MEDIEVAL CASTILIAN THEATRE
 



Score of medieval music

 
    1.-  The castilian medieval theatre is represented by dark, scarce and confusing works to such an extent that it has been said that castilian theatre did not exist until the end of 15th century.
 
   After christian authors had banished classical theatre, Middle Ages created new dramatical ways from tropoi, amplified melodies introducing little dialogued scenes, as the latin Quem quaeritis, that shows Apostles visiting resurrected Christ's tomb.
 
   Tropoi were cultivated with ludi and other short plays until they formed liturgical dramas, small performances of a sketch about Christ's life adapted to the development of the Mass. Their most elaborate variants will be sacred drama and scholar drama about saints' lives composed by scholars. All these plays might be written in latin. Iberian Peninsula keeps few examples of them.

    2.-  The first text with a castilian medieval play must be written after the second half of 11th century. It has been called Play of the Three Magic Kings and comes from Toledo's Cathedral. It was copied on the remaining folios of a medieval manuscript.

First folio of the
Play of the Three Magic Kings
   The work is not well preserved, but we do know its argument:
 
   The Three Magic Kings talk about the way to learn whether Child Jesus is God or not. If He chooses incense instead of gold and myrrh He will show his divine nature. The Kings ask Pilate, who, alarmed, takes counsel with his traitor sages and rabbies.
 
   The language of the fragment is puzzling and the whole text probably comes from a french source.

Last folio of the
Play of the Three Magic Kings

    3.-  We can assume that vernacular texts for dramatical performance in Iberian Península have been lost to a greater extent than vernacular texts of other geners.
 
   Many laws by Alfonso X and resolutions from ecclesiastic synods show the existence of imprecise dramatic activities performed by minstrels of different cultural levels.
 
   We do not even know wich kind of texts could be performed in Middle Ages. Debate poems like discussions from 13th and 14th centuries would not probably be a public show just like many epic verses.


Minstrels in the
Songsby Alfonso X
    4.-  A peak of the franciscan order at the beginning of the 15th century made that many monasteries looked for religious plays by clever writers.
 
   Gómez Manrique (Palencia, 1412-1490) -whose nephew wrote Verses on the Death of his Father- composed for his sister a Play on the Birth of Our Lord between 1458 and 1468, before being himself Chief magistrate in Toledo. His work comes from the latin gener of Officium pastorum and shows angels and shepherds going to adorate Jesus Child.
 
   His [Mournings] made for Holly Week should have also been performed: Virgin Mary with Saint John weep for Christ's Passion. Other dialogs can be seen as dramatical works.
   Also from a franciscan monastery comes the Play about the Flight to Egypt, composed between 1446 and 1512. This anonymous work shows the Holly Family travelling to and turning from Egypt. Meanwhile, the hermit Saint John the Baptist persuades a pilgrim to be christian.
    5.-  During 15th century, an important dramatic activity was developped near Cathedral Churches as those of León or Córdoba, performing plays on the Sibyl. In Toledo the holly at Corpus Christi produced some works in the last days of this century.
 
   The sketch of an incomplete Emperor's Play has come to us.

Theatre in Toledo:
sketch of the
Emperor's Play

Beginning of the
Play of the Passion
   The most important of this works is the Play of the Passion, written between 1486 and 1499, year of his author's -Alonso del Campo- death. The text we keep today looks like a provisional copy, made at the end of an account book. Its theme is Christ's passion and his source seems to be some lines of the Versified Passion (prior to 1480) by Diego de San Pedro.
 
   It begins with Jesus' prayer at the Garden and his dialog with an angel. After that, he talks to the apostles who were asleep. Judas betrays him. A woman recognizes Saint Peter who denies his Master and begins a mourning as Saint John does then. After Pilate's sentence Saint John comforts the Virgin whose mourning closes the play.

First strophes of the
Play of the Passion

    6.-  The Eclogue by Francisco de Madrid, secretary of John II and of the Catholic Monarchs, was written ca. 1495 and performs a dialog between Evandro -Peace-, Danger -Charles VIII of France- and Fortunate -Fernando the Catholic. On a pastoral frame -as in the Coplas of Mingo Revulgo- this work introduces Fortunate, fighting for peace and Church, against Danger. Evandro warns the shepherds against the forthcoming disaster.


