HUMS 651
Classic Spanish Plays

Michael Armstrong-Roche

Assignment for First Class Meeting:
For the first meeting of the course students should have read Acts 1-3 of Miguel de Cervantes's The Siege of Numancia
Required Texts:

1.  Roy Campbell, trans., and Eric Bentley, ed., Life is a Dream and Other Spanish Classics (for Miguel de Cervantes’s The Siege of Numancia, Tirso de Molina’s The Trickster of Seville, and Calderón’s Life is a Dream) [ISBN:  978-1557830067]

2.  Lope de Vega, The Dog in the Manger, trans. David Johnston [ISBN-10:  1840024356, ISBN-13:  978-1840024357]

3.  Lope de Vega, Three Major Plays, trans. Gwynne Edwards (for Punishment without Revenge) [ISBN-10:  0192833375, ISBN-13:  978-0192833372]

4.  María de Zayas, Friendship Betrayed, bilingual hardcover (the only one available) edition trans. Catherine Larson and ed. Valerie Hegstrom [ISBN-10:  0838754414, ISBN-13:  9780838754412]

5.  Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Pawns of a House, bilingual edition trans. Michael McGaha [ISBN-10:  193101017X, ISBN-13:  978-1931010177]

6.  Laura R. Bass and Margaret R. Greer, eds., Approaches to Teaching Early Modern Spanish Drama (MLA, 2006; in the syllabus noted as Bass and Greer, Approaches) [ISBN-13: 978-0-87352-995-2]

One copy of all course books will also be made available on reserve at the Science Library.

Supplementary historical and critical readings will be provided in class or through the Wesleyan electronic reserve service.


Course requirements include three short papers (3-5pp.) on a play of the student’s choice, due at the end of each of the three weeks of the regular term; one longer final paper (10-15pp.) on a topic chosen by the student, due within 10 days of the end of the term; and one oral presentation that can be used as a trial run for the final paper.  The longer paper can be an elaboration of one of the short papers or of the oral presentation.  Attendance and active participation in class readings and discussion are crucial for success in this seminar-format course.  Students especially interested in Shakespeare or in 19th- or 20th-century European or American drama or in current drama are encouraged to explore comparative topics in their papers and presentation.  Students primarily interested in performance, translation or adaptation are encouraged to use the papers and the presentation as creative exercises to adapt scenes of a play, to propose a scenario for staging or filming a play, or to write a critical review of an existing tv or film adaptation.  The oral presentation can be a recital or performance of a scene or two of the student’s choice.  Depending on student numbers and interest, we may do live readings of scenes informally in class to keep the performance dimension of drama alive and to spark discussion.  Several key historical and critical readings will be used in class to enrich discussion and to encourage a deeper--at once historically informed, textually grounded, and playful--engagement with the texts.  They could also serve as points of departure for the papers and/or the oral presentation.

Participation: 30%
Three short papers: 30%
Oral presentation: 15%
Final paper: 25%

Three short papers (3-5pp.), one longer final paper (10-15pp.), and one oral presentation as a trial run for the final paper account for 70% of the final evaluation. Attendance, preparation for class, and participation account for the remaining 30%, which reflects the protagonism of students in a seminar-format course centered on live class readings and discussion.

The Wesleyan Honor System:

Students are expected to abide by the Wesleyan honor system with respect to all work prepared for this class. For details, please see the link:

