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Progne y Filomena (1608-1612), Guillén de Castro

English title: Procne and Philomena
Date written: sometime between 1608 and 1612
Keywords: morality > honour, morality > crime, morality > justice-revenge, violence > personal, violence > revenge, family > parents and children, family > marriage, family > brothers/sisters
Genre and type: tragedy
Title information

Wilson calls it ‘Procne and Philomela’ but only in reference to the Spanish play. The characters are from Ovid’s sixth book in the Metamorphoses, where they can be spelled differently based on the translation; variations include Procne for Progne, and Philomena, Philomela and Filomela for Filomena.


The story of two sisters caught in a love triangle is one of nightmares, omens and a ‘Titus Andronicus’ style meal. Filomena is loved by the king, who marries her sister Progne by mistake; he gets his revenge by attempting to rape her and cutting her tongue to prevent her crying out against him. His wife Progne pays him back for his crimes by killing their four-year-old son and serving the child’s body to him in a grisly supper. However, the ending shows that forgiveness is possible for any crime, even that of serving your own child in a pie to your spouse.


The play revolves around two sets of siblings: Tereo, King of Thrace and his brother Teosindo; and the sisters Progne and Filomena. Filomena and Teosindo are in love, but they cannot marry because Tereo (the King) has not yet decided which of the two sisters he will take for his own wife. In the meantime, Progne has a nightmare in which her future husband is eating pieces of her heart. Her sister tries to cheer her up by putting a positive spin on it,  saying it’s just a dream’s way of saying he’ll lovingly share her heart. Tereo chooses between the two portraits of the sisters, but the name labels on them have been swapped, so in choosing the portrait labelled ‘Progne’ he thinks he is choosing Filomena. When he is introduced to the sisters he is very disappointed and feels he has been tricked. Tereo knows that his brother Teosindo loves Filomena and accuses his brother of switching the nametags for his own ends. But the choice has been made, and Progne prepares to accompany Tereo on their wedding journey. Desiring to stay together, Filomena and Teosindo arrange for Filomena to join Progne on the wedding trip, as Teosindo will be joining his brother, and this way they can travel together. Tereo agrees to the arrangement but for his own evil designs; he plans to ‘enjoy’ Filomena once he gets her alone. Just before the wedding party departs, Tereo has his manservant enter with a forged letter describing a rebellion that must be quashed, and Tereo sends his brother Teosindo away to take care of the matter. Tereo departs with the two sisters, vowing revenge on his brother for his treachery with the portraits.

At the start of Act 2 six years have passed, and Tereo intercepts a letter in which Teosindo and Filomena arrange to meet, but he sends the letter on re-sealed. He and Progne now have a four-year-old son and an 11-month-old daughter, but despite this, Tereo still lusts after Filomena. He goes to the meeting place described in the letter and attempts to rape Filomena, who says she is pregnant with Teosindo’s child. To prevent her from calling out or telling of her dishonour, he attacks her and cuts her tongue (note that, in contrast to Ovid’s myth, he does not cut her tongue out, and it eventually heals so she can speak in the third act). Progne is informed of these horrific events from their depiction on a cloth brought to her by a peasant, and in blind vengeful rage, she kills their son. She cooks the boy’s heart into a meal for Tereo and serves it to him.  He eats it, and when he finds out it is his beloved son, he goes to kill Progne, but she is saved by Teosindo who takes her away. The peasant man takes the baby daughter to be raised in the mountains, safe from her murderous parents.

In Act 3, time has passed and Filomena has lived for 17 years with her son, Driante, in the wilderness but without her husband Tereo. Her tongue has healed and she is able to speak; however she does not speak to anyone except the audience, as she has vowed not to utter a word until her honour is avenged. Her son, who has never heard his mother’s voice, can only repeat the words of others and has none of his own. During these years, Arminda, the daughter of  Progne and Tereo, was raised by the peasant in the wilderness, and she has grown into a beautiful young lady.  She meets Driante, falls in love with him and speaks of love to him, and he repeats her words. Soldiers appear and are charmed by Arminda’s beauty, but she need not fear them as the fierce Driante protects her. Driante tells his mother through sign-language about what has happened, and repeats Arminda’s love-language, causing his mother to wonder at how quickly love can sow its seed in the young. Over the past 17 years Tereo and Teosindo have been at war with each other, and Progne has taken Teosindo’s side. The fighting is getting close to Progne, who awaits the arrival of her old father, as Teosindo protects her. The battle rages, and Driante and Arminda each take their respective father’s side in the fight. Progne runs to the wilderness to hide and encounters her sister, who does not break her vow of silence until Driante comes to protect his mother from a man he believes is threatening her honour. The man is in fact his father, Teosindo, and Filomena prevents violence between them by speaking out to reveal their relationship, ‘Son, this is your father; Husband, this is your son’. Filomena also reveals that Tereo was unsuccessful in his attempt to rape her all those years ago, so her husband Teosindo’s honour is in fact unscathed. They go to find Progne, and in the meantime, Arminda has saved her father Tereo from the battle, though he does not know she is his daughter. Arminda’s adoptive father, the peasant, brings Progne to the same cave to protect her. Tereo and Progne are reintroduced after all those years, and the peasant reveals that Arminda is their daughter. Progne apologises for her past violence and Tereo forgives her, adding that he did not actually rape Filomena, so revenge was not necessary anyway. Filomena is also reconciled to Tereo, and in addition the brothers agree to end the fighting. The women’s father wants war, but once he meets the grandchildren he did not know he had, he is placated, and the play ends on a happy note with the engagement of Arminda and Driante.


