Fuente Ovejuna (or The Sheep Well) is one of Lope de Vega’s best known works. It was interesting to re-read this midway through the rehearsal process for Dog in a Manger.
A wicked Commander terrorizes the villagers of the title town and deflowers all the maidens on their wedding nights. When Laurencia resists, and is violently raped for it, she leads the villagers in bloodthirsty rebellion. The Commander and his men are slaughtered at her command, making her one of de Vega’s most proactive heroines.
LAURENCIA: “I swear to God above that women alone shall be responsible for their honour, for their blood, and make these traitors, these tyrants pay…. And once again we’ll see that age return where there were women who were strong, true Amazons, whose deeds amazed the world.” (translation by Gwynne Edwards)
King Fernando and Queen Isabel send a magistrate to investigate the Commander’s death. Despite torture and imprisonment, when the people are asked who killed the Commander they claim it as a group crying “Fuente Ovejuna!” When the people report the Commander’s misdeeds and his rebellion against the crown to the King he pardons the entire town.
In his introduction to the play Gwynne Edwards writes that the play does not advocate revolution. “Rather, [de Vega] shared the desire of his contemporaries for the continuity of established social structures, ending the play, therefore, not with the victory of the citizens but with the restitution of order by the Catholic Kings.” Even so, the people demand responsibility from their King as they did from their Commander. Though peasants, their honor is no less than that of any so-called nobility.
Dog in a Manger focuses on a conflict between a Countess and her servants. Both sides disrupt the status quo. Neither will back down as each regards their honor as something worth defending. While the Countess is a nobler specimen than Fuente’s Commander, she too learns the dangers of underestimating the lower classes.
Paul G. Miller
Dog in a Manger opens October 6.
Visit www.redtapetheatre.org for details and to purchase tickets online!