Out of the Wings

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El caballero de Olmedo (c.1620), Lope de Vega Carpio

English title: The Gentleman from Olmedo
Date written: c. 1620
First publication date: 1641
Keywords: morality > honour, violence > personal, family > marriage, love > desire, family > duty, love > relationships, honour > chivalry
Genre and type: tragedy

One of Lope’s canonical works, this play begins as a comedy with a Celestina-inspired go-between who fans the flames of desire between two noble youths, Inés and Alonso. However the play takes a tragic turn when Alonso begins to receive premonitions of his imminent murder.


Alonso, a visitor to the town of Medina, is in love with a woman he met at the local fair - the noblewoman, Inés. He wishes to send her a note, and enlists the help of a bawd, Fabia. (It is worth noting here that parts for older women are few and far between in comedias, so although this Celestina-inspired figure is a common archetype, she is not often seen on the stage.) Inés discusses her dilemma with her sister, Leonor; Inés saw the handsome stranger, Alonso, at the fete and has fallen in love with him, but, she is already engaged to a local nobleman, Rodrigo. Fabia delivers Alonso’s note to Inés, and she writes a reply, but when Rodrigo visits the house the women pretend that Fabia is the ‘laundress’ and the note a laundry list, to avoid Rodrigo’s suspicion.

However, Inés’s note is not a laundry list, but an invitation to Alonso to come to the gate of her father’s house that evening. This is a risky manoeuvre, as it would not be within the bounds of decorum to encourage men other than her proper suitor, Rodrigo. Inés's note instructs Alonso to collect a green ribbon she will tie to the gate, and asks him to wear it the following day so she may know who he is. However, Rodrigo and his friend Fernando, who is Leonor’s suitor, arrive at the gate first and argue about whether the ribbon is a favour from Inés or Leonor. Unable to decide, they split the ribbon into two. Alonso threatens them, concealing his identity, and as Rodrigo and Fernando flee, they leave Rodrigo’s cloak behind in their haste. The following day Rodrigo comes to ask Inés's father for her hand, and he readily agrees to the match. Inés worries that it may now be too late for her to marry Alonso, but Fabia promises she will help make it possible.

By the time of the start of act 2, Alonso has been travelling from his home in Olmedo to see Inés in Medina. Rodrigo is suspicious of Alonso because he has seen his servant, Tello, wearing the cloak he left behind outside Inés's house. Alonso goes to visit Inés, but has to hide when her father comes in, as they are still meeting in secret. Her father wishes to discuss her impending marriage to Rodrigo, but Inés says she is already engaged to Christ; that is, she wishes to become a nun. Her father reacts in disbelief at her sudden conversion, but does not stand in the way of her 'calling' (a comparable scene is found in Tirso de Molina’s Marta la piadosa).

Once her father is gone, Alonso comes out of hiding and is distraught at the news until he realises it's a ploy; his servant, Tello, and the bawd, Fabia, also form part of the conspiracy as they will act as her 'Latin tutors', giving them free access to the house. The fake conversion allows Inés time to avoid marrying Rodrigo and also to think of another way to secure her marriage to Alonso. In the meantime, Rodrigo and Fernando plot together, having figured out that Inés and Alonso are in love, which dishonours Rodrigo as the true suitor. They prepare to go to the bullfight and see how Alonso, the Gentleman (or Knight) from Olmedo of renowned bullfighting skill, will fight.

The scene shifts to the palace of the King, who is preparing to give a special honour to Alonso, the Gentleman from Olmedo. Alonso, meanwhile, waits anxiously for the return of a letter he sent to Inés which he hopes will contain a favour from her. Tello finally arrives with the favour from Inés, which is a ribbon to wear while he fights. Before they leave for the bullfight, Alonso tells Tello of a recent dream in which a hawk swooped down on a pair of goldfinches, killing one while the other looked on helplessly. Tello tells him to take heart, and they leave for Medina, where Alonso will face the bulls in the arena.

