Félix Lope de Vega y Carpio, Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo

New Rules for Writing Plays at This Time

Edición filológica utilizada:
Vega, Lope de. “New Rules for Writing Plays at This Time”, Victor Dixon (ed.). En Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo dirigido a la Academia de Madrid de Lope de Vega, edición, prólogo y coordinación de Felipe Pedraza, Festival de Teatro Clásico de Almagro/Sociedad Estatal de Conmemoraciones Culturales, Almagro, 2009.
Texto base
Edición digital a cargo de:
  • Revenga García, Nadia

Addressed to the academy of Madrid

They've told me, learned gentlemen, who are
the cream of Spain's intelligentsia
(and whose Academy will soon outshine
not only those that Cicero so labelled,
in envy of the Greeks, near Lake Averno
in Italy, but also that of Athens,
in whose renowned Lyceum, led by Plato,
such eminent philosophers assembled),
to write a set of rules for plays that's based
on what will satisfy our public's taste.
It seems an easy matter, and indeed
it would be so for any one of you,
who's written fewer of them, and knows more
about the established laws -and everything;
but what in this regard must give me pause
is having written them without such laws.
It wasn't that I didn't know those precepts.
I read, thank heaven, the volumes that contain them
when first I learnt the rudiments of grammar;
the sun had not ten times traversed the skies
between the Ram and Fish before my eyes.
Rather, in fact it was because I found
the plays performed in Spain around that time
were written not as those who'd led the way
considered that they should be everywhere,
but scribbled by a host of barbarous men
who taught the common folk their own crude ways,
and so they flooded in on such a scale
that any playwright now who keeps the rules
dies without fame or recompense, because
for those who lack the light to guide their art
Custom, not reason, plays the greater part.
It's true that I have written on occasion
according to the precepts so few know,
but when by contrast I see sally forth
monstrosities replete with stage effects,
and how the common folk and women flock
to canonize such lamentable labours,
I too revert to that barbaric custom,
and when I plan to write a play, I put
the precepts firmly under lock and key,
and ban Plautus and Terence from my room,
so that they may not cry me shame (for Truth
will often shout aloud from silent books),
and substitute the rules that were invented
by those who sought the plaudits of the mob,
for since it is the mob that pays, it's right
to act the fool to give such fools delight.
True comedy, like any kind of poem
or poesis, has its specific aim,
a purpose which has been established as:
to imitate the actions of mankind
and represent the customs of the day.
Moreover, any imitative poem
consists of three components, which are discourse,
sweet-sounding verse, and harmony or music.
All this it shared with tragedy, from which
it differs only in that it depicts
the acts of common folk, but tragedy
the deeds of kings and others so exalted.
See in how many ways ours can be faulted!
Such comedies indeed were labelled acts
as aping those of ordinary men.
In Spain Lope de Rueda set the example
by following those precepts, and today
you'll find such plays in prose by him in print
that simply feature rude mechanicals,
and how a farrier's daughter fared in love.
Thus it's become the custom now to give
those comedies in which the ancient precepts
retain their force the name of entremeses,
for these are set among the common folk,
since entremeses never feature kings;
and so it shows a sorry lack of style,
when those who've come to scorn the ancient rules
write comedies with kings in, fit for fools.
In his Poetics Aristoteles
describes, though not too clearly, how plays started,
the rivalry of Athens and Megara
concerning which had had theatre first;
for the Megarians claimed that Epicharmus
invented it, but the Athenians, Magnes.
Elius Donatus tells us drama had
its roots in ancient sacrificial rites;
he states that tragedy began with Thespis
(following Horace, who had said the same),
and comedy with Aristophanes.
The Odyssey of Homer was composed
in comic vein, and yet his Iliad was
a tragedy applauded as a model,
which I was imitating when I called
my own Jerusalem a "tragic epic",
whereas the Inferno, Purgatory and Heaven
by that famed poet Dante Aligheri
all call a comedy, although Manetti
says in his prologue that it is a pity.
The comic play, regarded with suspicion,
as all men know, fell silent for a while,
and so it was that satire had its birth,
but proved more savage, and more quickly died,
and so allowed New Comedy to appear.
Choruses were its basis, only later
were individual persons introduced;
though Terence, as Menander had before him,
scorned and eschewed the choruses as tedious.
Terence was more attentive to the precepts,
and never sought to raise the comic style
to tragic grandeur (something which in Plautus
so many have regarded as a vice),
being in this more prudent, more precise.
Tragedy's plots are based on history,
but those of comedy are humble fictions,
and comedy was said to be "flat-footed"
on that account, though also since the actor
played on an simple stage and wore no buskins.
It had its kinds: paliata, atelana,
togata, tabernaria, pantomime...
-as many then as at the present time.
