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Coming soon: The Widow of Valencia

Set in Valencia at the end of the sixteenth century, The Widow of Valencia tells the spicy story of the young widow Leonarda, and her posse of hopeless suitors. Written between 1595 and 1599 by Lope de Vega, perhaps the most renowned playwright of Spain’s Golden Age, the play was not published until 1620. The publication date, as well as the text’s dedicatory to Marcia Leonarda, makes the play all the more intriguing.

Lope’s lover, Marta de Nevares, is, according to critics, the woman from the dedicatory, and she also shares a name with the play’s protagonist, Leonarda. Marta had, in fact, become a widow in 1618, and one cannot help but think of an analogy between Lope and Camilo, the one man with whom Leonarda falls in love. Though there has been great interest in the play in Spain, without a translation it has remained relatively unknown in the English-speaking world. Now UCLA’s Working Group on the Comedia in Translation and Performance has translated and annotated Lope’s play, and will soon be posting it for open access on the group’s website:


The play’s juiciness lies in its intricate plot and permeating sense of mystery. Lope here inverts the myth of Cupid and Psyche, in which the god of love takes on the role of a mystery lover: in The Widow of Valencia, Leonarda becomes an invisible lover to Camilo. Widows were expected to maintain a pious, devout, and reserved life, yet Leonarda, with her servants Julia and Urbán, devises a plan to enjoy her lover’s company without compromising her family name and social status. Camilo is to be hooded by Urbán and brought into Leonarda’s house through the back door, so that the two can consume their passion in the dark, away from curious eyes. To add to the general sense of confusion, Lope sets the play in Valencia—one of the most vibrant and festive Spanish cities of the time—during Carnival, when amorality, chaos, and false identities were normalized and accepted.


Leonarda must face the dangers to which attractive young widows were exposed in sixteenth-century Spain—dozens of suitors roam her house at all hours, hoping for a glance, a smile, or a kind gesture. They even disguise themselves as door-to-door vendors for the chance to speak with her face to face. Leonarda deglamorizes her apparently favorable romantic situation to uncover the difficult reality of being a rich widow. In a passionate speech to her uncle Lucenio, who insists that she marry, Leonarda points out the pompousness and dishonesty of most suitors, who wish to marry her only to snatch her fortune. By keeping her identity a secret in her dealings with Camilo, Leonarda manages to maintain social decorum without renouncing her appetite for sexual pleasure.


Clever, compelling, and entertaining, The Widow of Valencia takes on universal themes of love, pride, and social standing, yet it remains unique in its daring portrait of intrigue and female sexuality. With the forthcoming translation, Lope de Vega’s one-of-a-kind play can finally be enjoyed by actors, directors, and theatergoers in the English-speaking world.


Jennifer L. Monti

Comedia Summers: New Award from the Pine Tree Foundation Supports Students and Translations



The Comedia in Translation and Performance working group recently received some fabulous news: the Pine Tree Foundation awarded Diversifying the Classics a grant that will allow us to complete the translation of two more Golden Age plays between now and the summer of 2018!


The funds will specifically support graduate students from the working group who will spend their summers editing, annotating, and writing introductions to plays that underwent draft translations during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years. These students will also prepare the plays for publication (in print and online) and for their debut performances in UCLA’s Department of Theater (a fall quarter tradition).


The first of these plays, which is currently being workshopped, is Lope de Vega’s The Widow from Valencia (La viuda valenciana, c. 1595-1600). The play begins with Leonarda rejecting a series of potential suitors in order to protect the freedom she gained with her husband’s death. But, when she discovers that disguise can offer its own freedoms, she engages in a clandestine affair from behind the protection of her veil. Lope presents us with a balancing act of visibility and invisibility, liberty and imprisonment in the pursuit of personal desires.


Thank you to the Pine Tree Foundation and to its director, Szilvia Szmuk-Tanenbaum—a passionate scholar and supporter of the Spanish Golden Age comedia—, for making our project possible!


Payton Phillips Quintanilla

About…Productions: Your Ticket to Seeing Spanish Classical Theater through a Social Justice Lens


About…Productions is a current partner in the “Classics in the Classroom” pilot project, a K-12 curriculum-building area of Diversifying the Classics. Co-founder and Producing Artistic Director of the company, Theresa Chavez and Teaching Artist Sayda Trujillo are collaborating with members of UCLA’s Comedia in Translation and Performance Working Group to develop a series of lesson plans using our translation of Guillén de Castro’s comedic play The Force of Habit (La fuerza de la costumbre, 1610). At the center of the play are siblings separated at birth, the brother raised by his mother wears robes and knows how to sew, the sword-wielding sister grew up with her father and is skilled in battle. As the plot unfolds, we’re faced with questions about gender identity and nature versus nurture, and power structures not just in a family unit but the broader social context.


About…Productions’ Chavez and Trujillo are experts in embodiment and dialogue exercises from the traditions of Agosto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed. TO traditions offer a guide to recognizing discrimination and marginalization faced by the disenfranchised and approaches to overcome social divisions, with steps to community building and resistance. To develop lessons for The Force of Habit, the company uses their model, Young Theaterworks (YT) program, a literacy-based theater residency for underserved, at-risk high school students, primarily in East L.A. Our graduate students are observing YT in the classroom and community spaces, learning about engagement with underserved students and arts-based educational tools. Lesson development for The Force of Habit with About…Productions has been an exciting opportunity to incorporate methods in theater arts to create safe spaces to talk about family dynamics, patriarchal social structures, and factors that contribute to forming and performing who we are. The working group will be providing open access (via its website) to all materials created from this initiative, so as to reach teaching artists, teachers and many more students nationwide.


Veronica Wilson



We are once again collaborating with the Department of Theater at UCLA to present a dramatic reading of the group’s most recent translation efforts, Juan Ruiz de Alarcón’s What We Owe Our Lies (Los empeños de un engaño).


What We Owe Our Lies (Los empeños de un engaño, c. 1621-25) depicts the efforts of two women, Leonor and Teodora, to pursue their love against the dictates of their brothers, who are trying to arrange reciprocal marriages for them. Occupying different floors of the same building, the two women are not particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of having their marriages arranged for them, and contend instead for the love of Don Diego de Luna, a stranger in town who ceaselessly roams up and down their street, attracting the attention of everyone in the neighborhood. Their amorous pursuits lead them into an intricate web of lies and obligations which pile up into seemingly insurmountable obstacles.


Under the direction of Michael Hackett, professor of Directing and Theater History, first year students from the MFA program will have the opportunity to practice their craft while engaging with the theatrical tradition of the Spanish comedia. For many of the students this will be a new experience. As it has always been the group’s aim to be a resource to the theatrical community, we will be involved in our capacity as translators and students of comedia in the rehearsals leading up to the performance. Part of what makes this collaboration so exciting is that members of the Working Group learn just as much about dramaturgy as the students learn about Golden Age Spanish theater. The opportunity to engage with practitioners is especially invaluable to us as translators, as it allows us to witness first-hand what works and what doesn’t on stage. Is a joke too obscure for an actor to pull off? Is the language clear as well as poetic? Does the staging make sense? These are all questions that can only really be answered in practice, and it is always a truly informative—not to mention fun!—experience to see practitioners at work.


We invite you to join us on Wednesday, November 2nd for what promises to be a night of laughter and fun. For more information on booking, please visit


Laura Muñoz