Course Schedule
Meeting 1 The theater as history, the history play as a mirror for the present
Cervantes's The Siege of Numancia, Acts 1-2
Bruce Burningham on theatrical traditions in Span and the Western World leading up to Spanish Golden-Age drama (Bass and Greer, Approaches 107-114)
Meeting 2 Cervantes's The Siege of Numancia, Acts 3-4
Readings on the history of Numancia and Rome and of 16th-century Spain, on e-reserve
Meeting 3 The classical comedy reimagined: the new art of Lope de Vega
Lope de Vega, The Dog in the Manger, Acts 1-2
Northrop Frye, "The Argument of Comedy,"  on e-reserve
Meeting 4 Lope de Vega, The Dog in the Manger, Act 3
New Yorker article on scriptwriter Ron Bass on e-reserve
Meeting 5 Love and Honor in a Tragic Mode
Lope de Vega, Punishment without Revenge, Acts 1-2
Readings on tragedy and the tragic flaw on e-reserve
Meeting 6 Lope de Vega, Punishment without Revenge, Act 3
Readings on the honor code: Melveena McKendrick, "Communicating the Past"
Meeting 7 Don Juan's Radical Defiance of all Authority
Tirso de Molina, The Trickster of Seville, Acts 1-2
Meeting 8 Tirso de Molina, The Trickster of Seville, Act 3
Reading on the reception of the myth of Don Juan (Bass and Greer, Approaches)
Meeting 9 Philosophical and Political Drama: Are Just Rulers Born or Made?
Calderon de la Barca, Life is a Dream, Acts 1-2
Meeting 10 Calderon de la Barca, Life is a Dream, Acts 3
Susan Sontag essay on metatheater, The Death of Tragedy," on e-reserve
Meeting 11 Protofeminist criticism of the honor code?
Maria de Zayas, Friendship Betrayed, Acts 1-3
Meeting 12 Classical Theater in the New World
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Pawns of the House, Acts 1-3
Adaptations for tv and film available through Olin Reserve on video or DVD:

1.  Lope de Vega, El perro del hortelano [The Dog in the Manger] (dir., Pilar Miró):
a.  PN1997 .P4627 1997 [videocassette, in Spanish only]
b.  PN1997 . P46272 2002 [dvd in Spanish with the option of English subtitles]

2.  Tirso de Molina, El burlador de Sevilla [The Trickster of Seville]:  PN1997 .B8611994 [RTVE DVD]

3.  Calderón de la Barca, La vida es sueño [Life is a Dream]:  PQ6285 .F55 1994 [videocassette]

Key historical and critical readings (available through electronic reserve)

These readings are NOT required.  They provide historical context for key themes of the plays.  As such they can facilitate and enhance your reading of the plays, but should not substitute for it. You may want to consult readings that bear on the themes, characters, settings, or action of the plays you have selected to write about in your short papers as you are writing those papers. You may also want to draw on one or more of these readings for your oral presentation and/or your final paper.

1.  For a useful outline of the main political events and social changes of 16th-century Spain, see B.W. Ife, “The Historical and Social Context,” in The Cambridge Companion to Cervantes, ed. Anthony J. Cascardi, pp. 11-31, on e-reserve

2.  For a succinct account of the evolution of crown-aristocracy-town-laborer relations by John Lynch, Spain 1516-1598: From Nation State to World-Empire, pp. 1-26, on e-reserve

3.  An equally succinct and fascinating review by Michael Breen of Julius Ruff’s Violence in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800 (2001) considers several explanations for the abrupt 17th-century drop in everyday violence (public vendetta, private duelling, armed robbery) in Western Europe, including the subordination of an historically fractious nobility to centralized monarchies (useful for understanding the importance of the theme of honor in early modern drama); on e-reserve

4.  On the social and political impact of the printing press, the 16th-century “educational revolution,” and the displacement of the old warrior nobility by a court aristocracy and a rapidly expanding professional class of administrators (useful for understanding the Spanish classical drama’s interest in representing an aristocracy caught between old and new ideals of service), see the selections from Richard Kagan, Students and Society in Early Modern Spain on e-reserve

5.  For a fascinating account of late 16th-century views on and realities of women, illicit love, and marriage (especially useful for understanding the social and historical underpinnings of the frequent dramatic recourse to love plots that involve the young choosing their spouse against parental authority), see Mary Elizabeth Perry, “Perfect Wives and Profane Lovers,” Gender and Disorder in Early Modern Seville, pp. 53-74, on e-reserve

6.  For an analysis of the relation between physical (especially women’s) beauty and virtue in early modern European portraiture (pertinent especially for understanding the value lent beauty to leading--especially female--characters in early modern drama), see Robert Hughes’s review of the National Gallery of Art exhibition “Virtue and Beauty” (Time, Dec. 24, 2001) on e-reserve

Suggested Bibliography

Again, this is NOT required reading.  This bibliography covers a wide range of topics related to Spanish drama that have interested students in the past.  I list bibliographic information here with Olin call numbers to help prompt ideas for oral presentations and final papers:

