Our Translation The Comedia in Context
A Wild Night in Toledo by Felix Lope de Vega y Carpio
Translated from the Spanish by the UCLA Working Group on the Comedia in Translation and Performance:
Marta Albalá Pelegrín
Jennifer L. Monti
Javier Patiño Loira
Juan Jesús Payán
Payton Phillips Quintanilla
Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 2018
Paul Cella and Adrián Collado
A Wild Night in Toledo is one of Lope de Vega’s love plays. The action takes place almost entirely inside an inn in Toledo, a Spanish city where roads and paths cross, and where a multitude of characters of different ages, classes, genders, and regions of Spain come to mingle and make love from dusk to dawn. If they have come to rest, they are in the wrong place: their passions, jealousies, and desires, their trickery, greed, and run-ins with the law will not allow them to sleep a wink during this one wild night. The play depicts a lively group of characters who run, jump, hide, and fight throughout the night in the name of love.
But this is more than a humorous story about love and lovers. Set in Toledo, a city strongly associated with Spain’s Catholic tradition and imperial power, the play nonetheless places religion and politics in the background, allowing the Spanish people to take center stage. In Spain’s “imperial city,” the country’s royal family and illustrious history are mentioned merely as matters of social convention, while the characters devote all their time and energy to what they really care about: intrigue, love, and sex. Characters’ attachments to conventions of social distinction prove to be but skin-deep, while it is as lovers that they reveal themselves in earnest. Though they may be military men, aristocrats, and gentlemen, they share a common desire to experience love in one way or another. Despite his aristocratic decorum, Fineo becomes infatuated with a lowly maid. Gerarda and Lucrecia claim they fear for their reputations, yet they will do anything to make their romantic adventures with Florencio and Beltrán possible. Captain Acevedo and Lieutenant Carrillo, the soldiers, are perhaps the bawdiest figures on stage. Lope’s characters are not primarily members of one class or another, but human beings responding to basic instincts.
The play takes its name from a famous Spanish saying, “pasar una noche toledana,” or to spend a restless, sleepless night. There are different explanations for the origin of this saying. One suggests that a “night in Toledo” alludes to a specific night in 8th-century Toledo, when a local Muslim governor invited a group of nobles to his palace under the pretense of a celebration just to have them all beheaded. But there are less violent accounts of this popular expression, which is still in use. One points to the legend according to which unmarried women used to stay awake during the night of San Juan (June 23rd) to hear the name of their future husbands. Another claims that on a night in Toledo the mosquitoes keep visitors up.
A Wild Night in Toledo is at times reminiscent of Miguel de Cervantes’s great novel Don Quijote de la Mancha, published the same year that Lope’s play was written (1605). Lope’s leading duo, Florencio and Beltrán, like Cervantes’s Don Quijote and Sancho Panza, represent finer feelings versus crass materialism—although, as we shall see, Lope does much to puncture any sense of Florencio’s superiority. Also, much of Lope’s play takes place in an inn, which functions here as a sort of microcosm of early 17th-century Spanish society, as does Juan Palomeque’s venta in Cervantes’s novel.
A Wild Night in Toledo is primarily the story of Lisena, a beautiful, smart young aristocrat from Granada. She has traveled to Toledo in search of her beloved Florencio, who had fled with his companion Beltrán after wounding (and possibly killing) a presumed rival in a jealous rage. Once in Toledo, the resourceful Lisena assumes the name Inés and adopts lower-class dress and speech to gain employment as a maid at a local inn. As she observes, Toledo is at the crossroads of Spain, and the inn gathers the city news: “This city is on the way/ to so many others,/ and news—/ high or low—/ always comes to the inns/ before it reaches the courts of kings” (660–665). There is no better place to feel the pulse of things and, therefore, no better place to begin looking for her man on the run.
As Lisena and Florencio arrive in the city, so do many others: military men, women of leisure, and a thwarted lover. A Wild Night in Toledo is also the story of how these characters meet in Toledo, fall in love, and resort to deceit and dissimulation to pursue their romantic interests. Before Lisena can win Florencio back, Lope paints the stage with countless love triangles, squares, and pentagons, thus displaying his masterful ability to interweave plots and subplots.
As Act I opens, Florencio and Beltrán have just arrived in Toledo. Florencio is romantic and sensitive, quick to fall in love with pretty women. His friend Beltrán is materialistic and pragmatic, chronically self-interested and never moved by sentimentality. If Florencio is the Platonist, the believer in pure forms of love, honor, and so forth, then Beltrán is the Aristotelian, seeking truth empirically. I’ve got to see it to believe it, Beltrán might say.
