.  He also changed the nature of theater in Spain (and Europe) by breaking from Aristotle's strict rules.  (Or so it is said.  He was roughly contemporary to Shakespeare and you really can't accuse Shakespeare of following the rules here either.  But I'm not a drama historian and might be missing something here.)  Is he any good?  I'll get back to that.
This play, 'The King, the Greatest Judge' (or Magistrate or Alcalde, translations vary) is chosen as a representative.  From what I can tell, Lope de Vega has not enjoyed a huge amount of translation into English or been seen much on American stages.  Which is a shame, as I can easily see putting on this and similar plays.  The historical value alone is high enough to create interest.
So what happens?  In the play, a peasant by the name of Sancho has fallen in love with a fair maiden named Elvira.  He asks her father for her hand and her father tells him that he must ask for their lord and patron to bless the marriage.  Sancho asks for and receives the blessing and his patron, Don Tello, decides to attend the wedding.  And then the problem happens.  Don Tello falls in love with Elvira and contrives to kidnap her.
Sancho goes to the king and begs for help.  The king writes a letter ordering Don Tello to give her back but Don Tello refuses to do so.  So Sancho goes back to the king.  Meanwhile, Don Tello is becoming more and more frustrated, because Elvira won't give up her charms.  He schemes to make her do so but she resists.
The king returns with Sancho and discovers that Don Tello has finally just taken her.  He orders a priest and a hangman.  Don Tello will marry her to restore her honor and then he'll be executed.  Elvira and Sancho will then be together and wealthy.
The plot is on the simple side.  The characters are interesting, but a bit cartoonish.  My favorite is a swineherd named Pelayo who travels with Sancho.  He misunderstands everything in a most amusing fashion.  It's the part that I would want to play.  In short, I enjoyed it, but you'd have to do some hard work to make me think of it as one of the 100 best plays of all time.  If you happen to run across it somewhere, it's definitely worth a read.

Next up: 'The Heidi Chronicles' by Wendy Wasserstein.

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