Out of the Wings

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Contra valor no hay desdicha (c.1620-1635)

English title: Fortune favours the brave
Date written: from c. 1620 to c. 1635
First publication date: 1638
First production date: 1636
Title information

Literal translation: 'No misfortune shall prevail against valour'.


Ciro, a young peasant lad, realizes his destiny upon discovering that he is the rightful heir to the throne. He rises up against his tyrannical grandfather, king Astiages, valiantly overcoming numerous perils and obstacles to finally take the crown. Based on the early life of Cyrus the Great, this play is full of action, adventure and inspiration with the enduring message that ‘fortune favours the brave’.


In the opening scene of 'Contra valor no hay desdicha', Ciro [Cyrus] is introduced as the son of Mitridates the peasant, and we learn that he has a thirst for knowledge that his father regards with scepticism. Through a conversation with his friend, Bato, it is soon revealed that Ciro is in love with Filis, a lady of high rank who is the sister of the king’s right-hand man, Arpago. Ciro courts her and is met with cautious encouragement, despite their social incompatibility and the fact that he has made promises of love to Flora, a peasant girl, who bemoans his betrayal of her love. A scene comprising a group of young men from the village, Ciro’s friends, follows, and it soon becomes clear that Ciro is superior in all tests of strength and wit; as the result of his victory in these competitions the group crowns him ‘king’. Taking advantage of this position as the ‘play-king’ among them, Ciro orders for Fineo, a local man’s son, to be flogged when Fineo refuses to recognize his ‘kingship’ by bowing down to him. This outrages Fineo’s father, Evandro. The following scene opens at the royal court; through the monologues of king Astiages and conversation with Arpago, we discover that Astiages was warned in a dream that his grandson (by his daughter Mandane) would grow up to overthrow him and take the throne. Terrified by this prophecy, the king married Mandane to a lowly Persian, and when she had a son he ordered Arpago to kill the baby boy by leaving him out to be devoured by the wild animals. At this point, Evandro arrives to make his complaint to the king about the unjust flogging of his son on Ciro’s orders. Astiages, immediately fearful of the idea of a peasant playing at being a king, demands to see the boy and sends Arpago to fetch him. Ciro and his friends continue their kingship game, although the pretence has taken a serious turn as they are now being directed by Ciro into training for battle with a nearby village. A royal banner has been improvised and Ciro shows his ‘soldiers’ how to wave it. Arpago arrives and summons Ciro to the court of Astiages; Mitridates vows to accompany his son, having an intimation that something is wrong. Act II opens with king Astiages suspecting the truth about Ciro’s identity before he arrives. During the interview at court, the king’s fears are realized as it becomes clear through Ciro’s looks and innately kingly manner that Ciro is in fact his grandson, the son of Mandane. He doesn’t reveal the truth to Ciro himself, but asks Mitridates to tell his story when the young man has left. The account confirms that Ciro was the baby whose death Astiages had ordered so many years previously. Astiages dissimulates and claims that he is happy that Arpago disobeyed him by not killing the baby as instructed, inviting him to dine at court as a reward. However, Astiages’ theatrical asides reveal that he is full of murderous rage, and he soon tells Evandro privately to ambush Ciro and kill him. Ciro is convinced by the king’s show of benevolence, and delighted that he has found favour with Astiages. Mitridates is suspicious, however, and in answer to his father’s fears, Ciro makes his first declaration of the ethos of the play summed up in its title: ‘fortune favours the brave’. Evandro and Fineo arrive with other soldiers to ambush Ciro as he and Mitridates are crossing the mountain at night. Ciro orders his father to hide and after a hard fought battle Ciro kills Fineo among others and emerges victorious. Mitridates searches for his son as Bato and Filis arrive on the scene. A tender reunion with all three is interrupted when Arpago arrives with some soldiers. Filis is aghast to see her brother and hides from him. However, Arpago’s intentions are benign: he begins by telling Ciro the true story of his identity and birth, hitherto unknown by the young man. Arpago finishes by recounting the terrible punishment