Pedro Calderón de la Barca

Born in Madrid, Spain, on January 17, 1600, Pedro Calderón de la Barca would eventually become one of Spain's most important dramatists. Along with the older playwright Lope De Vega, Calderón would dominate Spain's Golden Age of theatre.

Educated at the Jesuit Colegio Imperial, Calderón studied law at the University of Alcalá (1614-15) and the University of Salamanca (1615-21), but did not earn a degree. In 1621, he entered the household of the Constable of Castille, Don Bernardino Fernández de Velasco. Two years later, in 1623, he began writing plays for the court.

Calderón's most famous play, Life Is a Dream, explores the conflict between free will and predestination. It tells the story of the King of Poland who imprisons his son in a tower from birth in order to protect his reign and thwart the predictions of astrologers who saw the boy taking his father's throne. After several years, the King has a change of heart and orders his son drugged and brought to his palace for a trial. The young man behaves so badly, however, that the King soon banishes him back to his prison. Waking up in the tower, the son is soon convinced that he never left his lonely prison, that the entire trial was just a dream. But a peasant uprising soon liberates the confused prisoner once more and results in the boy being crowned King. Fearful of waking once more in the tower and learning that this new life is but a dream, this time he conducts himself with discretion.

Aside from Life is a Dream, Calderón is perhaps best known for his plays of honor and revenge. In The Mayor of Zalamea, the captain of a visiting troop of soldiers, certain of his impunity, abducts the daughter of a wealthy farmer, rapes her, and ties her father to a tree. In this play, the father's revenge might seem understandable to our modern sensibilities, but Calderón also deals with honor and revenge in a trio of wife-murder plays in which it may be more difficult to identify with the agent of vengeance. In each of these plays, the wife is murdered either directly or indirectly by the husband who suspects her of infidelity and wishes to restore his lost honor. Although it has been the subject of much debate, there is no way to know whether Calderón approved of such measures or whether he simply used this common social code to create dramatic conflict. What is certain is that these revenge plays--which make up a very small portion of Calderón's canon--have become closely identified with the dramatist. These plays include The Physician of his Honour, Secret Insult, Secret Vengeance, and The Painter of his Own Dishonour.

Calderón became a priest in 1651, but continued to write plays as the court dramatist for Philip IV. He also wrote two autos sacramentales each year for the city of Madrid. In his later years, he developed a series of elaborate mythological themes that reflected the tastes and interests of the Spanish Court during the waning years of the Golden Age. He died in Madrid on May 25, 1681. Of his 120 surviving works, approximately 80 are autos sacramentales, morality plays celebrating the mystery of the eucharist on Corpus Christi day.

Calderón's Plays  |  Biographies/Studies


Calderón's Plays


Related Sites

Calderón Index

Calderón & Lope de Vega

Calderón Monologues

Calderón: Poems

Spanish Theatre Index

Related Playwrights

Lope De Vega

Other Playwrights

Edward Albee

Maxwell Anderson

Albert Camus

John Dryden

Friedrich Durrenmatt

Dario Fo

Jean Genet


Christopher Marlowe

John Osborne

Luigi Pirandello

Sam Shepard

Frank Wedekind

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