Meanwhile, the aristocratic madrileñas Gerarda and Lucrecia pass through Toledo as Gerarda flees Madrid to get away from her bothersome suitor, Fineo. They encounter a city preparing a grand celebration in honor of the newly born Prince Philip, son of King Philip III, and decide to stay. Florencio and Gerarda fall for each other at first sight, and after a brief conversation, they decide to spend the festivities, and the night, together. They enter the inn, with Florencio pretending to be Gerarda’s brother to maintain social decorum.
Lisena, calling herself Inés, comes to the city and begins working as a maid at the inn. The position gives her not only privileged access to information in her central location, but the ability to move through the inn and control the rooms. This unrivaled freedom will allow her to frustrate Florencio and Gerarda’s romance and manipulate at will virtually all the play’s lovers, most of whom are enamored of her.
The next arrivals are Captain Acevedo and Lieutenant Carrillo, military officials who have come to Toledo to attend the royal festivities and recruit soldiers. The Captain is instantly attracted to Lisena/Inés and asks the Lieutenant to speak to her on his behalf. Instead, the Lieutenant courts her himself, claiming that the Captain is an arrogant and violent man. To complicate matters further, Lucindo (an old army friend of the Captain) and Riselo (another soldier) enter the inn. They are intoxicated by Toledo’s celebratory atmosphere and will try to sleep with Gerarda and Lucrecia. Finally, at the end of Act I, Florencio and Lisena/Inés meet for the first time in the play, though they pretend not to recognize each other. For Florencio, Lisena’s presence threatens his plans to sleep with Gerarda. Lisena, for her part, feels betrayed when she sees how quickly Florencio has replaced her with another woman.
Act II opens with a conversation between the play’s four soldiers, who agree that each man will court the woman he has fallen for: the Captain and the Lieutenant will court Inés, Lucindo will court Gerarda, and Riselo, Lucrecia. The Captain immediately invites Inés to spend the night with him and she accepts, though she does not intend to show up for the rendez-vous. Instead, her acceptance is the first step of an elaborate plan to separate Florencio from Gerarda and be reunited with her lost love. Gerarda, for her part, sees the attention that Inés is receiving and fears that her Florencio, too, will pursue romance with the beautiful maid. Lisena, eager to exploit her rival’s concerns, lies to her, claiming that Florencio, Gerarda’s supposed brother, is one of her many suitors. Gerarda is upset but returns to her lover’s arms when Beltrán convinces her that there has been a misunderstanding: Inés thinks he (Beltrán), not Florencio, is Gerarda’s brother. The misperception of identities here is conveyed through hilarious dialogues that make the spectator part of the confusion the characters experience.
The closing scenes of Act II bring the first appearance of Fineo, the madrileño whom Gerarda is fleeing. Fineo happens upon his old friend the Lieutenant, with whom he briefly discusses the upcoming royal festivities and military matters, before their focus turns to sex and love—they ogle Inés, and Fineo relates to his friend his pursuit of Gerarda. Finally, Act II ends with Inés further implementing her plan to renew her relationship with Florencio: she puts Gerarda and Lucrecia up at the inn, ostensibly to hide Gerarda from Fineo but really to keep her away from Florencio; she sets up two more phony late-night rendez-vous with the Lieutenant and Fineo, asking them to wait for her in their rooms; and she sends Lucindo and Riselo to their rooms under the pretense that she has arranged for Gerarda and Lucrecia to pay them a visit after dark. By the end of Act II, Inés’s effective power—her ability to determine others’ movements and locations—becomes clear. In a play full of soldiers and imperial celebrations, we are encouraged to ask where power lies and how it is exercised in Lope’s Spain.
As Act III opens, night has fallen and Florencio is informed that officers of the law have been asking for him around Toledo. We are reminded, thus, that Florencio has either killed or seriously wounded a man. Florencio candidly explains his situation to the innkeeper, requesting a room for him and Beltrán to hide out. The innkeeper not only agrees unhesitatingly to accommodate the men; he also lays out an escape route for them, describing the best way to sanctuary should the law come knocking at their door. The innkeeper unwittingly puts the men in the room where Inés has put Gerarda and Lucrecia, seemingly dashing Lisena’s hopes to keep Florencio away from Gerarda. But Lisena quickly regains control. Again, she manipulates the Captain, having him dress up as an officer to chase Florencio and Beltrán out of their hideout-cum-love nest. Just as the lovers’ romance begins to heat up, the Captain pounds on the door, causing Florencio and Beltrán to make their escape out a window.
