The Widow of Valencia - Diversifying the Classics
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The Widow of Valencia
A comedy by Félix Lope de Vega
Translated from the Spanish by the UCLA Working Group on the Comedia in Translation and Performance:
Marta Albalá Pelegrín
Paul Cella
Adrián Collado
Barbara Fuchs
Rafael Jaime
Robin Kello
Jennifer L. Monti
Laura Muñoz
Javier Patiño Loira
Payton Phillips Quintanilla
Veronica Wilson
Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 2018
Our Translation

Our translations are free to use for educational and performance purposes with attribution to Diversifying the Classics, under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International LicenseWe are happy to discuss and consult on performances and adaptations. Notify us at prior to use of our translations. 

The comedia in contextPronunciation Key



Robin Kello and Laura Muñoz


How might a young widow satisfy her sexual desire while preserving her independence? In The Widow of Valencia (c. 1595–1600), Lope de Vega presents the audience with the wealthy and beautiful Leonarda, who defies the wishes of her uncle by refusing to remarry. Leonarda’s feelings change after a few glances shared with a young gallant in church. These reawaken the widow’s passion, and lead to a masked affair in which disguise offers the rewards of pleasure without risk. Lope offers a balancing act of visibility and invisibility, as Leonarda’s brilliant transgressions in the service of her desire play out against a carnivalesque backdrop. In this play, the line between lust and propriety, and liberty and constraint, is as thin as a veil.



The play opens with Leonarda and her maid Julia discussing how she spends her life reading since her late husband Camilo’s death. Julia wonders aloud about her mistress becoming a nun, yet although Leonarda admits that she finds the life of a widow to be a hard denial of her natural desires, she neither plans to become a nun nor to remarry. This refusal exasperates her uncle Lucencio, who arrives on the scene and attempts to impress upon her, once again, how much damage she will do to her reputation if she continues to hide away in her house refusing suitors. Leonarda will not budge, and the conversation ends with her strong denunciation of marriage.


Out on the street, Lisandro, Otón, and Valerio, three of Leonarda’s most avid suitors, catch sight of each other, confessing that they are all courting the same woman. After comparing stories of “favors” Leonarda has granted them, the three suitors decide that each has an equal chance at winning her and agree not to get in each other’s way.


At church, Julia and Urbán, a young squire in Leonarda’s service, are shocked to find their mistress smitten with a young man she shared a look with during mass. The group moves to the street as Camilo, the young gentleman who caught Leonarda’s eye, and his servant Floro move onto the scene. As Floro watches his master tear up a letter from a former lover, Leonarda instructs Urbán to find out Camilo’s name and address. Camilo proclaims that his love affair with Celia is over just as Urbán comes up to him. The squire easily discovers Camilo’s name and residence. Leonarda now asks Urbán to dress for carnival and, thus masked, tell Camilo that a certain noblewoman wants to meet with him in secret. Urbán and Julia begin preparations to enact this scheme.


While Leonarda deals with her persistent suitors at home, Camilo speaks to the masked Urbán about the strange proposal the squire has made on behalf of his mistress. Although Camilo still has doubts, he agrees to wait for the masked Urbán at three in the morning in order to meet and enjoy the mysterious noblewoman.


The second act opens with an intrigued but nervous Camilo steeling himself for his first encounter with Leonarda. Though worried that it may be a trap, he is unable to resist the erotic possibility that awaits him. Surmounting his fear, he allows Urbán to lead him blindly through Valencia to Leonarda’s house, the servant reassuring Camilo that he has no cause for worry, but a world of pleasure to gain. On their way they meet Otón, who lets them pass, but begins to suspect that Leonarda may not be as chaste as she claims. He decides that he will spy on the widow to determine what, or whom, she may be hiding.


Camilo arrives at the house and he and Leonarda take hands, while she insists that he not try to take off their masks. Though Camilo is uneasy, his hesitation finally gives way to desire. Urbán and Julia remain in the room, offering food and drink, while Leonarda and Camilo pledge their love. Continuing to maintain control over the situation, the lady promises the gallant wealth and jewels, while adamantly refusing to let herself be seen.


