Spain and
the Age of Chivalry
Chivalry, the alma mater of the Crusaders during the Middle Ages, played a preponderant role in Spanish drama in the 16th and 17th centuries, where a knight’s loyalty went to God, to his King, and to the Lady dear to his heart.
Chivalry and Courtly Love

By the end of the 12th century a new sentiment, courtesy, appeared in the higher circles of society. Maybe the predominant role women played during the Crusades had something to do with the change of attitude. Wives had become administrators for their husband’s lands while the men were off fighting the Infidels. You don't want an angry wife with power of attorney while you're in Jerusalem. Maybe men just got sentimental. For whatever reason a woman was treated with respect and even idealized.

Courtly love is a fancy term to describe flirting. It was a staple of court life where marriages were made for political and financial profit. The hardy knight dashing off to strange lands with the perfumed handkerchief of his damsel came to epitomize the unconsumed passion which inspired so many writers. This is different from the way Dante Aligheri idealized Beatrice, his beloved who died suddenly. Dante (b. 1265) applied courtly love into a style called the "dolce stil novo", which highlighted pure love as a source of poetic inspiration.

Christian de Troyes (French b. c. 1130) wrote a number of books on courtly love based on the legendary King Arthur (who allegedly lived in England in the 6th century) . The most well known are Perceval, who launches on a quest for the legendary Holy Grail that was supposed to hold the Blood of Christ, and Lancelot, the hapless knight who falls in love with Arthur’s wife, precipitating the decline of the king’s authority. His stories were in demand and the genre took hold with authors and playwrights

Gottfried von Strassburg (German b. c. 1165) wrote a variation of the legend Tristan und Isolt where Tristan falls in love with the young woman he was sent to fetch for his uncle, King Mark of Cromwell.

In the first four thousand lines of the poem Roman de la Rose, Guillaume de Lorris (b. c.1210) focuses his imagination on a young woman represented as a rosebud in a garden. The second part, written a bit later by Jean de Meun, departs from Guillaume’s dream world for the realities of feudal life during Medieval times.
Don Giovanni

An extremely brief summery of Mozart's opera written in Italian
Complete title: Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni.

With the unwilling assistance of his servant Leporello, Don Giovanni, masked, ravishes the daughter of the Commendatore of Seville. To defend his daughter's honor the old man faces Giovanni in a deul. Giovanni kills him flees with Leporello. Giovanni hears a woman's voice, he's thinking of a new conquest but too late he recognises Donna Elvira, a woman he seduced and abandoned not long ago. He almost seduces Zerlina, a young lady about to be married to Mazetto, but Elvira intervenes in time. Giovanni tells Leporello to exchange clothes and to distract Elvira while he tries to seduce her maid. He's discovered and escapes. By now he's been identified as the culprit and is chased by everyone.

Giovanni and Leporello meet at the graveyard where they see the Statue of the dead Commendatore. In a show of arrogent bravado he orders poor Leporello to invite the Statue to supper. To the servant's astonishment the Statue nods. The meal is prepared and Giovanni waits for his guest. The Statue makes a move towards Giovanni and orders him to mend his ways. Giovanni is disrespectful and without hesitation the Statue drags him into the grave. Leporello is horrified, he hollers.
The Phoenicians were the first to establish outposts in Spain around the 12th century BC, but were overpowered by the Roman Empire during the 2nd Punic War in 209 BC.

Phoenicia remained under Roman rule for two hundred years until the Visigoths from the north occupied the country. It was taken from them in 711 by the Moors and the Umayyad with an army of mainly Arab and Berber Muslims from North Africa. The original name was Mauri, which was adapted to Mori or Maures, used by the Latin Europeans to identify dark-skinned people.

The Moors remained loyal to the Umayyad until 746. Treated as second-class citizens, they sided with the Abbasid and revolted against the Caliphate. Nine years later the Abbasid chased the Umayyad from Spain.

Under Muslim rule, which lasted 781 years, Spain made major contributions in architecture, philosophy, literature, art, science, astronomy, medicine and mathematics.

The Spanish Reconquista, a Catholic military force whose purpose was to oust the Muslims, captured Toledo from the Arabs in 1085.  By 1212 most of Spain had been recovered except for Grenada, which fell in 1492 under the rule of the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand II and Isabella I. A period of successful conquests and the discovery of the Americas netted Spain great wealth.

The War of Succession to the Spanish Crown (1701-1714) officially ended the Hapsburg dynasty. In 1883 it was replaced by the Bourbons of France.  The Bourbon-Spanish line began with Philip V, grandson of Louis XIV.


The name was first used by French novelists to identify King Arthur's second magic sword after the first one, pulled from The Stone, broke. Merlin, his advisor, takes Arthur to a mysterious lake. The Lady of the Lake offers the king a sword with an unbreakable blade and a scabbard to protect his body.

The sword and scabbard are stolen during an uprising by Arthur’s conniving half-sister. The sword is recovered but the scabbard is lost and Arthur is mortally wounded at the Battle of Camlann. He instructs Bedwyr to return the sword to the Lake. Instead Bedwyr keeps it to himself, and the king sent him back once more. Bedwyr throws the sword into the lake, a hand appears to catch it and it disappears in the water.
Fernando de Roja (b. 1465)
The first dramaturge to write satires on chivalry. His plays influenced later writers in Spain, in particular his play La Celestina, written in 1499 while studying law.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (b. 1547)
Wrote The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, a satire on the decadence of chivalry. As a young man, Cervantes left Spain to study literature and philosophy in Italy. He enlisted in the army and received a wound that crippled his left arm. On his way home he was captured by the Barbary pirates and sold to the viceroy of Algiers. He was ransomed but the cost of his liberation ruined him and his family. He tried his hand as a government purchasing agent but his lack of business sense had him imprisoned. Cervantes was fifty-eight when Don Quixote was published. Quixote's escapades were an instant success, which inspired him to write part two.

Lope de Vega (b. 1562)
Complied with an insatiable demand for theatrical material by writing a thousand plays covering all possible subjects, and four hundred auto-sacramentalis. He joined the Spanish Armada after a problem with the law, and when his second wife died he became a priest. He continued to write, which brought him fame and fortune.

Tirso de Molina (b. 1580)
Entered the Order of Mercy when he was in his twenties and, parallel to his monastic duties, wrote four hundred plays. He continued writing even after he was investigated by the Inquisition. In his play El Burlador de Sevilla y Convidado di Piedra (a story adapted from an old rural tale) Tirso relates the vicissitudes and adventures of Juan Tenorio, better known as Don Juan.  The play was enormously successful. Juan's seductions traveled throughout Europe, adding to the number of conquests along the way. Mozart used the story to for his popular opera Don Giovanni, composed in 1787. In 1844 Jose' Zorrilla used Tirso's character for Don Juan Tenorio. Dramma religioso-fantastico en dos partes.

Juan Luis de Alarcon (b. 1581)
Borrowed Moliere's satiric style on what he saw as moral discrepancies in his country. A physical deformity may be the reason for his detached, stoic view of the world. He avoided the boisterous Lope but was good friends with Tirso de Molina.  

Pedro Calderon de la Barca (b. 1600)
His initial writings were comic intrigues based on social morals and honor. He later wrote mythological plays in Renaissance-style stage settings until he became a priest and used only religious themes.