1.  Melveena McKendrick, Theatre in Spain:  PQ6105 .M24 1989

2.  Hugo Albert Rennert, The Spanish Stage in the Time of Lope de Vega:  PN2782 .R4 1963

3.  Ronald Surtz, The Birth of a Theater:  Dramatic Convention in the Spanish Theater from Juan del Encina to Lope de Vega (1979):  PQ6104.S9

4.  Jane Albrecht, The Playgoing Public of Madrid in the Time of Tirso de Molina:  PN2786 .M3 A43 2001

5.  N.D. Shergold, A History of the Spanish Stage from Medieval Times until the End of the Seventeenth Century:  PN2782 .S45 1967

6.  John Allen, The Reconstruction of a Spanish Golden Age Playhouse:  El Corral del Príncipe: NA6840.S72 M3233 1983

7.  Two illustrated standard histories of theater with a pan-European and global perspective, including useful sections devoted to Spanish Golden Age drama:
a.  Edwin Wilson and Alvin Goldfarb, Living Theater:  A History (4th ed. or later): PN2101 .W54 198
b.  Oscar Brockett and Franklin Hildy, History of the Theatre (9th ed. or later):  PN2101 .B68 1999

8.  Louise Stein, Songs of Mortals, Dialogue of the Gods:  Music and Theatre in Seventeenth-Century Spain:  ML1747.2 .S84 1993

9.  Dian Fox, Refiguring the Hero: From Peasant to Noble in Lope and Calderón:  PQ6485 .F69 1991

10.  Monica Leoni, Outside, Inside, Aside:  Dialoguing with the ‘Gracioso’ in Spanish Golden Age Theatre:  PQ6105 .L46 2000

11.  Melveena McKendrick, Woman and Society in the Spanish Drama of the Golden Age:  A Study of the Mujer Varonil :  PQ6105 .M25

12.  Melveena McKendrick, Identities in Crisis:  Essays on Honour, Gender and Women in the Comedia [request through ILLIAD = Interlibrary Loan]   

13.  Anita Stoll and Dawn Smith, eds., Gender, Identity, and Representation in Spain’s Golden Age:  PQ6106 .G46 2000

14.  Anita Stoll and Dawn Smith, eds., The Perception of Women in Spanish Theater of the Golden Age:  PQ6105 .P46 1991

15.  Valerie Hegstrom and Amy Williamsen, Engendering the Early Modern Stage:  Women Playwrights in the Spanish Empire:  PQ6055 .E64 1999

16.  Teresa Soufas, Dramas of Distinction:  A Study of Plays by Golden Age Women:  PQ6055 .S58 1997

17.  Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano, Feminism and the Honor Plays of Lope de Vega:  PQ6490 .H7 Y37 1994

18.  Marlene K. Smith, The Beautiful Woman in the Theater of Lope de Vega:  Ideology and Mythology of Female Beauty in Seventeenth-Century Spain:  PQ6485 .S65 1998

19.  Sidney Donnell, Feminizing the Enemy:  Imperial Spain, Transvestite Drama, and the Crisis of Masculinity:  PN2782 .D66 2003

20.  María José Delgado and Alain Saint-Säens, eds., Lesbianism and Homosexuality in Early Modern Spain:  PQ6106 .L48 2000 r 21.  Walter Cohen, Drama of a Nation:  Public Theater in Renaissance England and Spain: PR651 .C64 1985

22.  Louise Fothergill-Payne and Peter Fothergill-Payne, eds., Parallel Lives:  Spanish and English National Drama, 1580-1680:  PR675 .F68 1991

23.  Ivan Cañadas, Public Theater in Golden Age Madrid and Tudor-Stuart London:  Class, Gender and Festive Community:  PN2786.M3 C25 

24.  For bibliography on actors and acting in Spain, please see me (the best scholarship is in Spanish).  A book has just (late 2006) been published in English on one of the great Spanish stage clowns, the comic actor Juan de la Rana, muse to Calderón among other playwrights:  Peter Thompson, The Triumphant Juan Rana:  A Gay Actor of the Spanish Golden Age (on order for Olin Library)