With Attic elegance the men of Athens
used comedies to castigate its vices
and foolish customs, and awarded prizes
both to their writers and to their performers;
and Tully therefore said they were a mirror
of human life, an image of the truth,
which is so noble a description that
it means they vie with history for renown.
Think then; don't they deserve a glorious crown?
But I suspect you're muttering to each other
I'm just translating books, and boring you
by listing such a muddled mass of facts.
You must believe I needed to remind you
of some such matters, so that you might see
you're wanting me to give a set of rules
for writing comedies in Spain today,
where all those written go against the rules;
and asking how they should be now, despite
those ancient precepts, which are based on Reason,
is seeking my opinion from experience,
and not that set of rules, for they depict
a truth the unlettered mob all contradict.
If you want rules, I beg you clever men
to read the very learned Robortello
of Utina on Aristotle's treatise,
as well as what he wrote in De comedia;
you'll find what many books diffusely say,
for all is in confusion here today.
But if you want opinions on the plays
that hold the stage at present, when the mob
must formulate their own laws for producing
the vile chimera of that comic monster,
I'll state my own -begging your pardon, since
I must obey the mandate of my master-,
gloss over the misjudgement of the mob,
and say how I would wish plays to be written,
now keeping to the rules is "in your dreams",
seeking a mean between those two extremes.
First choose your subject-matter; don't be bothered,
despite the precepts, if it features kings,
although I understand the prudent Philip,
who ruled in Spain as master of us all,
was angry when he saw a king involved,
whether he held it contravened the rules,
or thought a person so august and holy
should not be shown consorting with the lowly.
Yet ancient comedy affords a model,
for there we find that Plautus featured gods,
as Jupiter in his Amphitryon shows.
It pains me to approve of it, God knows,
for Plutarch, when discoursing on Menander,
is critical of ancient comedy.
But since we stray so far now from the rules,
and here in Spain commit crime after crime,
let men of learning hold their tongue this time.
To mix the tragic and the comic modes,
Terence with Seneca, perhaps producing,
like Pasiphae of Crete, a Minotaur,
makes one part serious, one ridiculous;
and that variety gives great delight.
Nature provides a pattern clear to see;
its beauty lies in such variety.
One needs to bear in mind the matter covered
should have a single action, and ensure
the plot-line is in no way episodic;
I mean, does not involve extraneous things
that deviate from the essential aim,
and that no part of it could be removed
without the whole play crashing to the ground.
All need not happen in a single day,
though Aristotle counselled that it should,
because we lost respect for him before
by mixing baser, comic elements
with tragedy's sententious seriousness.
The events should happen in as short a time
as possible, unless, that is, the plot
is based on history, and some years must pass,
or if a character must make a journey,
though time-shifts that result may well be placed in
the gaps between the acts, and if that licence
gives such offence to people "in the know",
those who find plays offend them shouldn't go.
How many now are scandalized to see
years pass in plays the precepts say may cover
only the hours between sunrise and sunset;
they wouldn't even give all twenty-four!
I find the fiery temper of a Spaniard
who sits to see a play will not be calmed
unless he's told a story, in two hours,
from Genesis right up to Judgment Day;
and I say, if the aim is to delight,
whatever serves that purpose must be right.
Write out the plot in prose, dividing it
into three acts, three sequences of time,
contriving, if you can, within each one,
not to disrupt the time-frame of a day.
Captain Virués, a fine, outstanding author,
first used the three-act structure, for before him,
since plays were only little children then,
they crawled, like year-old infants, on all fours;
and when eleven or twelve I wrote some like them,
in four short acts, in just four gatherings,
since each in its eight pages held one act,
because back then a little entremés
would be performed in all three intervals.
Now there's just one, if that, and then a jig,
though in comedy the dance is so important
that Aristotle gives it his approval
-and others write of it, like Athenaeus,
Plato, and Xenophon (though he rebukes
Callipedes for making it licentious)
and so it seems quite like the ancient chorus.
Distinguishing two sections in the action,
show how the plot develops from the start
up to the point when things begin to change,
but don't allow the outcome to be obvious
until you reach the very final scene,
for once the audience guess the end they turn
their faces to the exit, and their backs
on actors who've been three hours on the go;
how all concludes is all they want to know.
The stage should very rarely be left empty,
without a person speaking. If there are
such gaps, you'll find the public will get restless.
Besides, the play will go on much too long,
which is a serious fault, and that apart,
avoiding them displays more skill and art.
Begin then, using plain and simple language,
not serious thoughts or fanciful conceits,
when you portray two characters or three
in conversation on domestic things;
but when the person you depict is seeking
to counsel or persuade for or against,
such aphorisms and conceits are called for,
and this is truly imitating life,
for when a man's advising or persuading
to one view or another, he adopts
a style quite different from his usual speech.
