Out of the Wings

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El condenado por desconfiado (1625), Tirso de Molina

English title: Damned for Despair
Date written: ?1625
First publication date: 1635
Keywords: morality, morality > crime, morality > punishment, morality > judgement, morality > vice-virtue, violence > murder, ideology > religion and faith
Genre and type: tragedy

Faith in the mercy of God is tantamount to salvation. But what happens when we are deceived into thinking that all hope is lost? Testing the depths of his faith, a devoted hermit stares into the abyss of doubt, while a lifelong sinner considers trusting in the mercy of God’s forgiveness.


Paulo, a hermit, lives in the wilderness as a devoted ascetic. He has a nightmare that his soul is condemned, and he awakes plagued by the question: Will he really go to Heaven or to Hell? The Devil in the form of an angel tells says Paulo to go to Naples and observe a man named Enrico, for the fate of this man will mirror that of Paulo himself. Greatly calmed, Paulo is sure this Enrico must be a good man, and he and his servant, Pedrisco, set off to find him. In Naples, Octavio and Lisandro (two noblemen) admire Celia (a noble lady) who is helping them with some letters.  Enrico, Celia’s rake of a suitor, is enraged to find two men with her and fights with them.  Later, at the Sea Port, Enrico throws a beggar into the sea. Pedrisco and Paulo are horrified that this terrible ruffian’s name is Enrico, their supposed saint. Enrico stages a contest among his group of thugs to reward whoever has committed the most crimes. Enrico’s life of stealing, arson, raping, killing and lack of respect for religion and justice wins; Celia crowns him. Paulo reasons that if he will suffer the same fate as Enrico and be damned, he may as well enjoy life as much as Enrico does. Paulo thus becomes a bandit in the woods. In the second act, though cruel, Enrico shows care for Anareto, his invalid father. He forestalls a murder he was about to commit because his intended victim, Albano, resembles his father. Instead, Enrico kills Octavio, who had hired him to kill Albano. To avoid arrest Enrico kills the Governor of Naples as well and he and his servant, Galván, throw themselves into the sea to escape. Meanwhile, Paulo and Pedrisco have imprisoned three travellers, who they hang on a tree. Paulo is visited by a little shepherd-angel who tells him God’s mercy is boundless, and Pedrisco fishes Enrico and Galván out of the water. Paulo has them tied up and threatens to shoot them with arrows; Paulo then dons his monk robe and offers Enrico confession, which he refuses. Paulo, despondent, takes off his robe and loses his faith completely, telling Enrico his story.  Enrico declares his faith in God’s mercy, but acknowledges that he has done terrible things in his life. Paulo, in utter despair, now has neither faith nor good works on his side. By the third act, Enrico and Pedrisco are in jail; Celia comes to tell them that they are to be executed the next day, and that she has married Lisardo. Enrico, furious, breaks his chains and attacks his jailers, but he is confined to a dungeon, where the Devil, in the form of a shadow, offers him a way out. Enrico then hears a voice saying he’ll be saved if he stays in the cell.  On hearing his sentence of hanging, Enrico refuses confession. His father, Anareto, comes and convinces him to confess and embrace God’s mercy. Meanwhile Paulo is visited again by the little shepherd-angel, who is sad because his lost sheep is never coming back. Paulo gives up hope; he believes God has abandoned him. The Judge and the townsfolk come to take Paulo to prison; Paulo fights them all and is killed. He refuses to believe that Enrico’s soul could have been taken up to Heaven; he dies refusing to believe in God’s mercy. Pedrisco covers up Paulo’s dead body, but Paulo returns in flames to tell everyone that he is now in Hell, damned for despair. Galván vows to live a saintly life, and Pedrisco advises the audience to believe this true story.


The Counter-reformation context of Tirso de Molina and his role as a friar in the Order of Mercy will have influenced the theology in this play; man’s ability to be saved based on faith alone, regardless of his good or evil deeds during his lifetime, was the subject of heated debate in Tirso’s time.  This work in particular reflects the de auxiliis controversy and is influenced by the work of St Teresa and St John of the Cross (Tirso de Molina 1978: 21). For a broad consideration of the play’s sources from folkloric and storytelling traditions, see Oakley 1994: 62-72. In an article (2005), Turner offers another potential source for the play: the story of the controversial figure of Lope de Aguirre, who had led a rebellion against the Spanish crown in the middle of the sixteenth century and whose life story might have been the partial inspiration for Tirso’s characters Enrico and Paulo in El condenado por desconfiado.

  • Tirso de Molina. 1978. El condenado por desconfiado, eds. Ciriaco Morón and Rolena Adorno. Madrid, Cátedra (in Spanish)

  • Turner, Margaret D. 2005. ‘El condenado por desconfiado by Tirso de Molina: A Possible Source of Inspiration’, Romance Studies, 23, 1, 43-54

  • Tirso de Molina. 1635. Segunda parte de las comedias de Tirso de Molina. Madrid

  • Tirso de Molina. 1978. El condenado por desconfiado, eds. Ciriaco Morón and Rolena Adorno. Madrid, Cátedra

    This is a useful review of the edition: Darst, David H. 1977. Hispania, 60, 2, 394-5

Useful readings and websites
  • Arellano, Ignacio, ed. 2004. Tirso de Molina en la Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico. Cuadernos de Teatro Clásico, 18. Madrid, Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico (in Spanish)

  • Darst, David H. 1974. ‘The Thematic Design of El condenado por desconfiado’, Kentucky Romance Quarterly, 21, 483-94

  • Lee, Christina H. 2004. ‘Rescatar a El condenado por desconfiado del teatro de museo: Una entrevista con Alejandro González Puche, Director del Teatro del Valle (Cali, Colombia)’. Comedia Performance, 1, 1, 238-52 (in Spanish)

  • Oakley, R. J. 1985. ‘Time and Space in El condenado por desconfiado’, Forum for Modern Language Studies, 21, 3, 257-72

  • Oakley, R. J. 1994. Tirso de Molina: El condenado por desconfiado. Critical Guides to Spanish Texts. London, Grant and Cutler

  • Soufas, Teresa S. 1987. ‘Religious Melancholy and Tirso's Despairing Monk in El condenado por desconfiado’, Romance Quarterly, 34, 2, 179-88

  • Sullivan, Henry W. 1981. ‘The Cultural and Intellectual Background of Spain in the Counter Reformation’. In Tirso de Molina and the Drama of the Counter Reformation, pp. 13-69. Amsterdam, Rodopi

    This is especially useful for the play El condenado por desconfiado.

  • Turner, Margaret D. 2005. ‘El condenado por desconfiado by Tirso de Molina: A Possible Source of Inspiration’, Romance Studies, 23, 1, 43-54

  • Turner, Margaret D. 2005. ‘El condenado por desconfiado by Tirso de Molina: A Possible Source of Inspiration’, Romance Studies, 23, 1, 43-54

  • Varey, J. E. 1986. ‘The Use of Levels in El condenado por desconfiado’, Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispanicos, 10, 2, 299-310

  • Wilson, Margaret. 1993. ‘Tirso's Texts, and More on El condenado por desconfiado’, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 70, 1, 97-104

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Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 4 October 2010.

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