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||Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla (1607-1648)|
Prolific Spanish dramatist, a member of the order of Santiago, author of tragedies, comedias, autos sacramentales, and entremeses. Rojas was noted for a new type of Baroque drama, the comedias de figurón, in which an eccentric character, or a jester (el gracioso) is the most important person in the play, preparing way for the Beaumarchais's (1732-1799) famous clever servant Figaro. Rojas Zorrilla's best know drama is Del rey abajo, ninguno (None Beneath the King), which was published in 1651, three years after the death of the author. The story deals with a peasant who mistakenly believes that the King has violated his honor by breaking into his house and acting dishonorably toward his wife. Because he cannot move against the King, he must save his honor by killing his innocent wife.
Pero en tanto que mi cuello
Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla was born in Toledo. He was the first of
six children. His father,
Francisco Perez de Rojas, served in the Royal Navy, and after
resigning, he moved to Madrid, where Rojas grew up. The family
lived on the Plaza del Angel. Rojas' mother was
Dona Mariana de Besga y Zorrilla. For some reason, he later
created his name from the second surname of each parent.
In Madrid Rojas attended the same schools as Pedro and José Calderón.
It is believed that Rojas studied in Toledo and Salamanca, before returning to Madrid by 1631. Early in his life, Rojas became a close friend with Calderón, Pérez de Montalbán, and Antonio Coello. In the 1630s he started to gain fame as a playwright, borrowing the plots from such French dramatists as Corneille, Lesage, and Scarron. In the latter half of the century, French dramatists extensively borrowed from Rojas's work. Along with Pedro Calderón de la Barca and Augustin Moreto, he represented the second phase of the Spanish Golden Age comedia; the first cycle had centered around Lope de Vega, Guillén de Castro and others.
At the beginning of his career, Rojas Zorrilla mostly collaborated
with other dramatists, especially with Coello, Calderón, and Luis Velez de Guevara, but in 1635 he wrote more plays on his
own than in collaboration. At least fifteen of Rojas's works were written in collaboration with other poets. Persiles y Sigismunda,
a tragic melodrama based on the novel by Cervantes, was probably his
first independent play. It was performed on February 23, 1633, for the
king and queen.
When Lope de Vegan died, Rojas contributed a sonnet on the occasion of the author's death. From 1640, his plays were staged in the new theatre in the Palace of Buen Retiro. Rojas's Los Bandos de Verona (1640), based on the story of Romeo and Juliet, was performed at the opening ceremonies.
Rojas's dramatic career was brief, it covered only twelve or fourteen years. Many
of his plays had a violent ending. He also was fond of extravagant
theatrical effects, which added to the popularity of the productions.
first volume of a collection of his plays came out in 1640.
Its second volume, published at his own
expense, appeared five years later. King Philip IV honored
Rojas in 1643 by awarding him a knighthood in the Order of Santiago.
This did not go without difficulties because of his origin – he
was accused to hide the fact that he had Moorish and Jewish ancestors.
Moreover, his former neighbors in Toledo insisted, that one of his
ancestors had been executed by the Inquisition.
Theaters were closed between 1644-1649 by royal orders to mourn the deaths of Isabel de Borbón (1602-1644) and Prince Baltasar Carlos (1629-1646). The performance of both plays and the auto sacramentals staged in the church's atrium were banned. Rojas Zorrilla died suddenly during the ban in Madrid, on January 23, 1648. He may have suffered a violent death but there is no evidence of this. His illegitimate daughter, Francisca Bezón, became the famous actress La Bezona. Rojas was married from 1640 to Doña Catalina Yáñez de Mendoza.
Del Rey abajo ninguno (None But the King) was a play about the so-called punto de honor, the conflict between honor and loyalty, and in this particular story loyalty to the king and doubt's about wife's reputation. Some questions have arisen concerning its authorship, because the play was first attributed to Calderon when it was published as part of Parte Cuarenta y des de comedias de difererentes autores (1651). According to the 17th-century Spanish logic, if the king put a married woman to shame, it was the husband's duty make the wife to pay for it. Even if she is not the offender. The protagonist is the noble García del Gastañar, who lives a simple life in the country with his beautiful wife Blanca. When King Alfonso XI prepares war against Moors, García's substantial contribution to the effort attracts king's attention, and he decides to meet him. The king visits García's house with Count Don Mendo, who approaches in the night Blanca with questionable intentions. García confuses the king for the count, and sees no other alternative than to take the life of his innocent wife. "A muerte te ha condenado / mi honor, cuando no mis celos, / porque a costa de tu vida, / de una infamia me prevengo. / Perdóname Blanca mía, / que, aunque de culpa te absuelvo, / sólo por razón de Estado, / a la muerte de condeno." Bianca escapes to the mountains and eventually ends up in the care of the queen and king. García struggles with his consciousness and the code of honor. Understanding García's hesitation, Bianca offers to die. Finally Alfonso appears on the scene, García' mistake is revealed, and Don Mendo is killed by the king.
