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Marta la piadosa (1614-1615), Tirso de Molina

English title: Marta the Divine
Notable variations on Spanish title: Pious Martha
Date written: sometime between 1614 and 1615
First publication date: 1636
Keywords: morality > honour, morality > vice-virtue, identity, family > marriage, family > duty, family > patriarchy, ideology > religion and faith, love > desire, family > parents and children

Sisters Marta and Lucía face the loss of their brother with a cocktail of emotions; they are both in love with Felipe, the man who murdered their brother in a duel. Marta, engaged to be married to an old friend of her father’s, feigns a religious calling to avoid the match, while all the time finding endlessly inventive ways of meeting with her lover, Felipe.


Two sisters, Marta and Lucía, mourn the loss of their brother. He was killed by the man they both love, Felipe. Their father, Don Gómez, conceals his arrangement to marry Marta to an old friend of his, the Captain, and brings his daughters to a fiesta in Illescas, where they attend a bullfight. Marta knows that Felipe will be there, and hopes her father will not see him. In Illescas, Felipe learns that the sisters, Marta and Lucía, are in town, and are being pursued by two other young men, Diego and Juan.

The bullfight begins; Felipe joins in the action, saving the Captain’s nephew, the Ensign, from being gored by the bull.  Felipe asks the Ensign to keep his presence in Illescas a secret, and goes to visit Marta. In a scene of interlocking gazes, the suitors Juan and Diego watch from the door of the Captain’s house, while the comic servant Pastrana watches from another door with Felipe. Marta is very surprised to learn that she is to marry the Captain; she assumed her father would have planned for her to marry someone nearer her own age, and she had been watching the Ensign in anticipation. She turns her eyes away and catches those of the disguised Felipe who is looking on. Marta then surprises everyone by announcing she has a holy calling and cannot marry any man, as she wishes to ‘remain a virgin to pursue her religious life’. Leaving the room, she whispers to Felipe that she will explain this astounding choice to him later, tacitly revealing that her ‘calling’ is a fake.

When Gómez and his daughters return to Madrid, everyone is amazed at Marta’s sudden conversion.  Marta visits the sick and needy, and although her father disapproves, he admires how she has thrown off her previously frivolous ways. The girls’ suitors, Diego and Juan, are disappointed that they can no longer court the sisters, as Lucía is courted by the Ensign and Marta dedicates herself to her religious acts of charity.

Felipe dresses up as a poor student, and Marta convinces her father to take him into their house, on the condition that he will teach her Latin if she helps him to recover from a sudden attack of the heart. Gómez, believing this act of ‘charity’, attributes this to her ‘calling’ and leaves the couple alone together.

As he recovers over the next few weeks, the student (Felipe in disguise) has supposedly been teaching Marta Latin, and one day Marta’s father asks her to display some of her new linguistic talent. She doesn’t know a word, so Felipe invents some nonsense words and the two of them have a comical cod-Latin conversation.

But Marta and Felipe are not the only ones who are pretending to be someone they are not.  A ‘bailiff’ (Pastrana in disguise) arrives to say that sentence has been passed on Felipe, and that he is to die for the murder of the girls’ brother. Pastrana also lies to say that the condemned man’s estate shall be bequeathed to the victim’s father, Gómez. Gómez hesitates - he does not immediately want to go to witness Felipe’s supposed execution - but the Captain and Pastrana convince him he should be there in Seville when justice is done.

While Gómez is gone, Marta convinces Lucía to pretend to marry the Ensign, saying that it is all part of a plan to help Lucía get closer to Felipe. Before the wedding takes place, Gómez and the Captain return, and Juan informs Felipe that he is the recipient of an immense fortune. The Captain officially gives up his plans to wed Marta, and gives her the money he intended for the hospital, for her to use as her dowry. As Gómez sees that he will be much better off financially, he agrees to let Felipe and Marta marry and Lucía marries the Ensign (the fake wedding stage thus becomes the site of a real triple wedding!), and Pastrana and Inés marry as well.


The date for Marta la piadosa has been established based on the relation of historical events in Act 2, Scene 2. This passage concerns the Alférez, or Ensign, who has just returned to Madrid from the Spanish campaign to capture Mamora, a North African seaport, fighting under the Duke of Maqueda. The campaign was successful, meaning that dangerous pirates who had been attacking Spanish ships off the coastline were defeated, and Madrid celebrated the renewed safety of sea trade in the last months of 1614. Gerald E. Wade believes that ‘Marta was written while the Mamoran expedition was still very fresh in the public consciousness’ (1939: 69). Arellano agrees as far as that goes (Tirso de Molina 1988: 14) although he disputes Tirso’s source for the event, saying that there were many accounts in circulation available to the playwright. Wade and others posit Augustín de Horozco’s Discurso historial de la presa que del puerto de la Maamora [sic] hizo el armada real de España en el año de 1614, published in Madrid in January 1615.

  • Tirso de Molina. 1988. Marta la piadosa; Don Gil de las calzas verdes, ed. Ignacio Arellano. Barcelona, PPU (in Spanish)

  • Wade, Gerald E. 1939. ‘Notes on Tirso de Molina’, Hispanic Review, 7, 1, 69-72

  • García, Elvira E. 1978. A Critical Edition of Tirso de Molina’s Marta la piadosa. Salzburg, Sprache und Literatur, University of Salzburg

  • Tirso de Molina. 1636. Quinta parte de las comedias del Maestro Tirso de Molina, ed. Don Francisco Lucas de Avila (Tirso’s nephew), Madrid

  • Tirso de Molina. 1970. Marta, la piadosa, ed. Eduardo Juliá Martínez. 7th edition. Zaragoza, Ebro

  • Tirso de Molina. 1988. Marta la piadosa; Don Gil de las calzas verdes, ed. Ignacio Arellano. Barcelona, PPU

  • Tirso de Molina. 1997. El burlador de Sevilla; Marta la piadosa, ed. Antonio Prieto. Madrid, Biblioteca Nueva

Useful readings and websites
  • Albrecht, Jane White. 1987. ‘The Satiric Irony of Marta la piadosa’, Bulletin of the Comediantes, 39, 1, 37-45

  • Badía, Mindy. 1998. ‘Performance Theory, Postcolonial Projects and Marta la piadosa’, On-Stage Studies, 21, 52-61

  • Ganelin, Charles. 1990. ‘Tirso de Molina’s Marta la piadosa: Recasts and Reception’, Gestos: Teoría y Práctica del Teatro Hispánico, 5, 10, 57-75

  • Ganelin, Charles. 1991. ‘The Art of Adaptation: Building the Hermeneutical Bridge’. In Prologue to Performance: Spanish Classical Theatre Today, eds. Louise Fothergill-Payne and Peter Fothergill-Payne, pp. 36-48. Lewisburg, PA, Bucknell University Press

  • Simerka, Barbara. 1998. ‘The Indiano Senex as Subaltern Figure in Marta la piadosa and Por el sótano y el torno’, Romance Languages Annual, 10, 2, 822-6

  • Thacker, Jonathan W. 1995. ‘Comedy’s Social Compromise: Tirso’s Marta la piadosa and the Refashioning of Role’, Bulletin of the Comediantes, 47, 267-89

  • Tirso de Molina. 1988. Marta la piadosa; Don Gil de las calzas verdes, ed. Ignacio Arellano. Barcelona, PPU (in Spanish)

  • Wade, Gerald E. 1939. ‘Notes on Tirso de Molina’, Hispanic Review, 7, 1, 69-72

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

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