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Tirso de Molina

Personal information
Surname: Tirso de Molina
First name:
Commonly known as: Tirso
Other versions of the name: Fray Gabriel Téllez
Pseudonyms: Tirso de Molina is the pseudonym for Fray Gabriel Téllez
Born: ?1579, Madrid, Spain
Died: ?20 February 1648

Tirso de Molina (the pseudonym of the friar Gabriel Téllez) was born in Madrid to Andrés López and Juana Téllez, most likely in 1579 as baptismal records date his christening as 29 March of that year (though some biographers claim he was born in 1583). At about twenty years of age, he followed his sister into religious life, joining the Order of Mercy in Madrid in 1600. He studied theology for six years in Toledo and was ordained a priest in 1606, at which time he began to write plays for the theatre. He knew Lope de Vega at the turn of the century, and was a dedicated follower of Lope’s new style, the comedia nueva. Tirso was selected by his order to travel to Santo Domingo in the Caribbean to study and improve the cultural life of the monastery (1616-18). After his father died on 24 August 1618, Tirso went back to Toledo, then moved to Segovia in 1619. When King Philip III died and was succeeded by his son, Philip IV, the court (and country) began to be heavily influenced by the Count-Duke of Olivares. Tirso’s plays began to engage more directly with politics from about 1621, so much so that his satiric works were thought ‘scandalous’ by the immensely powerful Count-Duke and his court (Thacker 2007: 62). Tirso lived in Madrid during the height of his courtly and social involvement (1622-5). During that time he published Cigarrales de Toledo (1624), in which (among other topics) he espoused his theory of playwriting, which followed and defended that of Lope. On 6March 1625, his playwriting was condemned as a result of the moral crusade put in place by Olivares, the ‘Junta de Reformación de costumbres’, for it was considered unacceptable for a religious man at Tirso’s level to write popular comedy, and he was accused of setting a bad example for the public. In 1625 he began to write more ostensibly moralistic drama, therefore not violating the church’s order. In 1626 he was given permission to publish the Primera Parte (First Part) of his plays, which came out in 1627 in Seville. Between 1630 and 1632 Tirso was the official chronicler of the Mercedarian Order, and he began to spend more time in Madrid, where his ‘nephew’ published further editions of Tirso’s plays. Five Partes or collections of his work came out between 1627 and 1636. In the later part of his life Tirso’s playwriting slowed down as he focused on his chronicling work and prepared his older plays to be published. Tirso was named the head of a monastery in Soria in 1647, but he subsequently moved to Almazán and died there in February of 1648.

Sources: Tirso de Molina. 1996. Cigarrales de Toledo, ed. Luis Vázquez Fernández. Madrid, Castalia

Tirso de Molina. 1978. El condenado por desconfiado, ed. Ciriaco Morón and Rolena Adorno. Madrid, Cátedra

Thacker, Jonathan. 2007. A Companion to Golden Age Drama. Woodbridge, Tamesis

Sources: Tirso de Molina. 1996. Cigarrales de Toledo, ed. Luis Vázquez Fernández. Madrid, Castalia

Tirso de Molina. 1978. El condenado por desconfiado, ed. Ciriaco Morón and Rolena Adorno. Madrid, Cátedra

Thacker, Jonathan. 2007. A Companion to Golden Age Drama. Woodbridge, Tamesis

  • Thacker, Jonathan. 2006. ‘Sex, Treachery, and Really Big Moustaches: Cervantes’s Entremeses at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival’. Interview with Kathleen Mountjoy. Comedia Performance, 3, 1, 185-99

Further information

Tirso de Molina is one of the most-studied playwrights of Golden Age Spain, along with Lope de Vega, Calderón de la Barca and Miguel de Cervantes. Scholarship on Tirso is heavily weighted towards his most popular play, El burlador de Sevilla (The Trickster of Seville), the first play to feature the Don Juan myth. Another ‘serious’ drama, El condenado por desconfiado (Damned for Despair), is also popular with scholars for its engagement with the de auxiliis controversy between the relative importance of faith and good works to achieve salvation. Authorship of both of these important plays is disputed. Most of Tirso’s 80 or so extant dramatic works are in the comic vein; of his comedies the most critical work has been done on Don Gil de las calzas verdes, El vergonzoso en palacio and Marta la piadosa, and his use of irony and keen treatment of female psychology is often stressed. He is also known for plays based on stories from the Old Testament, most notably La venganza de Tamar.