In the final act, the play turns from comedy to tragedy as Alonso increasingly feels a sense of impending death. He is unsure whether his feelings are a result of having to be away from his love, Inés, or whether he is aware of signs warning of his actual death. This third act opens at the bullfight, in which Alonso is the victor. Alonso saves Rodrigo's life in the ring, a situation which is intolerable for Rodrigo as his jealousy begins to overcome him. Rodrigo sees how Inés looks at Alonso, and although he owes his life to Alonso, he vows to kill him.

After the bullfight, Alonso wants to travel home to Olmedo to inform his parents of his victory in the ring, but it is late and the journey is treacherous. Before he leaves, he stops by Inés's balcony to say goodbye, and in his poetic description of his feelings he reveals his growing fear of his impending death. As he leaves he sees a ghostly figure who claims to be 'Don Alonso', the first omen that warns him that his presentiment of doom may be real. Along the road he also meets a peasant, who sings a traditional song warning of the death of 'the flower of Olmedo', another omen of Alonso's death. Alonso asks the peasant to accompany him on his journey, but the peasant only states that he was sent by Fabia, warns him to turn back, then disappears.

Despite these warnings Alonso carries on towards Olmedo, and he is attacked along the road by Rodrigo and his men who come on horseback. They grossly outnumber him, strip him of his weapons, and even bring a harquebus to the fight to ensure Alonso is murdered. It is a cowardly attack on the part of Rodrigo; as Alonso says, he did not have the courage to challenge him man-to-man. Tello brings Alonso to his parents' house where they nurse his gunshot wound, and grieve over his body as he dies there. Tello rides back to inform the King of the injustice that has been done. In the meantime, not knowing Alonso has been killed, Inés's sister Leonor has told their father of Inés's true wish, which is not to enter a convent, but to marry Alonso, and their father agrees this would be a favourable match. When the King comes to suggest marriage between Rodrigo and Inés, her father says she is already engaged to Alonso, and Rodrigo is infuriated. Just at this moment, Tello comes to inform everyone of Alonso's death and Rodrigo's guilt in the murder. Inés resigns herself to joining a convent after all, and the King orders Rodrigo and his accomplice Federico to be executed the following day.


The play is loosely based on the historical event of the murder of Juan de Vivero in 1521 on the road between Medina del Campo and Olmedo. The play is set during the time of King John II of Castile in the first half of the fifteenth century (see Edwards’ introduction in Lope de Vega 1999: xxii, as well as Lappin’s account in Lope de Vega 2006: 20-25). The play is also based on an anonymously written play entitled El caballero de Olmedo, from around 1606. Another play, attributed to Lope, called Baile del Caballero de Olmedo (1617) provides a further possible source as elements of Lope’s act 3 contain echoes of this work (See Edwards in Lope de Vega 1999 and Sage 1974). There are other influences including La celestina (1499), with which the bawd, Fabia, and her relationship with the servant Tello are loosely tied (to Celestina and Sempronio, respectively). This correlation is overtly mentioned in the play in a comic exchange near the start of act 2, when Tello asks if ‘Melibea’ is in, for ‘Calisto’ has come to visit her (these are the characters from La Celestina, translated as ‘Romeo’ and ‘Juliet’ in Johnston’s adaptation). The poems, songs and ballads in the play are all taken from popular works, some associated with the murder of Juan de Vivero, which Johnston translates as ‘They killed him in the darkness there, the caballero, the flower of all Medina, and the glory of Olmedo’ (Lope de Vega 1992: 89).

Critical response

The play is dubbed a ‘tragicomedy’ because it does not adhere perfectly to the typical structure of a tragedy.  Its categorisation as ‘tragicomedy’ or as tragedy has been widely debated by scholars in recent years (see further reading and Francisco Rico’s and Lappin’s introductions to their editions (Lope de Vega 2004 and 2006 respectively)). This aspect of the play has dominated its prolific presence on the pages of literary journals, but more recent studies have focused on its performance (see especially Vidler 2004 and 2005) and its translation (see especially Johnston 2008 [both pieces from that year, in the Companion and The Comedia in English]).

