The Legend of Bernardo del Carpio 15: Siglo d’Oro Plays


There are four Siglo d’Oro plays about Bernardo del Carpio, full summaries of which follow.

Juan de la Cueva: Comedia de la Libertad de España por Bernardo del Carpio (1579-1581, printed 1583).

First edition: Comedias y tragedias 1583.

Reprinted 1917 by Icaza for the Sociedad de Bibliófilos Españoles.

Printed alone 1974, edited by Anthony Watson, Exeter Hispanic Texts, No. 8.

ACT I: King Alfonso broods on his wrongs and sends Count Tibalte to summon Doña Ximena. He has misgivings, but goes. Ximena is lamenting to her confidante, Doña Oliva, when Tibalte arrives. King Alfonso, meanwhile, is brooding on the weight of the crown when Ximena arrives. He accuses her of disgracing herself and her family, and tells her she will be sent to a nunnery. She asks him to take care of Bernardo, who is just a babe in Asturias. He agrees, and sends her away. The king next sends Count Tibalte to summon the Count of Saldaña.

ACT II: Count Tibalte is a friend of Saldaña’s, and wavers between the king and his friend, before deciding to follow the king’s orders. He and Doña Oliva love each other, and he does not tell her where he is going. Count Tibalte is greeted warmly by Saldaña, and they go to Alfonso’s court. Saldaña denies the king’s accusations of treason, but he never mentions Ximena or Bernardo during this entire scene. The king has him blinded and sent to the Castle of Luna. He then sends Count Tibalte to Asturias to fetch Bernardo, who will be reared at the king’s court as his bastard son.

ACT III: Alfonso, weary of reigning and seeing the Moors advancing, sends to Charlemagne to offer him the kingdom of Castile. Suero Velazquez and Velasco Melendez wish to inform their kinsman Bernardo of his father’s plight, but are sworn not to tell him. They instead make plans with their kinswomen Maria Melendez and Urraca Sanchez, who are both nuns. Alfonso monologues about preferring to leave the kingdom to Charlemagne rather than to a bastard. Meanwhile, the men tell Bernardo what Alfonso is currently planning, then the women tell him what he did all those years ago. Bernardo is shocked, but swears to foil Charlemagne’s plans and free his parents. He enters Alfonso’s presence with a great retinue, enough to unnerve Alfonso. Bernardo explains that he intends to stop Charles. Alfonso is at last persuaded to retract his offer to Charles.

ACT IV: Bernardo prevails upon Alfonso to promise to free his father, when a herald arrives with Charles’ response to Alfonso’s retraction of his offer: there will be war, of course. Bernardo announces that he has allied with King Marsil of Saragossa, and the Counts of Navarre and Biscay arrive at court with tales of French atrocities. Bernardo leads the army to Roncesvalles. At Roncesvalles, Charles and Roldan discuss plans and lead the army into battle, Roldan calling on Saint George. Bernardo meets with Reinalte and kills him in single combat. He next does the same to Ancelino. He next duels Roldan, who disarms him, but Bernardo chokes Roldan to death. Charles laments his defeat, and Don Iarluin finds him alone. Charles orders his men to take Roldan’s body and retreat. Bernardo celebrates, and Mars descends from heaven to crown him with laurel.

Juan de la Cueva was the first man in Spain to write plays on historical subjects (aside from saints’ lives and mystery plays), and the first to write a play in two parts (Comedia del Príncipe Tirano, and Tragedia del Príncipe Tirano). La Libertad de España is generally believed to be (in part) a veiled criticism of King Philip II’s attempts to gain the throne of Portugal, culminating in his invasion in 1580.1

1Burton, David G. The Legend of Bernardo del Carpio from Chronicle to Drama. Scripta Humanistica: Potomac, MD 1988.

Lope de Vega: Los Mocedades de Bernardo del Carpio

Menedez y Pelayo thought that the text as we have it has been heavily corrupted, by printers or redactors. Certainly many lines are missing or defective.

