Spain Literature – 15th Century

The new development of Castilian literature which, based on a doctrinal content, sways between the popular tone and the intellectualism of courtly poetry, is already observed in the work of Íñigo López de Mendoza, Marquis of Santillana (1398-1458). Its Charter a Don Pedro de Portugal is the new poetics based on the technical experience of the Provençal and Catalan treatises, on the study of the French poets of the fifteenth century, on the knowledge of the great Tuscan triad. The ideal of poetry as science or intelligible truth realized in the form of beauty is pursued. We are in the Platonic-Augustinian and Scholastic tradition; except that art, for lack of true poets, henceforth becomes the instrument of serious erudition. Santillana adheres to abstract allegorism, which was the usual way of imitating Dante (Comedieta de Ponza ; Infierno de los enamorados); follows the fantastic modules of the French style (Triumphete de Amor);; Proverbios) or bitter satire (Doctrinal de privados). The technicality of the sonnets “hechos al itálico modo” fits into the aristocratic formalism of the “canciones” and “decires” and “serranillas” in a popular tone. Thus a poetic ideal is formed which aspires to give expressive grace to the doctrinal, moral and religious world of the cultured artist, who rises above the common people and wins glory. This ideal, personified in Santillana, constitutes the poetic motif of Juan de Mena ‘s Calamicleos, which however treats it with dry and prolix notations. The de Mena in the Laberinto de Fortuna, a complicated allegorical poem also called Las Trescientas, takes up the theme of Boethius’ providential Fortune and carries it out, imitating Virgil, Lucan and Dante, with the documentation of the events of the main characters of his time. Throughout the century, more than poetry, there is a search for poetry. Aristocratic lyricism, sustained by conceptual acuity about gallant love and by that exaltation of woman, which is not so much in the book De las virtuosas y claras mujeres by Álvaro de Luna as in the Triunfo de las donas by Juan Rodríguez del Padrón, is lost in allegorism and in the profusion of mythological ornaments, notions of astrology, physics and dusty scholarship. Such is the Visión delectable de la philosophía y artes liberales by Alfonso de la Torre.

According to, among the multitude of impersonal versifiers (Fernán Pérez de Guzmán, Alvarez Gato, Hernán Mexía) emerge however Gómez Manrique, in whose songbook all the themes of his time emerge with variety of intonation, and Jorge Manrique, especially for the Coplas a la muerte de su padre, which is the eternal theme of the vanity of things: the poetry of Ecclesiastes, brought back to the intimacy of an experience and become, in a musically sententious form, the direct voice of a heart. But this is the solitary voice of a faith lived personally in a period of anarchy and selfish voluptuousness; on which the idea of ​​death rises and materializes, equalizing with egalitarian ferocity whoever triumphs and who suffers (Danza de la Muerte). The anonymous satirical poetry arises (Coplas del Provincial ; Coplas del Mingo revulgo ; ¡Ay Panadera!), The mocking, trivial and realistic poetry of Antón de Montoro. However, in the reality of social life, apart from the intrigues of politicians, and in the sphere of civil activities, the anxiety for a moral renewal is confirmed (Libro de Vita beata, by Juan Lucena), the indignation for material vulgarities (Coplas del Contempto del mundo and Tragedia de la reina Isabel by don Pedro, condestable de Portugal; Reprobación del amor mundano by Alfonso Martínez de Toledo) and the exaltation of individual value (Cadira del honor, by Juan Rodríguez del Padrón). More than art, it is morality and literature linked to individual experience; for everywhere it is the individual who affirms himself alone. Even in historiography, which is resolved in biography, the interest turns to man in his physical and moral aspect (Generaciones y semblanzas by Fernán Pérez de Guzmán) and to the major representatives of the fatherly virtues or of the dominating and heroic power (Crónica de Don Álvaro de Luna ; Libro del Paso honroso). Spanish realism, which cannot be ignored in order to grasp the fundamental notes of a spirit that is always the same in all its manifestations both in art and in politics, both in science and in literature, is precisely this attention to the concrete, this constant affirmation of the individual, this moralistic voluntarism which is opposed to any abstract intellectualism. The search for the particular, the study of the characteristic novelty and the eagerness to know the unknown in order to affirm one’s personality, hardly appear in Ruy González de Clavijo’s unbridled Historia del gran Tamerlán ; but they now manifest themselves openly in the lively exhibition: Andanzas y viajes by Pero Tafur, for different parts of the world. The literary atmosphere is now beginning to become more moved. Expanding under different skies, it presents tones of more intense aesthetic life. In the Cancionero by Lope de Stúñiga, collected at the court of Naples, after the death of Alfonso V (1458), the circle of courtly opera breaks, especially with the Carvajal or Carvajales, and popular or popular compositions are welcomed, short-lived and d graceful intonation: graceful serranillas and the first romances. This last genre of epic-lyric poetry springs from those dark areas of Spanish literature, where the eyes of philology cannot penetrate, which, in search of origins, aims only at the abstract content. The romances already attest to the beginnings of the century. XV a genre of poetry that dramatizes, in simple and schematic ways, a lyric motif, with reference to historical or legendary characters, of the Carolingian cycle or of the Breton cycle, or recalling field events between Moors and Christians (romances fronterizos) or closing in the pure lyricism. Fragmentary compositions of popular intonation, they are the work of poets who possessed a knowledge of traditional literature, reliving it with freedom of imagination in the culminating lyrical motifs and in universally human notes. It is a literary trend that from now on will flow more or less visible in the deep areas of Spanish literature.

Spain Literature - 15th Century