Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Prodigy of Nature

Today I visited the house of one of the giants of Spanish literature, Lope de Vega.  Although he is not well known in the English speaking world, he is considered the greatest Spanish playwright, and one of the most prolific writers in all of world literature.  He was the author of 18,000 plays, all written in verse.  His incredible literary output earned him his nickname "The Prodigy of Nature."  Many of his plays were quickly written, and their quality is uneven.  However, at least 80 of his dramas are considered masterpieces.  He was a contemporary of Cervantes (his bitter rival) and many of the other great writers of Spain's Golden Age.

(image from the web)

Lope de Vega was born into a poor family in 1562.  He demonstrated his intellectual brilliance at an early age.  By the age of five he was reading Spanish and Latin, and he wrote his first play at the age of twelve.

His personal life was filled with plenty of drama.  He was involved in scores of scandalous love affairs; one of them resulted in his exile from Madrid for eight years.  Lope served in the Spanish navy, and was fortunate to have been on one of the few ships of the Armada that made it back to Spain.  He married twice; both wives died in childbirth.  After his second wife's death he joined the priesthood, but that did not stop him from continuing his amorous adventures.

He married his second wife for money, and was able to buy the solid, brick house which today is a museum.  He lived here for 25 years until his death in 1635.  The house is located on a narrow street in old Madrid.  In Lope's era the street was named Francos Street, but today, ironically, it is named after his literary enemy, Cervantes.

The garden behind the house is planted with trees and plants mentioned by Lope, and still contains the original well. 

The interior of the house is furnished with 17th century antiques.  Except for a couple of paintings, none of the objects in the house actually belonged to Lope.  However he did leave a detailed inventory of his household possessions, so it has been possible to recreate more or less what his home looked like. 

The neighborhood where Lope lived is today known as Las Letras, because so many great literary figures once lived here.


Less than two blocks from Lope's house there is a plaque which marks the location of the home where Miguel de Cervantes lived and died.  

Around the corner is the building where another great Golden Age writer, Francisco de Quevedo, lived.

The next street over from Lope's house is today named Lope de Vega Street, but here stands the Church of Las Trinitarias where Cervantes is buried.


 A couple blocks away, is the Church of San Sebastián, the final resting place of Lope de Vega.

 I wonder if there is another neighborhood anywhere in the world where so much literary talent lived and died within a couple blocks of each other!

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