Outside the house, the suspicious suitors stand at attention by the door so as to snoop on Leonarda, each unaware of the presence of the others until the arrival of a sheriff convinces them that the lady must be hiding a relationship, perhaps with her servant Urbán. Otón, Lisandro, and Valerio make a pact to “see to her dishonor/ and the loss of her reputation,” and murder her servant (1775–1776). Meanwhile, Leonarda’s uncle Lucencio continues to look for a suitable partner for his niece to remarry, receiving an offer from the messenger Rosano for a match in Madrid.


Later, as Camilo is recounting his amorous encounters in the dark to his servant Floro, Leonarda and Julia arrive by chance in the same gardens. Camilo flatters the widow, whom he doesn’t recognize, while admitting to her that he is in love with a lady he may touch but never see. Leonarda tests Camilo’s devotion by asking if there is another woman for whom Camilo would leave his lover, but he remains steadfast, pledging his devotion to his unknown lady. Later that evening, the three rejected suitors set upon Urbán, but the servant is saved by Camilo’s intervention.


The third act opens with Camilo arguing with Celia, his jilted former lover. Leonarda witnesses the scene, and asks Camilo if the woman with whom he was arguing is the same lady he loves by night. He responds by flattering the widow and admitting that he has grown tired of his nightly arrangement. Leonarda, jealous of herself, complains to Julia, “As if insulting me were not enough,/ he also wanted to woo me” (2315–2316).


The widow finally concedes to her uncle’s wishes, agreeing to the marriage in Madrid. She informs Lucencio and Julia of her change of plan, yet this decision is not sufficient to protect her name. When Urbán tells Leonarda that Camilo has seen him, thus putting her honor at risk, she decides to send Urbán to serve her much older cousin so as to mislead Camilo. “Let this stain fall on my cousin,” she says, “as long as my reputation shines” (2581–2582). Out on the street, Leonarda’s three unwanted suitors have stumbled their way into a clumsy act of violence. While composing a song about the widow and her squire, Lisandro notices a man leaving the house. Doubly mistaken that the man is Urbán and that her servant is her lover, Lisandro stabs the messenger Rosano in rash and misdirected revenge.


The ruse involving Leonarda’s cousin is successful, and an irate Camilo writes an insulting letter to the cousin. While Camilo’s mysterious romance seems to be coming to an end, Floro confesses that he has agreed to a marriage with Celia. “What strange things blind love does!” Camilo notes: “It drives me crazy for an old woman/ while Floro marries my old flame” (2905–2907). Leonarda summons Camilo to her home, saying that she will reveal her identity. Camilo agrees, but brings a lantern with him in case she refuses to honor her promise.


When Camilo shines the light on her face, he is delighted to recognize his lover as the widow he sees by day. Leonarda is upset, however, and Lucencio, hearing her raised voice, enters the room. Once discovered, Leonarda proposes marriage to Camilo. Lucencio calls for witnesses, and the servants and suitors, already in the house, bless the marriage. Urbán then follows by asking for Julia’s hand. The deception bends toward revelation, the erotic energies toward the union of marriage, as the widow is once again wife. With the power of desire and irrepressible wit, Leonarda has orchestrated the events of the comedy, but Camilo is given its final words: “And with that, I say/ ends The Widow of Valencia (3111–3112).



At the climax of the play, when it seems that the impending discovery of Leonarda’s identity will force her to obey her uncle and marry an unknown suitor in Madrid, she tells Julia, “A woman in love/ unmakes any law” (2787–2788). Leonarda’s willingness to transgress social norms in the service of her passion defines her and drives the plot of the drama. The schemes she sets in motion, born of wit and desire, at once enact and undermine the expected behavior for women in early modern Spain.


