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Gil Vicente

Gil Vicente writing
Born 1465
possibly Guimarães, Portugal
Died 1537 (aged 71–72)
possibly Évora, Portugal
Occupation Playwright, goldsmith
Nationality Portugal Portuguese
Subjects Religion, satires
Literary movement Renaissance humanism
Notable work(s) A Trilogia das Barcas, Farsa de Inês Pereira, Monólogo do Vaqueiro

Gil Vicente (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈʒil viˈsentɨ]; 1465 – 1537), called the Trobadour, was a Portuguese playwright and poet who acted in and directed his own plays. Considered the chief dramatist of Portugal he is sometimes called the "Portuguese Plautus"[3] and often referred to as the "Father of Portuguese drama."[1]

Vicente was attached to the courts of the Portuguese kings Manuel I and John III. He rose to prominence as a playwright largely on account of the influence of Queen Dowager Leonor, who noticed him as he participated in court dramas and subsequently commissioned him to write his first theatrical work.

He may also have been identical to an accomplished goldsmith of the same name,[2] creator of the famous monstrance of Belém, and master of rhetoric of King Manuel I.

His plays and poetry, written in both Portuguese and Spanish, were a reflection of the changing times during the transition from Middle Ages to Renaissance and created a balance between the former time of rigid mores and hierarchical social structure and the new society in which this order was undermined.

While many of Vicente's works were composed to celebrate religious and national festivals or to commemorate events in the life of the royal family, others draw upon popular culture to entertain, and often to critique, Portuguese society of his day.

Though his works were later suppressed by the Inquisition, causing his fame to wane, he is now recognised as one of the principal figures of the Iberian Renaissance.[2]



Guimarães, one of the places where it is claimed the dramatist was born

The year 1465, the date proposed by Queirós Veloso, is the commonly accepted year of Vicente's birth. However, Braamcamp Freire proposes the year 1460, while de Brito Rebelo proposes between 1470 and 1475. Vicente's own works indicate contradictory dates. The Velho da Horta ("Old Man of the [Vegetable] Garden"), the Floresta de Enganos ("Forest of Mistakes"), and the Auto da Festa ("Act of the Party") indicate 1452, 1470, and before 1467, respectively. Since 1965, when official festivities commemorating the 500th birthday of the writer were held, the date of 1465 has been almost universally accepted.

Though Frei Pedro de Poiares conjectured Barcelos was Vicente's birthplace, evidence for this is scarce. Pires de Lima, on the other hand, proposed Guimarães, which better accounts for Vicente's identification as a jeweller. The people of Guimarães have embraced this theory; a municipal school in Urgezes is named after the playwright. There's some stories about Gil Vicente's father,that was from this parish in Guimarães, so, people believe that Gil Vicente have lived here too. Another conjecture places his birthplace at Lisbon. The Beira region is also a candidate because of various references to it in his plays, more exactly the location of Guimarães de Tavares, that has been mistaken with Guimarães.

Gil Vicente married Branca Bezerra, who bore him two sons: Gaspar Vicente (died 1519) and Belchior Vicente (born 1505). After her death, he married Melícia or Milícia Rodrigues (abbreviated as Roiz), of whom were born Paula Vicente (1519–1576), Luís Vicente de Crasto (who organised the compilation of Vicente's works), married to Mór de Almeida and had issue, Joana de Pina (died 1584) (daughter of Diogo de Pina de Baião and wife Mécia Barreto, daughter of Francisco de Aguiar and wife Madalena Barreto) and had issue, and Isabel de Castro, without issue, and Valéria Borges (or Vicente), who was married firstly to Pero Machado, without issue, and secondly to Dom António de Meneses, son of Dom Luís de Meneses, of the bastards of the Lords de Cantanhede, and wife Brites de Aguiar, and had issue [1].

Vicente died in an unknown location, some say Évora. The year of his death is commonly recorded as 1536, the year after which he ceased writing; no further reference to him is found in subsequent documents of the era.


It is assumed that Vicente studied in Salamanca. Though he initially studied law, he soon abandoned it for literature.[1]


As a writer

O Monólogo do vaqueiro(Monologue of the Cowherd), as it would have been acted by Gil Vicente himself, according to the vision of the painter Roque Gameiro.

