Out of the Wings

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El astrólogo fingido (c.1623), Pedro Calderón de la Barca

English title: The Fake Astrologer
Date written: c. 1623
First publication date: 1632
Keywords: morality > honour, identity, family > marriage, love > relationships, love > desire, society
Genre and type: comedy

This fast-paced comedy depicts a young couple who meet secretly to avoid revealing the secret of their love affair. Yet it is no secret at all; everyone in Madrid has their own spin on the events, and only the machinations of a fake astrologer, Diego, seem to tie all the stories together. When Diego’s deception is exposed, however, hasty decisions are required in order to save face.


In the first act, María reveals that she is secretly in love with Juan, who has become so distraught at thinking that she didn't love him, that he has made plans to head to Flanders as a soldier.  When he learns that in fact she does care, he is elated and decides to stay in Madrid. María instructs her maidservant, Beatriz, to act as their intermediary, allowing Juan to visit her secretly late at night. María has a second suitor, Diego, whom she despises. He, however, is cunning, and bribes Beatriz, who tells his servant Morón about the secret trysts between María and Juan. 

Juan arranges to stay in Madrid with his friend Carlos. Although Juan instructs him to keep the visit secret, Carlos is jealous, because he mistakenly believes that Juan wants to be near the woman that he himself loves – Violante. Poor Carlos tells Violante that his friend has left town, only for her to vow to stay true to Juan until his return. Meanwhile, another jealous suitor (Diego) sks his friend Antonio if the rumours about Juan's nocturnal visits to María are true. Antonio asks Carlos, who now realises that Juan is not courting Violante, but María. Relieved, Carlos therefore confirms to Antonio that the late-night trysts between Juan and María are indeed taking place.

In the second act, Diego reveals to María that he knows all about her nightly liaisons with Juan. He accuses her of behaving dishonestly by clinging to notions of honour by day while secretly seeing Juan by night. His own manservant, Morón, doesn't want María's maid, Beatriz, to bear the blame for sharing this information (which she did). And so, in order to  keep Beatriz out of trouble, Morón invents a lie, claiming his master Diego is a renowned astrologer who used his skills to divine the truth of María’s and Juan's affair. Diego quickly follows his servant's lead and adds spice to the ruse, weaving in stories about his travels throughout the world and about how he studied astrology alongside a great master. When María's father Leonardo asks what business Diego has with his daughter, the wily suitor invents another lie. He claims that he has predicted María’s future, and that she is doomed to marry a poor man. However, Leonardo knows a thing or two about astrology, and so Diego fears that his powers of divination might soon be put to the test.  Antonio and Morón take it upon themselves to spread the word of Diego's hidden skills far and wide. In this way, they add credibility to his lies, and they also enjoy deceiving everyone in Madrid.

Juan’s friend Carlos is also having romantic problems. He loves Violante, but wants to test her feelings for Juan, suspecting she loves him instead. He brings her some letters from Juan that have come 'all the way from Zaragoza'. In fact, they have come from Carlos's own house, where Juan is hiding. From Violante’s reaction to the letters, Carlos determines that she really does love Juan. Jealous, and in the heat of the moment Carlos makes a pretence of helping Violante see her ‘beloved’ Juan. He suggests she see the gifted astrologer , Diego, who will surely be able to conjure up an encounter between the two despite them being in different towns. Predictably Violante goes to see this marvellous Diego, hoping for a magical glimpse of her beloved Juan. In turn, Diego sees an opportunity to secure his reputation as an astrologer; he can get the real Juan to visit her, as he knows that Juan is still in Madrid, and not in Zaragoza as Violante believes. Violante writes a note to Juan at Diego's dictation, saying she knows he is in town and asking to see him that very night. 

Juan receives Violante's letter, and afraid she will give away the secret of his being in Madrid, he goes to see her. Violante has prepared the room for a ghostly apparition, bringing candles to provide light. However when Juan comes in and appears real - rather than the apparition she was expecting - Violante is so frightened that she locks herself in another room until he is gone. Juan is confused, and blames Carlos – as a love rival – for setting him up.

In act 3, Juan visits María, who gives him a ribbon and a jewel as a sign of her favour. He has now given up pretending to be away, and tells María's father he has just 'returned' to Madrid because of an urgent business matter he must discuss with Leonardo, creating an excuse to see María regularly and above board. María pretends to have lost the jewel she gave to Juan, and her father seeks out the 'astrologer' Diego to help locate it. The servants make sure Diego is advised that Juan has the gem so that Diego will be able to give the correct answer to Leonardo. Unfortunately Morón delivers the information late so Diego is forced to improvise when Leonardo first arrives. He decides to confess that he is not a real astrologer, but this plan backfires when Leonardo interprets his honesty as modesty, and believes all the more in Diego's astrological powers. 

