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Spain Literature in the Baroque Age

In the seventeenth century the Spain, while decaying politically, frees itself from Italian culture, transferring the surviving Renaissance motifs, through the experience of the age of Philip II, in the heart of a baroque form, which returns them, deeply Hispanized, to a vast circle of European readers. The maturity of literary consciousness coincides with a delimitation of cultural horizons: the decline of heterodox anxieties in the stiffening of the Catholic Counter-Reformation; decline of Neoplatonism and ascetic idealism in the face of the new theologism of scholastic inspiration, with offshoots up to theatrical production and precepts, which becomes completely Aristotelian; finally, a downsizing of the imperial utopia of Charles V and of the dream of armed defense of catholicity, which animated Philip II. The Spanish literature of the seventeenth century is, in most of its aspects, based on the intuition of an ongoing crisis. 4.1 Gongorism and conceptism. The expression of this period, more cultured, more linked to the new Baroque poetics, more innovative in the field of language, is the poetry that responds to the canons of cultism or culteranism, linked, and in a certain way identified, with the work of L. de Góngora y Argote, so much so that it is also called gongorism. Pre-announced in F. de Herrera and his pupils, early theorized in the Libro de la erudición poética (posthumously, 1611) by L. Carrillo y Sotomayo, it is already partly evident in the anthology edited by P. de Espinosa in 1605 (Flores de poetas ilustres de España). Herrera’s linguistic research becomes in the Góngora del Polifemo (1613) and the Soledades (1613), and in his pupils, an expressive choice which translates, in the sonnets, in the short narrative poems of Góngora, in the use of lexical cultisms, of Latinisms and neologisms, in the use of violent hyperbates and daring metaphors and hyperbolic images. Alongside this deliberately aristocratic and closed language, the popular and anti-rhetorical vein of letrillas and romances is also affirmed in Góngora; however, there is no real contrast between the two moments, not even chronologically: the two inspirations continually alternate, different aspects of a single baroque experience. With the exception of R. Caro, by F. de Rioja, by M. Villegas, by the brothers B. and L. Argensola and by a few other late conservative classicists, seventeenth-century poetry is all Gongorina, and even L. de Vega, Tirso de Molina and J. Ruiz de Alarcón, in opera as well as in theater, end up making their own the lexicon and manners established by Góngora.