inflicted on him personally by Astiages for disobeying his orders regarding the infant Ciro. The king had invited Arpago to dinner, but after the meal revealed to the hapless courtier that he had in fact just eaten his own son, cooked in a pie on the king’s orders. Arpago therefore swears his dedication to Ciro’s cause in overthrowing his grandfather and claiming his rightful place on the throne. The act ends with both men vowing their mutual friendship and resolving to take up arms against Astiages. The third act opens as Bato informs Flora of Ciro’s most recent movements: training an army and preparing for war against his grandfather. There are intimations of romantic feeling toward Flora on Bato’s part, but the peasant girl does not entertain them. Ciro arrives with his followers and there is a touching exchange with Filis. The roles, ironically, have been reversed somewhat, and now Filis worries about her lowliness in comparison to the royal-blooded Ciro, but he assures her of his enduring love for her despite his change in social status. Ciro asks for a volunteer to take a letter to Astiages, and in an unlikely turn of events it is Bato who steps forward. At court, Arpago reports to Astiages the news of Ciro’s preparations, emphasizing the absurdity of the idea of a peasant attempting to lead an army, in an effort to lull Astiages into a false sense of security. Bato delivers the letter, the demands and tone of which enrage Astiages. The king in his ire wishes to kill the impudent Bato, who is cleverly defended by Arpago and returns unscathed. Back in the village, Ciro suffers a public fall from his horse. This is greeted with much dismay by those around him, given that such an incident was commonly regarded as a bad omen. In order to counteract the negative connotations of the event, Ciro cuts off his horse’s front legs, reasoning that the supposed bad luck has therefore been transferred from himself to the animal. Nevertheless, the confidence of his followers has been shaken, and when Bato arrives with the news that Astiages has not accepted his proposals for a peaceful settlement, both Mitridates and Filis plead with Ciro not to go into battle. This suggestion is met with a steely refusal to concede defeat, even when Arpago arrives to tell Ciro of Astiages’ huge army. Arpago personally has no hope for victory, but he vows at least to die with Ciro. A soliloquy from Ciro follows, wherein he articulates his fears. The voice of a ‘shadow’ is heard: it transpires that it is the ghost of his (biological) father, warning him against going to war. Ciro defiantly rejects this advice, declaring again that ‘fortune favours the brave’, and he unceremoniously dismisses the spectre. Even when a comet passes through the sky, this additional recognized portent of disaster is not enough to deter him. The battle begins badly with Ciro’s troops deserting him. Despite this, after their womenfolk shame them and Arpago arrives with reinforcements, Ciro’s army finally wins out against that of Astiages. The king is humbled before his victor and kneels before Ciro, begging for clemency. After a short speech in which he outlines the reasons for his decision to show mercy to his grandfather, Ciro gives Arpago the opportunity to take revenge for the murder of his son. However, inspired by his new king’s forgiving attitude, Arpago relinquishes his right to justice and Astiages is sentenced to live out his days kept by Ciro in a city where he cannot again infringe on his grandson’s right to power. Filis is chosen as Ciro’s queen and the play ends with a repetition of the proclamation that is also the play's title: ‘fortune favours the brave’.


For the main plot of 'Contra valor no hay desdicha' Lope used accounts of the early life of King Cyrus the Great written by the Greek Herodotus in his Histories (c. 450-420 BC) and by the Roman, Justin, in his Epitome of Pompeius Trogus' ‘Historica Philippica’, thought to be written in the late second century AD. As is often the case with great heroes and warriors of the past, descriptions of the birth and childhood of Cyrus have become a mixture of myth and legend, and are therefore to be viewed as having more of a cultural and societal significance than historical accuracy. Lope adds to the basic story various plot twists of his own invention.

Further information

There is only one record of this play being staged, in the Buen Retiro palace in 1636.

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Entry submitted by NaomiWalker on 14 May 2012 and last updated by Kathleen Jeffs on 22 May 2012

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