The plot remains focused on the space inside the inn, as the two escapees immediately attempt to return, and as Lisena ably reconfigures her plan to thwart the romantic intentions of Gerarda and her own unwelcome suitors. Florencio and Beltrán race across rooftops, through chicken coops, and away from dogs, as they try to make their way back to the inn and their interrupted assignations. They are arrested by local authorities, but manage to escape via an open sewer and get back to the inn. Meanwhile, Lisena continues her brilliant physical and psychological control of her rivals’ and suitors’ sexual appetites. Compared at one point to a master chess player, she moves her lascivious guests from room to room, promising with each transfer the satisfaction of their desires. In the play’s final sequence, her plots are fully revealed as, one after another, guests emerge from the dark rooms to which Lisena has sent them, each claiming to have been paired with the wrong lover: the Captain has ended up with the Lieutenant, Lucindo with Lucrecia, Fineo with Gerarda, Beltrán with Riselo, and Florencio with Lisena.
At this point, the authorities enter the inn, and the final scene consists in a confrontation between the law and the inn’s guests. The authorities propose an ultimatum to the couples: marry or go to jail. Everyone accepts, and Florencio sweetens the deal by bribing the officers. Thus, the “happy endings” here are a result of coercive power, not of free choice, which, as the play has shown, leads to erotic indulgence rather than romantic devotion. Lope concludes his work with a comically subversive paradox: traditional social order has been restored by corrupt police officers, who prefer private gain to public retribution.
A Wild Night in Toledo is and is not about Spain’s celebration of the birth of King Philip III’s son, Prince Philip. In a sense, these events pervade the play: the royal fiestas are a frequent topic of conversation; they are the reason several characters travel to Toledo, and signs of the city’s preparation and anticipation are everywhere. But this play is not at all about the fiestas insofar as it explores the irrelevance of royal affairs to most people’s lives. Lope tells the story of two distinct spheres: one of official power and empire, another of the people and their private concerns. Thus, he establishes a compelling contrast: a defining moment of Spain’s empire appears as a faint background, while ordinary Spanish lives are thrown into stark relief. We hardly see the event itself; rather, we see a simultaneous slice of life. Symbols of imperial power (e.g., the fiestas, Toledo’s castle and Catholic places of worship, and the court) appear in the background as the Spanish people take center stage.
The paths that several characters follow through the play similarly draw our attention away from the sphere of imperial power and toward private life. As the focus of these characters’ actions and speeches shifts from the former to the latter, so does ours. The Captain and the Lieutenant arrive in Toledo on a mission to recruit soldiers, presumably to secure the empire’s future—an unambiguous allusion to Spain’s overcommitted military. Yet they devote most of their energy to wooing Lisena/Inés, and practically none to growing the army. The Captain confines himself to the inn so he can continue to pursue Lisena/Inés: “I can’t leave this place. [. . .] Because of a certain woman” (974–976). By restricting his own movements, the Captain effectively rules out the possibility of searching for recruits on the streets and prioritizes his sexual appetite over the empire’s military might. In Fineo’s first appearance, he praises the empire and royal family, but his words smack of bombast. He has in effect disregarded the royal celebrations, preferring to spend the time following a circuitous route southward from Madrid in pursuit of Gerarda. His coming to Toledo is utterly incidental, as he has arrived in the city not to pay homage to his king, but because he thought it a likely place to find the woman he loves: “I heard about these festivities,/ and I’ve come to see if she’s here” (2054–2055). Second, Fineo instantly reveals himself as a flighty man. He claims to have come to Toledo to win Gerarda’s heart, but while speaking dejectedly to his friend the Lieutenant, he immediately begins ogling Lisena/Inés: “What a fierce maid! [. . .] Is she an easy catch?” (1843–1845). Fineo’s capriciousness belies any steadfastness. Finally, the inconstancy and neglect for imperial concerns demonstrated by all three—the Captain, the Lieutenant, and Fineo—are replicated in the play’s overall plot structure: the royal festivities appear in the background in Acts I and II but are totally eclipsed in Act III, which deals exclusively with the resolution of the characters’ love stories.
The disengagement from empire is further evident as characters’ lives diverge from the royal festivities. Lisena does not make a single reference to the fiestas and thus appears to exist wholly separate from them. Her coming to Toledo has nothing to do with the royal birth and is solely due to her love for Florencio. Instead, as Inés, Lisena becomes another competing center of attention, a sort of rival to the fiestas as she becomes the one to influence the characters’ movements. Significantly, the characters move about the stage according to Lisena’s directions, not some official timetable. Her physical control over the characters is summed up by the Captain, who describes her as a sort of demiurge, moving the other characters at will: “Inés is laying out her endgame/ on the chessboard that is this place./ Taking pieces from her bag and/ moving men from space to space” (2769–2772). Also, she symbolically replaces the fiestas as the city’s major attraction when the innkeeper jokes that “in four days,/ she could match up enough people/ to fill the town square” (3257–3259). The royals may fill Zocodover, Toledo’s main square, during the celebrations, but Lisena, a mere civilian, has beaten them to it.
