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Lope de Vega Carpio

Personal information
Surname: Vega Carpio
First name: Lope
Middle names: Félix
Commonly known as: Lope
Born: 1562, Madrid, Spain
Died: 1635

Lope de Vega (whose full name was Lope Félix de Vega Carpio) was born in 1562, in Madrid. His father, Félix de Vega, was an embroiderer, and his mother was Francisca Fernández. The details of his childhood are not well known, but it is thought that he was educated in the classical style, learning Latin and his early subjects with the Jesuits at what would later become the Colegio Imperial. He was employed in the household of the Bishop of Ávila as a young teenager, later studying (but not finishing his degree) at the Bishop’s expense at the University of Alcalá. His father’s death in 1578 brought Lope back to Madrid, but he did not stay long; he found himself in numerous adventures and scrapes, possibly continuing his university education in Salamanca, joining the Spanish (Castilian) naval campaign to capture Terceira, in the Azores, the last bastion of the Portuguese kingdom. After this adventure, he returned to Madrid in 1583. There he met Elena Osorio, the daughter of a successful theatre manager, and their passionate relationship in the 1580s was the event in his life which coloured his writing most throughout his career. After Elena slighted him for a man of greater social and financial status, Lope was convicted of writing libellous verses against Elena and her family, resulting in Lope’s exile from Castile. He initially served his exile in Valencia, taking his new lover, Isabel de Urbina,  with him;  they were married in 1588 by proxy, as the impoverished Lope could not support her and she had gone back to her family in Madrid. Less than a month after their marriage, Lope may have joined the Spanish Armada, which was famously defeated and with which his brother was killed. In 1589 he settled in Valencia, where Isabel came to live with him again. The thriving Valencian theatre scene developed Lope as a writer, but he then took up employment as the Duke of Alba’s secretary in 1590. Around this time he wrote Los locos de Valencia, a play set in an insane asylum with continual reference to the language of Ariosto’s chivalric novel Orlando Furioso. His wife Isabel died in childbirth in 1594, and she was closely followed in death by their two young daughters. The trauma of these events caused him to ask for remission of his exile, and he returned to Madrid the following year. His epic poem about Sir Francis Drake, La Dragontea and also his pastoral novel, Arcadia, were published in 1598, and in that same year he was married for the second time, to the wealthy merchant’s daughter Juana de Guardo. Between 1598 and 1607 Lope divided his time between his wife, Juana, and his mistress, the actress Micaela de Luján, supporting two households with the various children he fathered by both women. His autobiographical novel, El peregrino en su patria, which came out in 1604, gives loose details of his affairs with the actress. Micaela probably died not long after their youngest son, named ‘Lope’ after his father, was born in 1607. His plays began to be published during this period, initially by others; a first Parte of 12 was printed in 1604, in which year he himself published, in El peregrino en su patria, a list of 219 he had written.

By 1609 Lope was well installed in the service of the Duke of Sessa in Madrid, and in that year he puslished his famous address to a literary circle, the Academy of Madrid, a tract on playwriting he called the New Art of Writing Plays in Our Time, his best-known ‘tract’ on playwriting (Vega 2009). Settling in Madrid with his wife Juana and young son Carlos, his life was troubled by the illnesses of his family and the exile of his employer in 1611, and Lope turned increasingly to the Church, joining confraternities and lay religious societies. After his beloved son Carlos died, a daughter was born to his wife Juana in 1613, and she (Juana) died shortly thereafter. The following year, his grief inspiring religious fervour, Lope was ordained a priest and published his book of religious poems, the Rimas sacras. However, his relationships with women only briefly came to an end, for he soon began a love affair with Lucía de Salcedo, before meeting his last love, Marta de Nevares Santoyo. Marta bore him a daughter in 1617, Antonia Clara. His daughter, Sor Marcela de San Félix, became a nun in 1622, and wrote plays and poetry in her convent. Marta began to go blind and eventually lost her mind, but Lope stayed by her side until the end in 1632. In that year he published his novel La Dorotea, which features both his early love Elena Osorio and his last love, Marta. His son and namesake, Lope Félix, drowned in a shipwreck in 1634. Lope lived with his remaining unmarried daughter, Antonia, until she ran away with a nobleman. Lope died on 27 August 1635, and an enormous nine-day funeral was held to honour his memory.

