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Jacinto Benavente (1866-1954) - Jacinto Benavente y Martínez

 

One of the most important Spanish dramatists of the 20th century and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1922. Benavente wrote over 170 plays. In his early works he exposed prejudices of the upper middle class and society's defects, without being a social reformer. Benavente's second, conservative half of his literary career, is considered a long decline. His support of Franco's regime cast a shadow over his international reputation.

"He is a rare example of a born dramatist, one whose imagination, by itself, creates in accordance with the laws of the stage, but yet avoids anything theatrical as fully as all other false conventions." (Per Hallström of the Swedish Academy in his presentation speech about Benavente)

Jacinto Benavente y Martinez was born in Madrid. He was the youngest of three children of Venancia Martinez, and Mariano Benavente, a noted pediatrician, who admired Shakespeare's works and transferred his interest in plays to his children. Benavente was educated at the prestigious San Isidore Institute, where he started to perform playlets and puppet shows. In 1882 Benavente went to the University of Madrid to study law. After his father's death in 1885, Benavente dropped his studies and started to write essays, sketches, and contributions to journals. In 1890 he joined a theater company as an actor. His first published work was Teatro fantástico (1892), eight sketches based on dreams and fantasies.

An aristocrat and a conservative, Benavente began with plays that broke the moribund neo-Romantic tradition of José Echegaray (1832-1916). His first dramatic work, El nido ajeno (1894), was ignored by the critics, but two years later Benavente established his reputation as a playwright with Gente conocida. In the following years Benavente created over forty dramas. He removed rhetoric from theatrical language – from verbal language to the setting. Typical for his work was understated style and technical perfection. The emphasis is not on the action but on dialogue and the psychological twists and turns of the human psyche. In life as upon the stage, says Princess Bebé, one of his characters, the real entertainment goes behind the scenes.

Benavente's plays, which deeply influenced Spanish theater, differed greatly from the romantic tradition of José Echegaray (1832-1916). (Coincidentally, Echegaray had been a client of Benavente's father.) His witty dialogue had much in common with the ironical tone of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. He once said: "The public demands that serious things be treated frivolously, and that nonsense be taken seriously. What it will not tolerate is serious treatment of serious things, or speaking flippantly of nonsense." Especially Benavente satirized the Spanish bourgeoisie. Among these pieces were La comida de las fieras (1898), an attack on aristocrats, Lo cursi (1901), an analysis of the traditional and the counterfeit modern, La Gobernadora (1901), about corrupt provincial politics, La noche del sábado (1903, Saturday Night), set on the Riviera, El dragón del fuego (1904), a satire on imperialism,  Los Malhechores Del Bien (1905), about religious hypocrisy, and La princesa Bebé (1906), in which the heroine seeks truth from the pretentious surroundings of the Court to the theatre and the underworld. Many plays were set in Madrid, among them Autumnal Roses (1905), or in Moraleda, a fictitious provincial town in Castilia, the setting of La gobernadora (1901, The Governor's Wife), El primo Román (1901), El marido de su viuda (1908, His Widow's Husband), Pepa Doncel (1928), and others.

In the late 1890s Benavente joined the innovative group of modernist writers known as the Generation of '98, which sought to revive Spain's prestige after its defeat in the Spanish-American war. He was named in 1899 editor of the journal Vida literaria, a voice of the Generation of '98. Later he also wrote for the Madrid newspaper El Imparcial.

During WWI, Benavente sympathized with the German cause, which alienated him from some of his friends, who supported the Allied Forces. His position Benavente defended in El año germanófilo (1916). In 1920 Benavente was named director of the Teatro Español, Spain's national theater. Sometimes he acted on the stage. When the Spanish Civil war broke out in 1936, Benavente declared his support to the Republican cause and left Madrid. He was captured in Valencia and taken back to his home town where he was set under house arrest. After the war he developed close ties  with the Franco regime (see Camilo José Cela).