ACT I: Jimena and Sancho are secretly married, and the Princess is nine months pregnant (concealed, of course). The Count of Barcelona, Alfonso’s cousin, writes to Alfonso asking for her hand in marriage. Alfonso discusses the matter with his most trusted men, Count Sancho and Don Rubio. After they agree to the marriage, Don Rubio privately informs the king of Jimena’s condition, and takes the king to hide in the bushes that night as Alfonso climbs up a ladder to the Princess’ balcony to help her deliver her child, and down again with the baby boy in his arms. Alfonso steps out and confronts him, and Count Sancho confesses all. Alfonso pretends to forgive him, on condition that he entrust the child to his care temporarily, while he (Sancho) takes a reply letter to the Count of Barcelona informing him of the situation, and one to the Castellan of Luna, bidding him prepare the castle for Sancho and Jimena’s wedding. Count Sancho entrusts Alfonso with the boy and departs at once. Don Rubio comes out of the bushes and offers to drown the child, but Alfonso bids him raise him as his own, instead. They baptize the boy Bernardo, it being Saint Bernard’s feast day [August 20, though of course St. Bernard lived four centuries after Alfonso]. Count Sancho delivers the letter to Luna, but of course it actually says for him to be blinded and chained in the deepest dungeon, which is done.

ACT II: Years go by, and Bernardo is of an age to be dubbed a knight. The Act opens with the alcalde and three peasants complaining to Don Rubio about Bernardo’s outrageous behavior. Bernardo himself arrives with the head of a bear he killed himself. Don Rubio rebukes him for his conduct, and calls him a bastard and no son of his. Bernardo answers that if he is not Don Rubio’s son, then Don Rubio has insulted his real father, and challenges him to a duel. At that juncture, fortunately, King Alfonso arrives, and reveals that he is Bernardo’s uncle, but says no more. He takes Bernardo to court with him, and the young nobleman Ordoño, whose love for Don Rubio’s daughter Flor is frowned on by that Don, accompanies him to become his squire. Amidst the festivities of the dubbing, ambassadors from King Almanzor of Toledo arrive, seeking a lasting peace, for Flor’s hand in marriage for Almanzor, and offering Almanzor’s sister to be Alfonso’s wife. Bernardo, offended that the Moor was invited to sit down while he had to stand, yanks the chair out from under him and sends him packing.

Don Rubio comes to court next, and Alfonso is barely able to keep the foster-father and son from each other’s throats. Next Bernardo’s cousin Don Ramiro, heir to the throne, arrives, and Alfonso introduces them to each other, whispering Bernardo’s true identity to Ramiro, whilst reminding him that it is high treason to repeat it. As they all sit down to dine, Bernardo is offended that Ramiro has a higher place than himself, and flips the table over. Alfonso orders him arrested, but none dare move. Rubio suggests to Alfonso that they should have him killed, and Alfonso agrees. Bernardo, meanwhile, has leapt down the staircase and galloped away on his steed.

The Moorish ambassador, Ben-Jusef, happens to be governor of El Carpio, and is discussing the failure of his mission with other Moorish nobles when Bernardo enters the castle with Ordoño and announces that Alfonso has offended him and he wishes to be friends with Ben-Jusef and Almanzor now.

ACT III: Ben-Jusef and the other Moors receive a message from Almanzor to get rid of Bernardo. Although the Alcalde’s wife tips Ordoño off, she does not do so in time, and the other Moors throw the squire in the massymore. When they try to arrest Bernardo, however, he fights them off, sets all the Christian captives free, and seizes El Carpio for his own. He returns in triumph to Castile, dragging the Moorish prisoners behind him. Alfonso tells Bernardo that his father is still alive, and asks him to do him one last favor: investigate the haunted castle of Luna. Bernardo spurns the romantic advances of the Alcalde’s wife, and tries to convince Ordoño to come with him to the haunted castle. Ordoño refuses, and so Bernardo sets off thither alone. He hears Count Sancho lamenting and singing a ballad [a version of Pidal Artificiosos 20, Durán 625], and at first thinks he is a ghost. The prisoner explains that he is no ghost, however, but the Count of Saldaña, and tells his story. Bernardo realizes this must be his father, and offers to break him out, but the Count insists on obedience to the king, so Bernardo promises to get the king’s permission.

