Out of the Wings

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La cara de Dios (1899), Carlos Arniches Barreda

English title: The Face of God
Date written: 1899
First publication date: 1899
First production date: November 1899
Keywords: love, love > friendship, love > relationships, love > desire, violence > cruelty, family, power > use and abuse, power, society
Genre and type: melodrama

Ramon and Soledad are happily married. But Ramon’s friend Eleuterio wants Soledad for himself, and will stop at nothing to get her.


In a busy Madrid neighbourhood, a group of labourers work on a half-built house, surrounded by bricks and scaffolding. Two of the men, Eleuterio and Ramon, have been friends since they were little boys. They spent their youth drinking and chasing women together. Lately, however, Ramon has changed his ways. He is now married to Soledad, and spends his nights at home with her and their young son. Eleuterio resents this, and makes fun of Ramon, insisting that no woman is worth the boredom of spending sober nights indoors. Eleuterio claims that he is worried that his good friend Ramon is missing out on life outside the home. But this is not the case. Rather, Eleuterio is himself obsessed with Soledad. He has spent the last few years trying to get her into bed. Soledad has not told Ramon about Eleuterio’s sexual advances. She has also never told Ramon that she was not a virgin when they married. This is a fact that Eleuterio knows, however, since he used to be friends with Soledad’s former lover. Eleuterio has been using this information to try to blackmail Soledad into sleeping with him, but she has steadfastly refused. Now, Eleuterio has had enough of her rebuttals. He has given her an ultimatum – either she gives in or he will tell Ramon about her past.

Only one other person knows about Soledad’s affair before she was married – her old uncle Doroteo. Doroteo would do anything for his niece. He confronts Eleuterio about the blackmail, begging him to leave Soledad alone. If he does not, Doroteo warns Eleuterio that he will kill him. Eleuterio simply laughs at the old man’s threat.

Soledad decides that she would rather her husband knew about her past than sleep with Eleuterio. But she does not get the chance to tell him herself. Instead, Ramon hears a skewed and torrid version of her past from Eleuterio. He is led to believe that his wife has made a mockery of him around the neighbourhood. Disgusted, he immediately throws her out of the house and forbids her from seeing her son.

Ramon and Soledad have been separated for a month, and neither of them is happy. It is Holy Week, which brings back bittersweet memories for Ramon. He and Soledad first met on a Good Friday, at the altar of the Face of God hermitage. Now, as then, the locals are enjoying the Easter festivities. Despite Eleuterio’s attempts to cheer Ramon up, he is not enjoying life as a single man. Soledad is sinking deeper and deeper into despair. She blames Eleuterio for everything that has happened to her, and decides to exact revenge. As the Easter celebrations outside the Face of God continue, Soledad asks to speak to Eleuterio. While they talk, Ramon arrives. He eavesdrops on their conversation, and learns that they have arranged to meet in the middle of the night. Ramon immediately jumps to the conclusion that Soledad and Eleuterio are having an affair. He resolves to follow them to their meeting so he can catch them in the act. Similarly, Eleuterio believes that Soledad has finally decided to give in to his demands. But their encounter will be far from romantic. Rather, Eleuterio finds himself facing an enraged and murderous Soledad. She has brought a knife with her, and prepares to kill her selfish admirer. Before she can do so, however, Ramon bursts in. He has heard everything, and now realises that his so-called friend Eleuterio is nothing more than a cruel manipulator. Eleuterio is characteristically unrepentant of his actions, and he and Ramon challenge each other to a duel the following day.

As the time of the duel approaches, both Soledad and her uncle Doroteo fear for Ramon’s safety. Eleuterio is known for his violence, and it is unlikely Ramon will survive the day. Once again, Doroteo confronts Eleuterio and begs him to leave his niece and Ramon alone. Yet again, however, Eleuterio arrogantly laughs at the pleading old man. In fact, Eleuterio is so confident that he will win he has hardly given the duel any thought. He is more interested in impressing the other builders of the half-built house with his bravery. He climbs up to the highest point on the scaffolding. Here, unexpected tragedy appears to strike and the duel will never take place. Eleuterio falls to his death, the scaffolding having given way. But this was no accident. Doroteo admits that he deliberately loosened the scaffolding. He has followed through with his threat to kill Eleuterio, meaning that Ramon and Soledad can be reunited, free from Eleuterio’s menacing shadow.

Critical response

The play was very well received by critics and audiences. Ramón María del Valle-Inclán turned the play into a novel, published in 1900.

  • Arniches, Carlos. 1899. La cara de Dios, 2nd edn. Madrid, R. Velasco Printing. Available online at http://openlibrary.org/books/OL17983018M/La_cara_de_dios [accessed November 2011] (Online Publication)

  • Arniches, Carlos. 1995. Obras completas, vol. II, ed. María Victoria Sotomayor Saéz. Madrid, Biblioteca Castro

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 12 November 2011.

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