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El médico de su honra (1635-1637), Pedro Calderón de la Barca

English title: The Physician of his Honour
Date written: sometime between 1635 and 1637
First publication date: 1637
First production date: 10 June 1635
Keywords: morality > honour, morality > crime, morality > justice-revenge, violence > murder, violence > personal, family > marriage, ideology > honour, love > relationships, power
Genre and type: tragedy

One of Calderón’s most frequently studied and produced plays, this wife-murder tragedy is all the more controversial given the ambiguity surrounding Mencía, the wife who lies to her husband Gutierre. Although Mencia is innocent of the infidelity for which she is killed, she is not wholly innocent of any wrongdoing, which makes this play a complex study of paranoia, guilt and innocence.


At the start of the play, Prince Enrique falls off his horse, which in Golden Age plays is frequently an omen of coming danger, often representing a moral as well as a physical fall. He is taken to recover at the nearest house, which happens to be that of Doña Mencía, a woman he courted before she married her current husband, Don Gutierre. Enrique and Mencía are reunited as he lies injured in her house, but she wants to keep their past history a secret from her husband. Enrique wishes to know the reason she disdained him while he was courting her, as he never stopped loving her. Unable to speak candidly with him in her husband’s house, she effectively tells Enrique to come to her privately so she can explain.

Her husband, Gutierre, also has an unresolved love affair with a woman named Leonor. In the past he had courted her, but when he saw another man leaving her house one night, he judged her unfaithful and stopped pursuing her. Mencía’s father saw a profitable match with Gutierre, and married the pair without considering Mencía’s feelings. She was forced to cut off ties with Enrique, so when the two see each other for the first time again as Enrique recovers from his fall, it is an emotional encounter.

Gutierre leaves home to speak with the King, Prince Enrique’s brother, about the unresolved matter of Leonor. The matter also concerns Don Arias, the man Gutierre saw leaving Leonor’s balcony all that time ago. The King hides Leonor behind a wall to hear Gutierre’s side of the story, but she comes out in a rage when he accuses her of infidelity. It turns out Arias was there to visit another woman living in the house, and Leonor was innocent. Arias and Gutierre are imprisoned overnight for drawing swords on one another, but the gaoler lets Gutierre out for the evening so long as he promises to return to the prison by dawn.

Prince Enrique takes advantage of Gutierre’s imprisonment and comes to visit Mencía alone. When Gutierre comes home during his night-time reprieve from prison, Mencía is forced to ask Enrique to hide so that Gutierre does not find him in the house. In his haste, the Prince accidentally leaves his dagger behind. Mencía lies, telling Gutierre there is a thief in the house, and uses the disruption as an excuse to get Enrique out of the house. While Gutierre is looking for the ‘thief’ he finds Enrique’s dagger and fears Mencía may have been untruthful to him about the unknown man in the house. When Gutierre comes back to Mencía to embrace her, he forgets he is holding Enrique’s dagger, and Mencía reacts as if Gutierre meant to attack her. Suspicious of her defensiveness, her husband fears the worst.

Gutierre decides to set a trap for his wife, and comes home again the following night, sneaking in through the garden. In the darkness he changes his voice so that Mencía does not recognise him, and when she calls him ‘My prince’, Gutierre knows Mencía has been seeing Enrique at night in his absence. What Gutierre does not know is that Mencía is innocent of any wrongdoing with Enrique, and she has been telling Enrique to go away every time he reappears at her house.

Feeling sure that his wife has been unfaithful to him with the Prince, Gutierre appeals to the King and lets him know that his honour is in jeopardy. The King confronts Enrique, hiding Gutierre behind a wall so he can hear the Prince’s side of the story. When Enrique confesses that he loved Mencía, the King tries to get him to stop talking but he continues to incriminate himself in Gutierre’s hearing. When the King handles Enrique’s dagger which Gutierre found in his house, it cuts his hand accidentally. The King interprets the accident as an attack and accuses his brother of treachery.

To avoid further confrontation, Enrique makes plans to leave town, but Mencía fears this will arouse suspicion among her neighbours and the court and so she writes to him, begging him not to leave lest her reputation be endangered. Gutierre finds the letter, feels he has no other choice than to become the ‘surgeon’ or ‘doctor’ of his own honour, and makes plans to kill Mencía. He hires a bloodletter, Ludovico, whom he blindfolds on his way to the house so he will not be able to identify his surroundings and blame Gutierre. He threatens the bloodletter’s life unless he kills Mencía by bleeding her to death, and, under protest but given no choice, Ludovico lets her blood.

Once she has been drained of life, Gutierre takes Ludovico back out to the street, intending to kill him, but Gutierre flees when he sees the King in the street. Ludovico tells the King what has happened, and says he left a bloody handprint on the door of the house so he could identify it later. The King finds the house with the handprint, knows it to be that of Gutierre, and admires how Gutierre has salvaged his honour in a discreet and private way. He decides to have Gutierre marry Leonor in order to repair her honour, but Gutierre protests it is too soon for him to remarry. The King overrides Gutierre’s opinion, and the play ends with a dark exchange about how Gutierre has been the doctor of his honour once, and Leonor should take note and be careful, for he could easily do it again should he feel he has cause.