Saturday Night, which ran for two years in New York, established Benavente's international fame. Another internationally acclaimed play was La malquerida, (1913, The Passion Flower). In the rustic drama incestuous hate and love between stepfather and stepdaughter lead to violence and murder. In spite of being mostly faithful to his own themes and style, Benavente followed contemporary European drama and introduced themes and dramatic conventions employed by other famous playwrights. He also experimented with fantastic, symbolist, and surrealistic trends.

"SYLVIA (to the audience): And in it, just as in the farces of real life, you've seen that these marionettes, like human beings, are moved by rough strings: their self-interest, their petty passions,deceit, and all the wretchedness of their condition. Some of the stringds pull their feet and make them walk on unhappy paths: others pull their hands, which labor with pain, struggle with rage, steal with cunning, and kill with violence." (from The Bonds of Interest, tr. Stanley Appelbaum)

Benavente published nearly 200 works during his career. One of his most acclaimed plays is Los intereses creados (1907, The Bonds of Interest), which resembles a puppet drama and utilizes the conventions of the commedia dell'arte. The hero of the story is Crispín, a crafty servant, who manipulates a group of people with invisible strings. He dupes the respectable citizens of a sixteenth-century city into believing that his impecunious master is a fabulously rich nobleman traveling incognito on a secret diplomatic mission. Benavente himself occasionally played the role of the puppet master in subsequent revivals. La ciudad alegre y confiada, the sequel for The Bonds of Interest, was written in 1916. La malquerida draws from classical mythology, and was later made into a Broadway production and a film. In the English speaking world, this play is best known as The Passion Flower. The rural drama tells of a woman, whose guilty love for her stepfather leads to the killing of her suitor and her mother.

Benavente lived with his mother until her death.  He never married but devoted his life primarily to travel and to the theater. In 1913 became a member of the Spanish Academy. His later works tended toward sentimentality and conservatism, and some young writers, such as as the novelist Ramón Pérez de Ayala, protested when Benavente was honoured with the Nobel Prize. At the time of the announcement in 1922, Benavente was on a tour of South America and the United States. He declined to attend the ceremonies, and the prize was accepted by the Spanish ambassador to Sweden.

Benavente's major works after World War I include La vestal de Occidente (1919), a study of Queen Elizabeth I and her love for Essex, La noche iluminada (1927), inspired by Shakespeare,  Pepa Doncel (1928), a psychological study of social climbers, and La Infanzona (1945), about incest. Between 1920 and 1924 he produced no new plays. In addition to his dramatic work, Benavente wrote literary and social criticism, and founded his own movie studio, the Sociéte des Films Benavente. It produced to pictures, Pour toute la vie / Para toda la vida (1923) and Más allá de la muerte (1924), both directed by Benito Perojo. Benavente died in Madrid on July 14, 1954.

For further information: Rosinante to the Road Again by J. Don Passos (1922); Jacinto Benavente by W. Starkie (1924); El teatro de Benavente, fin de siglo by J. Vila Selma (1952); Jacinto Benavente y su teatro by Estevan Sánchez (1954); Vida y obra de Benavente by A. Lázaro (1964); Jacinto Benavente by M.C. Peñuelas (1969); Jacinto Benavente and His Theatre by J.A. Diaz (1972); Benavente and the Spanish Panorama by R.L. Sheehan (1976)

Selected works:

