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Pedro Calderón de la Barca
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Pedro Calderón de la Barca

Pedro Calderón de la Barca Pedro Calderón de la Barca[1†]

Pedro Calderón de la Barca (17 January 1600 – 25 May 1681) was a distinguished Spanish dramatist, poet, and writer of the Spanish Golden Age[1†]. Born in Madrid, Spain, he is known for his significant contributions to Baroque literature[1†]. Calderón de la Barca’s work is regarded as the culmination of the Spanish Baroque theatre, and he is considered one of the finest playwrights of world literature[1†].

Calderón de la Barca succeeded Lope de Vega as the greatest Spanish playwright of the Golden Age[1†][2†]. His best-known secular dramas include “El médico de su honra” (The Surgeon of His Honour, 1635), “La vida es sueño” (Life Is a Dream, 1635), “El alcalde de Zalamea” (The Mayor of Zalamea, c. 1640), and “La hija del aire” (The Daughter of the Air, 1653), which is sometimes considered his masterpiece[1†][2†].

During his life, Calderón de la Barca served as a soldier and was a Roman Catholic priest[1†]. He was also a knight of the Order of Santiago[1†]. His work, which spans a wide range of genres, is celebrated for its intricate plotting, lyrical language, and insightful portrayal of humanity[1†].

Early Years and Education

Pedro Calderón de la Barca was born in Madrid on January 17, 1600[2†][1†]. His mother, who was of Flemish descent, died in 1610, and his father, who served as secretary to the treasury, died in 1615[2†][1†]. Calderón was the third of six children, only four of whom survived childhood[2†][1†].

Calderón’s early education was provided by the Jesuits, and he was enrolled at the Jesuit College in Madrid, the Colegio Imperial[2†][1†][3†]. Initially, he was being prepared for a career in the church[2†][1†][3†]. However, he later shifted his focus to law and transferred to the University of Alcalá in 1614[2†][4†]. A year later, he moved to the University of Salamanca, where he continued his studies in arts, law, and probably theology until 1619 or 1620[2†][5†]. He obtained his degree in canon law from the University of Salamanca in 1619[2†][5†].

These formative years had a profound influence on Calderón, shaping his worldview and laying the foundation for his future career as a dramatist and poet[2†][1†].

Career Development and Achievements

Pedro Calderón de la Barca began his career as a playwright with “Amor, honor y poder,” performed at the Royal Palace on June 29, 1623[1†]. This was followed by two other plays that same year: “La selva confusa” and "Los Macabeos"[1†]. Over the next two decades, Calderón wrote more than 70 plays, the majority of which were secular dramas written for the commercial theatres[1†].

Calderón served with the Spanish army in Italy and Flanders between 1625 and 1635[1†]. His experiences as a soldier influenced his work, providing him with a wealth of material for his plays[1†][2†][1†].

Upon the death of Lope de Vega in 1635, Calderón became the master of the Spanish stage[1†][2†][1†]. His work, which spans a wide range of genres, is celebrated for its intricate plotting, lyrical language, and insightful portrayal of humanity[1†][2†][1†].

In 1636, King Philip IV made him a Knight of the Military Order of St. James[1†][2†]. Calderón’s popularity was not confined to the court, for these early plays were also acclaimed in the public theatres[1†][2†].

During the Catalan rebellion, Calderón enlisted in a cavalry company of knights of the military orders and served with distinction until 1642, when he was invalided out of the army[1†][2†].

Calderón’s later work with musical theater contributed to the development of opera in Spain[1†][6†]. He wrote several poems and approximately 120 three-act plays[1†][6†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s body of work is extensive, with more than 70 plays to his name[1†]. His works are known for their intricate blend of drama and poetry, and they often explore themes of honor, dreams, and the nature of reality[1†][2†][1†]. Here are some of his main works:

Each of these works left a significant impact on Spanish literature and continue to be studied and performed today[1†][2†][1†]. Calderón’s ability to weave complex themes into compelling narratives has cemented his place as one of the greatest playwrights in history[1†][2†][1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s work is generally recognized as one of the most accomplished Spanish dramas of all time[7†]. His plays differ from those of his predecessor, Lope de Vega Carpio, in several ways. Calderón’s dramas are generally regarded as more polished than Lope de Vega’s, and their complex structure contrasts with the seeming naturalness of Lope de Vega’s works[7†]. Calderón’s work has had a wider appeal than Lope de Vega’s due to his more universal focus[7†].

Calderón’s style is marked by ornamentation, sometimes to the point of obscurity[7†][8†]. A popular technique of this period, referred to as Gongorism, this style of writing was highly artificial and refined, using many figures of speech, mythological allusions, hyperbole, and archaic words, in addition to a complex syntax based on the Latin form[7†][8†]. This style is often combined with conceptism, a cultivated play with ideas[7†][8†].

