Out of the Wings

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La dama boba (1613), Lope de Vega Carpio

English title: The Foolish Lady
Date written: 1613
First publication date: 1613
Keywords: morality > honour, morality > vice-virtue, identity > sexuality, family > brothers/sisters, family > marriage, ideology > honour, love > relationships, women, love > desire
Genre and type: comedy

A very fast and funny comedy about a pair of sisters in love with the same man, although the marriage arranged for the younger sister with another nobleman throws the house into chaos. The ‘foolish lady’ is Finea; her older sister Nise is as educated as her sister is silly. However, through the power of love, Finea gains a new kind of intelligence.


The scene opens in Illescas, where the nobleman Liseo learns that his intended bride, Finea, is a simpleton. He knows that her sister, Nise, is very beautiful and intelligent. When we meet the sisters, Nise is shown to be a cultivated and erudite reader while Finea struggles with a simple reading lesson. Laurencio, Nise’s suitor, decides to shift his attentions from Nise  to her sister, as there is a large dowry offered for her marriage. When he tries to woo Finea, she does not understand his words, but she later says to her maid that she prefers him to Liseo, the man she is expected to marry. Liseo comes to call, and Finea’s silliness embarrasses the whole family. He decides to abandon his suit of Finea and pursue Nise instead. A month passes between the first and second acts, during which time Liseo has been stalling. Nise has fallen ill with the loss of love from Laurencio; she accuses him of transferring his love in pursuit of money. Liseo arrives to witness Nise verbally abusing Laurencio, and challenges him to a duel. Clara brings Finea a note from Laurencio, but it has been damaged by a close encounter with an oil lamp. Not realising she should probably keep the note a secret, Finea brings it to her father, Otavio, to help decipher the words that remain. He asks her if anything else has happened between them, and she tells her father that she and Laurencio have embraced. Fearing for his honour, Otavio tells his daughter that only her husband is worthy of her arms. Finea, alone with Clara, reveals the new feelings of love for Laurencio she is beginning to have. About to fight their duel, Liseo and Laurencio meet, but are surprised to learn that they are not in fact rivals for the same woman after all. Realising that Liseo wants Nise and Laurencio now wants Finea, they part as friends and even offer to help each other. Nise confronts Finea, accusing her of taking secret lessons, as she appears to be changing. She also accuses her of trying to steal Laurencio, and Finea agrees to give him up if it will please Nise. Sweetly, Finea tries to tell Laurencio that she wants to ‘unembrace’ him, but Nise interrupts and takes Laurencio away into the garden to give him a piece of her mind. He escapes, seeking Finea who has discovered jealousy. Laurencio plays a trick on her, saying that her jealousy will be relieved so long as she declares herself his intended wife in front of three witnesses: Feniso, Duardo and Pedro. She makes the statement, and Laurencio prepares to make it official, signing off his intentions towards Nise forever. Liseo approaches Nise and declares his love but she declares her love for Laurencio. Liseo does not realise Laurencio is standing behind him, and Liseo mistakenly thinks her words are addressed to him. Realising his mistake when he discovers Laurencio at his back, he seeks help from Laurencio, who assures Liseo that he only has eyes for Finea and is not a threat in his suit of Nise. The third act opens with a beautiful poem on the subject of love delivered by the now-quite-intelligent Finea, upon whom love is having an improving effect. This act is an acting tour de force by Finea, who is no longer silly or childlike, but pretends to be to get what she wants. In one scene, she pretends to be stupid when Liseo comes to pay court to her, discouraging him from his suit. In another, she does likewise to escape an argument with her sister. At first dismayed and commenting that he would have been happy with the ‘dim’ Finea, Laurencio grows to love Finea even more as she displays her newfound ingenuity. However the road block of Otavio remains, as he refuses to allow the marriage and sends Laurencio away, insisting that Liseo is the more suitable mate for Finea. Desirous that Finea not encounter any more men, Otavio agrees that it would be best for Finea to hide in the attic with the cats, and this is part of Finea’s plan to finally win her husband. Liseo comes to call on Nise, but she still does not love him. While everyone else in the house is busy, Laurencio sneaks into the attic with Finea. Finding his daughter in this dishonourable situation, Otavio has no choice but to agree to Laurencio’s declaration that Finea is his wife. Otavio declares that Nise will marry Liseo, and the servants and minor characters are coupled off in the style of a traditional comedia happy ending, despite what must be a bittersweet conclusion for Nise.


Lope de Vega probably draws on the classical theme of the educating power of love in Ovid’s ‘Ars amandi’.

Critical response

‘John Farndon’s translation...sparkles in the detail’, Adrian Turpin, The Independent, quoted from http://www.johnfarndon.com/translations [accessed 4 March 2012]

Further information

The play has been adapted as a Spanish film (2006) with Silvia Abascal as Finea and José Coronado as Laurencio, directed by Manuel Iborra.

  • Vega, Lope de. 1981. La dama boba, ed. Diego Marín. Madrid, Cátedra

Useful readings and websites
  • Fucilla, Joseph G. 1955. ‘Finea in Lope’s La dama boba in the Light of Modern Psychology’, Bulletin of the Comediantes 7, 22-3

  • Heigl, M. 1998. ‘The Representation of Women in La dama boba (Lope de Vega)’, Bulletin of the Comediantes 50, 2, 291-306

  • Holloway, James E. 1972. ‘Lope’s Neoplatonism in La dama boba’, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 49, 236-55

  • Larson, Catherine. 1991. ‘Lope de Vega and Elena Garro: The Doubling of La dama boba’, Hispania 74, 1, 15-25

  • Larson, Donald R. 1973. ‘La dama boba and the Comic Sense of Life’, Romanische Forschungen 85, 41-62

  • Stoll, Anita K. 1990. ‘Garro, Elena, Lope de Vega, La dama boba: 17th-century Inspiration for a 20th-century Dramatist’, Latin American Theatre Review 23, 2, 21-31.

  • Wardropper, B. W. 1961. ‘Lope’s La dama boba and Baroque Comedy’, Bulletin of the Comediantes 13, 1-3

  • Zuleta, J. 2011. ‘Federico Garcia Lorca and Classic Theater: The Scenic Version of La dama boba’, RILCE: Revista de filologia hispánica 27, 2, 551-4

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Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 12 May 2012.

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