Seventeenth-century Spain allowed few opportunities for female autonomy. Parents and male siblings supervised girls and women until marriage, at which point wives effectively became the property of their husbands. A widow, however, was often both sexually experienced and financially self-sufficient—both Leonarda and Lucencio refer to her annual pension. This allowed at least potential freedom from the control of male relatives, and consequently widows were often considered dangerous or even transgressive. Contemporary Catholic treatises, such as Friar Luis de León’s 1583 The Perfect Wife tried to restrict widows, urging them to “take up a life of reflection and introspection” consisting of “solitude, prayer, penitence, and sobriety.” When Lope imagines Leonarda reading that very manual in the play’s first scene, or referencing moralists in her conversation with Lucencio, he is acknowleding their influence. Leonarda is not so easily contained, however: she defines home and church as zones of erotic chance, first becoming enamored of Camilo during mass, and then making her house the site of secret amorous encounters.


By orchestrating the conditions to satisfy her sexual needs without forfeiting her reputation and freedom, Leonarda manages to avoid the categories that her society imagined for women. As Urbán tells Camilo before his first visit to Leonarda’s house: “It depends,/ sometimes she is married,/ sometimes a maid,/ and other times a widow./ She is neither married nor a maid,/ nor a widow, nor dishonored and abandoned” (1143–1148). Leonarda’s deft navigation of these roles shows the force of female desire and the failure of social norms to fully regulate women. As neither unmarried virgin, nor widow, nor spurned woman, Leonarda may act according to her will rather than the dictates of her society.


Her liberty to act, however, is limited by the need to meet cultural expectations. By giving the audience a window into the domestic life of his protagonist, Lope shows the contrast between public and private, the social self and the demands of desire. In his dedication, he writes to his recently widowed lover Marta de Nevares, whom he calls Marcia Leonarda: “My Leonarda was discreet (as are you, who share her name) in finding a remedy for her solitude without harm to her reputation. Just as the trick when swimming is knowing how to keep one’s clothes dry, so it is with following desire while maintaining one’s good name” (p. 28). Lope’s fictional widow does not make her transgressions public, or extend such possibilities to other women; yet the clever paths she charts to elude the rules of her society reveal the weakness of social codes when faced with the creative, indomitable will. After all, as Leonarda says early in the play, “What won’t a determined woman do/ for the sake of her pleasure?” (812–813).


Faced with the need to ensure both pleasure and reputation, Leonarda finally decides to marry when Lucencio finds Camilo in her room. Though she must request her uncle’s blessing, Leonarda is the one who proposes, indirectly, to Camilo: “And if he is willing,/ I want to be his wife” (3062–3063). Rather than assenting to her uncle’s plan for her to move to Madrid, she remains in Valencia, though she will be a widow no longer. Camilo, who did not know her true identity until a moment before, agrees without hesitation. Just as Leonarda took charge of wooing Camilo, she manages their impending marriage.


Lope is working from the tradition of the mujer esquiva (elusive woman) play, in which a disdainful widow must submit to a man in marriage. Much as the strong-willed Katherine must eventually submit to Petruchio in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, such plays present the restriction of the woman to a domestic role. Yet though the resolution of The Widow of Valencia could be said to tame Leonarda, Gabriela Carrión astutely suggests that she “is defeated only insofar as the shroud of privacy surrounding her affair with Camilo has been torn asunder,”—the ending is nonetheless her triumph. The play neither entirely subverts nor entirely reinforces traditional gender roles; instead, it does both, and the resolution cannot erase what has been enacted and revealed on the path to it. The Widow of Valencia brings into relief the limitations of gender norms, the irrepressible nature of erotic desire, and the avenues for female agency in early modern Spain. By cleverly unmaking the laws, Leonarda reveals how flimsy and foolish they were in the first place.



