ORB Online Encyclopedia
Medieval Castilian Drama
Early Religious Drama in the Vernacular
Of course, none of the tropes are written in the vernacular. Spain is extremely lucky to be the origin of one of only three 12th century religious plays in a vernacular language-- the Auto de los Reyes Magos. The other two such plays are the Jue d' Adam and the Seinte Resureccion, both from France. The term auto is typically reserved for one act religious plays performed on carts or inside the church during the Corpus Christi celebration. Thus, some critics refer to this twelfth century piece as Representación de los Reyes Magos. "Representación" is a more generic term applied to any short dramatic piece in the Middle Ages. Auto de los Reyes Magos is a 147 verse fragment of a play found in the Cathedral in Toledo in the eighteenth century by Felipe Fernández Vallejo. Based on Matthew's gospel, it relates the story of the Three Wise Men's search for the Christ child and Herod's reaction to his birth. Modern editors have divided the play in to five scenes. The first scene contains the monologues of the Wise Men as they gaze upon the Star. In the second, the Wise Men meet and decide to go together to adore Jesus. The third scene introduces Herod, as the Wise Men tell him of the birth of Christ. In the fourth scene, Herod wonders if there could actually be a king above him. The fifth scene represents Herod's conversation with his rabbis. The play is written in polymetric verse. Many critics have praised the lyricism of the verse, especially in the monologues of the Wise Men .
The next extant examples of religious drama in Spain are Gómez Manrique's Representación del Nascimiento de Nuestro Señor and Coplas fechas para Semana Santa from the mid 15th century. In Representación del Nascimiento de Nuestro Señor Joseph doubts Mary's virginity. Mary prays to God to cure Joseph's lack of faith and for strength to endure what she knows must come. The Angel of God speaks to the shepherds and they and the Saints adore Christ. Children bring Christ gifts that prefigure his Passion, such as a chalice, whips, a crown of thorns, a cross and nails, and a lance. The play ends with a song, which states that Christ was born to suffer and die so that man's sins may be forgiven and he may have everlasting life with God. The verse in Representación del Nascimiento de Nuestro Señor is not as varied and consists primarily of redondillas. Coplas fechas para Semana Santa is a short work consisting of monologues spoken alternately by Mary and John. They lament the death of Christ and acknowledge that He died so that man may be forgiven and have everlasting life.
With the works of Gómez Manrique, whose dates correspond with the invention of the printing press, Spain saw a relative proliferation of extant religious drama: the anonymous Auto de la huída a Egipto (1475-1490), Auto de la Pasión (1486-1499) attributed to Alonso de Campo, Juan de Encina's 8 eclogues (1496), and Lucas Fernández's Égloga del nacimiento de Nuestro Redentor, Auto o farsa del Nacimiento de Nuestro Señor Jesuchristo, and Auto de la Pasión (1500-1503). The manuscript of Auto de la huída a Egipto was found in the monastery of Santa María de la Bretonera close to Burgos. It opens with the angel speaking to Joseph and commanding him to flee. Joseph tells Mary they must leave and she agrees saying they must obey God's will. They begin their journey as Joseph asks for God's guidance. Soon three thieves approach and rob them. The thieves see that Jesus is the Messiah and kneel before Mary to repent and return what they have stolen. Next, Saint John appears, stating that he wants to leave home to look for the Messiah. Saint Zachariah and Saint Isabel tell him that Joseph and Mary are coming to Judea. A pilgrim arrives and confirms that he saw them. Saint John sends the pilgrim to find them. He does and Mary tells him to go back to Saint John to console him and tell him that they would soon arrive. The pilgrim goes back and tells Saint John that the Messiah is coming and that he now believes in Him. He asks Saint John to go with him to a hermitage in a cave to escape the Devil's temptations. Saint John reminds him that Jesus will suffer even greater temptation in the dessert and that He will die for our sins. The play ends with the Angel telling Joseph and Mary they can return home because the danger caused by Herod has passed. The verse used in this play, though still irregular, is considerably more sophisticated than that of the drama seen thus far. Especially noteworthy are the work's villancicos, an element thought to have been introduced by Juan del Encina.
Auto de la Pasión is attributed to Alonso de Campo. Alonso de Campo organized the Corpus Christi celebration in Toledo between 1481 and 1499. The manuscript of Auto de la Pasión consists of 8 scenes of irregular length: Christ's prayer in the garden, the arrest, Peter's denial, Pilate's sentence, the moment when Saint John tell Mary that Jesus has died, and the laments of Saint Peter, Saint John and Mary. Again, critics recognize the sophistication and lyricism of the verse in Auto de la Pasión.
Of all the extant religious medieval drama, the works of Juan del Encina and Lucas Fernández are the most widely known. Juan del Encina (1469-1529) is known as the Father of Spanish drama. He spent most of his youth in Salamanca. He was educated there, and might have been a student of Antonio de Nebrija. He traveled in Rome and Jerusalem and lived in Málaga and León (where he also died and was originally buried). He aspired to be a singer in the Cathedral of Salamanca, a post that his rival, Lucas Fernández, eventually achieved. Juan del Encina's first eclogues, many religious in nature, were published in the Cancionero of 1496 and were performed in the palaces of the Duque de Alva, Pope Julio II, Pope León X, and the Cardenal Arborea.
Less is known about Lucas Fernández. He lived between 1474 and 1542 in Salamanca. By 1498 he was singer in the Cathedral of Salamanca. He shared this duty with two other singers until 1501, when he was appointed solely responsible for this honor. He retained the position, and that of organist, until 1507. In 1507 he was ordained a priest. In 1522, he became the master of music in the Cathedral of Salamanca. His works survive in one manuscript dated 1514, although they were probably written between 1496 and 1503.
The works of Juan del Encina and Lucas Fernández inspired the production of other extant, but less well known religious works such as: Fernán López de Yanguas' Égloga de la Natividad, Farsa sacramental, and Farsa del Santísimo Sacramento (1520's), Alonso de Melgar's Tres pasos de la Pasión y una égloga de la Resurección (1520), Pedro Altamirando's La aparición que hizo Jesu Christo a los dos discípulos que iban a Emaus (1523), and Esteban Martín's Auto de como San Juan fue concebido (1528).