  • Comedia italiana (written before 1892)
  • El criado de don Juan (written before 1892, prod. 1911)
  • La senda del amor (written before 1892)
  • La blancura de Pierrot (written before 1892)
  • Cuento de primavera (written before 1892)
  • Amor de artista (written before 1892)
  • Modernismo (written before 1892)
  • El encanto de una hora, 1892
  • Teatro fantástico, 1892 [Fantastic Theater]
  • Vilanos, 1893
  • Versos, 1893 [Poetry]
  • Cartas de mujeres, 1893
  • El nido ajeno, 1894 [Another's Nest]
  • Gente conocida, 1896 [Eminent People]
  • El marido de la Téllez, 1897 [Mrs.Téllez's husband]
  • De alivio, 1897 (monologue) 
  • Don Juan, 1897 (based on Molière's play)
  • La farándula, 1897 [The Company of Comedians]
  • Figulinas, 1898
  • La comida de las fieras, 1898 [The Wild Beasts' Banquet] 
  • Teatro feminista, 1898 (farce comedy with music) 
  • Cuento de amor, 1899 (based on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night)
  • Operación quirúrgica, 1899
  • Despedida cruel: comedia en un acto, 1899
  • La gata de ángora, 1900
  • Viaje de instrucción, 1900
  • Por la herida, 1900
  • Modas: sainete en un acto y en prosa, 1901
  • La gobernadora, 1901
    - The Governor's Wife (in Plays: Second Series, translated by J.G. Underhill, 1919)
  • Sin querer, 1901
  • Sacrificios, 1901
  • Lo cursi, 1901
  • La gobernadora, 1901
  • El primo román, 1901
  • Amor de amor, 1902
  • ¡Liberdad!, 1902 (based on a play by Santiogo Rusiñol y Prats)
  • En tren de los maridos, 1902
  • Alma triunfante, 1902
    - film: De mujer a mujer, 1950, prod. Compañía Industrial Film Español S.A. (CIFESA), dir.  Luis Lucia, adaptation by Antonio Abad Ojuel
  • El automóvil, 1902
  • La noche del sábado: novela escénica en cinco cuadros. Lo cursi, comedia en tres actos, 1903
    - Saturday Night (in Plays: Third Series, translated by J.G. Underhill, 1923)
    - film adaptations:  La noche del sábado, 1950, prod. Suevia Films - Cesáreo González, dir. Rafael Gil, screenplay Antonio Abad Ojuel and Rafael Gil; La noche del sábado, TV play 1970, starring Carmen Bernardos, Jaime Blanch, Luis Dávila, Andrés Meiuto, Tina Sáinz 
  • El hombrecito, 1903
  • Los favoritos, 1903
  • Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle, 1903 (translation, based on a play by Alexandre Dumas pére)
  • Por que se ama, 1903
  • Al natural, 1903
  • La casa de la dicha, 1903
  • No fumadores, 1904
    - No Smoking (in Plays: Second Series, translated by J.G. Underhill, 1919; Adventures in World Literature, translated by J.G. Underhill, 1936)
  • El dragón de fuego, 1904
  • Richelieu, 1904 (translation, based on a play by Edward Bulwer-Lytton)
  • Los malhechores de bien, 1905
    - The Evil Doers of Good (in Plays, translated by J.G. Underhill, 1917)
  • Rosas de verano, 1905
  • Rosas de otoño, 1905
    - Autumnal Roses (in Plays: Second Series, tr. J.G. Underhill, 1919)
    - film adaptations: Rosas de otoño, 1943, dir. Eduardo Morera, Juan de Orduña, starring María Fernanda Ladrón de Guevara, Mariano Asquerino and Marta Santaolalla; Rosas de otoño, TV play 1979, in Estudio 1, dir. Manuel Aguado, starring Amparo Rivelles, Francisco Piquer and Ana María Vidal  
  • Manon Lescaut, 1905
  • El susto de la condesa, 1905
  • Cuento inmoral, 1905
  • La sobresalienta, 1905
  • Las cigarras hormigas, 1905
  • Buena boda, 1905 (based on Émile Augier's Un beau mariage)
  • La princesa bebé, 1906
    - Princess Bebé (in Plays: Second Series, translated by J.G. Underhill, 1919)
  • Más fuerte que el amor, 1906