Sources: Thacker, Jonathan. 2007. A Companion to Golden Age Theatre. Woodbridge, Tamesis

de Vega, Lope. 1981. La dama boba, ed. Diego Marín. Madrid, Cátedra

Profeti, María Grazia. 2003. ‘Lope de Vega’. In Historia del Teatro Español, ed. Javier Huerta Calvo, pp. 783-825. Madrid, Gredos

  • Vega, Lope de. 2009. 'New Rules for Writing Plays at This Time'. In Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo, edición políglota, [Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, English, German and Polish], Almagro, Festival de Almagro. [English translation, pp. 169-86.]

Further information

Lope de Vega is generally accepted as the most important dramatist of the Spanish Golden Age. Some scholars believe that Calderón (and even Tirso de Molina) took the comedia to new heights but there is little doubt that the genre itself could not have come about in so successful a form without Lope de Vega’s initial knowledge, skill and energy. Many of his 400 or so extant full-length comedias cannot be found in modern Spanish editions, and have to be read in nineteenth-century volumes which leave a lot to be desired. The Autonoma University in Barcelona is gradually remedying this by publishing his complete works in Spanish in good, modern scholarly editions. The six ‘big’ plays, which have attained undisputed canonical status, are: El perro del hortelano, La dama boba, Peribáñez, Fuente Ovejuna, El caballero de Olmedo and El castigo sin venganza. There are others which are taught and performed reasonably regularly such as: Los locos de Valencia, La discreta enamorada, Lo fingido verdadero, El villano en su rincón and El major alcalde, el rey. The Romantic view that Lope somehow acted as a conduit for all the values of his society has been rigorously challenged by more recent criticism. A more political Lope is emerging, one who carefully opposes and subverts the world for which he wrote.


Lope sourced his plays from anywhere and everywhere, from ancient mythological stories to contemporary events in his own biography. He drew his characters from the spectrum of human life, from larger-than-life kings and Biblical figures down to lowly local peasants. His principal themes include love and the overcoming of lovers’ obstacles leading up to marriage, as well as the reinstatement of justice (often in the form of poetic justice) after a wrong such as the theft of honour by infidelity, rape or a duel. Using many of the same Italian sources as Shakespeare and the Elizabethan dramatists, such as Bandello’s novellas, Lope’s plays are sometimes similar in theme and storyline to familiar English plays. There are many examples of correlative plays; for example Lope’s Castalvines y Monteses (Capulets and Montagues) isbased on the same sources as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi is similar to Lope’s play El mayordomo de la duquesa Amalfi (The Duchess of Amalfi’s Steward) and, although it is a comedy, shares some parallels with El perro del hortelano (The Dog in the Manger).

Scholars divide the periods of Lope's work in various ways. Lope's own Peregrino en su patria leads some to mark the first period from the 1580s to 1604 when his first published Parte appeared; the second from 1604 to 1618; and the third and final period from 1618 to 1635. In the early period, Lope often wrote in the pastoral vein, in which aristocrats dressed up as shepherds and lamented the pains of love in verse (predominantly in redondillas and quintillas). This period also features plays with their origins in novels, both Italian and chivalric, which were popular during this time. Lope began to solidify his playwriting style during the middle period (1604-18), in which he is more likely to use a gracioso, or a comic servant, to provide comic relief even in the tragedies. During the middle period Lope’s plays tend to be more political in theme, as there was a new king on the Spanish throne, Philip III, who reigned from 1598 to 1621 and who was often under satiric scrutiny by playwrights and writers. He also wrote one of his greatest saint’s plays during this time, with Lo fingido verdadero in 1608. But this period is additionally that of his best plays on the subject of love (such as El perro del hortelano, The Dog in the Manger). He also became interested in the theme of inner nobility of the peasant classes, whose vindication he champions in Peribáñez and Fuente Ovejuna. In his final phase of writing (1618 until his death in 1635), he popularised the life of San Isidro, Madrid’s patron saint, with his three plays on that figure (see Thacker 2007: 34).

Other scholars prefer to divide Lope's work as 'Pre-Lope', up to 1598, when the theatres were closed for a year and he devoted himself to writing and publishing prose and verse, 'Lope-Lope', between then and 1625, when he wrote most of his plays, and 'Post-Lope', 1625-35, in which he wrote few plays, in his late sixties and early seventies.

He mastered the art of the tragedy with his masterpiece El castigo sin venganza, also written during his final period.  This play features a range of themes expertly interwoven , as love, jealousy, infidelity, death, honour and revenge all merge, described in beautiful verse dialogue peppered with mythological, Biblical and popular references.