Critics posit Lope de Vega’s play by the same name as the likely source for Calderón’s El médico de su honra. This source play is included as an appendix to the edition of the play edited by Ana Armendáriz (Calderón de la Barca 2007). See also Sloman 1969: 18-58.

Critical response

This is one of Calderón’s most frequently studied plays, an iconic example of the wife-murder tragedy. In the past, scholars interpreted this play as Calderón’s chilling advice on how a husband should behave, but that school of thought has changed and the play is often read as a condemnation of his monstrous obsession with honour. Mencía is thus often viewed now as a tragic victim rather than deserving of her fate.

Further information

Records exist for two early productions of plays called El médico de su honra; firstly on 8 October 1628 or 1629 and secondly on 10 June 1635. It is uncertain which of these was Calderón’s play and which the version attributed to Lope. Cruickshank posits that the first play performed was Lope’s, and that the second production, probably that of Calderón, was heavily based on that first play (Calderón de la Barca 1989).

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1637. El médico de su honra. In Segunda parte de las comedias de Don Pedro Calderón de la Barca, ed. Don Joseph Calderón de la Barca, su hermano (his brother). Madrid, Maria de Quiñones

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1976. El médico de su honra, ed. C. A. Jones. Oxford, Dolphin and Clarendon

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1989. El médico de su honra, ed. D. W. Cruickshank. Madrid, Castalia

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 2007. El médico de su honra, ed. Ana Armendáriz. Madrid, Iberoamericana [Note this edition contains the source text, attributed to Lope de Vega, as an appendix]

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 2007. El médico de su honra, ed. Carol Bingham Kirby. Newark, Cervantes & Co. European Masterpieces

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 2007. El médico de su honra, ed. Donald McGrady. Newark, Delaware, Juan de la Cuesta

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 2007. The Physician of His Honour (El médico de su honra) (Dual-language text in Spanish and English), trans. Dian Fox, 2nd edn. Oxford, Aris and Phillips (in English)

Useful readings and websites
  • Benabu, Isaac. 1991. ‘Interpreting the Comedia in the Absence of a Performance Tradition: Gutierre in Calderón’s El médico de su honra’. In Prologue to Performance: Spanish Classical Theater Today, eds. Louise and Peter Fothergill-Payne, pp. 23-35. Lewisburg, Bucknell University Press

  • Cruickshank, Don W. 1973. ‘Pongo mi mano en sangre bañada a la puerta’: Adultery in El médico de su honra. In Studies in Spanish Literature of the Golden Age Presented to E. M. Wilson, ed. R. O. Jones, pp. 45-62. London, Tamesis

  • Cruickshank, Don W. 2003. Calderón de la Barca: El médico de su honra. Critical Guides to Spanish Texts. London, Grant and Cutler

  • Fischer, Susan L. 2009. ‘Calderón and Semiological Self-Exorcism: El médico de su honra (The Physician of his Honor)’. In Reading Performance: Spanish Golden Age Theatre and Shakespeare on the Modern Stage, pp. 3-20. Woodbridge, Tamesis

  • Griffin, Nigel. 1994. ‘Some Performance Constants in Calderón’s El médico de su honra’. In The Discerning Eye: Studies Presented to Robert Pring-Mill on His Seventieth Birthday, eds. Nigel Griffin, Clive Griffin, Eric Southworth et al., pp. 95-116. Llangrannog, Dolphin

  • Jones, C. A. 1965. ‘Spanish Honour as Historical Phenomenon: Convention and Artistic Motive’, Hispanic Review, 33, 32-39

  • McKendrick, Melveena. 1984. ‘Honour/Vengeance in the Spanish comedia: A Case of Mimetic Tranference?’, Modern Language Review, 79, 313-35

  • Parker, A. A. 1988. The Mind and Art of Calderón. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

  • Robbins, Jeremy. 1999. ‘Performing Doubt: The Epistemology of Honour in Calderón’s El médico de su honra’, Journal of the Institute of Romance Studies, 7, 63-74

  • Sloman, Albert E. 1958. The Dramatic Craftsmanship of Calderón. Oxford, Dolphin

  • Watson, A. Irvine. 1963. ‘Peter the Cruel or Peter the Just? A Reappraisal of the Role Played by King Peter in Calderón’s El médico de su honra’, Romanistisches Jahrbuch, 14, 322-46

  • Wilson, Edward M. 1936. ‘The Four Elements in the Imagery of Calderón’, Modern Language Review, 31, 34-47

  • Wilson, Edward M. 1980. ‘A Hispanist Looks at Othello’. In Spanish and English Literature of the 16th and 17th Centuries: Studies in Discretion, Illusion and Mutability. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

  • “El médico de su honra, Semiotics, and Performance: ‘An Exercise in Self-Exorcism’?” Gestos: Revista de teoría y práctica del teatro hispánico, 15 (April 1993), 27-54.

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Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 10 March 2011.

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