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José Zorrilla

José Zorrilla José Zorrilla[2†]

José Zorrilla y Moral (born Feb. 21, 1817, Valladolid, Spain—died Jan. 23, 1893, Madrid) was a significant figure in the Spanish Romantic movement[1†]. His work, which was enormously popular during his lifetime, is now regarded as quintessentially Spanish in style and tone[1†]. Zorrilla’s contributions to literature were primarily in the form of poetry and drama[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

José Zorrilla y Moral was born on February 21, 1817, in Valladolid, Spain[2†]. His father was a magistrate in whom Ferdinand VII placed special confidence[2†]. Zorrilla’s early education was provided by the Jesuits at the Real Seminario de Nobles in Madrid[2†]. Even at a young age, he showed a keen interest in literature, writing verses when he was just twelve[2†].

Zorrilla became an enthusiastic admirer of Walter Scott and Chateaubriand[2†]. He also took part in school performances of plays by Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca[2†], which likely influenced his later career as a dramatist.

In 1833, he was sent to study law at the University of Toledo[2†]. However, after a year of idleness, he left the university and moved to Madrid to devote himself to literature[2†]. This decision marked the beginning of his literary career and set him on the path to becoming a significant figure in the Spanish Romantic movement[2†].

Career Development and Achievements

After leaving the university, Zorrilla moved to Madrid to devote himself to literature[2†]. His career took off in 1837 with his recitation of an elegy at the funeral of the poet Mariano José de Larra[2†]. This event introduced him to the leading men of letters[2†].

Zorrilla began his individual career as a dramatist with “Cada cual con su razón” in 1840[2†]. Over the next five years, he wrote 22 plays, many of which were extremely successful[2†]. His first collection of verse legends, “Cantos del trovador”, was published in 1841[2†]. This work, along with his other writings, made Zorrilla second only to José de Espronceda in popular esteem[2†].

His most famous play, “Don Juan Tenorio”, was written while he was in his 20s[2†]. Despite Zorrilla’s later dismissal of the play as a failure, it was the most popular play of 19th-century Spain and is still frequently performed[2†]. The play exhibits typically Spanish qualities, making Zorrilla a uniquely national author[2†].

Zorrilla’s career was not without its challenges. He faced financial distress and was abroad from 1855 to 1866[2†]. Despite these difficulties, he continued to write prolifically[2†]. In 1889, he was crowned as the national poet and was granted a government pension[2†].

First Publication of His Main Works

José Zorrilla y Moral was a prolific writer, and his works were widely recognized and celebrated. His first collection of verse legends, “Cantos del trovador” (1841), was an improvisation of national legends, telling tales of remote times and places[1†][2†]. However, it was criticized for its carelessness and verbosity[1†][2†].

His most famous work, “Don Juan Tenorio” (1844), was a play that became the most popular of 19th-century Spain and is still frequently performed[1†][2†]. This play was a combination of elements from Tirso de Molina’s “Burlador de Sevilla” and Alexandre Dumas, père’s "Don Juan de Marana"[1†][2†]. However, Zorrilla’s other plays like “Sancho García”, “El Rey loco”, and “El Alcalde Ronquillo” were much more original[1†][2†].

Here are some of his main works:

Each of these works contributed significantly to Zorrilla’s reputation as a uniquely national author, exhibiting picturesque characters, intrigues and coincidences in its plot, lyrical flights, and great Romantic coloring[1†][2†].

Analysis and Evaluation

José Zorrilla y Moral’s work is characterized by its Romantic style and sensibility[3†]. His writing is marked by fluency and grace, although some critics have pointed out a certain carelessness in his early poems[3†][4†]. His work focuses on traditional romanticism, longing for the past, which is a common characteristic of traditional Romanticism[3†][5†].

His most famous work, “Don Juan Tenorio”, is a variation of the traditional Don Juan story[3†]. In this play, Zorrilla presents Don Juan not as a calculating seducer, but more as an enchanter[3†]. Unlike the baroque work, Zorrilla focuses on a single love affair and presents a main character, Don Juan, who repents and achieves salvation through love[3†][5†]. His second character, Don Luis Mejía, whom Don Juan ends up killing in the play, has been seen as a representation of the sin of Don Juan[3†][5†]. The death of Luis Mejía symbolizes the end of Don Juan’s past life[3†][5†].

The character of Doña Inés, the opposite of Don Juan, brings goodness and innocence to the work[3†][5†]. She is the one who bends Don Juan’s wickedness and appears very close to divinity: an angel of love who is capable of acting as a mediator between God and the world[3†][5†]. Through her, Zorrilla tries to represent the belief in the salvation of the human being, reflecting the importance of the values of goodness and faith[3†][5†].

Zorrilla’s work, particularly “Don Juan Tenorio”, had a significant impact on Spanish literature and is still frequently performed, demonstrating its enduring appeal[3†].

Personal Life

José Zorrilla y Moral’s personal life was marked by a series of ups and downs. After achieving success in literature, he ran away from his wife and financial distress[2†]. He lived abroad from 1855 to 1866, during which he wrote prolifically but remained insolvent[2†].

In a fit of depression, he emigrated to America three years later, hoping, he claimed, that yellow fever or smallpox would kill him[2†]. Despite his personal struggles, Zorrilla y Moral continued to contribute significantly to Spanish literature.

Conclusion and Legacy

José Zorrilla y Moral, a Spanish poet and dramatist, became a National Laureate[2†]. His work was enormously popular and is now regarded as quintessentially Spanish in style and tone[2†][1†][2†]. Despite being despised by Zorrilla as a failure, his play Don Juan Tenorio was the most popular play of 19th-century Spain and is still frequently performed[2†][6†].

Zorrilla’s play, and Don Juan’s final repentance, is often understood as an assertion of the author’s conservatism and Catholic faith[2†][6†]. His work exhibits those typically Spanish qualities that have made him a uniquely national author: picturesque characters, intrigues and coincidences in its plot, lyrical flights, and great Romantic colouring[2†][1†].

Upon the death of his mother in 1847, Zorrilla left Spain. He resided for a while at Bordeaux, and settled in Paris, where his incomplete poem Granada was published in 1852[2†]. In a fit of depression, he emigrated to America three years later, hoping, he claimed, that yellow fever or smallpox would kill him[2†].

Zorrilla’s legacy continues to influence Spanish literature and culture. His works, particularly Don Juan Tenorio, continue to be celebrated and studied, affirming his place as a significant figure in the Spanish Romantic movement[2†][1†][2†][6†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - José Zorrilla y Moral: Spanish writer [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - José Zorrilla [website] - link
  3. Britannica - Don Juan Tenorio: play by Zorrilla [website] - link
  4. Wikisource (English) - 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Zorrilla y Moral, José [website] - link
  5. ActualidadLiteratura - Brief analysis of the work "Don Juan Tenorio" by José Zorrilla [website] - link
  6. SuperSummary - Don Juan Tenorio Summary and Study Guide [website] - link
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