Calderón de la Barca
Calderón de la Barca is one of the pivotal literary figures of the Spanish Golden Age, so much so that the period is often said to have ended with his death. Born in 1600, Calderón was educated by Jesuits; the rhetoric and clear logical structure of their thinking and manner of education is evident throughout his work. He began to write for the stage in the early 1620s, some forty years after the first plays of Lope de Vega, another of the most famous playwrights of the Golden Age, appeared. Lope had radically overhauled the form of the comedía, and had established the theatre of the Iberian Peninsula as one of the most groundbreaking in Europe. The young Calderón thus inherited a vigorous literary tradition, enabling him to flourish as a playwright. He went beyond Lope’s simple three act formula and introduced a subtler perception and superior craftsmanship to create plays that wouldn’t be surpassed for centuries. He was also unique in the wide range of work he produced. When he began writing, theatre was predominantly comic, yet Calderón’s themes revolve around murder, the supernatural, religion and, as in La vida es sueño, the fundamental existential dilemmas of human existence. Over the span of his lifetime he produced over 70 plays, the majority of which were performed in the corrales, a type of popular public theatre, in the 1620's and 1630's. It was during his peak output that La vida es sueño was published (1636), and it is often seen as the finest example of Calderón’s early writing.
Calderón’s work can be divided into two major periods. After his time in the army during the Catalonian wars of early 1640's, his writing changed drastically. He returned to the piety of his early years, and was ordained a priest in 1651. For the remaining 30 years of his life he devoted himself to allegorical and highly lyrical court theatre, writing for his patron and monarch King Felipe IV. He also wrote vast quantities of the religious auto-sacrementales popular in the Golden Age during this period. Despite his impressive literary production, since his death in 1681 he has been best remembered for his philosophical and ground breaking work La vida es sueño.