Out of the Wings

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Tres sombreros de copa (1932), Miguel Mihura Santos

English title: Three Top Hats
Date written: 1932
First publication date: 1947
First production date: 24 November 1952
Keywords: family > marriage, family > duty, identity > class/social standing, love > relationships
Genre and type: farce, comedy

Ever wished you could live another life? Even just for one night? It’s the eve of Dionisio’s wedding and he is spending it in a little hotel. He has a huge decision to make – which of his beautiful three top hats will he wear to his nuptials? Holding all three hats in his hands, Dionisio stands in his hotel room, deliberating. Suddenly Paula, a dancing girl from a circus troupe also staying in the hotel, bursts into his room. Seeing Dionisio with the three top hats she mistakes him for a juggler. So, for one night only, Dionisio experiences the fun and madness of being part of the circus troupe. Tres sombreros de copa (Three Top Hats) presents two different existences. Paula lives unconventionally in a world of parties; Dionisio is about to embark on married life. Yet both characters find their respective lifestyles monotonous. The play asks whether true happiness is ever achievable, or whether the grass just appears greener on the other side.


Tres sombreros de copa (Three Top Hats) is a play in three acts that take place over one night. In act 1 the main character, Dionisio, arrives at the small provincial town in which he is to wed the next day. He is spending his last night as a bachelor in a modest hotel, preparing his outfit for his impending wedding. Dionisio has brought two top hats with him and his future father-in-law, Don Sacramento, has given him another one as a present. Yet none of the three suits him. Which one should he wear for the wedding? As Dionisio stands by the mirror with one top hat on his head and one in either hand, the door opens and in bursts Paula, a young dancer who is also staying at the hotel along with a troupe of other performers. Seeing Dionisio with the three top hats, Paula mistakes him for a juggler. Too embarrassed to disabuse her of this assumption, Dionisio goes along with the charade, thinking little of it. But the evening holds more surprises. Buby Barton, the black ukulele-playing manager of the dancing girls in the troupe is the next intruder into Dionisio’s hotel room. Buby argues with Paula, while the bemused Dionisio looks on. Next, poor Dionisio is subjected to the flirtatious advances of Fanny, another dancing girl, in addition to the arrival of three more dancing girls in his room. The three happy-go-lucky girls lure Fanny away to a party. Finally, it seems, Dionisio might be able to get some sleep before his wedding-day. However, the lure of the circus troupe and their frivolous ways is strong, and when Paula invites Dionisio to the party he goes off to join the fun.

In act 2 the party is in full swing and the partygoers have all now invaded Dionisio’s hotel room. He finds lovers in his wardrobe, a man underneath his bed, and both a bearded woman and Buby on top of it! Exasperated, Dionisio demands they all leave so that he can sleep. Later, however, he finds himself alone with Paula in his room. She has come from the party, during which she was forced by Buby to endure the advances of a wealthy partygoer, the Hateful Señor. Buby was hopeful that Paula might have been able to charm some money out of the Hateful Señor. But Paula was unenthusiastic about flirting with such an odious admirer – and so she took refuge in Dionisio's room. Unhappy with their respective lots in life, the characters dream about escaping together to a beach where they could both be free. Their dreams, however, are cut short. Enraged at Paula’s disobedience, Buby finds her in Dionisio’s room and knocks her unconscious before he runs off. At the same time, Don Sacramento arrives at the door of his hotel room. The act ends on a note of suspense, as Dionisio frantically tries to hide Paula from view – not knowing whether she is dead or alive – and rushes to open the door to Don Sacramento.

In act 3 Don Sacramento upbraids his future son-in-law for ignoring phone calls from Margarita, Dionisio’s fiancée. Don Sacramento outlines the timetable for Dionisio’s future married life: eggs for breakfast at half past six every morning; dinner at seven every evening; piano recitals by Margarita on Sundays. Once Don Sacramento leaves, Paula emerges from her hiding place. She has been listening to the conversation and is saddened to learn that Dionisio is to marry. To her, Dionisio is just like all the other men she meets: married, or about to get married, and looking for a last dalliance with a ‘dancing girl’. Disillusioned, Paula assists the reluctant Dionisio to dress for his wedding. But instead of a top hat, she gives him a more flamboyant hat to wear on his head. He leaves, accompanied by the cheers of well-wishers. At the end of the play, alone, Paula picks up the abandoned top hats and throws them joyfully in the air.

Critical response


Although the play was written in 1932 and first published in 1947, it was not staged until 1952, and only then as a student production. In 1953, the play won Spain’s National Theatre Prize. Before this, Mihura had attempted to get the play produced but had encountered numerous obstacles. In July 1957 Mihura himself intervened in stopping a production by Maritza Caballero and Aniceto Alemán because he believed the set design to be overly elaborate.

Academic Response

Tres sombreros de copa (Three Top Hats) has been studied as a ‘parody of the human condition’ (Pasquariello 1971: 388). Its success, Pasquariello notes, can largely be attributed to the way it moves easily from farce to pathos and, in so doing, engages the audience more effectively (1971: 392-3). Similarly, the French playwright Eugene Ionesco also commented on the play’s ability to simultaneously amuse and move spectators (Ionesco 1964: 143).

  • Ionesco, Eugene. 1964. Notes, and Counter Notes. Writings on the Theatre, trans. Donald Watson. New York, John Calder

  • Pasquariello, Anthony H. 1971. ‘Función de la Mentira Poética en Tres Sombreros De Copa, de Miguel Mihura’. In Actas del Cuarto Congreso Internacional de Hispanistas, ed. Eugenio Bustos Tovar, pp. 387-95. Salamanca, Universidad de Salamanca (in Spanish)

  • Mihura, Miguel. 1947. Tres sombreros de copa. Madrid, Editoria Nacional

  • Mihura, Miguel. 1977. Tres sombreros de copa: Maribel y la extraña familia. Madrid, Editorial Castalia

  • Mihura, Miguel. 2002. Tres sombreros de copa: ¡Sublime decision!. Madrid, Alianza Editorial

  • Mihura, Miguel. 2007. Tres sombreros de copa, ed. Fernando Valls. Barcelona, Editorial Crítica

  • Mihura, Miguel. 2007. Tres sombreros de copa, ed. Jorge Rodríguez Padrón. Madrid, Cátedra

Useful readings and websites
  • Pasquariello, Anthony H. 1971. ‘Función de la Mentira Poética en Tres Sombreros De Copa, de Miguel Mihura’. In Actas del Cuarto Congreso Internacional de Hispanistas, ed. Eugenio Bustos Tovar, pp. 387-95. Salamanca, Universidad de Salamanca (in Spanish)

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Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 13 November 2010.

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