Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600 – 1681) was one of the many literary figures who gilded a century with his distinguished works. Author of dramas, comedies, sacramental plays, and plays, his name will always be linked to works such as El gran teatro del mundo or La vida es sueño. This is his best known facet, that of a prolific writer, but few know of his quarrelsome and problematic character.
In 1621, at the age of 21, he and his brothers were involved in nothing more and nothing less than a murder, that of the young Nicolás de Velasco, son of the servant of the Constable of Castile, Diego de Velasco. They tried to escape justice by seeking the protection of the Austrian ambassador, but in vain. Finally, they managed to avoid imprisonment by paying an indemnity of 600 ducats to Nicolás’ relatives.
Another one of the most notorious “incidents” in the writer’s life occurred in 1929, in this case due to the assault on an enclosed convent. The actor Pedro de Villegas had stabbed one of his brothers in a street fight. When he found out, Calderón went after the actor, who had taken refuge in the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in Madrid (where Miguel de Cervantes was buried). Without thinking twice, he burst into the convent, disturbing the peace and enclosure. He earned the reprimands of Fray Hortensio Felix Paravicino and the temporary enmity of the poet Lope de Vega, since his daughter professed there. Some time later, Calderón would mock Fray Hortensio in El príncipe constante:
Una oración se fragua
fúnebre, que es sermón de Berbería:
panegírico es que digo al agua
y emponomio horténsico me quejo,
porque este enojo, desde que se fragua
con ella el vino, me quedó, y ya es viejo.
The friar did not take it too well. His complaints forced Calderón to suppress those lines and to suffer a period of house arrest. It is curious, since these verses have not been found in any of the old versions of Calderón’s work. We know of them only because of the friar’s denunciation…