Spanish Golden Age Theatre

Corral de Comedias in Almagro (Source: Google)

Spanish golden age was somewhere between 1500s till late 1600s, it was a period of Aesthetics and Literature. There was an extra-ordinary growth seen in these fields during this period. Other countries had their Golden age, but Spanish golden age was full of art and achievements. This was also the year where expansionism increased rapidly by extracting millions of tons of resources from Americans. With this amount of wealth, Spain transformed itself into an unmatched empire of power and excellence. Spanish theatre of this time, built on the wealth of the empire, was also rich in terms of production and development.

Spanish theatre began to transform during the reign of Philip II, who brought many artists into Spain. He wanted to show the world that Spain was not lagging behind but was in lead and theatre would be a part of it.

Philip II (Source: Google)

The Performers used to perform in Corrales or permanent theatres, raising money for charity and hospitals. The first of these was the Corral de la Cruz in Madrid. After 1603, only licensed companies could work in Spain. Government used to give limited licenses in order to maintain quality and control. Unemployed actors joined the Compañías de la legua (“companies of language”) and performed in the countryside. Women were licensed to perform from 1587. This act faced controversies till 1599 until a royal decree stated that only the women who are married to company members can perform. Theatre was a hit during the Golden age, nearly 30,000 plays were produced in that period.

Themes and Types of plays

Auto Sacramental were the religious plays that depicted Spain’s militant catholic devotion. They were a unique dramatic form of the religious literature. They consisted simple dialogues presented during the religious festivals such as Christmas, Easter, Good Friday and other festivals. They combined human stories with supernatural, allegorical, and biblical motifs to create emotional religious dramas. By the Mid-16th Century, Municipal authorities put a lot of money into funding of these plays.

Autos sacramentales were religious plays, while Comedias nuevas were secular plays which showcased three genres: Comedy, tragedy and drama. Performances were held in courtyard of houses or inns where a stage with background scenery was improvised along one of the sides. Playwrights and dramatists such as Lope de Vega, Juan Pérez de Montalbán, Tirso de Molina were some artists whose creative works were performed in Corrales de Comedias. Works like Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderon De La Barca, The Lady Boba: A Woman Of Little Sense, La Celestina by Fernando de Rojas were performed. Themes which they depicted in plays were history, mythology, and the Bible into polymetric verses. Court performances came into existence during the reign of Philp III at Alcazar, The royal palace in Seventeenth Century.

Costumes during this time were very similar to Elizabethan costumes, towns gave rewards for acting and costumes so the quality of costumes were considered quite important for the audience. Actors dressed in a luxurious manner as they had special allowances for costumes. Records show that actors were paid anywhere from 1/5 to 1/2 of their salary for one costume. There were certain specifications given by the government such as actors performing in Auto Sacramental had to wear silk or velvet and women were prohibited to wear strange headdresses, décolleté necklines (low neckline), or wide-hooped or non-floor length skirts. Actors were permitted to wear one costume per play, unless they specifically ask for it.

Unlike other theatre traditions, Spain’s was extraordinary and remarkable. The religious plays continued to produce till 1700s. Religious and secular plays succeeded side by side. Spain also pioneered three-act plays and allowed women on stage. Even developed systematic and efficient contracts, travel stipends and licenses. Spanish Golden Age theatre has greatly influenced the theatre of later generations in Europe and throughout the world. Currently, number of works are being translated and increasing their reach. Truly, Spanish Golden Age theatre was a period of flourishing dramatic art.

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