Image of Pedro Calderón de la Barca


Lifetime: 1600 - 1681 Passed: ≈ 343 years ago


Poet, Writer, Dramatist



Pedro Calderón de la Barca

Pedro Calderón de la Barca y Barreda González de Henao Ruiz de Blasco y Riaño was a Spanish dramatist, poet, writer and knight of the Order of Santiago. He is known as one of the most distinguished Baroque writers of the Spanish Golden Age, especially for his plays.

Pedro Calderón de la Barca was born in Madrid on Friday, 17 January 1600, and was baptized in the parish of San Martín. His father, Diego Calderón, was a hidalgo of mountain origin (Viveda [es], Cantabria) and by paternal inheritance he had assumed the position of secretary of the Council and Chief Accounting Office of the Treasury, serving in it the kings Felipe II and Felipe III, died in 1615. His mother, Ana Gonzalez de Henao (or Henaut, Hainaut), was of Flemish or Walloon descent. According to James Fitzmaurice-Kelly, she claimed origin from the De Mons of Hainault. She died when Calderón was ten years old, in 1610.

Between 1620 and 1622 Calderón won several poetry contests in honor of St Isidore at Madrid. Calderón's debut as a playwright was Amor, honor y poder, performed at the Royal Palace on 29 June 1623. This was followed by two other plays that same year: La selva confusa and Los Macabeos. Over the next two decades, Calderón wrote more than 70 plays, the majority of which were secular dramas written for the commercial theatres.

Calderón served with the Spanish army in Italy and Flanders between 1625 and 1635. By the time Lope de Vega died in 1635, Calderón was recognized as the foremost Spanish dramatist of the age. Calderón had also gained considerable favour in the court, and in 1636–1637 he was made a knight of the Order of Santiago by Philip IV, who had already commissioned from him a series of spectacular plays for the royal theatre in the newly built Buen Retiro palace. On 28 May 1640 he joined a company of mounted cuirassiers recently raised by Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, took part in the Catalan campaign, and distinguished himself by his gallantry at Tarragona. His health failing, Calderón retired from the army in November 1642, and three years later was awarded a special military pension in recognition of his services in the field.

Calderón's biography during the next few years is obscure. His brother, Diego Calderón, died in 1647. A son, Pedro José, was born to Calderón and an unknown woman between 1647 and 1649; the mother died soon after. Calderón committed his son to the care of his nephew, José, son of Diego. Perhaps for reasons relating to these personal trials, Calderón became a tertiary of the order of St Francis in 1650, and then finally joined the priesthood. He was ordained in 1651, and became a priest at San Salvador church, in Madrid. According to a statement he made a year or two later, he decided to give up writing secular dramas for the commercial theatres.

Though he did not adhere strictly to this resolution, he now wrote mostly mythological plays for the palace theatres, and autos sacramentales—one-act allegories illustrating the mystery of the Eucharist—for performance during the feast of Corpus Christi. In 1662, two of Calderón's autos, Las órdenes militares and Mística y real Babilonia, were the subjects of an inquiry by the Inquisition; the former was censured, its manuscript copies confiscated, and remained condemned until 1671.

Calderón was appointed honorary chaplain to Philip IV in 1663, and continued as chaplain to his successor. In his eighty-first year he wrote his last secular play, Hado y Divisa de Leonido y Marfisa, in honor of Charles II's marriage to Maria Luisa of Orléans.

Notwithstanding his position at court and his popularity throughout Spain, near the end of his life Calderón struggled with financial difficulties, but with the motivation of the Carnival of 1680 he wrote his last work of comedy, Hado y divisa de Leonido y de Marfisa. He died May 25, 1681, leaving only partially complete the autos sacramentales that he had been working on for that year. His burial was austere and unembellished, as he desired in his will: "Uncovered, as if I deserved to satisfy in part the public vanities of my poorly spent life". In this manner he left the theatres orphaned in which he was considered one of the best dramatic writers of his time.

Books by Pedro Calderón de la Barca

The Purgatory of St. Patrick Cover image

The Purgatory of St. Patrick

Mystery Ancient Devotion Life Religious Middle Ages Saints

This is a "mystical drama founded on the lives of Saints. Mr. Ticknor prefers it to the more celebrated 'Devotion of the Cross,' and says that it 'is commonly ranked among the best religious plays of the Spanish theatre in the seventeenth century.' I...

The Fairy Lady Cover image

The Fairy Lady

Romantic Play Love Escape Comics Explore Desire

The Fairy Lady is a play written by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, a Spanish Baroque playwright and poet. The play was first performed in 1629, and it is considered one of his most important works. The play is a romantic comedy that centers around the c...

Keep Your Own Secret Cover image

Keep Your Own Secret

Love Exploration Life Desire Betrayal Wealth Women

The play centers around the lives of two brothers, Octavio and Flavio, who both fall in love with the same woman, Rosaura. The story delves into themes of love, honor, jealousy, and the consequences of betrayal. Calderón de la Barca is known for his...

Life is a Dream Cover image

Life is a Dream

Dream Symbolism Stoic Philosophy Classics Poetry Human Condition Theatre

Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca is a philosophical allegory that explores the nature of reality and the free will of the individual. The play tells the story of Segismundo, a prince who has been imprisoned in a tower since birth by his...

Dama Duende Cover image

Dama Duende

Entre las comedias del fecundo y elegante Calderón merecía, sin duda, uno de los lugares mas distinguidos la que se conoce con el título de La dama duende. Con efecto la novedad original del argumento, la verdad de los caracteres, una multitud de esc...

vida es sueño Cover image

vida es sueño

La vida es sueño es una obra de teatro de Pedro Calderón de la Barca estrenada en 1635 y perteneciente al movimiento literario barroco. El tema central es la libertad del ser humano para configurar su vida, sin dejarse llevar por un supuesto destino....

Wonder-Working Magician Cover image

Wonder-Working Magician

"The Wonderful Magician" is perhaps better known to poetical students in England from the spirited fragment Shelley has left us in his "Scenes from Calderon." The preoccupation of a subject by a great master throws immense difficulties in the way of...

Balthasars Nachtmahl Cover image

Balthasars Nachtmahl

Als Grundlage dieses Stückes diente Pedro Calderón das Gastmahl des Belsazar aus Daniel 5, im Alten Testament. Balthasar feiert ein rauschendes Fest – die Vermählung mit einer weiteren Frau – und entweiht dabei die aus Jerusalem erbeuteten Tempelgef...