Advanced Spanish Terminology for Dramatic Literature

Instructor: Aida Vega Felgueroso

Aida has taught Spanish at the University in Italy. Spanish is her mother tongue and she has a master's degree in Spanish Language and Literature.

In this lesson, we will learn some advanced Spanish words referring to dramatic literature, like catarsis. Many of the concepts we will see come from classical Greek theater, but we will find out how they have been applied to modern Spanish drama.

The Legacy of Greek Theater

Do you know Oedipus and Mariana Pineda? He was a Greek king who went blind after a tragedy; she was a Spanish heroine who died executed. What do the two characters have in common? They are the stars of plays that were written about them. Oedipus plays are ancient Greek plays; the plays about Mariana are modern Spanish plays. But the two resemble each other more than it might seem.

Classical Greek theater greatly influenced European theaters, including, logically, Spanish theater. Since drama was important entertainment for the Greeks, and the Greek philosophers studied and explained many mechanisms of theatrical works, these concepts continue to be used today. Now, let's explore some of those concepts that Spanish dramatic literature inherited from the Greeks.

Feelings in the Theater

Pathos (pathos) means suffering, pain. In the theater, pathos is the identification of the spectator with the suffering of the character. When we see a play, we feel the pain of the character as if it were ours because we identify with him or her. Therefore, a good play can make us laugh or cry, because we share the feelings of the protagonist.

When the theatrical action is being developed, the spectators feel pathos as compassion or identification with the character. When, finally, the drama is resolved, catarsis (catharsis) arrives.

According to the classical theories of theater, catarsis is the highest purpose of plays. Catarsis means purification or liberation and refers to a sensation we feel when we are spectators of a play. When we identify with the protagonists in a play, we feel the same as them. Although our life might be calm and monotonous, we are part of the drama we are seeing. We suffer with the actors; we feel pity, fear, anger, and everything else they feel. In this way, when the work ends, we are purified, freed from these passions. This is the catarsis.

Yerma, a play where the suffering of the protagonist creates the pathos and the final act of violence achieves catarsis.

Behaviors of the Protagonists

Anagnórisis (anagnorisis) is a word of Greek origin that means recognition. In the theater, the anagnórisis is a resource that many authors have used to create a surprise effect. Anagnórisis occurs, basically, in two cases.

  1. The protagonist gets to know data about himself, about his identity, or maybe about his family origins. This is information that, until then, has remained hidden from the protagonist, although sometimes the public knew beforehand.
  2. Another type of anagnórisis occurs when a main character reveals to the other characters his or her identity, which, until then, had remained hidden.

In the play La dama duende ('The Phantom Lady') by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, there is an example of anagnórisis. The protagonist is a lady who lives with her two brothers. They watch her and do not let her relate to the gentleman she loves. To achieve this, she pretends to be an elf and, later, she pretends to be someone else. At the end of the comedy, anagnórisis occurs and the lady reveals her true identity to the gentleman.

Falla trágica (tragic flaw) is an error committed by the protagonist that leads to catastrophe. Generally, this mistake is involuntary, because it is due to the bad luck of the hero or, sometimes, because he does not know all the elements of the drama.

It is the fault of Heaven, Don Juan Tenorio cries. This is a falla tragica.

Literary Resources of the Author

Ironía dramática (dramatic irony) occurs when viewers have more information than characters. That is, one or more of the characters do not know important information about their life and their circumstances, but the viewer does know it.

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