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Juan de La Cueva

Poet and dramatist, b. of a noble family at Seville, Spain, in 1550; d. in 1607

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Cueva, JUAN DE LA, poet and dramatist, b. of a noble family at Seville, Spain, in 1550; d. in 1607. Little is known of his life save that in his later years he visited the West Indies and lived for some time in Portugal. It is as a dramatic writer that Cueva merits notice. He was a prolific writer for the stage, yet but few of his plays have been preserved. They were represented in 1579 and the years following, and are important because most of them are historical. He must be given credit also for his dramatic initiative, for he ignored Greek and Latin traditions, and developed his plots, characters, incidents, and situations with little regard for “the unities” of the classical model. He was thus one of the first to forsake the classical for the romantic drama. In addition he reduced the number of jornadas, or acts, from five to four, and introduced a number of metrical forms hitherto unknown upon the stage. Several of the plays are on national subjects, such as “La Libertad de Espana por Bernardo del Carpio” and “Los Siete Infantes de Lara”. Among those dealing with ancient history may be mentioned “La Muerte de Ajax”, “Telamon Sobre las Armas de Aquiles”, and “La Muerte de Virginia y Apio Claudio”. One of them, “El Saco de Roma y Muerte de Borbon”, deals with a great event which was then recent, and describes the Italian triumphs of Charles V. Another, “El Infamador”, foreshadows in one of its characters, Leucino, the type of libertine which Tirso de Molina afterwards immortalized with his Don Juan.

These plays are somewhat crude in structure, and a noticeable fault is that the author makes all the characters, whether of high or low degree, talk in the same lofty vein. Again, he involves his characters in difficulties and situations whence escape seems impossible, and then, without regard to plausibility, grasps the first solution that presents itself, such as a murder or some supernatural intervention. Among his non-dramatic works are: a collection of lyric poems and sonnets, published under the title “Obras de Juan de la Cueva” (Seville, 1582); “Coro Febeo de Romances historiales”, a collection of one hundred romances (1587), of which A. Duran has reproduced sixty-three in his “Romancero”; and an epic poem in twenty-four cantos, “La Conquista de la Betica” (Seville, 1603), describing the conquest of Seville by the King Saint Ferdinand.


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