Gabriel H. Lovett: "The Hermit in Spanish Drama before Lope de Vega" in Modern Language Journal, v. 35, no. 5, 1951, p. 340-355.
The purpose of this article is to identify the treatment of hermits as literary characters in Renaissance Spanish plays of the 16th century and earlier, that is, before the Golden Age of Spanish literature represented by Lope de Vega. This survey is useful because literature usually projects the popular perception of the hermit in society -- and in this case, the Church, as well.
Contrary to the treatment of clergymen in the vast majority of plays from the Renaissance era, the hermit escapes the abuse and mockery of the dramatists. As Lovett puts it:
If there is one man who for the dramatist before Lope de Vega embodies the highest virtues and is free from worldly temptations, it is the man who decides to retire from the world and spends his days in solitude.
Lovett begins his survey with the semi-dramatic literature of the medieval Spain. The figure of a hermit appears in Danza de la Muerte, composed in the late 14th century, wherein Death dances with the hermit but grudgingly admits his good service to God. In Revelacion de un hermitaño, a 1382 poem, the author states that he is a hermit and has received a revelation which he now transcribes as a poetic dialog between a soul and its corpse.
By the time of the Renaissance, the hermit populates literature because few contemporary hermits exist. Lovett notes the dichotomous treatment of the hermit character:
Although the hermit is generally treated as a dignified character in Renaissance plays, he is occasionally presented in a different light. When he appears as a serious type, his characteristics are mainly those of a kind, old man, a philosopher, who knows that the world is full of vanity and deceit and who has decided to withdraw from it completely. He is often willing to lend a helping hand to those who are in need of help and he frequently appears as a learned person who preaches on the advantages of isolation. As a comic character, he is presented mainly as the victim of worldly love.
Lovett identifies 19 plays of the Spanish Renaissance that contain hermits. He categorizes them as those in which the hermit is a serious character and those in which the hermit is a comic character. The article then examines some representative plays.
HERMIT AS A SERIOUS CHARACTER
Representacion a la muy bendita pasion y muerte de nuestro precioso Redentor by Juan del Encina (1469-1529?). In this religious drama, two hermits are placed within the Passion story, hearing the angel's explanation of the Resurrection at the empty tomb. The hermits lend a devout atmosphere by their presence.
Egloga a farsa del nascimiento de nuestro redemptor Jesucristo by Lucas Fernandez (d.
The hermit Macario is insulted by two shepherds but patiently teaches them the meaning of the Incarnation. Another shepherd arrives to announce the birth of Christ. But the skeptical shepherds persist, recalling their bad experiences with churchmen, and play at being foolish. The patient hermit continues explaining theological matters, evocatively expressing his piety, until the play ends with all the characters singing a Christmas hymn.
A hermit appears in five plays of Gil Vicente (1470-1540). Three are serious characters. In Auto dos Reis Magos, two obtuse shepherds ask a hermit where they can find the newborn Christ child. The patient hermit tells them that it will be revealed shortly. The shepherds ask more stupid questions quietly answered. A knight arrives to inform the hermit that a bright star with a cross has appeared in the sky and that three kings are on their way. The hermit expresses his piety in the diction of a prophet.
In Vicente's Comedio sobre a divisa da cidade de Coimbra, the play tells of a farmer (lavrador) complaining of his hard lot to a hermit. The hermit encourages him to tell his story. The man is of noble origin but his wife had been killed by a dragon, a snowstorm had killed his sheep, the wind had destroyed his orchards, and now his children are hungry. The hermit advises him to have his older son and daughter go through the mountains and his younger son and daughter to the sea; both will find food. The farmer tells the hermit that good advice ordained by virtue is better than bread. After the children leave, the hermit tells the man that in reality he is King Ceridon of Andalusia, whose daughter Colimena was kidnapped by the evil Monderigon. Thus do the fates of both men align. Lovett describes this dramatic genre:
We shall see other instances where the background of a hermit is given. In those cases the noteworthy feature is that the character has not become a hermit because of an inability to enjoy life in the world, but rather because he has been pushed into solitude by some kind of emotional shock or a profound disappointment.
Vicente's Auto de Amadis de Gaula is based on a medieval romance of chivalry. Learning that Oriana does not want to see him again, the knight Amadis decides to lead a solitary life on the desolate Peña Pobre. Here Amadis meets a hermit, to whom he reveals his story and his intention to live in solitude. The hermit gives Amadis an account of his life and struggles in trying to live as a hermit, but Amadis insists on his desire. In a soliloquy, Amadis reveals his motive to make Oriana sorry for her loss. In the end, a reconciliatory letter from Oriana is brought to him and Amadis decides he is not cut out for the hermit life after all.