The characters are based on Ovid’s sixth book in the Metamorphoses. However, the brother of the King, Teosindo, is an invention of Castro’s, and does not appear in the original myth, nor does his daughter Arminda. Wilson adds that backdrop of the civil war used to dramatic purpose in this play is also extraneous to the original myth (1973: 30). García Lorenzo goes into greater detail about other potential sources for the myth, and Castro’s adaptation of it to the stage (1976: 169-72). Rojas Zorrilla directly used Castro’s play in writing his own Progne y Filomena which was performed in 1636 and 1638 (García Lorenzo 169).

See also:

Rojas Zorrilla, Francisco de. 1952. Progne y Filomena. In Comedias escogidas. Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, vol. 54, pp. 39-60. Madrid, Atlas

MacCurdy, Raymond R. 1958. Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla and the Tragedy. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press

Briesemeister, Dietrich. 1983. ‘El horror y su función en algunas tragedias de Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla’, Criticón, 23, 159-75

  • García Lorenzo, Luciano. 1976. ‘El Narciso en su opinión: Narciso o el deseo de sí mismo’. In El teatro de Guillén de Castro, pp. 193-205. Barcelona, Planeta (in Spanish)

  • Wilson, William E. 1973. ‘Procne and Philomela’. In Guillén de Castro, pp. 29-31. Twayne’s World Authors Series. New York, Twayne

Critical response

Wilson is probably right that some of the events of this play, especially perhaps the reconciliatory ending, are ‘improbable’ (1973: 30). However he champions Procne and Philomela as ‘vastly superior to Constant Love and The Foolish Young Gentleman’, and while it is certainly more accomplished than the latter play, the psychological depth in Constant Love, through its portrayal of obsession, is perhaps more compelling than Castro’s rewriting of this oft-interpreted Ovid myth.

  • Wilson, William E. 1973. ‘Procne and Philomela’. In Guillén de Castro, pp. 29-31. Twayne’s World Authors Series. New York, Twayne

  • Castro, Guillén de. 1925. Progne y Filomena. In Obras de Gullén de Castro y Bellvís, ed. Eduardo Juliá Martínez, vol. 1, pp. 121-64. Madrid, Real Academia Española, Imprenta de la Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y Museos

Information about the editions

There were lots of productions documented of a play by the name of ‘Progne y Filomena’ between 1622 and 1688, so we know it was popular, but it is not known whether they were of Castro’s or Alarcón’s version (both writers have a play by this title).

Useful readings and websites
  • Barrett, L. L. 1976. ‘The Omen in Guillén de Castro’s Drama’, Hispania, 22, 73-8

  • Escribano, Jean. 1976. ‘The Function of Classical Myth in the Theater of Guillén de Castro’. In Studies in Language and Literature, Proceedings of the 23rd Mountain Interstate Foreign Language Conference, pp. 147-51. Richmond, Department of Foreign Languages, Eastern Kentucky University

  • Friedman, Edward H. 1988. ‘Guillén de Castro's Progne y Filomena: Between the Classic and the comedia’, Neophilologus, 72, 2, 213-7

  • García Lorenzo, Luciano. 1976. ‘Progne y Filomena’. In El teatro de Guillén de Castro, pp. 169-82. Barcelona, Planeta (in Spanish)

  • Juliá Martínez, Eduardo. 1929. ‘Observaciones preliminares’. In Poetas dramáticos valencianos, vol.I, pp. v-cxxxv. Madrid, Tipografía de la ‘Revista de Archivos’ (in Spanish)

  • Wilson, William E. 1973. ‘Procne and Philomela’. In Guillén de Castro, pp. 29-31. Twayne’s World Authors Series. New York, Twayne

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

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