  • Vega, Lope de. 1969. El caballero de Olmedo, ed. José Manuel Blecua. 10th edn. Zaragoza, Ebro

  • Vega, Lope de. 1982. El caballero de Olmedo, ed. Antonio Prieto. Barcelona, Planeta

  • Vega, Lope de. 1991. El caballero de Olmedo, ed. Juan María Marín Martínez. Madrid, Castalia

  • Vega, Lope de. 2004. El caballero de Olmedo, ed. Edward H. Friedman. European Masterpieces. Newark, Delaware, Juan de la Cuesta

  • Vega, Lope de. 2004. Elcaballero de Olmedo, ed. Francisco Rico. 21st edn. Madrid, Cátedra

  • Vega, Lope de. 2006. El caballero de Olmedo, ed. Anthony John Lappin. Manchester, Manchester University Press

Useful readings and websites
  • Albrecht, Jane W. 2006. ‘The Text and Performance of El caballero de Olmedo’, Comedia Performance, 3, 1, 11-28

  • Friedman, Edward H. 1996. ‘Theater Semiotics and Lope de Vega's El caballero de Olmedo’. In El arte nuevo de estudiar comedias: Literary Theory and Spanish Golden Age Drama, ed. Barbara Simerka, pp. 66-85. Cranbury, NJ, Bucknell University Press

  • Hesse, Everett W. 1965. ‘The Role of the Mind in Lope’s El caballero de Olmedo’, Symposium, 19, 58-66

  • Johnston, David. 1996. ‘Theatre Pragmatics’. In Stages of Translation, ed. David Johnston, pp. 57-66. Bath, Absolute

  • Johnston, David. 2008. ‘Lope de Vega in English: The Historicised Imagination’. In The Comedia in English: Translation and Performance, pp. 66-82. Woodbridge, Tamesis

  • Johnston, David. 2008. ‘Lope in Translation: Opening the Closed Book’. In A Companion to Lope de Vega, eds. Alexander Samson and Jonathan Thacker, pp. 300-13. Woodbridge, Tamesis

  • McGaha, Michael. 1978. ‘The Structure of El caballero de Olmedo’, Hispania, 61, 451-8

  • Sage, Jack. 1974. Lope de Vega, El caballero de Olmedo. Critical Guides to Spanish Texts. London, Grant and Cutler

  • Samson, Alexander and Thacker, Jonathan. 2008. ‘Three Canonical Plays’. In A Companion to Lope de Vega, eds. Alexander Samson and Jonathan Thacker, pp. 119-30. Woodbridge, Tamesis

  • Vidler, Laura L. 2004. ‘Entre la Espada y el Escenario: The Presence, Absence and Manipulation of Stage Properties in Lope's El caballero de Olmedo’, Comedia Performance, 1, 1, 95-125

  • Vidler, Laura L. 2005. ‘Toward a Model of Historical Staging Reconstruction of Spanish Golden Age Theater: Fabia in Lope de Vega's El caballero de Olmedo’. In The Theater of Teaching and the Lessons of Theater, eds. Domnica Radulescu and Maria Stadter Fox, pp. 63-76. Lanham, MD, Lexington

  • Wardropper, Bruce W. 1972. ‘The Criticism of the Spanish Comedia: El caballero de Olmedo as Object Lesson’, Philological Quarterly, 51, 177-96

  • Wilks, Kerry. 2008. ‘El caballero de Olmedo de Lope de Vega: Representando la tragedia española en los Estados Unidos’. In Hacia la tragedia áurea: Lecturas para un nuevo milenio, eds. Frederick A. De Armas, Luciano García Lorenzo and Enrique García Santo-Tomás, pp. 373-81. Madrid and Frankfurt, Iberoamericana and Vervuert (in Spanish)

  • Wilson, Edward M. 1980. ‘The Exemplary Nature of El caballero del Olmedo’. In Spanish and English Literature of the 16thand 17th Centuries, ed. D. W. Cruickshank, pp. 184-200. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 14 March 2011.

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