In a comical but cruel side plot, the aged page, Otáñez, asks Diego to help him gain passage to his native village, where he would like to go and enjoy his retirement. Diego puts Morón in charge of the arrangements, and he blindfolds the gullible old man and makes him believe he is 'flying' to his village when in fact he is only standing astride a very non-magical bench, riding it like a horse. Hearing the voices of the other characters, Otáñez believes he is flying over one town after another. Morón meanwhile steals the old man's savings, making an utter fool of him. 

Leonardo confronts Juan about the missing jewel in a scene which ends with Juan proposing to marry María. Leonardo forbids the match on account of Juan's supposed theft of the jewel, and because he believes the proposal was a hasty way for Juan to try to avoid blame for stealing it. However, María and Juan meet and are secretly engaged. When the others enter Juan is forced to hide, but he is eventually discovered and reveals that María had given him the jewel. To avoid scandal, Leonardo agrees to their marriage. Everyone reveals how they came to know the details of the plot which were supposed to be worked out by Diego's 'astrology', and his whole scheme falls apart. The fake astrologer exposed, and one wedding arranged, the play concludes hastily without tying up the fates of Carlos or Violante, or the poor Otáñez who surely deserves some form of justice. Neither are the servants married off, despite their flirting throughout the play.


Oppenheimer suggests several literary influences, although a specific source for the play has not been found. The works he mentions include Plautus’s Aulularia which may have influenced the scene in which Don Juan is asked to return a gem he is supposed to have stolen from María. Cervantes’ Don Quixote may have been the influence for Otáñez’s enactment of riding atop a bench and pretending to fly, as this happens in the novel with Clavileño (although it also happens in Lope de Vega’s Entremés de la hechizera, as Oppenheimer points out). Astrologers were famously loathed by Lope de Vega, who often portrayed them and their prophecies as ridiculous in his plays. Astrology was practiced in the seventeenth century by learned men and many people believed in the stars’ power to govern and predict earthly events; yet its role in popular and courtly society was the butt of literary satire more generally.  Source: Oppenheimer’s introduction to his edition, see Calderón de la Barca 1994: 6-7.

Critical response

Calderón’s play has been adapted into other languages and seen on the stages of many countries in a variety of dramatic forms. The scholar who has done the most to study and champion this play, Max Oppenheimer Jr, traces some of these adaptations; for example, a version by Corneille was performed in Paris in 1650 and gave rise to an anonymous English version performed in 1668 entitled The Feign’d Astrologer. Dryden adapted Calderón’s play, relying heavily on that of Corneille, into An Evening’s Love, or the Mock-Astrologer which also appeared on the London stage in 1668. (See Oppenheimer’s introduction in Calderón de la Barca 1994: 26-31, as well as his 1948 study ‘Supplementary Data on the French and English Adaptations of Calderon's El astrólogo fingido’ in Revue de Littérature Comparée.)

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1632. El astrólogo fingido. In Parte veinte y cinco de comedias recopiladas de diferente autores é illustres poëtas de España. Zaragoza

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1848. El astrólogo fingido. In Biblioteca de autores españoles, vol. 7, ed. Juan Eugenio Hartzenbusch. Madrid, Rivadeneyra

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1994. El astrólogo fingido/ The Fake Astrologer, trans. Max Oppenheimer, Jr. Dual-language text in English and Spanish. New York, Peter Lang (in Spanish and English)

Information about the editions

The first performance date for this play is unknown, however Oppenheimer gives full accounts of adaptations into French, English, Italian, Dutch, German and Spanish, sometimes mentioning dates of performance for these (Calderón de la Barca 1994: 26-36).

Useful readings and websites
  • Espinosa, Carlos. 1992. ‘El astrólogo fingido’, Primer acto, 243, 116-9 (in Spanish)

  • Gascón, Christopher D. 2007. ‘Calderón y la ópera pekinesa: El astrólogo fingido del Teatro del Valle’. Interview with Ma Zhenghong y Alejandro González Puche. Comedia Performance, 4, 1, 199-216 (in Spanish)

  • Lauer, A. Robert. 2006. ‘Astrólogo fingido: Simply Stellar’, www.elpasotimes.com, March-April 2006

  • Oppenheimer, Max, Jr. 1948. ‘Supplementary Data on the French and English Adaptations of Calderon's El astrólogo fingido’, Revue de Littérature Comparée, 22, 547-60

  • Oppenheimer, Max, Jr. 1948. ‘The Burla in Calderón's El astrólogo fingido’, Philological Quarterly, 27, 241-63

  • Oppenheimer, Max, Jr. 1950. ‘A Note on Calderón's El astrólogo fingido’, Bulletin of the Comediantes, 2, 1, 3-4

  • Steiner, Arpad. 1926. ‘Calderón's Astrólogo fingido in France’, Modern Philology, 24, 1, 27-30

  • Zambrana Ramírez, Alberto. 2004. ‘¿La astrología como ciencia? Un estudio comparativo entre el El astrólogo fingido de Calderón de la Barca y la versión en inglés The Feign'd Astrologer (1668)’, Revista de Filología Hispánica, 20, 1, 99-116 (in Spanish)

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Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 7 March 2011.

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