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El doctor Mira de Amescua : an examination of his plays with an introductory biographical study Smith, Clifford

Abstract

El doctor Mira de Amescua is one of the lesser known dramatists of Spain's tremendously fertile Golden Age. His dramatic works have received little critical attention, with the exception of El esclavo del demonio, which has been regarded as his best work since the nineteenth century. Mira was highly respected as a dramatist by his contemporaries, but none of them single out this play as being of exceptional quality. This study therefore examines the whole range of his dramatic production, except for his one-act, eucharistic drama (the autos), and three plays he wrote in collaboration with other dramatists. The first chapter of the thesis is an introductory biographical study, which determines that Mira died in 1644 and was probably born no earlier than 1575. He appears to have been active as a dramatist, however, from before 1602 only until 1632; this period which is divided into two parts by a lengthy stay in Italy (1610-1616). The second chapter presents the evidence concerning the works that have been attributed to him, and lists the sixty-five extant works he probably wrote, dating tentatively about a third of them. Mira's theater is examined according to a new classification which is presented in Chapter Three. The classification makes a fundamental distinction between the religious theater, in which the affairs of men are directly influenced by supernatural beings, and the secular theater, in which men are entirely responsible for their own actions. In a world in which God does not intervene, tragedy, tragicomedy, and comedy are possible. A group of the religious plays, including El esclavo del demonio, deal with the relative importance of predestination and free-will in achieving salvation. These plays were probably written as a result of the controversy between the Jesuit Molina and the Dominican Banez which took place during the earlier years of Mira's life. This subject is the only one that is not common to Mira's religious and secular plays. The thesis -examines the interaction between the inexorable progress of Fortune, a disembodied force which is allied to time and death, and the necessity of a man's finding his real identity by knowing himself (conocerse) and gaining nobility by overcoming himself (vencerse). In the religious plays he must overcome the promptings of the devil and follow the way of God; in the secular plays he must overcome the promptings of his passions and follow the way of reason. In the last of his plays Mira emphasises that a man must fuse the virtues of the courtier and the Christian and be orderly (galan), brave (valiente), charitable (liberal), and prudent (discreto). The thesis also examines Mira's presentation of tragedy, tragicomedy, and comedy, and traces the development of his dramatic techniques. In his mature works he fused the implicit duality of the interaction between his principal themes with his fondness for duality or multiplicity in his characterisation, language, and narrative technique, to produce finally a balanced and symmetrically patterned, but fully integrated, structure. The development of Mira's technique is a microcosm of the development of the whole Golden Age theater, beginning with the rudimentary form of the end of the sixteenth century and ending with the sophistication of Rojas Zorrilla, Moreto and Calderon. It is not possible to state categorically that Mira was responsible for the way the Golden Age theater developed, because his mature works were produced during the two decades in which nearly all the well-known dramatists were writing (1615-1635). He is not of interest-principally as an influence on the development of the Golden Age theater, however, for his best plays rank with the finest productions of the Spanish stage.

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