The king and his court are celebrating Saint John’s Day when Bernardo arrives with an army to demand his father’s freedom. Alfonso grants it, the captive Moors seek baptism, and Bernardo announces that this is a fitting end to THE YOUTH OF BERNARDO.

Lope de Vega: El Casamiento en la Muerte (1595-1597)

Printed in Part I of the editio princeps, 1605.

Volume VII of Pelayo’s edition.

Volume IV of the Biblioteca Castro edition, 1993.

ACT I: King Alfonso has decided to give Spain to Charlemagne, ostensibly for protection against the Moors, but really because his nearest kin is Bernardo del Carpio. Bernardo is a bastard, but could be legitimated if the king would free his parents from prison and the nunnery.

King Alfonso’s men confront him about his decision, and persuade him to rescind his offer.

Meanwhile, in Paris, the people are celebrating the annexation of Spain. Durandarte loves Belerma, who loves him, too, but conceals her love. Durandarte’s cousin Montesinos is in love with Belerma’s cousin Flordelis, unaware that she is married to Brandimarte, whom Charlemagne has banished. As the four of them confer, Roldan, Reinaldos, Oliveros and Dudon come across them, one thing leads to another and soon Roldan has challenged Reinaldos to a duel, Oliver Montesinos , and Dudon Durandarte.

Meanwhile, King Marsilio of Aragon consults with Bravonel about the situation. Bernardo has requested, in exchange for his help in protecting Aragon, that Marsilio give him in marriage Esmerelda of Toledo, the niece of the deceased emperor Constantine of Constantinope, who has been living in Spain since her family fell from power. Marsilio agrees.

Oliveros and Durandarte meet and exchange boasts and insults. Durandarte says that he fought alongside his uncle Count Dirlos for fifteen years in Africa against King Aliarde. Dudon and Montesinos arrive, then Roldan and Reinaldos. Before the duels can begin, Charlemagne and his guards arrive, and prevent the duel. The Peers follow Charles back to Paris, where he holds court to discuss the imminent annexation of Spain. Flordelis and Belerma interrupt to beseech Charles to pardon Brandimarte, which he does, much to Montesinos’ anguish (this is when he first learns of that knight’s existence). The council continues, until Bernardo del Carpio arrives, and arrogantly takes a seat in the royal presence. He announces that Alfonso’s offer has been revoked. Charlemagne declares he will take Spain by force, then. Roldan at first wants to fight him, but upon learning his identity, instead offers his friendship, which Bernardo rejects. They swear to meet in battle, and Bernardo departs.

ACT II: Montesinos and Durandarte take their leave of Belerma, who has softened after seven years, but who has had a dream that Durandarte gave her his heart, which was made out of diamond. The knights comfort her and depart.

Alfonso, Bernardo, Marsilio, and Bravonel meet. Galalon has been in contact with them already, because Roldan gave him a blow, unprovoked, which made the blood run down his beard, and it has been agreed to ambush the Franks at Roncesvalles. Bernardo’s banner depicts his captive father, and Alfonso promises to release him at last after the battle, in exchange for El Carpio and the nineteen other castles Bernardo has captured. Bernardo and Bravonel discuss the former’s past.

Charlemagne and his men march south. Durandarte says that Galalon has reported that Alfonso and Marsilio’s men are few and poorly equipped. The elderly Don Beltran, however, is wary, reminding Charles of the valor of the Spaniards, the might of Bernardo, that Marsilio is a new Gradaso, and that Galalon has betrayed him before. Roldan calls him a coward and bids him go home to France, but Beltran says that he was won many battles, without being enchanted. The French march towards Pamplona.

Night is falling, and Bernardo lays down to sleep, fully armored. In his dream, the spirit of Castile recounts the past glories of Spain, and Leon predicts her future ones. Bernardo awakens, and the battle is joined.