  • Thacker, Jonathan. 2007. ‘The Emergence of the Comedia nueva’. In A Companion to Golden Age Theatre, pp. 1-22. Woodbridge, Tamesis


Lope de Vega is the father of the comedia nueva, or ‘new comedy’, a style of playwriting that became the height of fashion in the Golden Age. It was ‘new’ in that Lope reduced the number of acts  rom four or five to three, and downplayed the importance of classically-inspired rules of playwriting. Lope found his own way of constructing his plays without slavishly adhering to the classic ‘unities’ of time, space and action, and while Aristotle had separated comedy from tragedy, Lope mixed the two into a new form, the tragicomedia. Lope set down his views on playwriting in his Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo (The New Art of Writing Plays in our Time), written as an address (his own performance) to a literary circle, the Academy of Madrid, and published in 1609 (English translation available, Vega 2009). Lope also broadened the scope of popular drama; he sourced his plots from wherever he could find them. He raised peasants up out of the farces and showed them to have a dignity on the stage, such as in Fuenteovejuna. Instead of allowing drama to serve as a mouthpiece for the state, Lope showed kings to be weak or troubled, often making veiled allusions to current political affairs. He also took plots from classical mythology and from history (re-writing it or re-telling it to suit his own dramatic purpose), as well as from folk tales and ballads. Lope even wrote his own life into his works, as his many love-affairs and scandals feed into some of the relationships we see in his plays and poetry.

Playwrights in the Golden Age were known as poetas (poets), not ‘authors’ in the modern sense, in part because the plays were in polymetric verse. The great variety of verse forms available to the playwright included old, traditional Spanish forms as well as imported, ‘new’ Italian forms which had gained popularity in the sixteenth century. Theatre audiences in Lope’s time were well accustomed to hearing changes of verse form, and with a little practice most modern readers can identify different forms quickly. The function of the verse form changes was often to indicate shifts of mood, scene changes, or shifts of objective or theme within a scene. The social status of the speaker is sometimes tied to the verse used for a particular character; for example, octavas reales, an Italianate form, can be used to indicate nobility,or ironically to display a lack of noble behaviour from a high-born character, or to highlight noble aims in a low-status speaker. But the success of the comedia nueva is really due to its commerciality and popularity. It was what people liked, and they came back again and again to see the seemingly endless supply of plays. Many playwrights imitated Lope, including Tirso de Molina, to whom El burlador de Sevilla is attributed, and Guillén de Castro, whose intriguing play La fuerza de la costumbre, is another fine example of the influence of Lope’s comedia nueva style.

  • Vega, Lope de. 2009. 'New Rules for Writing Plays at This Time'. In Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo, edición políglota, [Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, English, German and Polish], Almagro, Festival de Almagro. [English translation, pp. 169-86.]

Plays in the database
Useful reading and websites
  • Arco y Garay, Ricardo del. 1941. La sociedad española en las obras dramáticas de Lope de Vega. Madrid, Escelicer (in Spanish)

  • Dixon, Victor. 2004. ‘Lope Félix de Vega Carpio’. In The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature, ed. David T. Gies, pp. 251-64. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

  • García Santo-Tomás, Enrique. 2000. La creación del “Fénix”: Recepción crítica y formación canónica del teatro de Lope de Vega. Madrid, Gredos (in Spanish)

  • Hayes, Francis C. 1967. Lope de Vega. New York, Twayne

  • Larson, Donald R. 1977. The Honor Plays of Lope de Vega. Cambridge, Harvard University Press

  • McKendrick, Melveena. 2000. Playing the King: Lope de Vega and the Limits of Conformity. London, Tamesis

  • Morley, S. Griswold and Bruerton, Courtney. 1940. The Chronology of Lope de Vega's Comedias, with a Discussion of Doubtful Attributions, the Whole Based on a Study of his Strophic Versification. New York, The Modern Language Association of America; London, Oxford University Press

  • Samson, Alexander and Thacker, Jonathan, eds. 2008. A Companion to Lope de Vega. Woodbridge, Tamesis

  • Thacker, Jonathan. 2007. ‘The Emergence of the Comedia nueva’. In A Companion to Golden Age Theatre, pp. 1-22. Woodbridge, Tamesis

    For Juan del Encina see p. 3-8, for Gil Vicente see p. 9-11. For La Numancia see pp. 20-1

  • Vega, Lope de. 2009. 'New Rules for Writing Plays at This Time'. In Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo, edición políglota, [Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, English, German and Polish], Almagro, Festival de Almagro. [English translation, pp. 169-86.]

  • Wright, Elizabeth. 2001. Pilgrimage to Patronage: Lope de Vega and the Court of Philip III. Lewisburg, Bucknell University Press

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

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