Monday, August 18, 2008

The Many Loves of Lope de Vega

Lope de Vega (1562-1635) married two women, seduced many more, sired at least ten children, and wrote over 1000 plays before ending his life as a member of the priesthood. While he created many strong roles for women, his witty heroines were often as mistreated and abused as his own mistresses.

On such mistress, the actress Elena Osario first crossed paths with de Vega in 1583. Their passionate affair was ended when she married a wealthy protector. He made her the subject of a scathing novel, Dorotea, in which the heroine misuses her lover and her new husband in turn. Extra venom was unleashed against the character of Dorotea’s mother who arranges the marriage to secure her families fortunes. The ensuing libel suit resulted in de Vega’s temporary banishment from Madrid. Incriminating love letters were used as evidence in the trial (and a device in his plays).

Despite his wild lifestyle de Vega was beloved by king, country, military and church. “Es de Lope” became a descriptive phrase for anything of high quality. He even spent some time in the Inquisition: “The Spanish Inquisition accepted him by making him one of its judges. He became official censor and granter of the indisepensible nihil obstat, or imprimatur.” (Hayes, Francis C., Lope de Vega, Twayne Publishers Inc., 1967) The imprimatur was the declaration that a book was moral and acceptable for Roman Catholic readers. de Vega new a thing or two about the power of writing. The disconnect between his social roles and his passions would continue to be channeled through the characters in his plays as his career blossomed.

Paul G. Miller
Season Dramaturge

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