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Bulletin Of The Comediantes Vol. XIV Spring, 1963 No. 2 Lope de Vega and the Aristotelian Elements of Comedy by Irving P. Rothberg, University of Massachusetts The guerra literaria which raged around Lope de Vega's deep-reaching innovations in the Spanish theater has tended, like all wars, to obscure relevant issues. The passions aroused in this polemic, if focused at all, bore mostly on Lope's disregard of the Aristotelian unities. These, it is now clear, were more the authoritarian derivations of Renaissance commentators of the Poetics than they were the prescription of Aristotle himself. The unity of action is the only one of the celebrated three which is wholly Aristotelian, and, as the present writer has suggested elsewhere,1 if Lope must be cast in the rôle of a defiant anti-Aristotelian, let it be, with respect to the unities, on the single ground that his baroque concept of dramatic action does not always coincide with Aristotle's. This literary debate, confused and exacerbated by its ad hominem quality , seems in present perspective to have been intellectually wasteful and self-defeating. It appears unhappily to have substituted itself as a body of criticism in the absence of reasoned contemporary standards. Criticism lagged behind invention. WoIfflin 's Principles were not available to lay on a drama that never knew itself to be baroque. An active Aristotelianism , however, was for all its venerability readily available, and Lope was found to differ in deed and act from a system of principles he probably respected.2 The discussion of Lope and Aristotle has consequently been of a negative character. We have come to learn where the older criticism and the newer techniques are at odds, not possibly where they may be in agreement. One of the difficulties of this problem is that Lope's plays have been measured against Aristotle's discussion of the tragedy which is the first concern of the Poetics. It would seem more feasible to examine Lope in the light of comedy than to judge him exclusively in terms of interpretations of Aristotelian theory of tragedy . One can do this by applying a theory of comedy to a sampling of Lope's comedias which do not contain tragic incidents or develop tragic outcomes.3 For our purposes there exists, fortunately, an adaptation of the Poetics as a statement on comedy. This is Lane Cooper's An Aristotelian Theory of Comedy.* The construction that Cooper puts on the Poetics is consistently plausible and at the very least is as carefully worked out as the commentary of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century theorists. Furthermore , Cooper benefits from a longer prospect of literary history than the commentators could naturally have had. Leaving apart here the more traditionally debated matters of the unities and characterization, let us take up the component elements of comedy in the Aristotelian sense and attempt to determine whether these may in any way be related to Lope's practice. In dealing with tragedy, Aristotle indicates six parts of composition with which the poet must BULLETIN OF THE COMEDIANTES Published in the Spring and Fall by the Comediantes, an informal, international group of all those interested in the comedia. Editor Karl-Ludwig Selig University of Minnesota Minneapolis, Minn. Associate Editor John E. Keller University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, N. C. Business Manager J. W. Peters Muskingum College New Concord, Ohio Subscription: $2 a year occupy himself: the plot, ethos, dianoia , diction, the musical element, and spectacle.5 By using Cooper's adaptation of the six elements to comedy , one finds that Lope's plays are almost as complete in these several respects as is required. Cooper interprets: "The plot, then, is the first principle, and as it were, the very soul of comedy" (p. 184). One is obliged here to state the obvious . Lope, whether writing in tragic or comic vein, never wants for plot or "combination of incidents," in the Aristotelian phrase. Lope's intent, at least, is read in those famous verses (which we need not cite) of the Arte nuevo de hazer comedias en este tiempo in which he sets out his formula for ordering the events of a play. The commonplace that...


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