Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fuente Ovejuna, by Lope de Vega

Yes, this is another Spanish Renaissance play. Plenty of excitement too.

Fuente Ovejuna is the name of a town, translated as Sheep Well. It's a farming community. A military commander comes to the local feudal lord to gather troops for a siege against Ciudad Real, a city, against the troops of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. While the local lord is off fighting, the commander is terrorizing the locals. He seduces as many wives as he can, maligns the reputations of other women who won't give in to him, and flogs the men that stand up to his bad behavior.

One woman, Laurencia, shuns all men, soldier and farmer alike, until the moment comes when the Commander tries to carry her off, and the young man she is with defends her from him. The young man manages to get the drop on the Commander with his own crossbow, urges Laurencia to flee, and then flees himself taking the crossbow with him. Later Laurencia meets up with her hero, and they get engaged much the pleasure of their parents, the local alcaldes, or leaders.

When the marriage is about to be performed, the Commander brings his soldiers to break it up. He jails the groom, takes the bride to his home, and refuses to listen to the alcaldes who tell him that such behavior is unfitting a nobleman such as he.
The farmers gather to decide what to do. Laurencia comes to the meeting enraged and distraught, having escaped from the Commander's clutches but not before he had his way with her. She derides the men for being sheep, true to the town's name, for not standing up to the Commander. They get their courage up and they storm the Commander's castle. Laurencia gets the women together to go join the fight.

After a confused battle, the Commander's head is on a pike when the King's messengers come with news that Ciudad Real is now in the hands of King Ferdinand. One of the Commander's henchmen tattles on the villagers, asking for redress for the Commander's murder. The King sends a judge to decide on the matter. All the citizens gather to decide how to answer the judge. They decide to all claim that "Fuente Ovejuna" murdered the Commander. They vow to say this under torture if necessary.

The judge does exactly that too. The audience is only supposed to hear the sounds of the rack offstage as the judge systematically tortures 300 men, women and children, and getting the same answer: Fuente Ovejuna killed the Commander. The judge tells the King that they are all submitting to his rule and he either has to wipe out the town for the murder or pardon them all. The King does pardon them seeing that their former Commander appeared to be a bad ruler after all. Interestingly enough, had they not submitted to be ruled by Ferdinand, he would have felt compelled to kill them all because they rose up against their former authority.

Not sure I would have liked watching this play, but then when you don't have television and the Spanish Inquisition is in full swing, this must seem like a mild show in comparison.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I must compliment you for reading this awsome play. I'm an spaniard by the way :)
    I think you should know that in Spain, any time everyone is in agreement for something and actions is going to take place it is still said "¡todos a una, como en Fuenteovejuna!" and that has become the epitome of uniting forces together.
    It was a very popular play at his time and kept being it to our time. There are even movies about Fuenteovejuna.
    Sorry for this way-too-long comment, I just got excited to see an american interested in our classicals.
    From Madrid with love:


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