His first known work, O Monólogo do vaqueiro ("Monologue of the Cowherd"), was written in Spanish and acted in the rooms of Maria of Aragon, wife of King Manuel, to celebrate the birth of Prince John (later John III of Portugal). The first performance, recited by the playwright himself, took place on the night of June 8, 1502, in the presence of the king; the queen; Leonor of Viseu, former Queen of Portugal and widow of John II; and Beatriz of Portugal, mother of the King.

O Monólogo do vaqueiro contains several elements clearly inspired by the Adoration of the Shepherds which takes place in accounts of Christ's birth. Its staging included offerings of simple and rustic gifts, such as cheese, to the future king, from whom great achievements were expected.

Though Leonor asked him to give an encore performance of the play at the Christmas matins, Vicente decided to write a new play for the occasion, the Auto Pastoril Castelhano ("Castilian Pastoral Act"). Because of the influence of Queen Leonor, who would become his greatest patron in the years to come, Gil Vicente realized that his talent would allow him to do much more than simply adapt his first work for similar occasions.

Vicente, who was in charge of organizing events in the palace, also directed the commemoration in honour of Eleanor of Spain, the third wife of Manuel I, in 1520. In 1521, he began serving John III of Portugal, and soon achieved the social status necessary to satirize the clergy and nobility with impunity. His popularity even enabled him to contradict the opinions of the king, as he did in a 1531 letter defending the New Christians.

As a goldsmith

Many works about Gil Vicente associate him with a goldsmith of the same name at the court of Évora;[3] technical terms used by the playwright lend credibility to this identification.

In 1881, Camilo Castelo Branco wrote the letter "Gil Vicente, Embargos à fantasia do Sr. Teófilo Braga" ("Gil Vicente, Refutations of the Opinion of Mr. Teófilo Braga"), which argued that Gil Vicente the writer and Gil Vicente the goldsmith were two different people. Teófilo Braga, who initially believed them to be the same man, later adopted a different opinion after reading a study by Sanches de Baena which showed the different genealogy of two individuals named Gil Vicente. However, Brito Rebelo demonstrated the historical inconsistency of these two genealogies by the use of documents from the Portuguese national archive.

The masterpiece of Vicente the goldsmith's art was the monstrance of Belém made for the Jerónimos Monastery in 1506, which was crafted from the first gold exported from Mozambique. The design of this monstrance resembles the decorations of the southern portal of the church Santa Maria de Belém of this monastery.

Three years later, he became overseer of the patrimonies of the Convento de Cristo in Tomar, Nossa Senhora de Belém, and the Hospital de Todos-os-Santos in Lisbon. In 1511, he was nominated vassal of the King, and a year later he was the representative jeweller in the Casa dos Vinte e Quatro. In 1513, as master of the balance of the Casa da Moeda, the Portuguese national mint, Vicente the goldsmith was elected by the others masters to represent them in Lisbon.

Written works

Auto de Mofina Mendes.
Illustration of the original edition of Auto da Barca do Inferno ("Act of the Ship of Hell")
Christmas-related themes, very present in Gil Vicente's works since the first order from Queen Leonor, have also a strongly symbolic and suggestive meaning. Here, a painting from the contemporaneous Vicente Gil (not to be confused with the playwright)

Vicente's oeuvre spans the years between 1500 and 1536. Most of his plays were intended for performance at court, where he and the ladies and gentlemen of the court participated in their production. He wrote no fewer than forty-four pieces, ten of which are in Spanish, fourteen in Portuguese, and the remainder in mingled Portuguese and Spanish. His plays may be grouped into four main categories: acts, or devotional plays; comedies tragicomedies; and farces.

Like Spain's classical dramas, his plays are often in verse form. In addition, they feature his own musical compositions and well as popular lyrics and melodies of the time.[1]

He was also a noted lyric poet in both Portuguese and Spanish,[3] as represented by several poems in the Cancioneiro of Garcia de Resende.[1] He wrote a number of vilancetes and cantigas ("songs") which were influenced by a palatial style and the themes of the troubadours.

