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Theater 34.1 (2004) 128-151

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The Great Theater of the World

Pedro Calderón de la Barca

Translated by Rick Davis

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Figure 1
The Great Theater of the World, directed by Rick Davis. Theater of the First Amendment, Fairfax, Virginia, 2002. Photo: Stan Barouh

[End Page 128]


A VOICE [End Page 129]
Musical accompaniment. Enter the AUTHOR wearing a starry robe and a hat with rays of light that resemble a crown, like that seen around the head of the infant Jesus.

AUTHOR Oh, for a lovely scene to hide this architecture!
Between the shadows here in front
And the distant background view,
Let's have a sky that steals its luster from the stars,
And here on earth, some lovely flowers
That vie with them in number and in brilliance,
At least until they wither and expire,
Like the living things they are,
Like humankind itself.
Whatever I imagine, let me see it:
For this earth's a great battlefield too,
A battlefield of the elements,
Where mountains, lightning, wind, and water fight;
Where eagles struggle and surge like ships on a stormy sea—
And in the ocean, now and then, we'll see
Squadrons of fish flying from wave to wave;
And thunderbolts so bright that blind men see
Their flaming fury;
We'll see mountains filled with men and beasts
Bearing witness to this everlasting war,
This monster of fire and air, of water and earth.
Now that's a better scene.
What should I call you—you ever-changing vision,
Woven from every thread the universe can offer?
You're the greatest prodigy ever created,
You have no equal—so what to call you?
How about The World—born like the Phoenix
Out of your own ashes. Yes, The World.
Enter the WORLD from a different door.

WORLD Who's calling?
Who calls me from the rock-hard center
Of the globe where I've been hiding?
Who pulls me out from deep within myself—?
Who's calling?

AUTHOR Your Author calls—
And all it took to summon you
Was one sigh of my breath, one wave of my hand—
That's what took you from your primal chaos,
Gave you form.

WORLD But—what do you want from me?

AUTHOR I'm your author, and you're my creation.
Today I'm thinking of a project I want done,
And you're the one I want to do it.
I want to stage a festival in honor of my powers.
Nature's always celebrating me
With dazzling shows of sound and light,
But I'm in search of something different:
A simple comedy of human life.
Ages ago I cast mankind to be
My company, and they're the ones who'll act
In this great theater of the world.
I'll give a part to each one that appears.
And your role will be just as crucial,
Preparing all the wonders of the stage—
The costumes, scenery, props, the lights and sound—
You'll be in charge of everything behind the scenes.
I'll write the play.
Mankind will form the company of actors.

WORLD My generous Author, whose every breath's
Obeyed by everyone, you may indeed
Call me the Great Theater of the World:
Because upon my stage mankind will act,
And each one finds in me the things they need
To do their work—especially that crucial skill [End Page 130]
Of following directions without the need for praise.
Since it's obvious that even though the hard work's mine,
You'll get the good reviews. And now to work:
It's always better not to see
The stage before the play begins, so I've arranged
A black curtain to hide the scene.
Because as you know better than anyone,
It's chaos back there until everything is set.
They'll all be running around in a...


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pp. 128-151
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2005
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