Just as Leonarda’s actions throughout the play highlight female agency in a supposedly strict society, they also lead the men in the play to explore relationships with each other in ways that challenge gender norms. In fact, over the course of the play the widow’s three most eager suitors, Lisandro, Otón, and Valerio, develop closer ties to each other than they ever do to the object of their desire. When they first appear in Act I, their shared experiences of longing and rejection unite them not only as rivals but also as comrades in arms. While their pursuit of the same woman could easily have ended in the three men fighting for the chance to woo Leonarda, they quickly decide that their competition will be a friendly one as Otón pledges that though “Rivalry and good intentions/ seldom dine together [. . .]/ it shall be so/ for that best serves everyone” (424–427). Throughout the play, the three do their best to approach the disinterested widow, recognizing each other’s attempts and failures. By Act II, Leonarda’s continued rejection leads the men to forge an even stronger bond as allies “against the fierce cruelty/ of that cold ungrateful heart” (1773–1774). Acting as a kind of “Lovers of Leonarda” support group, Valerio, Otón, and Lisandro enjoy each other’s company as they stake out the widow’s house, compare strategies for wooing, compose songs together, and even plot to remove Urbán from the picture, having assumed that he is Leonarda’s lover. At the close of the play, the three suitors must be content to accept the ties of male friendship as the consolation prize for their marital aspirations: as everyone else around them pairs up into couples, the three are left, happily it seems, with each other.


And yet the bonding which occurs between Leonarda’s suitors pales in comparison to that which develops between the two most important men in the widow’s life, her servant Urbán and her love interest Camilo. Throughout the play both men express a mutual, almost erotic, admiration for each other. When Urbán reports back to his mistress after discovering Camilo’s name and address he cannot help but describe the other young man in admiring detail:


URBÁN I swear I’ve never seen

a finer looking man

since the day I was born.

What a face, what elegance!

What a neatly kept beard!

Such generous hands!

They looked like pure snow.

What a figure, what a well-turned leg!

What charm, what cleverness! (739–747)


Of course, while Urbán’s interest might be attributed to the money he has just received from the careless Camilo, the young servant’s description freely recognizes and appreciates the physical appeal of his mistress’s love interest. This odd relationship continues to develop at the request of Leonarda, who enlists Urbán as Camilo’s escort through Valencia for their nightly meetings. For his part, Camilo willingly goes with the masked Urbán; even his doubts about whether the proposition comes from “a man/ and not a woman” (1154–1155) do not stop him from following the promise of erotic fulfillment. The homoerotic tension which builds between these two as they journey to Leonarda’s house finds release in a flirtatious little moment that does not escape Julia, who notes wryly that “They’re amused” with each other (1508). Although Leonarda’s attentions quickly overtake Camilo’s desires, he still remains entranced by the young man who guides him nightly to pleasurable encounters with the widow. He even repays Urbán’s earlier flattery with his own admiring portrait of the servant:


CAMILO [. . .] I stared at him without blinking,

memorizing his visage.

I laid awake,

contemplating his features,

etched in stone in my memory [. . .] (2692–2696)


Camilo’s obsession with the young servant’s features may stem from his obsession with seeing Leonarda’s face, with Urbán serving as a proxy for the lover’s frustrated desires, and yet this only serves to underscore the erotic tension between these two male characters. Just as with her suitors, Leonarda serves as the focal point between men who are brought together in order to please her and therefore exist within a “pattern of male friendship, mentorship, entitlement, rivalry, and hetero- and homosexuality . . . [where] no element of that pattern can be understood outside of its relation to women and the gender system as a whole.” While the play closes with both Camilo and Urbán finding their match of the opposite sex, their brief indulgence in male admiration highlights a continuum of male relationships that push the boundaries of gender norms.



In Lope’s dedication to the widow Marta de Nevares, he advises her to take The Widow of Valencia as a mirror: reflected in the character of Leonarda, she can “adjust [her] mantle more clearly than in any Venetian glass” (p. 29). A mirror appears in the first act as well, when the ostensibly pious widow asks Julia for a religious portrait by Francisco de Ribalta, and the servant instead brings her lady a glass in which she can see her own youth and beauty. Though Leonarda initially reacts to Julia with impatience, apparently focused on spiritual meditation, De Armas suggests that this substitution of mirror for painting foreshadows Leonarda’s move “from Christian devotion to a more corporeal devotion,” and from spiritual reflection to the recognition of physical beauty. Yet even as the play privileges sexual desire over Catholic moral codes, it explores the power of art, particularly visual art, as both representation of and origin of human sentiment.


