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Los mal casados de Valencia (1595-1604), Guillén de Castro

English title: Unhappily Married in Valencia
Date written: sometime between 1595 and 1604
First publication date: 1618
Keywords: morality > honour, morality, identity > sexuality, family > marriage, ideology > honour, power > inter-personal/game play, love > relationships, love > desire, love > lust, identity > gender cross dressing
Genre and type: comedy
Title information

‘Mal casados’ means badly-married or unhappily-married couples.


Two unhappily-married couples secretly declare their love for their friends’ spouses, while one husband’s mistress, dressed as a boy, manipulates everyone. Infidelity, accusations and revenge are the name of the game in this startlingly modern comedy, in which everyone is attracted to the wrong person.


As its title suggests, this is a play full of unhappy marriages. Of the two married couples, Valerian and Eugenia, and Alvaro and Hipolita, all but one is in love with someone other than their own spouse—Valerian loves Hipolita, Alvaro has picked up a girlfriend in Saragossa (Zaragoza), and Eugenia loves Alvaro. Only Hipolita is faithful to her husband (Alvaro), the man whom every other woman in the play adores. Returning from his trip, Alvaro has convinced his mistress Elvira to dress as a boy, in order to allow her to travel with him as his page. Hipolita is jealous of his frequent ‘business trips’ and pesters him with questions.  Shortly thereafter Eugenia and Valerian come to visit, and Eugenia shamelessly declares her love for Alvaro, trying to get him to touch her by feigning exhaustion and asking him to feel her pounding heartbeat. The two couples play an alphabet game together, the subtext of which is that they are all in love with each other’s partners.  In the second act, Elvira, dressed as ‘Antonio’ the page, must play the part, conveying messages to and from the lovers, and acting as confidante to Eugenia about her unhappy marriage. The couples discover each other in compromising situations, and Eugenia vows revenge when Alvaro rejects her advances. Elvira considers leaving the house as events spin out of control, but Alvaro convinces her to stay. During that day letters fly, and so do accusations, as more advances are made and rejected, and in the evening the couples come once again together for an evening’s entertainment, this time to go to the theatre. The men swap wives to escort them there as an act of ‘good faith’, and comic relief is provided by Elvira as she delivers notes to the wrong recipients and battles with the old steward Galindez, whom she torments for our entertainment. In the final act the truth of Valerian’s advances toward Alvaro’s wife are revealed to Alvaro who vows revenge. Galindez overhears Alvaro call his ‘page’ a beauty and is shocked at what he presumes to be a homosexual scene, asking in disbelief, ‘Is this Spain or Sodom?’ Everyone fears being found out as plots intersect; the truth of Eugenia’s false letter and Elvira’s hidden identity threaten to be revealed. The news of the ‘homosexual’ relations between Alvaro and ‘Antonio’ (Elvira) reaches his wife Hipolita, and she reckons her life is in danger.  She fears that a man capable of an action ‘contrary to nature’ might also be capable of other unnatural acts, and is afraid that he will kill her for her suspected relationship with Valerian. Elvira sets up a plot to trick Eugenia and Valerian into thinking they can secretly sleep with Alvaro and Hipolita respectively.  In fact she is tricking them to sleep with each other, in Hipolita’s room, where Alvaro will think his wife is with another man and kill her, leaving Alvaro free to marry Elvira (or so she hopes). Alvaro finds Valerian in his house and fights him, but bailiffs are close at hand to arrest him before he is able to do Valerian much damage. In the heat of the fray Elvira, who has designed most of the confusion, reveals her true identity and promises to clear up the misunderstanding. The bailiff declares the marriages null and void, on account of the couples’ rampant infidelity. Alvaro, now free of his wife, is available for Elvira to marry, but, in a surprise twist, she says that, having seen what has happened in his house, she no longer wishes to ever be a wife, and departs for her homeland to join a convent. It is a very unusual ending for the comedia nueva, a genre in which it is much more common for everyone to be married at the end; in this play every relationship dissolves in the final scene.

Critical response

This play is not strictly in the style of Lope’s comedia nueva, and in fact critics such as Thacker (2007: 73) have seen this work as a challenge to Lope’s formula. This might be because of Castro’s decision to begin the action, unusually, after the main characters have married, and show a less-than-blissful story of what is usually left to ‘and they lived happily ever after’; in this case the two marriages are in tatters by the end of the play. The characters are not wholly likeable (Thacker mentions the destructive intentions of Eugenia in particular) and seem unable to control their adulterous desires, without earning much sympathy from the audience in their pursuit of pleasure. William Blue (1989) cites three instances in the play which point to the unusual and timely nature of the work: the alphabet game in which the characters cleverly reveal their true desires; the accusations of homosexuality against Alvaro which Blue shows was more common in seventeenth-century Spain than people might think; and the final scene in the play in which the couples come up with excuses which effectively nullify their marriages. Blue (1989) argues that this play has roots in seventeenth-century life, as even in the height of Inquisition frenzy and strict Catholic orthodoxy, marriages can be unwound if the parties want out badly enough.

  • Blue, William R. 1989. ‘Disillusion and Dissolution in Los mal casados de Valencia’. In Comedia: Art and History, pp. 75-87. New York, Peter Lang

  • Thacker, Jonathan. 2007. ‘Cervantes, Tirso de Molina, and The First Generation’. In A Companion to Golden Age Theatre, pp. 56-91. Woodbridge, Tamesis

  • Castro, Guillén de. 1618. Primera parte de las Comedias de Don Guillén de Castro, Valencia, Felipe Mey

  • Castro, Guillén de. 1925-27. Las mal casados de Valencia. In Obras de Guillén de Castro y Bellvís, ed. Eduardo Juliá Martínez, vol. II, pp. 449-90. Madrid, Real Academia Española, Imprenta de la Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y Museos

  • Castro, Guillen de. 1976. Los mal casados de Valencia, ed. Luciano Garcia Lorenzo. Madrid, Castalia

Useful readings and websites
  • Blue, William R. 1989. ‘Disillusion and Dissolution in Los mal casados de Valencia’. In Comedia: Art and History, pp. 75-87. New York, Peter Lang

  • Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico. 2002. ‘Los mal casados de Valencia’. In La Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico 1986-2002, pp. 123-6. Cuadernos de Teatro Clásico, 16. Madrid, La Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico (in Spanish)

    Includes details and photos of the 1994 CNTC adaptation of 'Los mal casados de Valencia'.

  • Ebersole, A. V. 1972. ‘La originalidad de Los malcasados de Valencia de Guillén de Castro’, Hispania, 55, 3, 456-62 (in Spanish)

    Note he spells 'malcasados' as one word.

  • Thacker, Jonathan. 2007. ‘Cervantes, Tirso de Molina, and The First Generation’. In A Companion to Golden Age Theatre, pp. 56-91. Woodbridge, Tamesis

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

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