(1600 – 1681)
Pedro Calderon de la Barca grew up in a strict household, an experience that left its mark on his later plays, many of which treat characters who disobey their dictatorial fathers. He was trained to take up a life in the church, but by his early twenties he was writing dramas for the court and serving in a noble household. Soon he became part of the small inner circle of confidantes to King Philip IV (r.1621–1665), and he was eventually to be knighted in1636. In these years his plays were performed, not only at court, but in the public theaters that were then popular in Madrid, Spain’s capital. With the death of Felix Lope de Vega in 1635, Calderón came to be recognized as the greatest living Spanish dramatist.
In 1640, Pedro Calderon took up a military career when rebellion broke out among King Philip’s Catalanese subjects, but when he was injured in the conflict, he retired from military service. In the years that followed he sired an illegitimate child, but a few years later decided to enter the priesthood. In 1651, he announced that he would write no longer for the stage. Although he largely held to this vow, refusing to write for the public theaters in Madrid, he did author plays for private performance in Spain’s royal court. For the remaining thirty years of his life he also authored each year autos sacramentales, or religious plays, for Madrid’s celebrations of the Feast of Corpus Christi. In these years he also served as the priest to the king.
Pedro Calderon’s career coincided with massive changes in Spain’s political andcultural life. At the time of his birth Spain had recently suffered setbacks as a result of its conflicts with England and its prolonged involvements in the Dutch revolts. At the same time, the country possessed strong reserves of wealth and of intellectual life that continued to make it one of the most cultivated centers of learning in Europe. The Spanish public theater, which had begun to grow in Madrid and other cities throughout Iberia, had developed the form of the comedia in the first three decades of the seventeenth century into a high art form. At first, there was little difference between the dramas that were performed in the many corrales in towns like Madrid or Seville and those that entertained Spain’s cultivated aristocrats, and the troupes that had performed in these theaters had often staged their productions before the king and court. Read the rest of this entry