In the Spanish Golden Age, the notion that love entered through the eyes was commonplace, and on that basis, Leonarda’s intent to woo Camilo as an “invisible mistress” seems destined to fail. Before the first meeting, Camilo outlines the standard vision of love: “Pleasure comes through the eyes,/ the very act of seeing/ knowing, and conversing with a lady/ is what makes love desirable, . . ./ A blind man, on the contrary,/ such as I will be with this lady,/ takes his pleasure like a beast” (1121–1127). Just as Valerio attempts to awaken Leonarda’s passions by showing her Titian’s Adonis, Camilo reinforces the notion that art and romantic love both arise from sight. Leonarda, however, rejects this supposition as firmly as she rejects Valerio’s bumbling advances.


Her attempt to put touch over sight in affairs of the heart mirrors her creative carving of a space for womanhood outside of maid, wife, or widow. Leonarda is, if nothing else, a woman whose actions are dictated by her own desire over prescribed social norms. Yet Camilo is as eager to see her as Lucencio is to have her remarry, and persistently requests light: “So that I might see you,/ do as great painters do,/ who having painted the night,/ put in enough light to see it by” (1333–1336). When Leonarda briefly takes off his mask, the gallant is impressed but ultimately unsatisfied by the rich furniture and fine tapestries of the house as long as he is not permitted to see the lady behind it, and her plan to remain unmarried collapses as soon as he brings out his lantern and illuminates her face.


Though Lope warns in his dedication to Marta de Nevares that he may, “like a bad painter, betray the original” with an “imperfect portrait” (p. 30), The Widow of Valencia is extraordinarily attentive to the powers of art and artifice, the vision of love, and the theatrical ruse. Leonarda is split between a public performance in which she appears to be a mourning widow and a private play in which she stage-manages and stars in a three-dimensional portrait of desire. Of course, this structure is not sturdy enough to last, and even the buffoonish trio of suitors imagine that Leonarda, “with all those pictures and books/ has one in particular that she adores” (1599–1600). Though their suspicion that Urbán is her lover is incorrect, they are unerring about the force of her desire. In The Widow of Valencia, art may represent and inspire the call of heart and body, but it is no substitute for the physical force of desire. A vision of love that marries sight to touch ultimately prevails. Both mirror and portrait are put away, the lovers see each other, and Lope’s play concludes with a triple wedding.



The city of Valencia, capital of the kingdom of the same name on the eastern shores of the Iberian Peninsula, was well known to Lope de Vega. The writing, staging, and publication of The Widow of Valencia resulted from the poet’s second visit to the city as part of the royal retinue that accompanied Philip III to Valencia in 1599. For three months, the city celebrated the double royal weddings of King Philip III to Margaret of Austria, as well as the infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia’s marriage to Albert of Austria. The weddings drew all manner of poets and artists to the city, including Lope de Vega, who returned to the site of his previous exile as an official chronicler of events, writing poems and comedias amid the bustle and chaos of the celebrations. With local and international aristocracy in Valencia, multiple tournaments, poetic competitions, and street performances were held in honor of the monarch and the royal entourage. Lope participated in the celebrations, becoming Don Carnival for the festivities and reciting poetry written for the occasion:


He was dressed all in red like an Italian clown, with a long black cloak and a velvet cap  [. . .] as the actors passed the royal palace, Lope addressed Philip and the Infanta Isabel, first in Italian, celebrating the double royal marriage and then reciting the beautiful ballad in Castilian, which lasted half an hour.


