The theatrical career of Lope de Rueda in his own era….
Joan Bucks Hansen
The St. George Street Players
Lope de Rueda was born in Seville in 1510, as close as anyone has been able to determine, the son of Juan de Rueda, a craftsman who supported his family by beating gold into the tissue-thin leaves used for gilding statues and decorative art. The son, Lope, learned and pursued his father’s trade.
But when the Italian Commedia troupe led by the actor Mutio performed in Seville, Lope was there and found his true calling. He left Seville at some point with a troupe of traveling actors, perhaps that same Mutio, traveling with them to cities throughout Spain and learning his craft until, glutted with acting the roles of others, he began to create his own. We do not know how long this apprenticeship lasted.
By 1554 Lope de Rueda was chosen by the Count of Benevente,Don Antonio Alonso Pimentel, to stage the splendid festival in honor of Phillip II on his passage through the village of Benevente to embark for England and his betrothal to the English Queen Mary. The prince was feted for several days with bullfights, music, song, hunts, tournaments on foot, fireworks and other inventions and on June 8 the festivities continued until midnight. On that day a drama festival was staged which one who witnessed it described as follows:
“And the patio being cleared, appeared Lope de Rueda with his actors and presented an auto of the sacred scripture with great feeling. It was interspersed with hilarious and charming interludes which the prince enjoyed very much and so did the infant Don Carlos and the grandees and gentlemen among whom were: the Duke of Alba, Don Fernando El Grande, Duke of Najera, Don Juan Manrique de Lara; The Duke of Medinaceli, Don Juan de la Cerda; the Commander-In-Chief of Castile Don Pedro Fernandez de Velasco; the Admiral Don Fernando Enriquez; the Conde de Luna, Conde de Chinchón; Conde de Monterrey, Conde de Agamón (Egmont) and other grandees whose names I don’t recall. The performance concluded, the musicians started up again with trumpets and drums….”
From this account we know that by 1554 Lope, at perhaps 44 years of age, was a theatrical entrepreneur, actor, comedian and dramaturge of great renown, whose audience included the highest levels of Spanish society. (And it shows a performance format—a religious work of some length, interspersed with Lope’s celebrated pasos.)
Performances, payments and debts
In 1558 Lope de Rueda and his company went to Segovia, where on August 15 the city celebrated the consecration and inauguration of its new cathedral, with people in attendance from all parts of Spain. The city’s chronicler Diego de Colmenares credits Lope de Rueda with bringing to the festival its major splendor: “In the afternoon solemn vespers were celebrated on a stage between the choirs where, later the company of Lope de Rueda, the most famous comedian of our time, presented a lively comedy and afterwards walked in the procession through the cloister, which had been beautifully decorated.”
The following year, 1559, Lope is back in his native city of Seville where he remained for some months, performing with his company. Several documents were brought to light by a city archivist in Seville in 1908 relative to Lope de Ruedas performances:
· “Order of Licenciado Lope de León for the City of Seville that Juan de Coronado, Mayordomo, pay to Lope de Rueda, resident in this city 40 ducats against the 60 owed to him for two performances on two carts with various characters in the fiesta of Corpus, being one of the plays the Navalcarmelo and the other Hijo de Pródigo with all the vestments of silk, on Sunday, April 29, 1559.”
· “Receipt: On May 9, 1559, I, Lope de Rueda, received from Juan de Coronado Mayordomo of Seville the 40 ducats against the balance, and I sign my name, Lope de Rueda.)
· “New order of payment of the 20 ducats balance spent for the services of Lope de Rueda, resident of said city, May 29, 1559.”
· Two receipts from Lope de Rueda dated June 2 and June 5, 1559 for 10 ducats each.
· Another order of payment in favor of Lope de Rueda for “8 ducats allotted for the performance on the carts on the said day of the Fiesta of Corpus Christi, the performances having been presented before us, the said Lope de Rueda was the figure of Nabalcarmelo with additional figures and it appears that we should give the said 8 ducats reward to him,” Seville, May 30, 1559.
· Receipt from Lope de Rueda signed June 15,1559.
The two autos mentioned in the Seville receipts, Híjo de Pródigo and the Navál play may have been Rueda’s works. If not, the first may have been connected with the Comedia Pródiga which was printed in Seville in 1554.
Beginning in 1554 the City of Seville had born the expense of the autos of the Corpus Christi. In previous years the guilds and tradesmen of the city had paid for them. The presentations were on pageant wagons much like the ones used later in Madríd and in other great capitals. Seville was probably among the first to employ in this form this genre of popular spectacle outside of the church. The Italian company of Mutio had two pageant wagons in the Corpus Christi festival in Seville in 1535 and asked compensation similar to that received by Lope de Rueda in 1559.
It apparently was not possible for Lope de Rueda to support a company of actors and stay in the same place for very long. Theatrical spectacle was not an everyday thing, and the limited supply of material in the way of farces and comedies meant a continual search for new audiences.
In 1561 we find Lope in Toledo, south of Madríd performing the Corpus Christi plays there. On May 7 a cédula was issued ordering payment of 3,750 maravedís (10 ducats) for staging the Fiesta of Corpus Christi. On May 30, another cédula ordering payment to Lope de Rueda in the amount of 5,625 maravedis, and on June 12 another 5,625 maravedís for the same festival and on the same date a receipt for 11,250 maravedís (40 ducats) paid in full, total of three payments.
Nonetheless, Lope left behind a debt of 22 ducats when he left Toledo for Madrid. Phillip II had moved the court from Toledo to Madrid in 1560 and people from all over Spain were flocking to the site of the new Royal Court.
It was there, in Madrid, that the 14-year-old Miguel de Cervantes saw Rueda perform many times and the future author of “Don Quixote de La Mancha” said he received from him enough inspiration to last throughout his life. And with such joy and so often did he watch the performances of the great comedian that many years later he retained in his memory whole speeches from Lope de Rueda’s repertoire. He preserved some of them in his comedy Los Baños de Argél.
Antonio Perez also heard Lope perform in Madrid and saw him present “the best of his repertoire.” Perez was the celebrated minister to King Phillip II and in an undated letter when he was 60 years of age Perez wrote to his wife, Doña Juana Coello, “In the midst of my melancholy I laugh as easily as I ever have at recalling the comedy, the extraordinary pasos of Lope de Rueda.”
—(1) Fernando Gonzalez Olle, Introduccion a Classicos Castellanos—Lope de Rueda—Los Engañados/Medora and (2) Real academia Española, Biblioteca de Classicos Españoles, “Obras de Lope de Rueda” Madrid Librería de los sucesores de Hernando Calle de Arenal II