Calderón is particularly noted for his religious theater. He is the undisputed master of the auto sacramental—the one-act, allegorical, religious drama performed as part of Spain’s celebration of Corpus Christi[7†]. This genre accounts for a significant portion of his works, and many of his full-length plays are also about religious topics[7†]. Even these works continue to enjoy a wide appeal in an age in which religious faith is declining[7†].

“Life Is a Dream,” his most famous drama, ranks as one of the unquestioned masterpieces of world theater[7†]. The plays of Calderón cover a whole range of variations. His poetic skill and religious sensitivity made him master of the auto sacramentale[7†][8†]. In these allegorical plays, Calderón continued in the tradition of the medieval morality play, raising its artistic level[7†][8†].

Personal Life

Pedro Calderón de la Barca was born in Madrid on January 17, 1600[1†]. His mother, who was of Flemish descent, died when he was ten years old[1†][3†][1†]. His father, Diego Calderón, was a hidalgo of mountain origin and by paternal inheritance he had assumed the position of secretary of the Council and Chief Accounting Office of the Treasury, serving in it the kings Felipe II and Felipe III, died in 1615[1†].

Pedro was the third of the six children that the marriage produced (three boys and three girls), of whom only four survived childhood: Diego, the first-born; Dorotea — nun in Toledo—; Pedro and Jusepe or José[1†]. These brothers were always welcome, as Diego Calderón stated in his will (1647): "All three of us have always conserved ourselves in love and friendship, and without dividing up assets… we have helped each other in the needs and jobs we have had"[1†].

Calderón was educated at the Jesuit College in Madrid, the Colegio Imperial, with a view to taking orders[1†][9†][1†]. However, he chose to study law at Salamanca[1†]. Between 1620 and 1622 Calderón won several poetry contests in honor of St Isidore at Madrid[1†]. Calderón served with the Spanish army in Italy and Flanders between 1625 and 1635[1†]. By the time Lope de Vega died in 1635, Calderón was recognized as the foremost Spanish dramatist of the age[1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Pedro Calderón de la Barca, born on January 17, 1600, in Madrid, Spain, and died on May 25, 1681, in the same city, is considered one of the greatest playwrights of the Spanish Golden Age[2†][10†]. He succeeded Lope de Vega as the leading Spanish playwright of the era[2†][10†]. His work is regarded as the culmination of the Spanish Baroque theatre[2†][11†], and he is recognized as one of Spain’s foremost dramatists and one of the finest playwrights of world literature[2†][11†].

Calderón de la Barca’s plays, both secular and religious, are celebrated for their well-constructed plots and their preoccupation with the vanity of human existence[2†][10†]. His best-known secular dramas include “El médico de su honra” (The Surgeon of His Honour), “La vida es sueño” (Life Is a Dream), “El alcalde de Zalamea” (The Mayor of Zalamea), and “La hija del aire” (The Daughter of the Air), which is sometimes considered his masterpiece[2†]. He also wrote operas and plays with religious or mythological themes[2†].

Calderón de la Barca’s legacy extends beyond his plays. He initiated what has been called the second cycle of Spanish Golden Age theatre[2†][12†][13†]. While his predecessor, Lope de Vega, pioneered the dramatic forms and genres of Spanish Golden Age theatre, Calderón de la Barca polished and perfected them[2†][12†][13†].

His influence on Spanish literature and drama has been profound, and his plays continue to be performed and adapted worldwide[2†][11†]. His exploration of universal themes such as honor, duty, fate, and free will resonates with audiences, making his work timeless[2†][10†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Pedro Calderón de la Barca [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Pedro Calderon de la Barca: Spanish author [website] - link
  3. Simple Wikipedia (English) - Pedro Calderòn de la Barca [website] - link
  4. Britannica Kids - Pedro Calderón de la Barca [website] - link
  5. Encyclopedia.com - Pedro Calderón [website] - link
  6. Encyclopedia.com - Calderón de la Barca, Pedro 1600–1681 Spanish Playwright [website] - link
  7. eNotes - Pedro Calderón de la Barca Analysis [website] - link
  8. eNotes - Pedro Calderón de la Barca World Literature Analysis [website] - link
  9. Encyclopedia.com - Life Is a Dream [website] - link
  10. Britannica - Pedro Calderón de la Barca summary [website] - link
  11. SciHi Blog - Calderón de la Barca – one of the finest Playwrights of World Literature [website] - link
  12. Goodreads - Book: Life Is a Dream [website] - link
  13. Goodreads - Author: Pedro Calderón de la Barca (Author of La vida es sueño) [website] - link
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