Farsa del Mundo y Moral (1518) by Fernan Lopez de Yanguas, presents three allegorical figures -- Mundo or World, a shepherd named Apetito or Appetite, and Fe or Faith -- and a hermit, who represents the Church. The hermit carries the moral weight of best representing the Church, versus a priest or monk. In the play, the shepherd Apetito meets a hermit and tells him that Mundo has just promised him honors and riches. The hermit tells the shepherd that he has been deceived and that he should go to Fe. They meet Fe, who urges the shepherd to tell Mundo that he does not believe his promises. The convinced Apetito does so, returning to listen to Fe's story of the Assumption. The play ends with a hymn.
Other saintly hermits appear in:
Comedia Prodigo (1532) by Luis de Miranda
Farsa neuvamente compuesta (1536) by Juan de Paris
Comedia llamada Grassandora (1539) by Uceda de Sepulveda
Cortes de la Muetre (1557) by Micael de Carvajal and Luis Hurtado de Toledo
Farsa Rosalina (1536)
Farsa del Sordo (1568)
Aucto del Emperador Juveniano
Auto de Sanct Christoval
HERMIT AS A COMIC CHARACTER
Egloga de Cristino y Febea by Juan del Encina depicts a comic hermit or would-be hermit. The shepherd Cristino announces to his friend Justino his intention to retire into solitude and serve God as a hermit. Justino cannot dissuade him. Cupid learns of this and dispatches the nymph Febea to lure Cristino back to the world. Febea tells Cristino that there are many ways to serve God and that there are more good shepherds than good churchmen. Cristino puts off Febea, but when she leaves, he wonders not at his resolve but at what others may say if he fails. Pride becomes Cristino's undoing, and he wavers. Meanwhile, Cupid promises Cristino the love of Febea if he will change his mind. Cristino gives in, saying that the hermit life is only for centenarians. Justino applauds his return. As Lovett notes, the whole issue of eremitism is here treated lightly, like a game. While the Amadis theme is not much different, it remains somewhat more serious. Lovett considers Encina's portrayal of the tentative Cristino as clearly that of a comic character.
Comedia Seraphina by Torres Naharro. The hermit in this play is not merely comic but hypocritical, more like the typical Renaissance portrait of conventional churchmen. The bigamist Floristan is married to Orphea, an Italian, and to Seraphina, a Spaniard. The suspicious Seraphina follows Floristan to Rome and excoriates his behavior. The chastened Floristan decides to kill Orphea, and tells her so. The hypocritical hermit Teodoro, presented as a priest, tells Floristan not that he must refrain from murder but rather that he must first wait until Orphea confesses. At that moment, Floristan's brother Policiano appears and reveals his love for Orphea and his desire to marry her. Teodoro obligingly legalizes the divorce and officiates the marriage, explaining that the marriage of Floristan and Orphea had not been consummated.
The play features several versions or sequels, each depicting Teodoro the hermit more disreputably. Torres Naharro depicts Teodoro as a hermit only to mock him. Teodoro's intrigues with the women characters in the sequels are not foolish but salacious.
Two Portuguese plays by Gil Vicente depicting comic hermits are Tragicomedia Pastoril da Serra da Estrella and Farca de Ines Pereira. In both plays, the hermit character pursues romantic interests that belie his station, let alone his religion. In the Tragicomedia, a hermit appears to help resolve a complicated love affair involving three shepherds and three shepherdesses. In the Farca, the hermit begs alms of Ines, professes his love to her, and invites her to his hermitage.
Paso de un Soldado y un Moro y un Hermitaño is an anonymous work published by Juan Timoneda as Turiana (1565). In this play, a soldier, tired of army life, declares his desire to be a useful civilian using his various skills. He encounters a Moor with some hens. The soldier would buy the hens but declares them too thin. The Moor is offended and insults the soldier. The soldier insists that he would buy the hens, but now tells the Moor that for his insult, the Moor must go to a priest to confess. They go to a hermit. The soldier tells the Moor that the hermit will hear his confession and then pay for the hens. Once the Moor has gone into the hermit's hut, the soldier absconds with the hens, and a comic dialog between the confused Moor and the similarly confused hermit follows.
Lovett concludes that while a few hermits depicted in plays of this era are mere parodies or weakened by a "definite mishap in their lives," the hermit is usually depicted very positively.
The majority of the hermits in the Spanish drama before Lope de Vega are presented in a favorable light. They usually are the epitome of wisdom, learning and kindness. They represent the ideal of absolute good in a world which otherwise is full of deceit and misery. They act as fathers and guides, whose humble hermitage serves as a refuge for the weary and the forlorn and who can always be counted on to dispense consolation and advice.