Lope de Vega

Born November 25th, 1562, about two years before Marlowe and Shakespeare, Lope Félix de Vega Carpio would outlive them both. The first Spanish dramatist to make a living as a playwright--and now considered the greatest of all Spanish playwrights--Lope is said to have written over 2,200 plays, over 500 of which have survived!

Today, Lope would be considered a prodigy. At the age of five, he could read Latin, as well as Spanish, and had begun composing poetry. At fourteen, he was a student at the Imperial College at Madrid, but ran off with a classmate and joined a military expedition against Portugal. Fortunately, the Bishop of Avila came upon Lope and, sensing the young boy's talent, took him under his wing. Under the Influence of the Bishop, Lope enrolled at the University of Alcalá and graduated with a bachelor's degree. He was on the verge of following in the the Bishop's footsteps and becoming a priest when, suddenly, he fell violently in love, revealing a passion that would later manifest itself in his plays.

After graduating from Alcalá, Lope joined a naval expedition to the Azores, then went to Madrid where he began his assault on the Theatre. He quickly fell in love with a married woman, the daughter of the producer who bought his plays. The affair lasted for five years, and Lope celebrated his love under the name of Filis in many of his ballads, but when it ended, it ended violently. Lope fell into a furious quarrel with the woman's father and began to refuse him his plays. He also lampooned the man mercilessly which resulted in a libel suit. Lope was first imprisoned, then exiled from the kingdom of Castile for two years. Within three months, Lope returned to Madrid at the risk of being sent to the galleys and eloped with Isabel de Urbina, the daughter of a prominent courtier, only to later abandon her. In 1588, he left Isabel in Madrid and joined the Spanish Armada.

Fortunately for the good of the Spanish Theatre, Lope escaped the fate of many of his fellow soldiers during this disastrous venture against Britain. His ship, the San Juan, was one of the few to return safely. Not only did Lope survive, but he spent the six month voyage composing the epic poem The Beauty of Angelica.

After returning to Valencia, Lope set about the business of making a living in the theatre. Soon, he was composing so many plays that more than one manager was dependant upon the young playwright for his supply. But Lope still found time to carry on his love affairs. He soon initiated a tryst with the actress Micaela de Luxon who would provide him with four children and inspire many a sonnet. He would remain as constant to her as was possible for a man of his ilk, which meant that she would share him with several other Spanish ladies. In 1598, he married the daughter of a successful pork merchant.

Lope's affairs produced a large number of offspring. In 1605, he found himself the father of both a son by his wife and a daughter by Micaela. Two years later, Micaela also gave birth to a son named Lopito who would become a talented poet. In spite of his many affairs, Lope was a devoted father. When his wife died in 1613, he brought all of his children together under one roof.

In 1614, Lope became a priest. However, he continued to write secular plays, and he continued to carry on his affairs--most notably with the wild actress Lucia de Salcedo and a young married woman named Doña Marta. However, he seems to have been devoted in his own way to the priesthood, for he was known to have been in the habit of scourging himself for "the good of his soul" until the walls of his room were flecked with blood!

In 1632, Lope lost Doña Marta. Three years later, his son Lopito was lost at sea, and his illegitimate daughter eloped with a courtier. These losses weighed heavily on the seventy-three-year-old playwright. Lope de Vega died on August 27, 1635.

Most of Lope's plays revolve around the conflicting claims of love and honor. His most popular work is Fuente Ovejuna or The Sheep Well (1614) in which a tyrannous feudal lord is murdered by villagers who refuse to confess and are eventually spared by intervention of the king. Other popular plays by Lope de Vega include The Foolish Lady (1613), Finding Truth Through Doubt (1620-24), The Knight from Olmeda (1622) and Punishment without Revenge (1631).

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