Florencio and Beltrán also challenge orthodoxy, both religious and lay. It is noteworthy that these two characters resort to a Catholic place of worship purely as sanctuary from their crimes. In the play’s opening lines Florencio and Beltrán admire Toledo’s Main Cathedral but ignore it once they see Gerarda and Lucrecia. Their religious devotion is thus comically called into question. The two ladies, for their part, enter the Church not for any pious reason but as a pretext to satisfy their sexual appetites. In fact, the Church becomes a public space to see and be seen, a veritable place of seduction, as is clear when the ladies’ servant Celio tells them, “You catch people’s eye around here/ because you’re from Madrid./ In the church/ there were quite a few/ who took a good long look at you/ and they told me a thing or two” (220–225). In their world, religion and spirituality have been replaced by beauty, pleasure, and desire.
As is often the case in the comedia, female characters have significant agency, controlling their own desires and even manipulating those of others. Lisena, the play’s protagonist, embodies this model of an attractive, intelligent, and resourceful woman. Accompanied by Aurelio, she travels from Granada to Toledo in order to find Florencio and win back his love. Although Lisena/Inés refers to him as her uncle, he is more likely a servant, since no noble uncle would allow a niece to do what she is doing. In fact, the innkeeper questions Aurelio’s kinship to Lisena: “If you are her uncle, I will be like a father to her,” commenting on the possibility of Aurelio’s disguise (695). In any case, Lisena reaches her destination, masquerades successfully as a peasant, and finds a job at the inn. Paradoxically, as the servant Inés she has more freedom to move and act as she wants than she did as a noble lady. She alone holds the keys to all the rooms in the inn: the innkeeper and the rest of the characters depend on her to open them. Her new identity allows her to control the desires of others, and will ultimately help her regain Florencio’s heart.
But Lisena is not the play’s only strong female figure. Gerarda is also a confident woman, unafraid of fulfilling her desires. She comes to Toledo with her friend Lucrecia to enjoy herself away from Madrid and the supervision of her family and her suitor Fineo. However, Gerarda, as a noblewoman, has to be more cautious than a maid like Inés. For a noblewoman to be seen with a man unless they were related or married would amount to a dishonorable stain on the whole family’s reputation. Gerarda is concerned about her honor and about what people would think if her promiscuous conduct became public, although she feels no guilt for her behavior. When Florencio propositions her, she responds with suspicion. Florencio tries to persuade her that they are safe because no one knows them in Toledo: “We’re both strangers here/ and nobody knows us” (525–526). For appearances’ sake, Florencio pretends to be her brother: “Make me your relative./ Say I am your brother” (533–534). As in the case of Lisena and Aurelio, a fabricated family member allows Gerarda to circumvent social surveillance of her honor, ostensibly complying with social norms while fulfilling her desires.
Again in Act III, women use dissimulation to their advantage. Following Lisena/Inés’s instructions, Gerarda and Lucrecia both pretend to be Inés when they enter a room in search of their respective lovers. Lisena, once again controlling others’ fates, tells Lucrecia that passing as a maid will avoid social disgrace: “pretend you are Inés,/ so that your good name is not sullied,” insisting that lower-class women are under less scrutiny (3033–3044). Of course, this is Inés’s scheme to make sure that Gerarda and Lucrecia won’t reveal their real names and find out that they’ve been matched with the wrong lovers. But it also demonstrates the sophisticated techniques of concealment that these women use to elude social reproof.
Throughout the play, the female characters’ ability to construct reality with their performance, simulation, and stories is a predominant theme: Lisena disguises herself as a maid and furnishes herself with an uncle; Gerarda adopts a brother; and Lucrecia and Gerarda pretend to be Inés. Convention leads to transgression, as the characters imagine ways to undermine social constraints. In Act III, the sheriff notes how deceptive appearances can be: by “wearing decent clothes,” a thief can pass for an honest man. And as Lisena’s transformation demonstrates, identity can be disguised, and clothing can easily deceive. Lope presents a malleable reality, produced by human ideas and interactions.
This translation is a collaborative effort of UCLA’s Comedia in Translation Working Group, based on three editions of the play: a 1612 copy and editions by Juan Eugenio Hartzenbusch (1853) and Ignacio Sánchez Aguilar (2002). We have followed Sánchez’s text in most cases, diverging from his decisions on the few occasions when other criteria seemed more appropriate. We have focused on making the text as fluent as possible for actors, while preserving the original. We have translated the text into prose, as we find it more conducive to successful productions in an Anglo-American context.
In June 2013, Spain’s Joven Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico staged La noche toledana in Madrid under the direction of Carlos Marchena and with a cast of actors all under the age of 28.