Some of his works are profoundly religious, while other are particularly satirical, particularly when commenting upon what Vicente perceived as the corruption of the clergy and the superficial glory of empire which concealed the increasing poverty of Portugal's lower classes.[2]


Vicente's works were partially influenced by the Iberian popular and religious theatre that was already being done. Pastoral themes present in the writings of Juan del Encina strongly influenced Vicente's early works and continued to inform his later, more sophisticated plays. The humanism of Erasmus and of Renaissance Italy also impacted his work.[2]

Luís Vicente, his son, classified Vicente's sacred plays as acts and mysteries and his secular plays as farces, comedies, and tragicomedies. His plays may be further divided into pastoral acts, religious allegories, biblical narratives, episodical farces, and narrative acts. However, many of his works blend both secular and sacred elements; for example, Triologia das Barcas ("Trilogy of the Ships") contains both farcical and religious motifs.

Vicente is one of the most important satirical authors of the Portuguese language. His satires were severely critical, anticipating Santeuil's later epigram (often mistakenly attributed to Horace or Molière), castigat ridendo mores ("[Comedy] criticises customs through humour"). He portrayed Portuguese society of the 16th century with perceptiveness and insight, using many characters inspired by Portuguese social stereotypes of his time. In addition, wiktionary:rustic characters, such as sailors, Gypsies, and peasants, are common, as are more fantastical characters such as fairies and demons. Though he commonly referenced popular dialects, Vicente maintained the lyricism of his words.

Positive aspects of Vicente's works include imagination, originality, and a proficiency in technical knowledge of theatre. Though spontaneous, sardonic, and emotive, his works maintain a directness and simplicity of dialogue which is lyrical without being florid or exaggerated. He expresses himself in an unexpected, Dionysian way which does not always obey the aesthetic and artistic principles of balance. Vicente's works seem to show a spirit in conflict: his portrayals of the flaws of others appear almost rash and cruel, while his devotional and pastoral works, and those scenes in which he defends the oppressed, give an impression of tenderness, docility, and humaneness. In contrast, his works sometimes include a romanticism which combines eroticism and waggery with more erudite influences such as Petrarch.

Philosophical elements

The worlds presented in Vicente's works could be considered as representative of the duality of Platonic idealism. The first world is the abstract, an ideal place of serenity and divine love that leads to inner peace, quietness, and "resplendent glory", according to his letter to John III of Portugal. The second world, which he portrays in his farces, is the physical: a false world, tired, without order or remedy, and lacking in strength.

His satirical works depict the second world, in which human flaws are caricatured with little regard for actual or historical truth. Though critics call attention to these anachronisms and narrative inconsistencies, it's possible that Vicente considered these errors trivial in his portrayals of an already false and imperfect world. In contrast, his representations of the mythic, symbolic, and religious aspects of Christmas, such as the figure of the Virgin Mother, the infant Jesus, and Christmas eve, demonstrate a harmony and purity which is not present in his social commentary.

Unlike plays which echo Manichaeism by presenting the dichotomy of darkness and light, Vicente's work juxtaposes the two elements in order to illustrate the necessity of both. Christmas eve, one of his common motifs, is symbolic of his philosophical and religious views: the great darkness borders the divine glory of maternity, birth, forgiveness, serenity, and good will. The darkness is necessary to provide contrast with the light.

Though his patriotism is apparent in works such as Exortação da Guerra ("Exhortation of War") and Auto da Fama ("Act of Fame"), or Cortes de Júpiter ("Courts of Jupiter"), it doesn’t merely glorify the Portuguese Empire; instead, it is critical and ethically concerned, especially with the newly available vices which arose due to commerce with the East.

Religious plays

Many of Vicente's plays were composed in order to celebrate religious festivals; these seventeen plays are called his "Obras de devocao" ("Devotional works").[1] In these plays, also called "autos", or "acts", Vicente blended themes from Medieval morality plays with theatrical mumming and the liturgical dramas that were used in Corpus Christi festivals.

One of his first devotional plays was Auto da Fé ("Act of Faith") in 1510. Like a morality play, it explores the journey of the Soul as it travels to the arms of the Mother Church. On its way, it is waylaid by the Devil and led to goodness by an Angel.

