Calderón de la Barca Pedro

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Calderón de la Barca Pedro


(fully, Pedro Calderón de la Barca Henao de la Barreda y Riaño). Born Jan. 17, 1600, in Madrid; died there May 25, 1681. Spanish playwright. Member of an old gentry family.

Calderón studied civil and canon law at the universities of Alcalá and Salamanca. His first literary efforts date to the period 1619-23; after 1625 he devoted himself fully to literature. Ordained in 1651, Calderón was a favorite at the court of Philip IV. During his early period (approximately until the mid-1620’s), influenced by Lope de Vega Carpió, Calderón wrote such “comedies of the cloak and sword” as Love, Honor, and Power (1623, published 1637) and The Play of Love and Chance (1625, published 1636) and the nationalistic patriotic drama The Siege of Breda (1625, published 1636).

Calderón’s plays until the mid-1630’s attempted broad generalizations, posed philosophical and ethical problems, and simultaneously developed several themes in one play—for example, The Constant Prince (1628-29, published 1636), the moral and philosophical drama Life Is a Dream (1631-32, published 1636), and Under His Own Guard (1636, published 1650). His “dramas of honor” (Doctor of His Own Honor, 1635, published 1637), were more deeply analytical, disclosing some important character trait of the hero. The Mayor of Zalamea (1640-45, published 1651) shows honor to be a moral prerogative that is not exclusively a characteristic of the gentry and provides a vivid picture of the lawlessness then prevalent in Spain. Social motifs also characterized his other plays.

In his late period Calderón wrote plays with music, singing, and ballets for court festivals. He also wrote such religious dramas as The Devotion of the Cross (1630-32, published 1636) and The Purgatory of St. Patricio (1634, published 1636) and autos, which are philosophical plays on mythological subjects with a theological interpretation, on themes from the Old Testament, and on legendary and historical subjects, inspired by sermons from the Gospels.

Most of Calderón’s plays are “high comedy”: their heroes are drawn solely from the aristocracy and strictly observe the code of gentry honor; the plays have moral underpinnings, complex versification, and refined language. Although he inherited the traditions of Spanish Renaissance literature, Calderón expressed disillusionment with the humanism of the Renaissance. Calderón saw the source of evil and cruelty in the very nature of man; the sole means of reconciliation with life was Christianity, which demands that pride be subdued. His work juxtaposed Renaissance and baroque motifs.

In Russia, Calderón’s plays were known as early as the beginning of the 18th century and were first staged in the second half of the 19th century. The most interesting productions were The Devotion of the Cross (1910) and The Constant Prince (1915) directed by Vs. Meyerhold and Life Is a Dream (1914) directed by A. la. Tairov. Calderón’s comedies have been produced by many Soviet theaters.


Obras completas, vols. 1-3. Madrid, 1959.
In Russian translation:
Soch., fascicles 1-3. Translated with an introduction by K. D. Bal’mont. Moscow, 1900-12.
P’esy, vols. 1-2. Foreword by N. B. Tomashevskii. Moscow, 1961.


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Istoriia zapadnoevropeiskogo teatra, vol. 1. Moscow, 1956.
Balashov, N. I. “Slavianskaia tematika u Kal’derona i problema Renessans-Barokko v ispanskoi literature.” Izv. AN SSSR: Seriia literatury i iazyka, 1967, vol. 26, issue 3.
Balashov, N. I. “Religiozno-filosofskaia drama Kal’derona i ideinye osnovy barokko v Ispanii.” In the collection XVII vek v mirovom literaturnom razvitii. Moscow, 1969.
Frutos Cortés, E. Calderón. Barcelona, 1949.
Shergold, N. D., and J. E. Varey. Los autos sacramentales en Madrid en la época de Calderón, 1637-1681: Estudio y documentos. Madrid [1961].
Valbuena Briones, A. Perspectiva critica de los dramas de Calderón. Madrid [1965].
Karczewska-Markiewicz, Z. Calderón de la Barca. Warsaw, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.