Sunday, 7 February 2010

Valle-Inclán and his esperpento

Ramón María del Valle-Inclán (1866-1936) was an exceptional playwright. In my opinion he surpassed Lorca in his theatrical craft and innovation.

So why isn't he renowned as such in the U.K.? A major reason is the difficulty involved in staging his plays: incredibly visual scenes are combined with stage directions that include everything from social comment to emotional and metaphysical reflections on characters! In other words, Valle-Inclán was bridging genres, creating works that lose something when read and something else when staged.

To the wider Spanish public, however, Valle-Inclán is synonymous with one word - el esperpento. What's more, he single-handedly changed its meaning. Originally an insult indicating a person or event's ridiculous nature, Valle-Inclán used the term to define a type of theatre and moreover a society, stating:

"El sentido trágico de la vida española sólo puede ofrecerse con una estética sistemáticamente deformada"

"The tragic sense of Spanish life can only be depicted with a systematically deformed aesthetic"

He developed el esperpento via plays such as Luces de Bohemia to such an extent that audiences and readers began to understand it as an interpretation (encompassed in a single word) of Spain's grotesque social structures and consequent tragic events. Its ramifications grew further following Valle-Inclán's death - the Civil War and Franco's dictatorship a tragic embodiment of el esperpento.

Even these days, my Spanish friends and colleagues bemoan el esperpento that's still played out on a regular basis in offices and homes all over the country. We all know what we mean when referring to the term. This is an incredible achievement on the part of Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, a playwright who deserves far greater recognition in the English-speaking world.

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