The enormous mass of plays with which the literature of this period is inundated may be divided into two great classes—secular and religious; the latter may be subdivided into (I) the liturgical play, i.e., the auto either sacramental or al nacimiento, and (2) the comedia divina or the comedia de santos, which has no liturgi cal element, and differs from a secular play only in the fact that the subject is religious and frequently, as one of the names indicates, derived from the biography of a saint. In the secular drama, classification might be carried almost to any extent if the nature of the subject be taken as the criterion. It will be sufficient to distinguish the comedia (i.e., any tragic or comic piece in three acts) according to the social types brought on the stage, the equipment of the actors, the artifices resorted to in the represen tation or the place of performance—public theatre or private stage. We have (I) the comedia de capa y espada, which repre sents everyday incident, the actors belonging to the middle class, simple caballeros, and consequently wearing the garb of ordinary town life, of which the chief items were the cloak and the sword; and (2) the comedia de teatro or de ruido, or again, de tramoya or de aparencias (i.e., the theatrical, spectacular or scenic play), which has kings and princes for its dramatis personae and makes a great display of mechanical devices, decorations and music. Besides the comedia, the classic stage has also a series of little pieces subsidiary to the play proper : the /oa, or prologue ; the entremes, a kind of interlude which afterwards developed into the sainete; the baile, or ballet accompanied with singing; and the zarzuela, a sort of operetta thus named after the royal residence of La Zarzuela, where the kings of Spain had a theatre.
As to the dramatic poets of the golden age, it is hard to group them. All are more or less pupils or imitators of the great chief of the new school, Lope Felix de Vega Carpio, described as "monster of Nature." Among Lope's contemporaries only a few poets of Valencia—including Guillen de Castro, the author of the Mocedades del Cid (from which Corneille derived his inspiration) —formed a small school, which could only win the applause of the public by copying as exactly as possible the manner of the great initiator. Lope's most incontestable merit is to have given the Spanish stage a range and scope of which it had not been previously thought capable, and of having taught his contempo raries to invent dramatic situations and to carry on a plot. It is true he produced little that is perfect: his prodigious fecundity and facility allowed him no time to mature his work; he wrote negligently what he considered to be good for the vulgo.
Lope's first pupils exaggerated some of his defects, but at the same time, each, according to his own taste, widened the scope of the comedia. Antonio Mira de Amescua and Luis Velez de Guevara were successful, especially in tragic histories and comedies Gabriel Tellez, better known under the pseudonym of Tirso de Molina displayed no less talent in the comedy of contemporary manners than in historical drama. El Burlador de Sevilla (Don Juan) is reckoned his masterpiece; but he showed himself a much better dramatist in El V ergonzoso en palacio, Don Gil de las Calzas Verdes and Marta la Piadosa. Finally Juan Ruiz de
Alarcon the most serious and most observant of Spanish dramatic poets, successfully achieved the comedy of character in La V erdad sospechosa, closely followed by Corneille in his Menteur. The second epoch of the classical drama is represented mainly by Pedro Calderon de la Barca, the Spanish dramatist who has ob tained most celebrity abroad. Calderon more than any other writer made honour, or more correctly the point of honour, an essential motive in the conduct of his personages (e.g., El Medico de su honra) ; it is he also who made the comedia de capa y espada uniform even to monotony, and gave the comic "part" of the gracioso (confidential valet of the caballero) a rigidity which it never previously possessed. There is depth and poetry in Calderon, and a great sense of the stage. Two contemporaries were Fran cisco de Rojas Zorilla, author of the fine historic play Del Rey abajo ninguno, and Agustin Moreto, author of some pleasant comedies. Luis Quinones de Benavente was a skilful writer of entremeses.
With Juan de Mariana history becomes a work of art. The Historia de Espana by the celebrated Jesuit, first written in Latin (1592) in the interest especially of foreigners, was after wards rendered by its author into excellent Castilian ; as a general survey of its history, well planned, well written and well thought out, Spain possesses nothing that can be compared with it. Among works of less extent, there are the Guerra de Granada, by Diego Hurtado de Mendoza (a history of the revolt of the Moors of the Alpujarras under Philip II.), written about 1572, immediately after the events, but not published till 1627; the narrative of the expedition of the Catalans in the Morea in the 14th century, by Francisco de Moncada (d. 1635); that of the revolt of the same Catalans during the reign of Philip IV., by Francisco Manuel de Mello, a Portuguese by birth; and that of the conquest of Mexico by Antonio de Solis.