His magnum opus is considered to be the Triologia das Barcas ("Trilogy of the Ships"), which consists of the three plays Auto da Barca do Inferno ("Act of the Ship of Hell"), written 1516; Auto da Barca do Purgatório ("Act of the Ship of Purgatory"), written in 1518; and Auto da Barca da Glória ("Auto of the Ship of Heaven"), written in 1519. These plays combine morality narratives with criticism of 16th-century Portuguese society by placing stereotypical characters on a dock to await the arrival of one of the ships which will take them to their eternal destination. The characters are of a variety of social statuses; for example, in Auto da Barca do Inferno, those awaiting passage include a nobleman, a prostitute, a corrupt judge, a dissolute friar, and a Jew (who would have been considered bound for Hell in Vicente's time).

His religious lyricism shows the influence of the Cantigas de Santa Maria ("Songs of Saint Mary") and is exemplified in such works as Auto de Mofina Mendes ("Act of Mofina Mendes", literally, in the Portuguese of that time, "Act of Disgrace [Mofina] It Self [Mendes]), Anunciação ("Annunciation"), and in the prayer of Saint Augustine in Auto da Alma ("Act of the Soul"). For this reason, Vicente is sometimes called the "Poet of the Virgin."

His other notable religious works include Auto Pastoril Castelhano ("Castilian Pastoral Act") written in 1502; Auto dos Reis Magos ("Act of the Magi Kings") written in 1503 for Christmas celebrations; and Auto da Sibila Cassandra ("Act of the Sibyl Cassandra") written in 1503, a play which announced the Renaissance ideals in Portugal.

Comedies and farces

Vicente's comedies and farces were likely influenced by indigenous popular entertainment. Contemporaneous Spaniards, like Lucas Fernandez and Torres Naharro, may also have influenced his style.[1]

Vicente's comedies blended slapstick and satire; in addition, his use of dialect clearly delineated the social classes of his characters. The staging of these plays maintained the simplicity of morality plays. For example, two simultaneous scenes might utilize a single curtain to divide them.

Auto da Índia ("Act of India"), written in 1509, was one of his first comedies. This play, which shows his proficiency with the form, is comparable to a modern bedroom farce. Vicente wrote farces throughout the rest of his life; one notable example is Farsa de Inês Pereira ("Farce of Inês Pereira"), written in 1523.

Influence on Portuguese theatre

Works of Garcia de Resende. In the Miscelânia, he defends Vicente as the "Father of Portuguese theatre."

Prior to Vicente, few dramatic stagings had taken place in Portugal. However, a few notable performances had established theatrical precedence in courtly and religious contexts.

During the reign of Sancho I of Portugal (1185–1212), Bonamis and Acompaniado, the first recorded Portuguese actors, put on a show of arremedillo and were paid by the King with the donation of lands.

In a document dated 1281, Dom Frei Telo, Archbishop of Braga, refers to liturgical dramas which were performed during Catholic festivities.

In 1451, theatrical acts accompanied the festivities of the wedding of Infanta (Princess) Eleanor of Portugal with Emperor Frederick III of Habsburg.

According to the Portuguese chronicles of Fernão Lopes, Gomes Eanes de Zurara, Rui de Pina, and Garcia Resende, spectacular stagings took place in the courts of John I of Portugal, Afonso V of Portugal, and John II of Portugal. For example, Rui de Pina refers to one instance in which King John II himself played the part of The Knight of the Swan in a production which included a scene constructed of fabric waves. During the action, a fleet of carracks with a crew of spectacularly dressed actors entered the room accompanied by the sound of minstrels, trumpets, kettledrum, and artillery.

Other significant Portuguese theatrical works include the eclogues of Bernardim Ribeiro, Cristóvão Falcão, and Sá de Miranda, and the Pranto de Santa Maria (1435), an early liturgical drama by André Dias. Garcia de Resende, in his Cancioneiro Geral, designates a few other works, such as Entremez do Anjo by D. Francisco of Portugal, Count of Vimioso, and the lays of Anrique da Mota. Vicente likely assisted in the production of these works, which include comedic scenes.