Lope gives a nod to these poetic competitions and performances in the characters of Leonarda’s intrepid trio of suitors, Otón, Lisandro, and Valerio. While these bumbling-yet-ever-hopeful men may seem incongruous to the love plot, given how ineffectual they are as antagonists to Leonarda and Camilo’s love, they serve as a reminder of the more formal celebrations occurring in the background of the play. Nearly every time they appear on stage, each suitor delivers a sonnet based around themes of love, rejection, and longing. In addition to reminding the audience how delusional the three suitors are about their hopes for Leonarda’s love, these sonnets also recreate the poetic competitions which were often held during royal and religious celebrations. These competitions would establish a set of guidelines for the poets (rhyme, meter, thematic content) and a public performance of the poems would decide the winner, who often received an honorary title along with a monetary prize. The ongoing theme for Otón, Lisandro, and Valerio is unattainable love, and their poetic form is the sonnet. In these highly poetic moments, the suitors not only vie for the affections of the elusive widow but also for the approval of the spectators, hoping that the claps and jeers of the audience will crown a winner. In a similar vein, the three also exchange ridiculous stories of “favors” granted them by the widow, becoming the buffoons of a carnival parade, to be laughed at by a knowing audience.


The recreation of celebratory performances goes one step further in Act III, as the three suitors once again try to capture the spirit of the festivities. Fed up as they are with Leonarda’s refusals, and certain that she and Urbán are lovers behind closed doors, the three decide to pass the time waiting for Urbán by composing a song about the two:


VALERIO We’d better sing their praises instead

and improvise a song for the lovers.


LISANDRO Do you have any rhymes for me?


OTÓN Let’s work the refrain.


VALERIO Oh, aren’t you a song-book!


LISANDRO Let’s hear it.


OTÓN How about this:

the widow and her squire.


VALERIO Oh, that’s good! (2427–2435)


Each suitor composes a stanza replete with references to literary and mythological figures, “the widow and her squire” serving as the jaunty refrain to an odd little ditty which once again showcases the suitors’ poetic skills and reminds the audience of their collective romantic failures. The scene quickly shifts with the appearance of someone they believe to be Urbán, as the carnivalesque performance turns to violence on the dark street. Valerio, Lisandro, and Otón’s scenes thus encompass Carnival in all its modes, from the high to the low, and remind the audience of the dangers lurking beneath the chaos and confusion of the festivities.


This atmosphere of uncontrolled celebration completely permeates The Widow of Valencia. The play is set during the Carnival festivities, with excesses of all kinds preceding the self-denial and introspection of Lent. Leonarda’s transgression and subversion of gender roles is made possible, in more ways than one, by the uninhibited revelry of a holiday season which temporarily suspends the strictures of society—as Leonarda herself observes “Valencia is all a riot at Carnival/ with masks and costumes” (778–779). Taking advantage of the Carnival traditions of disguises and public street parties, the widow enlists her servants in a game of masks in order to bring Camilo to her house:


LEONARDA [I]f anything goes,

then put on a costume and a mask,

go find this gentleman

and let on, Urbán,

that a certain lady favors him,

that she loves him dearly,

and that he could have her

if he waits for you tonight

on the near side of the Palace Bridge. (781–789)


The plan she proposes could only be implemented during Carnival, when masked revelers are a common sight in the city and the search to satisfy carnal desires is at its peak. Aside from the physical masks that Leonarda and her servants don to obscure their faces, the astute widow also takes advantage of all the different guises available to a woman of her class and social standing to shield her true identity from Camilo. Before their first encounter, Camilo attempts to discover information about the mysterious woman propositioning him. Urbán’s playful answer—she is neither this, nor that—makes it clear that the young widow is taking full advantage of the confusion of Carnival, taking up all manner of disguises to fulfill her desires and protect her reputation. For Camilo, this mysterious woman is hidden behind many masks: during their encounters, she is the hunting falcon; in the light of day she is the goddess Diana; and on the streets of Valencia she is the “little widow” who seems to have a strange interest in him (2256). The game of masks transforms him as well, as the typically male pursuer becomes instead the prey.