  • El amor asusta, 1907
  • Los búhos: comedia en tres actos y en prosa, 1907
  • Los intereses creados: comedia de Polichinelas en dos actos, tres cuadros y un prólogo, 1907
    - The Bonds of Interest (tr. John Garrett, 1921; in Plays, translated by J.G. Underhill, 1917; Stanley Appelbaum, 2004)
    - film: Los intereses creados, 1919, prod. Cantabria Cines, dir. Jacinto Benavente, Ricardo Puga, with Ricardo Puga, Raymonde de Bach and Teresa Arroniz
  • Abuela y nieta, 1907
  • La copa encantada, 1907
  • La princesa sin corazón, 1907
  • Todos somos unos, 1907
  • La historia de Otelo, 1907
  • Los ojos de los muertos, 1907
  • Señora ama: comedía en tres actos, 1908
    - A Lad (in Plays: Fourth Series, tr. J.G. Underhill, 1924)
    - film adaptations: Señora ama, 1955, prod. Diana Films, Unión Films, dir. Julio Bracho, starring Dolores del Rio, José Suárez and María Luz Galicia; Señora ama, TV film 1980, in Estudio 1
  • La sonrisa de Gioconda, 1908
    - The Smile of Mona Lisa (translated by J.A. Herman, 1915)
  • La fuerza bruta, 1908
    - Brute Force (translated by J.G. Underhill, 1936)
    - film adaptations: La forza bruta, 1941, prod. Lux Film, dir. Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia, starring Juan de Landa, Rossano Brazzi and Germana Paolieri; La fuerza bruta, TV play 1980, in Teatro breve, starring  Jaime Blanch, Rafael Castejón, Yolanda Farr, Antonio Iranzo,  Marisa Lahoz
  • El marido de su viuda, 1908
    - His Widow's Husband (in Plays, tr. J.G. Underhill, 1917; The Nobel Prize Treasury, translated by J.G. Underhill, 1948)
  • De pequeñas causas, 1908
  • Hacia la verdad: escenas de la vida moderna, en tres cuadros, 1908
  • Ganarse la vida, 1909
  • El último minué, 1909
  • La escuela de las princesa, 1909
    - The School of Princesses (in Plays: Fourth Series, translated by J.G. Underhill, 1924)
  • El príncipe que todo lo aprendió en los libros: comedia en dos actos y siete caudros, 1909
    - The Prince Who Learned Everything out of Books (in Plays: Third Series, translated by J.G. Underhill, 1923)
  • Por las nubes, 1909
    - In the Clouds (in Plays: Third Series, tr. J.G. Underhill, 1923)
  • De cerca: comedia en un acto y en pros, 1909
    - At Close Range (tr. J.G. Underhill, 1936)
  • ¡A ver qué hace un hombre!, 1909
  • La señorita se aburre: comedia en un acto, basada en una poesía de Tennyson, 1909
  • De sobremesa; crónicas, 1910-1916 (6 vols.)
  • El nietecito, 1910
  • Caridad, 1911
  • El criado de Don Juan, 1911
    - Don Juan's Servant (tr. 1957)
  • La rosa de los sueños: comedia en dos actos en prosa, 1911
    - TV play: La rosa de los sueños, 1968, in Teatro de siempre, starring Concha Cuetos, Fernando Delgado, Estanis González, Lola Herrera, Luisa Sala
  • El rey lear, 1911 (translation, based on Shakespeare's King Lear)
  • La malquerida, 1913
    - The Passion Flower (in Twenty-five Modern Plays, 3d ed., tr. J.G. Underhill, 1953)
    - Väärä rakkaus (suom.)
    - film adaptations: La malquerida, 1914, dir. Ricardo de Baños; Passion Flower / Love or Hate, 1921, dir. Herbert Brenon, starring Norma Talmadge, Courtenay Foote, Eulalie Jensen, Harrison Ford; La malquerida, 1939, dir. José López Rubio; 1949, dir. Emilio Fernandez, starring Dolores del Rio, Pedro Armendáriz, Columba Domínguez; La malquerida, TV play 1963, dir. Pedro Amalio Lópwez; TV play 1977, dir. Enrique Diosdado; La malquerida, TV play 2006, in Estudio 1, dir. Belén Molinero, starring María Jesús Hoyos, Mercedes Sampietro and María Elena Flores