Though Vicente did not invent Portuguese theatre, his works surpassed any done before that time. His writing in Portuguese and in Spanish shaped both modern Spanish and modern Portuguese drama.[2] His contribution to creating new forms, such as the farce, and raising the morality play to its apotheosis created the base upon which Portuguese and Spanish drama would be built. Though some of his works were later suppressed by the Inquisition, he is now recognized as one of the greatest dramatists of the Renaissance and the leading name in Portuguese theatre. According to Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo, Vicente is "the most important figure of the primitive peninsular playwrights…[There was no one] who surpassed him in Europe in his time."

Publication and influence on other works

The first edition of Vicente's complete works was published in Lisbon in 1561-2 by his children Paula and Luís. In 1586, the second edition was published; however, many parts were heavily censored by the Inquisition. The third edition was not published until 1834 in Hamburg by Barreto Feio, after which Vicente's work was finally rediscovered.

Since that time, various composers, such as Max Bruch (who made Von den Rosen komm' ich (Von dem Rosenbusch, o Mutter) from Vicente's De la rosa vengo my madre [from the rose I come my mother], which also had a version by Schumann) and Robert Schumann (who made his Spanische Liebeslieder [Spanish Love Songs] no. 7. Weh, wie zornig ist das Mädchen from Vicente's Sañosa está la nina [Irritated is the little girl] and no. 3. Lied, op. 29 no. 2 from Vicente's Canción [Song]; and two of his Spanisches Liederspiel no. 1. Erste Begegnung, op. 74 no. 1 and no. 3. Intermezzo, op. 74 no. 2), have set Vicente's poetry to music in the form of lieder. Most of these were translated into German by Emanuel van Geibel.

A quote from one of Vicente's plays, "The pursuit of love is like falconry", appears in the epigraph of Gabriel García Márquez's novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

Works cited

  1. Ford, J.D.M. "Gil Vicente." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. v. 15.
  2. "Vicente, Gil." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Columbia University Press, 2006.
  3. "Vicente, Gil." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2006.

