The ‘constant love’ in the title refers to the sweet, honourable love between Leonido and Leonora, as well as the long-standing but unmarried love between Celauro and Nisida, and also the disordered, adulterous love the King has for Nisida. All of these have elements of constancy and all of them could be called ‘eternal’.
Can the King force a woman under his power to love him? In this heartbreaking play, the King’s lust for his brother’s mistress threatens the stability of the kingdom. While the Queen tries to placate him, even encouraging the girl to pander to his desire, the King becomes more and more enraged at the woman’s constancy to his brother, with whom she has a son. This play has elements of mediaeval dramas about tyrannical kingship and the limits of power, but its climax is more reminiscent of a scene from modern television crime drama, as the King gags and blindfolds her father, offering the woman the ultimate choice: submit to his desire, or face a slow death by poison.
The King of Hungary is tortured by lust for his daughter’s friend, Nisida. Although she is hurt, the Queen wishes to cheer her husband, so she arranges for her daughter (the princess Leonora) and Nisida to perform a dance, and as the servants look on the court becomes aware of the King’s illicit desire. When the dance does not please the King, they try a song written by the King’s brother, the prince Celauro. On mention of his name Nisida reveals concern for Celauro, whom the King has imprisoned for the past 15 years. The King sets him free, wishing to see him with Nisida to test whether she has feelings for him. Nisida reveals her passion; she is overjoyed when Celauro is freed. The King pretends to be glad to see Celauro, but reveals in an aside that he would rather use his hands to kill his brother than to welcome him.
We learn that Nisida and Celauro had a child together long ago, and Nisida complains that the King has been ruthlessly pursuing her while Celauro has been in prison. Celauro wonders, does the love of a king not tempt Nisida at all? Nisida confirms that only Celauro is king of her heart. Overcome, Nisida faints, and Celauro catches her just as the King walks in. He asks his brother: What would you be willing to do for your brother and your King? But when his request is for Celauro to stop loving Nisida, Celauro says it is impossible. The King loses his temper and banishes Celauro, while Nisida calls him a tyrant. The Queen, finding the King distraught, asks Nisida to pretend to love the King, to speak tenderly to him. Nisida refuses and her father, the Duke, comes to protect her honour, drawing a sword on the King. The King wounds the Duke, and later hauls him away a prisoner. The Duke asks Nisida to take good care of the family honour while he is away in prison. Meanwhile Celauro is launching an army against the King, and swears he will defeat the tyrant on land and sea. The King asks his servants to attack Celauro.
In the second act we meet Leonido. When he sees a portrait of a lady he falls instantly in love with her, in a pure, knightly, devoted way, in marked contrast to the King’s unchecked lust. He meets the princess Leonora, and fights a lion who dared to frighten the princess. She is duly impressed with his bravery, and although he is of unknown parentage, she begins to fall in love with him. The King lingers about Nisida’s door to find out who is sneaking around there in the dark, as Celauro attempts to secretly meet with Nisida. Leonido sees the men but is unable to identify them in the dark, so he unknowingly attacks the King. His jealousy inflamed, the King wants his brother dead for entering Nisida’s room; he asks Leonido to kill Celauro, but Leonido will not. The theme of the abuse of power comes forth strongly in this scene, as Leonido refuses to kill for a king whose methods and motives are unjust. Leonido, the lowly man raised by a shepherd, keeps the peace, and keeps the royals from killing one another. The King departs this scene outnumbered and in the wrong, vowing revenge, while Leonido and Celauro embrace, united in purpose against the tyrannical King. Leonido falls in love with Leonora, and he shows his bravery once again.
In the third act unrest continues to build as the King continues to behave badly. The grandees of the city complain, ‘He who cannot govern himself will badly govern his empire’. The King extols his own greatness and power, cruelly evicting his wife and daughter from the court and attempting to replace them with Nisida and her father, the Duke. He shows his capriciousness in finally agreeing to reinstate Leonora. In a show of female solidarity Nisida kisses the Queen’s feet and the King, enraged, unjustly imprisons Nisida and her father. Leonido’s old shepherd guardian tells him of how he was given Leonido to raise when Leonido was only a baby, and that alongside the baby Leonido, he had been given a cross with emeralds and sapphires on it. Leonido and Leonora’s love affair develops but he must put thoughts of her to one side while he helps Celauro find out how Nisida is faring in jail.