Rojas Zorilla also wrote Cada cual lo que le toca
(1645, To Each His Due), in which he unconventionally approached the
feminine honor. When it was performed in Madrid, the audience booed to
Rojas's twisting of the old theme, in which a wife has been discarded
by another man before her marriage. The husband, Don Luis, is
reluctant to kill Doña Isabel, his
wife whom he loves, and eventually she kills don Fernando, her
former lover and saves her husband's honour. At the end Don Luis
forgives his wife.
Casarse por vengarse (1636)
was a tragedy of a woman, Blanca, who wants to take a revenge on her
former lover, Enrique. When he becomes a king, Enrique leaves her.
Blanca marries a man she does not love, but her behaviour hurts the
honour of her husband, too. A secret door to Blanca's bedroom has a
central role in the plot; it ultimately leads to her death.
The play was still popular in the eighteenth century. It was Rojas's only wife-murder play; Calderón
wrote three of them. Earlier these "honour plays" were simply read as
portraying practices of sixteeth-and seveenteeth-century Spaniards, but
feminist literature critics have pointed out that the brutal endings
force spectators to be horrified by what happens and acknowledge the
moral wrongness of a certain set of social values.
Rojas Zorrilla emphasized in his plays humane solutions in conflict situations and challenged the
aristocratic code of honor. One must listen the voice of heart and not
obey blindly traditional
rules of behavior. He dealt with uncommon directress with such issues
as unfaithfulness, the
rights of women, and the fallibility of institutions. To Each His Due (1645)
defended female equality and El desafío de Carlos V (1635) had an female character, an Amazon type, who has led a free and adventurous life. In Progne y Filomena
(1636), performed in the Royal Palace, sisters emerge as successful
avengers. This play championed equality for women in enforcing the code
Entre bobos anda el juego (written 1638), partly inspired by Alonso de Castillo Solórzano's El marqués del Cigarral, is generally considered Rojas' best comedy. Rojas wrote it while recuperating from an assassination attack. It has been suggested that the attack was a result of a lampooning. In the play a young couple, Doña Isabel and her poor cousin Pedro, revolt against plans of their parents. Isabel wants to marry for love, not financial security. Thomas Corneille took the plot from this lively play for his Don Bertrand de Cigarral. Rojas's treatment sometimes infuriated his audiences. According to Ramón de Mesonero Romanos (1803-1882), he composed some 80 stage works. The last piece he is known to have written was En gran patio de palacio, an auto sacramental (sacramental act) for the feast of Corpus Christi; he was given only three days to finish it.
For further reading: Don Francisco de Rojas Zorilla by E. Cotarelo y Mori (1911); Dramaturgos de la escuela de Calderón: Rojas Zorilla by F.C. Sainz de Robles (1947); Francisco de Rojas Zorilla and the Tragedy by R.R. MacCurdy (1958); Francisco de Rojas by R.R. MacCurdy (1973); McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama , Vol. 1, ed. by Stanley Hochman (1984); 'Del rey abajo, ninguno, y la inversion venatoria del hostigamiento' in Linguistica indoamericana y Estudios Literarios, ed. by Elizabeth Luna-Traill (1992); Francisco De Rojas Zorilla Y Agustin Moreto: Analisis by Ann MacKenzie (1994); Spanish Dramatists of the Golden Age: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook, edited by Mary Parker (1998); Echoes and Inscriptions: Comparative Approaches to Early Modern Spanish Literatures, edited by Barbara Simerka and Christopher B. Weimer (2000); An Annotated Critical Edition Of Francisco de Rojas Zorilla's Casarse for vengarse by Linda L. Mullin (2002)