See also

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GIL VICENTE (1470-1540), the father of the Portuguese drama, was born at Guimaraes, but came to Lisbon in boyhood and studied jurisprudence at the university without taking a degree. In 1493 we find him acting as master of rhetoric to the duke of Beja, afterwards King Manoel, a post which gave him admission to the court; and the Cancioneiro Geral contains some early lyrics of his which show that he took part in the famous seroes do Paco. The birth of King John III. furnished the occasion for his first dramatic essay - The Neatherd's Monologue, which he recited on the night of the 7th-8th June 1502 in the queen's chamber in the presence of King Manoel and his court. It was written in Spanish out of compliment to the queen, a daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, and because that language was' then the fashionable medium with the higher classes. This manger-hymn, which was a novelty in Portugal, so pleased the king's mother, the infanta D. Beatriz, that she desired Gil Vicente to repeat it the following Christmas, but he composed instead the Castilian Pastoral Auto, a more developed piece in which he introduced six characters. The infanta, pleased again, required a further diversion for Twelfth Day, whereupon he produced the Auto of the Wise Kings. He had now established his reputation as a playwright, and for the next thirty years he entertained the courts of Kings Manoel and John III., accompanying them as they moved from place to place, and providing by his autos a distraction in times of calamity, and in times of rejoicing giving expression to the feelings of the people. Though himself both actor and author, Gil Vicente had no regular company of players, but it is probable that he easily found students and court servants willing to get up a part for a small fee, especially as the plays would not ordinarily run for more than one night. The Auto of the Sybil Cassandra (produced at the monastery of Euxobregas at Christmas 1503), the Auto of St Martin (played in the church at Caldas on the feast of Corpus Christi 1504), and a mystery play, the Auto of the Four Seasons, all belong, like their predecessors, to the religious drama, but in 1505 Gil Vicente wrote a comedy of real life, Who has Bran to sell? a title given it by the public. It is a clever farce depicting an amorous poor squire and his ill-paid servants, and opens a rich portrait-gallery in which the dramatist includes every type of Portuguese society, depicting the failings of each with the freedom of a Rabelais. The next three years saw no new play, but in 1506 Gil Vicente delivered before the court at Almeirim a sermon in verse on the theme Non volo, volo, et deficior, in which he protested against the intolerance shown to the Jews, just as in 1531 he interfered to prevent a massacre of the "New Christians" at Santarem. The Auto of the Soul, a Catholic prototype of Goethe's Faust, containing some beautiful lyrics, appeared in 1508, and in 1509 the Auto da India, a farce which has the eastern enterprise of his countrymen for background, while the Auto da Fama (1516) and the Exhortation to War (1513) are inspired by the achievements that made Portugal a world-power. If the farce of The Old Man of the Garden (1514) breathes the influence and spirit of the Celestina, the popular trilogy of the Boats of Hell, Purgatory and Glory (1517, 1518, 1519) is at once a dance of death, full of splendid pageantry and caustic irony, and a kind of Portuguese Divina Commedia. The Auto of the Fairies (1516), the Farce of the Doctors (1519) and the Comedy of Rubena (1521) ridicule unchaste clerics and ignorant physicians with considerable freedom and a medieval coarseness of wit, and the Farce of the Gipsies is interesting as the first piece of the European theatre dealing professedly with that race. Ignez Pereira, usually held to be Gil Vicente's masterpiece, was produced in 1523 before King John III. at the convent of Christ at Thomar, and owed its origin to certain men of bom saber, perhaps envious partisans of the classical school. They pretended to doubt his authorship of the autos, and accordingly gave him as a theme for a fresh piece the proverb: "I prefer an ass that carries me to a horse that throws me." Gil Vicente accepted the challenge, and furnished a triumphant reply to his detractors in this comedy of ready wit and lively dialogue. The Beira Judge (1526), the Forge of Love (1525) and The Beira Priest (1526) satirize the maladministration of justice by ignorant magistrates and the lax morals of the regular clergy, and the Farce of the Muleteers (1526) dramatizes the type of poor nobleman described in Cleynart's Letters. The Comedy of the Arms of the City of Coimbra (1527) has a considerable antiquarian interest, and the facetious Ship of Love is full of quaint imagery, while the lengthy Auto of the Fair (1527), with its twenty-two characters, may be described as at once an indictment of the society of the time from the standpoint of a practical Christian and a telling appeal for the reform of the church. In an oft-quoted passage, Rome personified comes to the booth of Mercury and Time, and offers her indulgences, saying, "Sell me the peace of heaven, since I have power here below"; but Mercury refuses, declaring that Rome absolves the whole world and never thinks of her own sins. The play concludes with a dance and hymn to the Blessed Virgin. The Triumph of Winter (1529) exposes the unskilful pilots and ignorant seamen who cause the loss of ships and lives on the route to India, and the Auto da Lusitania (1532) portrays the household of a poor Jewish tailor, ending with a curious dialogue between "All the World" and "Nobody." The Pilgrimage of the Aggrieved (1533) is an attack on discontent and ambition, lay and clerical. After representing the Auto da festa for the Conde de Vimioso (1535), and dramatizing the romances of chivalry in D. Duardos and Amadis de Gaula, Gil Vicente ended his dramatic career in 1536 with a mirthful comedy, The Garden of Deceptions. He spent the evening of life in preparing his works for the press at the instance of King John III., and died in 1540, his wife Branca Bezerra having predeceased him. Four children were born of their union, and among them Paula Vicente attained distinction as a member of the group of cultured women who formed a sort of female academy presided over by the infanta D. Maria.

