Lope de Vega

Lope de VegaOn this day in 1896, the great composer Virgil Thomson was born. I like his work, but it is bizarre in Thomson’s own way. There is, of course, Four Saints in Three Acts with its libretto by Gertrude Stein (And is it ever Gertrude Stein!) with music that is completely fitting. But here is his score to The River, a documentary about the Mississippi. It uses many American standards in what are often very humorous ways:

The great jazz saxophonist and composer Paul Desmond was born in 1924. Here is a reworking of his tune “Take Five” from his album Skylark from the end of his career. The song is called “Take Ten”:

The great R&B singer Percy Sledge is 72 today. He is best known for his mega-hit “When a Man Loves a Woman.” He is actually a lot more than that, but it’s still by far my favorite of his work. So:

Other birthdays: physicist Julius von Mayer (1814); horrible businessman Andrew Carnegie (1835); mathematician Ernst Schroder (1841); hell road paver Carrie Nation (1846); children’s author P D Eastman (1909); baseball player Joe DiMaggio (1914); one of the great villains of the 20th century, Augusto Pinochet (1915); film director Norman Tokar (1919); the stupidest “smart” guy ever Ben Stein (69); and actor John Larroquette (66).

The day, however, belongs to perhaps the greatest playwright of all time, Lope de Vega, who was born on this day in 1562. During his lifetime, he wrote at least 500 plays. He was a writing machine. I can’t help but find Shakespeare wanting in comparison to him, just based upon the fact that Shakespeare stopped writing at the end of his life. Writing seems to have been nothing more than a means to wealth and a coat of arms. Lope was driven. What’s more, Lope was subversive. Whereas Shakespeare never wrote anything that challenged the power elite (quite the opposite actually), Lope did so repeatedly. I wrote about this in, The 500 Plays of Lope We Have Not Read. A great example is from the play Fuente Ovejuna, which I also wrote about:

The synopsis of Fuente Ovejuna is really quite simple. The lord of the town is misbehaving by raping many of the young girl. Finally, the town men rise up and kill the lord. Given that the plot is so simple, the play can deal with the characters, and more important, their interactions.

No character is more important or well written than Laurencia. I know of no female character in all of Shakespeare who can compare with her. There are reasons for this, of course. Vega had actual women actors playing his female characters whereas Shakespeare had boys. As Gary Taylor has noted, this tended to limit the females in his plays to pretty young things and old hags. The only Shakespearean character that strikes me at all like Laurencia is Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. But even Beatrice is at heart a sad sop. Laurencia is captured by the lord, but manages to escape before being raped but after being beaten. She finds the men of the town and yells at them for allowing all that has happened. She shames them into action.

Happy birthday Lope de Vega!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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