In the dungeon, the King presents the Duke and Nisida with a choice: either Nisida gives in to the King’s desire, or he offers the Duke a dagger and Nisida a vial of poison. The Duke and Nisida are resolved; they would rather die than lose their family honour to the King in this way. The King encourages Nisida to think through her decision to die, and, thinking of Celauro, she hesitates. Her father encourages her to drink the poison and be a martyr for purity, but the King silences him by gagging and blindfolding him. She drinks the poison. Unusually for a comedia father, the Duke cries and laments her impending death rather than glorifying her devotion to honour, as he says, ‘I am not made of stone’.
The King orders his servants to kill Celauro quietly. The Duke and his daughter are left alone while Nisida slowly dies; she tells her father about her love for Celauro and about their illegitimate child. Celauro arrives and he is married to Nisida before she dies, and both husband and father eulogise her. Celauro vows vengeance, but the Duke advises restraint. The King’s servants fatally wound Celauro, who, like his wife, takes a long time to die. Leonido finds Celauro dying, and Celauro asks for a cross so he can think of Christ as he dies. Leonido shows him the one he has worn since birth (with the precious stones) and Celauro produces a piece of paper which claims that his long-lost child bears the same item. Just before Celauro dies, he writes a statement with his own blood, testifying that Leonido is his true son. Leonido vows revenge for the death of his newly-found father, and the King is wracked with guilt at having killed Nisida, his love, and is greatly weakened by her death. Leonido comes with a large group of supporters to meet with the King, and Leonido pulls aside a curtain to reveal a tableau of the murdered bodies of Celauro and Nisida. Leonido kills the King with the approval of almost everyone. The Duke reveals that Leonido is not a peasant who should hang for treason for this deed, but actually he is the Duke’s testified grandson (his daughter, Nisida, had married Celauro, and as Leonido is Celauro’s son, he is thus the Duke’s grandson). They crown Leonido as King, which he accepts only to turn around and crown Leonora as Queen, and the two are married. The play ends on a tragic note, but with an air of hope as the final scene culminates with a new, just king on the throne and ends in comedy-style with a wedding.
El amor constante is one of many plays of the Golden Age period which deal with tyrannical monarchs. Castro in particular had a reputation for producing such bold plots (see also Crapotta 1984: 83, which makes important points about the suggested source for this play as that of Virués’s tragedy La gran Semíramis).
Wilson (1973: 21) gives a disparaging account of Castro’s earliest play, saying that ‘[m]any of the characters are violent and unreasoning, and some of their actions are completely incredible, if not silly’. However, he is right to praise Castro’s drawing of Nisida’s character: ‘[t]he characterization and actions of Nísida stand out in welcome relief against the actions of the other characters and against the melodrama’.
There are, however, strong arguments to counter Wilson’s negative portrayal of the play, most significantly because it resembles a crime drama in many ways. Its incredible events are the result of the interesting psychological depiction of the King, whose obsessive, envious, adulterous love for Nisida leads him to take extreme action, as he wields extreme power. The play deserves renewed attention for its detailed portrayal of the violent combination of obsessive love and the limitations of power.
This one of Castro’s very early plays, perhaps his first, as his writing career spans the period between about 1595 and 1624 and this play was written between 1596-9 (See Morley and Bruerton).
Castro, Guillén de. 1608. El amor constante and El caballero bobo. In Doce comedias famosas de cuatro poetas naturales de la insigne y coronada ciudad de Valencia. Valencia, Aurelio Mey
Castro, Guillén de. 1925. El amor constante. In Obras de Gullén de Castro y Bellvís, ed. Eduardo Juliá Martínez, vol. 1, pp. 1-46. Madrid, Real Academia Española, Imprenta de la Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y Museos
The Spanish edition is also available online here [Accessed June 2010]
Crapotta, James. 1984. Kingship and Tyranny in the Theater of Guillén de Castro. London, Tamesis
García Lorenzo, Luciano. 1976. ‘El amor constante’. In El teatro de Guillén de Castro, pp. 66-71. Barcelona, Planeta (in Spanish)
Wilson, William E. 1973. ‘El amor constante’. In Guillén de Castro, pp. 20-2. Twayne’s World Authors Series. New York, Twayne
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Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 25 February 2011.