Bravonel fights Oliveros, Roldan bids his men die bravely, and Don Beltran goes to seek his son. Durandarte, gravely wounded, bids Montesinos carry his heart to Belerma. In a lyrical speech, he bequeaths his life to death, his ill luck to time, his thoughts to the world, his hopes to the wind, etc.2 Montesinos swears to do so, and helps his cousin limp offstage. Roldan laments, curses Galalon, and breaks Durindaina on a rock, but Dudon finds him. Roldan asks for news of Charlemagne, and Dudon tells him (in a version of Duran 398, “Por muchas partas herido”) that he saw Charlemagne, sorely wounded, stand by a cross, lament, and faint. Roldan bids Dudon find and protect him, while he himself seeks out Bernardo. Bernardo, since Roldan is without a sword, throws his own away, too, and they wrestle. Bernardo, knowing Roldan to be enchanted, strangles him to death.

2 Child describes similar bequests in The Cruel Brother, Lord Randal, Edward, but none so full of abstract qualities. Compare Richard the Lionheart’s jest about his three daughters, as retold by Scott in The Talisman.

ACT III: Shepherds discuss the battle and its aftermath. Dudon meets Brandimarte, who has arrived, too late, with his men to help Charles. Dudon tells the story of Don Beltran, adapted from the ballad. When we came from France, we passed the Pyrenees and encamped at Roncesvalles, whence only three of the Twelve Peers left alive. In the dust, we lost Don Beltrane. Seven time we cast lots who should seek him. Seven times the seeker came back in vain. Three through ill-luck, four through cowardice. His old father (also named Beltrane) bade the others return to France, for he will find him himself. He rode through the field, and found the French, but not Beltrane. He sought all day and all night, and at last met a Moor, and asked him, in Arabic, if he had seen a knight in white armor. “If you have him alive, I will ransom him. If you have killed him, let me bury him.” “How should I know this knight?” “His arms were white, his horse alazane, on his carillo derecho/tiene huntas dos señales from when he was a boy.” “That knight is dead, pierced through with seven lances, his feet lying in the river, his body on the sand.” The old Don Beltrane went to seek his son, but fell in with other Moors, challenged them, and was slain.

Durandarte, Roldan, and Reinaldos are also dead. Brandimarte and Dudon rally their men for a counter-attack on Bravonel and the Moors. In this fight, Dudon is mortally wounded. He carries a precious crucifix and image of the Virgin, and prays that they not fall into the hands of the Moors. God hears his prayer and a rock opens up, in which Dudon places the treasures, and it closes. Bravonel then comes up and kills him.

Alfonso and his men celebrate their victory. Once Bernardo and Alfonso are alone, Alfonso asks if it is true that he is married. Bernardo says that a bastard may as well marry a bastard, and reminds the king of his many services, and the king’s many broken promises. Alfonso leaves, with the clear implication that he will break another. Bernardo soliloquizes, wondering what to do. Hernando Diaz, his cousin, arrives with a letter from Bernardo’s father, asking why he does not come to free him. Bernardo, Hernando, and another kinsman, Rodrigo Rasura, decide to rebel.

King Alfonso is holding court, when a bear escapes. He bids his men hide, while he takes care of it. The bear has the better of him, however, but luckily, Bernardo arrives at just that time to announce his rebellion. He kills the bear, after which Alfonso finally agrees to free the Count, and tells Bernardo where to seek him.

At the castle, the jailer draws back a curtain to reveal the Count seated on a chair. Bernardo kneels and kisses his hand, only to find that he is dead. Bernardo, after he has lamented and somewhat recovered, asks where his mother is. She is immured in a nunnery that is attached to the castle. Bernardo forces the nuns to open the door and let him in, and he brings his mother, still unprofessed, out. He brings her to where the count is seated and joins their hands together. He asks his mother if she weds this man, and she says yes. He then asks his father if he weds this woman, and moves the corpse’s head up and down, “yes.” He announces that he is no longer a bastard, now that there has been A MARRIAGE IN DEATH.

Lope seems to have invented Montesinos’ love for Flordelis, the whole of the French episodes, the banishment of Brandimarte, Bernardo’s kinsmen, the bear incident, etc., etc.

For La Casa de los Celos, see Part 10 of this series here.

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