Valencia’s cityscape becomes an essential part of this pursuit, as the two lovers encounter each other first in church, then in the famous orchards and fields of Valencia’s Prado, and once again on the busy streets of the city’s mercantile district. Setting the play in Valencia allows Lope to explore a particular kind of cityscape with its own customs and reputation. Valencia opens up the narrative possibilities of the play in a way that would not have been possible in Madrid, where so many of his plays are set. Quite apart from incorporating the carnivalesque atmosphere of Valencia during the 1599 wedding celebrations, Lope’s play also turns its lens on the contemporary realities of the mercantile port city, and its reputation as the seat of debauchery in the Iberian Peninsula.


At the turn of the seventeenth century Valencia was defined by its mercantile spirit and its connection to the Mediterranean. The city’s industries, including the growing printing industry and silk trade, were at their peak during this time, and the city functioned as a hub for commerce from all over the Mediterranean and Europe. The mercantile fervor of the city is so vibrant, in fact, that it breaks through Leonarda’s careful seclusion in Act I. Unable to resist the temptation of a salesman at the door, Leonarda allows two of her suitors, disguised as peddlers, to gain entry into her home and woo her as they pitch their ‘wares.’ The scene reminds the audience that Valencia is a city of commerce, as the wares are the very same for which it was famous at the turn of the seventeenth century: printing, both of books and images, silk production for tapestries, and perfumes. In this scene, Valerio and Otón turn the act of courtship into a business transaction, hawking their love for Leonarda along with books of poetry and reproductions of paintings—and they are not the only ones to sell their love.


Even before their first encounter, Leonarda and Camilo’s relationship is also focused on material goods. Because Camilo accidentally overpays Urbán for participating in a “religious procession” (a ruse to learn Camilo’s name), Leonarda and her servants believe that the man of her dreams is far wealthier than he really is, and this encourages Leonarda in her decision to pursue him. For their first meeting, Leonarda surrounds her would-be lover with the best brocades and decorations her household has to offer:


CAMILO Stunning tapestries and brocades!

Stunning paintings and art!

Yet they hardly shine

when your eyes are covered. (1379–1382)


The fine quality of her household serves to make Camilo aware of her caliber, even as she hides her face in the shadows. Perhaps even more tellingly, the encounter ends abruptly with a less than romantic economic transaction, as Leonarda promises Camilo “jewels/ worth two thousand ducats” (1451–1452), seemingly in payment for the moment of erotic satisfaction he has afforded her and a promise of more to come. This exchange becomes a negotiation, with Camilo wavering between accepting the promised bounty and insisting on more physical enjoyment of Leonarda:


CAMILO     Fine jewels?


LEONARDA You there! Bring me those chains

and that charm, the Cupid one.

Bring them here . . .


CAMILO No. Don’t do that,

it will only upset me further.

For I desire your eyes more

than any jewels you could offer me.

If you gave me those sapphires,

or the rubies and pearls,

of your mouth,

I could give you so much more. (1453–1463)


Leonarda, accustomed to handling her own substantial finances since her husband’s death, is a far better negotiator than Camilo and maintains complete control of the situation. She gets what she wants from him while also whetting his appetite for more; although Camilo would rather have seen the woman who has seduced him, the gifts he receives satisfy him for the time being.


Of course, Camilo is no stranger to courtship as a material transaction, as is clear from the confrontation he has with ex-lover Celia in Act III. In an argument which officially ends their relationship, their courtship is framed in terms of a business deal gone sour; when Celia reminds Camilo of the promises he made to her as a lover, he counters by telling her, “You cost me a pretty penny,/ not to speak of the clothes” (2219–2200). As far as Camilo is concerned he has paid his dues to Celia, and thus ends the courtship on his terms.


The emphasis on courtship as the exchange of material goods for romantic favors is no accident. Just as Lope evokes royal festivities and the mercantile spirit of Valencia to play up the contemporary vision of this city as one of sumptuous excesses—both carnal and material—he relies on the city’s reputation for prostitution and easy women to present an erotically charged vision of love. Valencia was home to one of the oldest and most prolific brothels in Spain, giving the city’s men a reputation for being easygoing and the women for being easy. Contemporary chronicler Henrique Cock noted during his 1585 visit to the city, “[The] women are the most lusty and lascivious of all Spain.” Leonarda’s pursuit to satisfy her physical desires and Camilo’s willingness to accommodate reflect this reputation.