  • El destino manda, 1914 (translation, based on Paul Hervieu's Le destin est maître)
  • El collar de estrellas, 1915
  • La verdad, 1915
    - The Truth (in Plays: Third Series, tr. J.G. Underhill, 1923)
  • La propia estimación, 1915
  • El Año germanófilo, 1916
  • La ciudad alegre y confiada: comedia en tres cuadros y un prólogo, considerados como tres actos. 2. parte de "Los intereses creados, 1916
    - TV play 1966, in Estudio 1, starring Tomás Blanco, Margarita Calahorra, Nuria Carresi, José María Escuer, Claudia Gravy, Francisco Piquer, Manuel Torremocha, Paco Valladares
  • Campo de armiño: comedia en tres actos, 1916
    - Field of Ermine (in Plays: Fourth Series, tr. J.G. Underhill, 1924)
  • La túnica amarilla, 1916 (translation, based on the play by George C. Hazelton and Harry Benrimo)
  • El mal que nos hacen, 1917
  • Plays, 1917-24 (4 vols.)
  • Los cachorros: comedia en tres actos, en prosa, 1918
  • La mefistófela, 1918
  • La Inmaculada de los Dolores, 1918
  • La ley de los hijos, 1918
  • Por ser con todos leal, ser para todos traidor, 1919
  • Plays: Second Series, 1919
  • La vestal de Occidente, 1919
  • El audad, 1919 (based on the novel by Benito Pérez Galdós)
  • La honra de los hombres, 1919
  • La Cenicienta, 1919
  • Y va de cuento, 1919
  • La fuerza bruta, 1919
  • Una señora, 1920
    - A Lady (in Plays: Fourth Series, tr. J.G. Underhill, 1924)
  • Una pobre mujer, 1920
  • Más allá de la muerte, 1922
  • Teatro, 1922 (35 vols.)
  • Por que se quitó Juan de la bebida, 1922
  • Plays: Third Series, 1923
  • Plays: Fourth Series, 1924
  • Lecciones de buen amor: comedia en tres actos, 1924
    - film 1944, prod. Rey Soria, dir. Rafael Gil, starring Juan Calvo, Félix Fernández and Milagros Leal
  • Un par de botas, 1924
  • Alfilerazos, 1924
  • La otra honra: comedia en tres actos, 1924
  • La virtud sospechosa: comedia en tres actos, 1924
  • Nadie sabe lo que quiere, o el bailarín y el trabajador, 1925
    - film: El bailarín y el trabajador, 1936, dir. Luis Marquina, starring Roberto Rey, Ana María Custodio, Antoñita Colomé, José Isbert, Irene Caba Alba, Antonio Riquelme 
  • ¡Si creerás tú que es por mi gusto!, 1925
  • El suicidio de lucerito, 1925
  • Los nuevos yernos, 1925
  • La mariposa que voló sobre el mar: comedia en tres actos, 1926
    - film 1948, prod. Obregón, dir. Antonio de Obregón, screenplay Eugene Deslaw and Antonio de Obregón
  • La noche iluminada, 1927
  • El hijo de Polichinela: comedia en un prólogo y tres actos , 1927
  • A las puertas del cielo, 1927
  • El demonio fue antes ángel: comedia en tres actos y en prosa, 1928
  • Pepa doncel: comedia en tres actos y dos cuadros, 1928
    - film adaptations: Pepa Doncel, 1969, dir. Luis Lucia, starring Aurora Bautista, Juan Luis Galiardo and Mercedes Vecino; Pepa Doncel, TV play 1981, in Teatro estudio, dir. Alfredo Castellón 
  • Para el cielo y los altares: drama en tres actos, divididos en trece cuadros, y un epílogo, y en prosa, 1928
  • ¡No quiero, no quiero!; comedia en tres actos, 1928
    - film: No quiero, no quiero, 1940, prod. Sindicato de la Industria del Espectáculo (SIE), dir. Francisco Elías, screenplay Francisco Elías and Lope Martínez de Rivera
  • Vidas cruzadas: cinedrama en dos partes, dividida la primera en diez cuadros, y la segunda en tres y un epílogo, y en prosa, 1929
    - film: Vidas cruzadas, 1942, prod. Compañía Industrial Film Español S.A. (CIFESA), UPCE, dir. Luis Marquina, starring Ana Mariscal, Enrique Guitart and Luis Peña