Although Tirso de Molina was a monk, his plays are not always concerned with religion, but employ a wide range of social and secular themes in order to entertain and educate his audience. As with the comedia genre in general, his plays are often centred around themes of identity, as his characters engage in role-play, dressing up as other characters (both real and made-up), take feigned vows, cross-dress, and undergo all sorts of disguises, pretences and facades. Love in all its forms is a major theme for Tirso, with his characters suffering the pains and pleasures of romantic, divine and familial love. Often his comedias hinge on issues of bloodline and inheritance, as many feature a peasant character who comes to learn of his true identity, that of a member of the nobility. This is tied to honour, especially family honour, and its restitution, a popular theme in the comedia genre as a whole. For a man of the church his female characters are psychologically well-drawn, and Tirso clearly held views about his society’s treatment of women, especially their freedom (or lack thereof) in choosing a husband; many of his plays feature an arranged marriage thwarted by the power of seduction and love. His plays, most of them comedies, have complex plots, with a tendency to promote ideas of justice and mercy, and social and moral responsibility. Those plays of his which do centre around theological issues tend to focus on the importance of faith and good works, God’s grace, the consequences of doubt, the possibilities for salvation and the dangers of sin. He spent time in the New World, and this experience is reflected in his inclusion of indigenous peoples in his plays. Much of Tirso’s work stresses the importance of good government, and he was unafraid to show a monarch as weak or corrupt; he wrote against hypocrisy in all forms, be it social, financial or religious, and the King was not exempt from his satire. Tirso’s playwriting landed him in trouble, for his thinly-veiled critique of Philip IV and his favourite, the Count-Duke of Olivares, led to his effective silencing and a steady decline in his secular playwriting toward the end of his life.


Tirso de Molina was a self-proclaimed follower of Lope de Vega, so in many ways his style is similar to Lope’s as he is directly inspired by Lope’s playwriting formula. He defends the ‘new style’ of the comedia nueva against the moralists and preceptists who would say it was not neoclassical enough for their tastes, most notably in his Los cigarrales de Toledo and his play El vergonzoso en Palacio. In both of these defences he clings to the Lopean standards, rejecting Aristotelian and Horatian rules such as the ‘unities’ of time, place and action, and mixing tragic and comic elements to create tragicomedy. He rejects the classical mandate of the play taking place within a 24-hour period on the grounds that it would be highly unrealistic; he was unwilling to expect the audience to believe a pair of lovers could undergo the vicissitudes of love from the inception of romance to marriage within one day. Like Lope, he also takes liberties with historical events and uses Biblical material to teach a social lesson, often with a moral lesson thrown in. As Tirso was a priest from the age of twenty (this differentiates him from Lope and Calderón, who joined the Catholic Church as men of the cloth in later stages of life), his plays employ religious themes and engage with topical theological debates, although this is normally an undercurrent to his plays rather than an overarching feature. He mixes high-born characters with peasants and vagabonds, employing the aristocracy in his cast of characters for comedies as well as tragedies.  He bends traditional stories and historical events, adapting them to be relevant to his contemporary society.

Plays in the database
Useful reading and websites
  • Albrecht, Jane. 1994. Irony and Theatricality in Tirso de Molina. Ottawa, Dovehouse

  • Arellano, Ignacio, ed. 2004. Tirso de Molina en la Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico. Cuadernos de Teatro Clásico, 18. Madrid, Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico (in Spanish)

  • Florit Durán, Francisco. 2003. ‘Tirso de Molina’. In Historia del teatro español, ed. Javier Huerta Calvo, pp. 989-1023. Madrid, Gredos (in Spanish)

  • Halkhoree, P. R. K. 1989. Social and Literary Satire in the Comedies of Tirso de Molina, eds. José M. Ruano de la Haza and Henry W. Sullivan. Ottawa, Dovehouse

  • Hesse, E.W. 1964. ‘The Incest Motif in Tirso’s La venganza de Tamar’, Hispania, 47, 268-76

  • Kennedy, Ruth Lee. 1974. Studies in Tirso, I: The Dramatist and his Competitors, 1620-26. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina

  • Oakley, R. J. 1994. Tirso de Molina, El condenado por desconfiado. Critical Guides to Spanish Texts. London, Grant and Cutler

  • Rogers, Daniel. 1977. Tirso de Molina, El burlador de Sevilla. Critical Guides to Spanish Texts. London, Grant and Cutler

  • Sullivan, H. W. 1976. Tirso de Molina and the Drama of the Counter-Reformation. Amsterdam, Rodopi

  • Thacker, Jonathan W. 1995. ‘Comedy’s Social Compromise: Tirso’s Marta la piadosa and the Refashioning of Role’, Bulletin of the Comediantes, 47, 267-89

  • Thacker, Jonathan W. 2008. ‘Tirso’s Tamar Untamed: A Lesson of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Production’. In The Comedia in English: Translation and Performance, eds. Susan Paun de García and Donald R. Larson, pp. 164-76. Woodbridge, Tamesis

Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 16 May 2012.

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