Lope’s play begins and ends in Leonarda’s Valencian home, the primary interior space in the drama. It is the site of her nightly meetings with Camilo and the object of her suitors’ suspicion. Despite Lucencio’s warning that even if she were to “let not an atom,/ nay not the sun itself,/ enter a house so rare,” she still could not avoid the gossiping tongues of her neighbors, Leonarda envisions the domestic space as one she controls (209–211). At home, she may allow what and whom she pleases as long as she takes the proper care. While Golden Age treatises defined the home as the widow’s retreat from public life and the site for private mourning, Leonarda brings the sun of erotic love inside the house, thus converting her seclusion into a secret liberty, and her intended prison into a fortress for the satisfaction of her desire.


Before Camilo arrives, Leonarda and her servants design the house as a stage set for an act of love: Leonarda asks Julia, “Are the hangings and velvets/ all in their proper places?” and, “Is that tapestry/ right for that sitting room?” (1236–1237, 1240–1241). While the intent is to keep Camilo mostly in the dark, allowing only partial glimpses of the ornate decoration of the house he visits, these details illustrate the reversal of Leonarda’s prescribed social role. Rather than facilitating quiet devotion to her deceased husband, the house enables her to love another Camilo. Rather than becoming the target of a suitor, Leonarda uses her house to help her trap the gallant she desires. As Camilo says, “in this house of veils,/ the partridge is hooded/ while the falcon can see” (1408–1410). In her domestic space, Leonarda, with the assistance of her servants, manages the veils.   


The street scenes reinforce that the house is, temporarily, impenetrable. After the fiasco where the suitors, passing as merchants, had the door opened to them, they are forced to keep watch from the street. They finally get as close as possible without entering, each forming a column at the gate, unaware that the others are there. Unable to be with Leonarda herself, the suitors make her house into a metaphor for the body of the lady, as her door becomes the opening for the “treasure” inside. Lisandro, arriving last, claims a location closest to the entrance: “If they are your support,/ let us all buttress you up./ Leaving is out of the question:/ make room, I’ll get in the middle” (1680–1683). Immobilized by their own suspicion and only metaphorically granted access to Leonarda, the suitors meld comically with the architecture of her domestic stronghold, but they are ultimately left outside. Leonarda manages to let Camilo in while excluding her ridiculous trio of suitors from the home.


This set-up is only briefly tenable, as Leonarda cannot prop up her façades indefinitely. Lope’s contemporary, the philosopher Baltasar Gracián wrote, “There are people who are all façade, like unfinished houses . . . their front might be like a palace, but there is only a shack behind.” In The Widow of Valencia, Lope draws out the relationship between the exterior of a building and a personality, as Leonarda’s ability to keep up the appearances that mask her actions and desires and to keep people out of her house collapse simultaneously. Not only Camilo’s lantern but also Lucencio’s presence in the house topples Leonarda’s structure of private liaisons. When witnesses are finally called for her engagement, Leonarda tells Urbán, “You might as well/ have brought the whole city!” and he responds, “They were almost at the door” (3077–3079). The fortress was always surrounded, and the forces of patriarchy would eventually be impossible to ward off. While merging the personal façade of the pious widow and physical façade of the home allows her to satisfy her desire, domestic space becomes again the site of marital union as the play concludes. Yet Leonarda, with seductive wit, has already illustrated for the audience how a house of mourning may easily become an arena for love.



The play has enjoyed several productions in Spain since the 1960s, with one in the Teatro María Guerrero in Madrid in 1960 and two separate television adaptations with Televisión Española in 1975 and 1983. In 2008, the Teatro Rialto in Valencia reopened with a production of the play, probably the first staging in Valencia since 1599. Most recently, an adaptation of the play was produced by the Spanish television program “Estudio 1” for Televisión Española, airing first in 2010 and again in 2012. With a runtime of 73 minutes, this version offers a fast-paced adaptation of the source material which heightens the eroticism of the original for a modern audience.