  • Los amigos del hombre, 1930
  • Los andrajos de la púrpura: drama en cinco actos, 1930
  • De muy buena familia: comedia en tres actos y en prosa, 1931
  • Literatura: comedia en tres actos, 1931
  • La melodía del jazz-band: comedia en un prólogo y tres actos, 1931
  • Cuando los hijos de Eva no son los hijos de Adán: comedia en tres actos, 1931 (based on Margaret Kennedy's novel The Constant Nymph)
  • La moral del divorcio: conferencia dialogada, dividida en tres partes, 1932
  • Santa Rusia: primera parte de una trilogía, 1932
  • La duquesa gitana: comedia de magia en cinco actos divididos en diez cuadros, 1932
  • Le verdad inventada: comedia en tres actos, 1933
  • El rival de su mujer: comedia en tres actos y en prosa, 1933
  • La novia de nieve: comedia en un prólogo y tres actos, 1934
  • El pan comido en la mano: comedia en tres actos, 1934
  • Ni al amor ni al mar: drama en cuatro actos y un epílogo, 1934
  • Memorias de un madrileño: puestas en acción en cinco cuadros, 1934
  • "No juguéis con esas cosas"; comedia en tres actos y en prosa, 1935
  • Cualquiera lo sabe: comedia en tres actos y en prosa, 1935
  • Teatro de Jacinto Benavente, 1937 (introduction by Gregorio Martínez Sierra)
  • Obras completas, 1940-58 (11 vols.)
  • Lo increíble, 1940
  • Aves y pájaros, 1940
  • Abuelo y nieto, 1941
  • Y amargaba, 1941
  • La última carta, 1941
  • La honradez de la cerradura, 1942
    - The Secret of the Keyhole (tr. 1957)
    - film adaptations: La honradez de la cerradura, 1950, prod. PECSA Films, dir. Luis Escobar;  La honradez de la cerradura, TV play 1964, in Primera fila, dir. Gustavo Pérez Puig
  • La culpa es tuya, 1942
  • Al fin, mujer, 1942
  • ¡Hija del alma!, 1942
  • La enlutada, 1943
  • El demonio del teatro, 1943
  • Don margin él de las magias, 1944
  • Los niños perdidos en la selva, 1944
  • Espejo de grandes, 1944
  • Nieve en mayo, 1945
  • La infanzona, 1945
  • La ciudad doliente, 1945
  • Titania, 1945
  • Obras completas, 1942-46 (11 vols.)
  • Al servicio de su majestad imperial, 1947
  • La infanzona, 1948
  • Abdicación, 1948
  • Divorcio de almas, 1948
  • Adoración, 1948
  • Al amor hay que mandarlo al colegio, 1950
  • Su amante esposaA, 1950
  • Tú una vez y el diablo diez, 1950
  • Mater imperatrix, 1950
  • La vida en verso, 1951
  • Ha llegado Don Juan, 1952
  • El lebrel del cielo, 1953
  • El alfiler en la boca, 1953
  • Servir, 1953
  • Almas prisioneras, 1953
  • Caperucita asusta al lobo, 1953
  • Hijos padres de sus padres, 1954
  • El marido de bronce, 1954
  • Por salvar su amor, 1954
  • El teatro de Benavente en el siglo, 1954
  • El bufón de Hamlet, 1958
  • Jacinto Benavente: antología, 1966 (edited by Juan Emilio Aragones)
  • El príncipe que todo lo aprendió en los libros, 1970
  • Los intereses creados, 1974 (edited by Fernando Lázaro Carreter)
  • Four Plays, 1978 (in English versions with an introd. by John Garrett Underhill ; and a critical essay by Jacinto Benavente)
  • Comedias escogidas, 1978 (foreword by Arturo Berenguer Carimoso)
  • Obras completas, con una nota preliminar, 1958 (11 vols.)
  • La noche del sábado: novela escénica en cinco cuadros, 1991
  • Teatro fantástico; La sonrisa de Gioconda, 2001 (eds. Javier Huerta Calvo, Emilio Peral Vega)
  • Comedias y dramas, 2007- (eds. Luis Tomás González del Valle and José Manuel Pereiro Otero)
  • Los intereses creados: 1907-2007, 2008 (foreword by Santiago Fisas Ayxelá, ed. Antonio Castro Jiménez, Javier Domingo)


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