The forty-four pieces comprising the theatre of Gil Vicente fall from the point of view of language into three groups: (1) those in Portuguese only, numbering fourteen; (2) those in Spanish only, numbering .eleven; and (3) the bilingual, being the remainder, nineteen in all. They are also front their nature divisible as follows: a. Works of a religious character or of devotion. Most of these are a development of the mystery or miracle play of the middle ages; and they may be subdivided into (1) Biblical pieces; (2) pieces founded on incidents in the life of a saint; and. (3) religious allegories. In this department Gil Vicente reaches his highest poetical flights, and the Auto of the Soul is a triumph of elevation of idea and feeling allied to beauty of expression. b. Aristocratic works, or tragicomedies, the composition of which was the result of his contact with the court; these, though often more spectacular than strictly dramatic, are remarkable for opulence of invention and sweetness of versification. c. The popular theatre, or comedies and farces. Gil Vicente's plays contain some evidence of his knowledge and appreciation of French poetry; e.g. The Beira Judge wears a general likeness to the products of the Clercs de la Basoche, and his Testament of Maria Parda is reminiscent of the better-known work of Francois Villon. Most of the plays are written in the national redondilha verse, and are preceded by initial rubrics stating the date when, the place where, in whose presence, and on what occasion each was first performed, and these make up the annals of the first thirty-four years of the Portuguese drama. Most of them were put on the stage at the different royal palaces; some, however, were played in hospitals, and, it is said, even in churches, though this is doubtful; those of which the subjects are liturgical at the great festivals of Christmas, Epiphany and Maundy Thursday, others on the happening of some event of importance to the royal family or the nation. Many of the plays contain songs, either written and set to music by the author, or collected by him from popular sources, while at the close the characters leave the stage singing and dancing, as was the custom in the medieval comedies.

Though so large a proportion of his pieces are - in Spanish, they are all eminently national in idea, texture and subject. No other Portuguese writer reflects so faithfully the language, types, customs and colour of his age as Gil Vicente, and the rudest of his dramas are full of genuine comic feeling. If they never attain to perfect art, they possess the supreme gift of life. None of them are, strictly speaking, historical, and he never attempted to write a tragedy. Himself a man of the people, he would not imitate the products of the classical theatre as did SA de Miranda and Ferreira, but though he remained faithful to the Old or Spanish school in form, yet he had imbibed the critical spirit and mental ferment of the Renaissance without its culture or erudition. Endowed by nature with acute observation and considerable powers of analysis, Gil Vicente possessed a felicity of phrase and an unmatched knowledge of popular superstitions, language and lore. Above all, he was a moralist, with satire and ridicule as his main weapons; but if his invective is often stinging it is rarely bitter, while more than one incident in his career shows that he possessed a kindly heart as well as an impartial judgment, and a well-balanced outlook on life. If he owed his early inspiration to Juan de Encina, he repaid the debt by showing a better way to the dramatists of the neighbouring country, so that he may truly be called the father of the rich Spanish drama, of Lope de Vega and Calderon. Much of his fame abroad is due to his position as an innovator, and, as Dr Garnett truly remarked, "One little corner of Europe alone possessed in the early 16th century a drama at once living, indigenous and admirable as literature." Gil Vicente perhaps lacks psychological depth, but he possesses a breadth of mental vision and a critical acumen unknown in any medieval dramatist. In his attitude to religion he acts as the spokesman of the better men of his age and country. A convinced but liberal-minded Catholic, he has no sympathy with attacks on the unity of the Church, but he cries out for a reform of morals, pillories the corruption and ignorance of the clergy and laity, and pens the most bitter things of the popes and their court. He strove to take a middle course at a time when moderation was still possible, though, had he lived a few years longer, in the reign of religious fanaticism inaugurated by the Inquisition, his bold stand for religious toleration would have meant his imprisonment or exile, if not a worse fate. He is a great dramatist in embryo, who, if he had been born fifty years later and preserved his liberty of thought and expression, might with added culture have surpassed Calderon and taken his place as the Latin and Catholic rival of Shakespeare.

Some of the plays were printed in Gil Vicente's lifetime, but the first collected edition, which included his lyrics, was published after his death by his son Luiz (Lisbon, 1562), with a dedication to King Sebastian. A second edition appeared in 1586, with various omissions and alterations made at the instance of the Inquisition. A critical edition of the text in 3 vols. came out at Hamburg (1834), with a glossary and introductory essay on Vicente's life and writings, and a poor reprint of this edition is dated Lisbon 1852. He has never found a translator, doubtless because of the difficulty of rendering his form and explaining his wealth of topical allusions.


Dr Theophilo Braga, Gil Vicente e as origens do theatro national (Oporto, 1898); J. I. de Brito Rebello, Gil Vicente (Lisbon, 1902); "The Portuguese Drama in the 16th Century - Gil Vicente," in the Manchester Quarterly (July and October 1897); introduction by the Conde de Sabugosa to his edition of the Auto de festa (Lisbon, 1906). (E. PR.)

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