Lope de Vega

1562 –

Félix Lope de Vega y Carpio, nicknamed “Fénix de los Ingenios” (“Phoenix of the Ingenuities”), due to his astonishing literary output, was a Spanish poet, playwright, and novelist, and one of the key figures in the Spanish Golden Age of Baroque literature, alongside Mateo Aléman, Vicente Espinel, Luis de Góngora, Francisco de Quevado, and Miguel de Cervantes, with whom Lope had his most significant literary feud. Lope de Vega also has the distinction of being Spain’s most prolific playwright. 

Lope de Vega was born in Madrid either on November 25 or December 2 in 1562. His parents, Francisca Fernández Flórez and Félix de Vega y Carpio, were from the Cantabria region on Spain’s northern coast. His father was an embroiderer. Lope had four known siblings—Francisco, Juan, Juliana, and Luisa. He may have had two more sisters—Catalina and Isabel. Lope was partly raised by his uncle, Don Miguel del Carpio, the inquisitor of Seville. Lope began to study in Madrid at the Imperial College at age ten. He learned to read both Latin and Spanish and began to translate works into Spanish from Latin, including Claudian’s poem, De raptu Proserpinae. He also studied at Colegio de los Teatinos, where he began to write comedies, and Jesuit College. He may have also studied at the University of Alcalá de Henares. On August 17, 1578, Lope’s father died. After finishing his initial studies, Lope may have traveled with a friend to Salamanca. He would later resume his scholarship by studying mathematics and astrology with John Baptista Lavanha, a Portuguese cosmographer, cartographer, and mathematician who served as the Spanish court’s official cosmographer. Lope also studied liberal arts with the friar John of Cordoba. 

Lope was known as a charismatic personality. He had at least two documented wives, six known lovers, and between fourteen and sixteen children. According to the Spanish journalist and theater critic, Eduardo Haro Tecglen, the theater producer Jerónimo Velázquez supposedly gave his daughter, Elena Osorio, to Lope in exchange for the latter’s agreement to produce twenty comedies with Velázquez’s company. Lope met Osorio after returning from an expedition to Terceira Island led by Álvaro de Bazán, the Marquis of Santa Cruz. Osorio, whom Lope would later regard as one of his two great loves, was already married to the actor Cristóbal Caldéron. Osorio also rejected Lope, despite the deal he had made with her father. In retaliation, Lope besmirched her family in print, which landed him in prison, where he continued to pen libelous verse against Osorio. 

In 1589, Lope’s mother, another of his muses, died. He moved to Toledo a year later and entered the service of the Duke of Alba in 1591. Lope continued to write comedies and poetry, in addition to penning one of the novels for which he is best known—Arcadia, published in 1598. He then married Juana de Guardo, the daughter of a wealthy meat and fish supplier—a union that did not end up bringing the financial boon Lope had expected. By 1602, he declared that he had written 230 comedies. Seven years later, he would claim to have written 483. In 1605, Lope published a collection of cantos, titled La Hermosura de Angélica (“The Loveliness of Angelica”), published in Madrid. The collection included a sonnet by Miguel de Cervantes.

Lope and Cervantes would enter a vicious literary feud over the former being suspected of having written an apocryphal second volume of Don Quixote, in which Lope expressed contempt for Cervantes. The fake second volume was written in response to what were perceived as veiled attacks against Lope in the prologue of the first part of the novel, published in 1605. Lope, who supposedly wrote the tome under the pseudonym Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, was regarded as the likeliest culprit because not many other contemporary authors wrote as quickly as he, nor were they as adept at imitation. 

In 1611, Lope dedicated Pastores de Belén, prose y versos (“The Shepherds of Belen, prose and poems”), to his son, Carlos Félix, who died from an illness a year later. In 1614, Lope became an ordained priest. In the same year, he published Rimas sacras (“Sacred Rhymes”). Also in that year, Cervantes published the Voyage of Parnassus, in which he an inscribed a dedication to Lope, claiming that no writer surpassed or even came close to Lope de Vega in either poetry or prose. Two years later, Cervantes died. 

Lope also had a rivalry with Luis de Góngora, who moved to Madrid in 1617. Góngora wrote La Spongia, an attack against Lope and his associates, as well as a defense of the Aristotelian precepts of theater, which Lope eschewed in favor of theatrical principles and conventions that were adapted to contemporary Spanish values and interests, as outlined in his book The New Art of Writing Plays in This Age (1609). Lope retaliated by publishing two violent satires against Góngora, as well as Expostulatio Spongiae, co-written with his friends. All were published in 1617.

By the following year, Lope claimed to have written eight hundred comedies. In 1620, Lope published a comedy based on his youth, The True Lover, dedicated to another son, Lope Félix. In 1630, Lope published two more poetic works—Laurel of Apollo and Eclogue to Claudio, a poem about his life and his disappointments. In the same year, after the failure of two of his plays, he wrote to his patron, the Duke of Sessa, announcing that he would leave the theater. 

In 1632, Lope published what some regard as his masterpiece—Dorotea, written about his love affair with Elena Osorio during his youth. Ironically, he wrote the volume in the aftermath of the death of his last great love, Marta de Nevares. Not long after her death, Lope’s beloved son, Lope Félix, died in a shipwreck off the coast of Venezuela in 1634. In the same year, Lope completed what may have been his last comedy—Las bizarrías de Belisa (“Belisa’s bizarreness”)—and witnessed one of his favorite daughters and his only companion left at home, Antonia Clara, run away to be with the knight, Don Cristóbal Tenorio. Lope dedicated the eclogue “Dulce Filis,” which was published after Antonia Clara’s death, to her in response to this event. Lope also dedicated two poems in La Vega del Parnaso, which was published posthumously, to this episode. In December of that year, Lope published Human and divine rhymes of Licenciado Tomé de Burguillos, which was his last book published during his lifetime. 

Lope de Vega died on August 27, 1635. His funeral was held the next day in Madrid and the entire city participated in mourning him. Lope de Vega is regarded as the true innovator of Spanish theater and a modernizer of the comedy genre. His texts, which ultimately amounted to more than 1,500 plays and three thousand poems, continued to be published after his death.