● According to ezinesports.com, the antinomy between culteranism (or gongorism) and conceptism is also entirely external, since the latter, which had in F. de Quevedo, the most illustrious animator, is in reality another form of the only baroque spirituality. Unlike Góngora, who seeks the source of his belated and renewed paganism in Ovid’s reading, for Quevedo the classical world is identified above all in Seneca, Martial, Juvenal. More than in Buscón (1626), a picaresque novel experiment conducted to the extreme of representative cruelty, Quevedo’s anxieties are expressed in the sonnets and above all in the Sueños (1627), satirical sketches that in the cruel precision of detail, in the meticulous descriptivism, are essentially linked to a solid tradition of medieval and sixteenth-century realism. But the new prose, if it rejects on the one hand swelling and cultist allusiveness, then resolves itself into no less disconcerting excesses (violent antithesis, parallelisms, hyperbole, syntactic tangles), which are gradually suggested by the descriptive urgency of characters and things, from the new satirical and sententious taste of oratory, from the same moral casuistry, in which acuteness often becomes involved and extravagant subtlety. 4.2 The picaresque novel. The intuition of a political and social crisis becomes the subject of an entire fictional production that proliferates quickly: Lazarillo’s sporadic attempt is almost amplified into a real literary genre with certain structural ingredients. The environment of the urban underworld, of the so-called Germanía, the character of the picaro, are captured in an infinity of glimpses; even the lexicon of the criminals is rediscovered with literary unscrupulousness and not without a touch of curious naturalism and, after all, stylistic refinement. But perhaps the most typical novelty of the genre is represented by the incumbency of a moralism that did not even outwardly affect the first Lazarillo. It is precisely the awareness of the crisis. In M. Alemán’s Guzmán de Alfarache (1599-1604), the exploits of the picaro are mixed with moral appreciation, which tempered, without affecting it, the pessimistic vision of the world, and ultimately returns the novel to the circle of the old didactic-romance literature. It is, moreover, a rather external moralism, as appears increasingly evident in subsequent attempts, which concern both cases in which the narrator dedicates himself to more agile and quick plots, as in some picaresque novels by Cervantes and in the Diablo cojuelo (1641) by L. Vélez de Guevara, both novels of greater commitment or greater volume, such as La pícara Justina (1605) by F. López de Úbeda, or the Marcos de Obregón (1618) by V. Espinel, in whom the taste with which Marcos’ events are followed prevails over the teaching that can be drawn from them; in him, as in J. de Salas Barbadillo, in A. de Castillo Solórzano, in J. de Alcalá the succession of episodes expands in the taste of the plot. As long as the hero may not be a picaro, but, for example, a soldier, as in the Vida de Estebanillo González (1646). The last generations of writers prefer to turn to a modest fiction of manners, and give life to the tasty paintings, still outwardly picaresque, by F. Santos and J. de Zabaleta. 4.3 Didactic literature. With the exception of preceptorists, almost all Aristotelian, such as F. Cascales and JA González de Salas, and scholars and bibliophiles such as N. Antonio, author of the precious Bibliotheca hispana vetus (posthumously, 1696), didactic literature is expressed in a prose in which every nuance of conceptism is explained and exhausted. In the 17th century, that religious literature which followed the ascetic currents of the 16th century, and which still counts important personalities such as JE Nieremberg, M. de Agreda, M. de Molinos, no longer found the chords of great poetry: the examples of Quevedo himself, of D. de Saavedra Fajardo, of B. Gracián y Morales. Antimachiavellism, which already animated Quevedo’s Política de Dios and which, with renewed explicitness and affinity of arguments, supports Saavedra Fajardo’s Idea de un príncipe cristiano (1640), reaches from this to Gracián, whose work, in second half of the century, represents the culmination of the compromise between Humanism and Counter-Reformation. But Machiavelli, rejected in the theory, is welcomed in the adoption of single attitudes. In Gracián the dualism between the intelligence of human behavior, practical morality and metaphysical conclusions is almost constant: in works such as El Héroe (1637), El Político (1640), El Discreto (1646), especially in the sentences of the Oráculo manual (1647), in fact the other life is almost an abstract corollary of the observation of the earthly one. Only later, when the Jesuit leaves the maxims and aphorisms of the first treatises to reconstruct his thought in a great allegorical novel, El Criticón (1651), the conflict between practical life and religious purpose is composed, and a more heartfelt pessimism takes over. and a premonitory sense of death. In Gracián, more than in the other essayists or narrators of the seventeenth century, conceptism favors the architecture of thought: the treatise on Agudeza y arte de ingenio (1642; 2nd expanded ed., 1648) offers a compendium of norms that uniformly contains the double experience of conceptism and culteranism. 4.4 The theater. The Spanish theater of the seventeenth century first of all possesses an extraordinary assimilative capacity with respect to other literary genres and at the same time exercises a great popularizing function. The broad theatrical flourishing of the period is possible because it does not arise only from the drama of the sixteenth century, but from the competition of all genres and every traditional literary expression. In this sense, it is absolutely surprising in L. de Vega not only the variety and multiplicity of the invention, but also the continuing capacity for recasting and adaptation. However, he does not elaborate a real theatrical precepts: the famous poem on the Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en nuestro tiempo (1609) is more satire than theory, testimony to the need for concreteness and contact with the public on which the entire seventeenth-century theater. Undoubtedly, the spiritual world of L. de Vega is elementary, immovably dogmatic, his obedience to the principles of the Counter-Reformation is instinctive and psychological before being religious and meditated. But L. de Vega and his imitators find their independence as poets in the scenic imagination, in the taste of great historical reconstructions, and therefore in the freely relived legend and myth. Only in one sense can seventeenth-century theater be said to be popular: insofar as it tends towards the legendary, to the religious, to the heroic, and knows how to grasp them in their elementarity; but he is no less intellectual in his literary ambition and in his taste for Baroque re-enactment. That L. de Vega who has such a lively sense of the modernity of drama, does not hesitate to immerse himself in the most academic literary forms, passing from the freshest comedies (Fuenteovejuna, Peribánez, El Caballero de Olmedo) and from the romances to the epic poetry of Dragontea (1598) or Hermosura de Angélica (1602) and Jerusalén conquistada (1609). His great dramatic production, equally varied and ambitious, is not exempt from this profile. Already close to the first creations of L. de Vega, in L. de Vega himself and his pupils, a large part of Spanish theater is nothing more than mere intertwining, it only lives on continuous variations on the theme. Exceptions, for example, are certain entremeses, unique acts with a rapid and uniform action based on the comic and sometimes on the farcical, such as those of Cervantes, and of L. Quiñones de Benavente, or autos with a religious inspiration candidly taken from the biblical tradition, like those of J. de Valdivielso and of L. de Vega himself; or again, in the circle of historical comedy closest to the master, some artists who happily free themselves from him, while taking up his themes, such as G. de Castro, L. Vélez de Guevara, F. de Rojas Zorrilla. More distinctly original is the short production by J. Ruiz de Alarcón (Las paredes oyen, La verdad Sospechosa); and above all the vast work of Tirso de Molina, famous as the author of the Burlador de Sevilla (1627), with which the myth of Don Giovanni.

● Fr. Calderón de la Barca also starts from L. de Vega, but soon departs from him. There is in him a greater precision and conciseness of dramatic architecture: the taste for single characterization, weak in L. de Vega, pronounced in Tirso de Molina, becomes peremptory in all his comedies. In his maturity, now far from L. de Vega, Calderón tends to grapple with speculative forms around the fundamental problems of man and religion: typical is his commitment to the problem of sin, free will and grace. La vida es sueño is the typical drama of a state of consciousness that implies the crisis of a culture and an era; drama in which the characters, places and elements of nature take on a symbolic value of the human condition. In the last decades of his career, until his death (1681).

Spain Literature in the Baroque Age