Aristides the rhetorician says
the language in a comedy should be
plain, clear and comprehensible, and based
on people's everyday, habitual parlance,
insisting on the other hand that when
the context is political, the lexis
should be high-sounding, ornamented, striking.
Don't cite the scriptures, or distort the discourse
by using far-fetched terms, for if the task
is imitating speech, we do not want
Metauros, demiurges and Pancayas,
centaurs and hippogriffs parading by us.
If the king speaks, assume as best you may
a regal gravitas, and if they greybeard,
contrive a modest, mild sententiousness;
portray your lovers in such tender terms
as will extremely move all those who listen;
cast your soliloquies in such a way
that he who speaks them will be quite transformed,
and being changed, change those who hear; he should
put questions to himself, and answer them.
If he complains, take care he always shows
the courtesy we owe to womankind.
Don't let your ladies be unladylike,
and if they should disguise themselves as men,
since such cross-dressing never fails to please,
ensure they do in ways that may be excused.
Beware the impossible, for imitation
must only seek verisimilitude.
Your comic shouldn't prate on lofty matters,
or spout conceits like some that we have heard
in certain plays imported from abroad,
and characters should absolutely never
belie what they themselves have said before;
I mean, fail to recall, as Sophocles
is criticized for letting Oedipus
forget that he himself had murdered Laius.
Conclude your episodes of action neatly
with aphoristic wit, with well-turned verses,
in order that when actors leave the stage
the audience isn't left dissatisfied.
Set out the situation in Act One,
and in Act Two so complicate the plot
that hardly anyone can guess before
the middle of Act Three how it will end.
Continually beguile the public's fancy,
and when you find they think they know what's coming,
make things turn out in quite another way.
Shrewdly select the verse-forms you employ
to fit the various matters that you deal with.
The décima is suited to complaints,
the sonnet's fine for characters left waiting;
narrative speeches call for ballad-metre,
though they sound splendid in ottava rima;
tercets will serve for solemn, weighty matters,
and redondillas for romantic scenes.
Don't fail to use rhetorical devices
such as anadiplosis (repetition
of single words), anaphora (that is,
a set of lines that all begin the same),
aporia (or doubts), and ironies,
plus exclamations and apostrophes.
Deceiving with the truth is a device
that Miguel Sánchez used in all his plays
and audiences have liked, so that he's worthy
to be remembered for discovering it.
Ambiguous speech and devious double-entendre
have always gone down well with common folk,
for each spectator fancies he alone
is smart enough to grasp what's being said.
Matters of honour are the best as subjects;
they powerfully move all kinds of folk;
and so do acts of high heroic virtue,
for virtue is admired on every hand;
and so we see that if an actor happens
to play a traitor, everyone so hates him
that when he goes out shopping they won't serve him,
and common people shun him when they meet him;
but if he plays a hero, all acclaim him,
and even men of rank bow down before him,
seek out, reward, make much of and adore him.
Each act should be four gatherings, no more;
ninety-six pages is the proper length
to suit the time and audiences' patience.
When you're satirical, be sure your strictures
aren't blatant or direct, for comedies,
as well you know , in Greece and Italy
were banned by law for giving such offence.
Mock without malice; if you put to shame,
don't hope to win applause or merit fame.
These those among you who are not so bothered
about the ancient rules may take as maxims,
for time permits no more on this occasion;
and also it's the actor-manager
who must provide, for all three kinds of play
Vitruvius lists, the settings that Valerius
and Horace or Crinitus specify:
their painted cloths, their leafy trees or bowers,
their hovels, houses or fake marble towers.
On costumes we might turn to Julius Pollux,
if that were necessary, though in Spain
you're liable to see in plays today,
as well as many other barbarous things,
Turks wearing Christian ruffs about their necks,
and Ancient Romans sporting fancy kecks.
But I can hardly say that anyone's
more barbarous than I am, since I dare
to give you rules against the rules, and merely
go with the flow where Italy and France
will label me an arrant ignoramus.
What can I do though, if the plays I've written,
including one I finished just this week,
add up to -let me count-four eighty-three?
For but for half a dozen, all the rest
sinned grievously against the hallowed precepts.
In fine, I stand by what I've done, and know
that though they might, if different, have been better,
they'd not have proved as pleasing as they did;
for sometimes what is anything but right
will for that very reason give delight.
You want to know why comedy can hold
the mirror up to nature, what it offers
to young and old, beyond its witty sallies,
its cultured language and its eloquence?
What weighty thoughts appear amid its jesting,
what serious matters mingle with its play?
How faithless servants prove, how full of guile
and trickery all women always are,
how wretched, stupid and inept are lovers,
how rarely good beginnings turn out well?
Don't hold debates about the ancient rules;
go to the play, and pay close heed -that way,
you'll find it tell you all there is to say.