Beginning of a castilian manuscript
of The Troyans by Seneca
    7.-  We are not sure about the texts that could have been actually performed. Many poems by Fray Íñigo de Mendoza could have been dramatical works as well as the Dialog between Love and an Old Man by Rodrigo de Cota; the Verses by Puertocarrero or the Query by Comendador Escrivá and even, the confusing notice about a love play that originated the Sad Delectation -all these works belonging to the second half of 15th century-. Even the Dance of Death, written at the end of the 14th. century, could have been performed.
 
   We cannot forget translations of latin classics like Plauto, Terencio or Seneca, who took part in the development of Theater.
 
   Limits between performing and reading are not yet clear in a work as La Celestina.

    8.-  At the end of this century, Juan de Fermoselle, best known as Juan del Encina (Salamanca, 1469-1529) -a Nebrija's disciple-, published his representations. Encina could be the father of castilian theater: he served the Dukes of Alba who appeared eulogized in his plays.
   Juan prints in 1496 his Cancionero -collection of verses-. at the end of wich we can read eight plays.
 
   The structure of these plays will be more and more complex: from a first praise of the Alba Dukes by two characters to a Christmas play by four ones: the evangelists. In the third one, a father and his son introduce the Verónica and learn Christ's death. The fourth play is performed by Jesus manifest in four different ways.
 
   The fifth and sixth plays deal with the theme of antruejo or carnival. The former regrets that the Duke of Alba had joined up for war; the latter includes a battle of Carnival against Lent. The seventh and eighth play form a unity: shepherdess Pascuala chooses the courtier Gil instead of shepherd Mingo, married to Menga. The jam, as those in medieval debate poems, is solved to the courtier benefit, who persuades the other characters to go to the Court.
 
   Performings end with a villancico -little popular song- by the brilliant musician that was Juan del Encina.

Facsimile edition (1928)
of the Cancionero (1496)
by Juan del Encina

Cancionero
Zaragoza, 1516
   Love's Triumph or Performing in the presence of Prince don Juan (1497) shows in wich way an uncultivated shepherd can be wounded by the arrows of love.
 
   The Long Rains Eclogue (1498) deals with torrential showers in that year and the author's failure in the public competion to the place of Salamanca's Cathedral Singer that was got by Lucas Fernández. The play ends with a Christmas Eclogue.
 
   The Play of the hair crop, written about these years, is an example of the aggressive tricks to peasants by students: while Shortlegged and Johan tell in sayaguese dialect -a colloquial, rather artificial, variant of leones dialect- their deseases to each other, a student tries to make them again and is banished.
   Later eclogues by this author are influenced by his travel to Rome ca. 1499, where he learnt new techniques:
 
   Eclogue of Cristino and Febea deals with Cristino's punishment because of his decision of being a hermit, but he forgets religion after Febea makes him fall in love with her.
 
   Eclogue of Fileno, Zambardo and Cardonio (prior to 1509) performs Fileno's suicide because of love, as he cannot get consolation from the part of lazy Zambardo. Cardonio is also unaware of him because he loves a shepherdess.
 
   Encina's last work can be the most ambitious: Placida and Vitoriano's Eclogue (ca.1513) performs in 2.500 verses the loss of love in this couple and the lady's suicide. Placida, because of his repentant lover holysecular prayers, gets from Venus the prize of turning to life. This play is added with customs and manners scenes that point out to La Celestina.

Eclogue of
Placida and Vitoriano

 
    9.-  A companion, rival and admirer of Encina was Lucas Fernández (Salamanca 1474-1542), whose work - though written ca. 1500- is difficult to be dated. His Farces and Ecglogues were printed in Salamanca, 1514.

Farces and Ecglogues
Salamanca, 1514
   This book includes three love comedies. Fernández introduces this word in our theater's history, perhaps because the first of them follows the story-line of the latin elegiac comedy. In the other two comedies he cites plays by Juan del Encina that don't let us stablish a clear chronology for them. He poses a debate betweewn shepherd and knight love. A reference to Celestina can be found in one of his two Eclogues or Farces on Birth. His literary production is complete with a short Dialogue to Sing and with the famous Play of the Passion, maybe the best in its gener.
 
   Lucas Fernández shares literary ideas similar to those of Juan del Encina. Anyway, Fernández' plays are composed with a larger number of verses and characters. He uses the word comedy and cultivates sayaguese dialect for his shepherds.

Page from the Codex
of Old Plays

    10.-  We fear we have lost many of the plays that could have been performed during the 15th century. A book written in the second half of 16th century -that we call Codex of Old Plays- contains many religious and even secular plays that were performed in different places along the Peninsula. Some of them could be remakes of medieval text that actually are apparently lost.

 

D.Miguel Pérez Rosado.
Ph. D. in Hispanic Philology.