Selecciona una palabra y presiona la tecla d para obtener su definición.


ArribaAbajo The Tradition of the Comedia de magia in Jacinto Benavente's Theater for Children

Linda S. Glaze

Auburn University

Abstract: Critical studies of Jacinto Benavente's theatrical production treat La cenicienta, Y va de cuento... and La novia de nieve as works of children's theater, but more than that, they are outstanding examples of the comedia de magia. The purpose of this essay is to analyze the three works as examples of the modern comedia de magia, focusing on their relationship to the eighteenth and nineteenth-century form. In particular, Benavente's version of each builds on traditional folktales instead of classical mythology or Biblical themes and evokes social, moral, and philosophical concerns.

Key Words: Jacinto Benavente, children's theater, popular theater, comedia de magia, 20th-century theater

During the first half of the twentieth century, Jacinto Benavente dominated the Spanish stage, composing 172 theatrical pieces in a sixty-year period40. Attempting to develop a cohesive view of the Nobel Prize winner's work, critics have tried to organize his extensive production into categories. As early as 1916, Andrés González Blanco commented:

In the beginning of his career it was possible to classify Benavente as a writer of comedies; today he is impossible to classify. The satiric vein was what he first handled so well; later he turned to light, drawing room comedy; he has at last turned to drama, but has not failed to try his hand at theater of all sorts: zarzuelas (musical comedies), comic farces, monologues, proverbs41.

With the opening of La cenicienta and Y va de cuento... during the theatrical season of 1919, Benavente added yet another form to his repertoire, the comedia de magia (magic play), a genre which gained popularity in Spain during the first half of the eighteenth century and lasted into the nineteenth42.

Although according to David Gies in Theater and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Spain, interest in magic plays waned in the nineteenth-century (77), they were not completely eliminated from the theatrical calendar. As Caro Baroja recalls, during the first part of the twentieth-century, traditional magic plays formed part of the productions destined for children's theater: «allá por los años de 1920, podemos acordarnos del efecto que nos producía una de las últimas comedias de Magia que se escribieron y representaron: "Los polvos de la madre Celestina" de Hartzenbusch estrenada en 1840» (46). Other traditional magic plays were also staged at this time as Caro Baroja notes: «De gran espectáculo era asimismo "La pata de cabra", que se ponía también en Madrid, con gran lujo, allá por 1919, durante la temporada de Reyes, para niños» (246). During the following holiday season on December 20, 1919 at the Teatro Español, where the aforementioned production of La pata de cabra, by Juan de Grimaldi, had been staged, Benavente opened La cenicienta, the first work that he subtitled as a comedia de magia43. Two days later, on December 22, 1919, Y va de cuento... opened at the Teatro de la Princesa. Although Benavente himself subtitled the play «Fantasía» instead of «Comedia de magia», it more closely reflects the latter than his first magic play44.

In spite of the popularity of La cenicienta and Y va de cuento..., evident in their 110 and 50 respective performances (Dougherty and Vilches 223, 481), Benavente did not attempt another magic play until December 1927 when Una noche iluminada opened at the Teatro Fontalba for the holiday season. Although   —214→   he classifies Una noche iluminada as a comedia de magia, in addition to his subsequent play of this type, La duquesa gitana (1932), the two works differ in character from his first two magic plays in that neither was destined for children's theater (Fernández Cambría 35) nor inspired by folktales45. In 1934, Benavente once again combined folktales and comedia de magia in La novia de nieve to provide children's entertainment for the Christmas season.

Studies by Gónzalez López and Fernández Cambría have focused on Benavente's experimentation with «fantasy plays» and on his role in the development of children's theater. While Gónzalez López views La cenicienta, Y va de cuento..., and La novia de nieve merely as children's theater in which the plays based on fairy tales transpire in a fictitious world where no basic human problems or conflicts beset the characters (308), Fernández Cambría emphasizes the relationship between the three works and the symbolist tradition, owing to their similar fantastic atmosphere, magical occurrences, and interest in eternal truths (30). All three works, however, reflect the tradition of the comedia de magia.

Benavente's adaptation of the magic play to his own style reflects the eighteenth-century form of the comedia de magia, which relies heavily on spectacle, utilizing a variety of techniques, including elaborate sets, numerous scene changes, and stage «magic». Likewise, in describing La pata de cabra, the popular nineteenth-century magic play, Gies notes:

The play contained thirty-five pieces of stage «magic», some of which required extremely complicated and clever sets. There were transformations, flights, quick escapes, dazzling changes of color schemes and identities, disappearances, and some real magic (candles which continuously relight, a long sword extracted from a short scabbard, and so on).

(Theater and Politics 71)                

The use of magic as a theatrical technique does not originate in the eighteenth century. According to Donald C. Buck, Calderonian religious drama, which exploited it extensively, was an antecedent of the comedia de magia, but Calderón's works such as El mágico prodigioso «are more properly classified as comedias religiosas» (252). In particular, he distinguishes magic plays from other types of theater that rely on magic, such as the zarzuela and comedia de santos, in their use of spectacle. He claims that «the spectacular element is not the raison d'etre for the comedia de magia, but rather the means to a different, more intrinsically dramatic end: the development of the magician character type and his function in the exposition of the major themes of these plays: illusion and reality» (251-252). Buck further adds that «the elaborate stagecraft used by the dramatist structures the development of the main character and the theme he represents» (252). In the magic plays of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the protagonist may receive his or her magical powers either through a pact with the Devil as in the case of El mágico de Salerno or by the intervention of a mythological figure such as Cupid in the case of La pata de cabra. Caro Baroja notes that frequently magic plays derive their plot from pagan myths such as Circe, Medea, Proteo or Giges (234).

In La cenicienta, Benavente relies on the well-known children's fairy tale Cinderella as a source of inspiration instead of classical mythology, which was the mainstay in the eighteenth century. Benavente's version begins with a prologue divided into three cuadros in which the poet's monologue in the first cuadro rationally introduces the fantastic world that is to unfold:

[Fantasía] sabe que son las fiestas de Navidad, y a los poetas de su corte nos ha encargado que en su nombre discurramos algo para divertir a los hombres... En nombre del hada Fantasía, quiero que, como niño, sueñes con lo que más pueda alejarte de la realidad... Ahora voy a contaros un cuento. Mi obligación es engañaros y divertiros.


The adult audience accustomed to a naturalistic theater is thus called upon to suspend disbelief and accept this world of fantasy as reality. The other two cuadros of the prologue serve to create a play within a play in which Fantasia has come to entertain the Prince: «Vive en nuestro cuento como si en realidad fuera tu vida. Déjate llevar por nosotros. Cuando el cuento haya terminado, lo que en él hayas puesto de tu corazón, lo hallarás en tu vida, y ésa será la verdad del cuento» (22). The monologue further obscures the line between fantasy and reality by directly addressing   —215→   the adults in the audience who may have accompanied the children, establishing from the outset two levels of interpretation. Benavente's use of the prologue in this manner is not new to his theater. In the prologue of Los intereses creados (1907), Crispín also acclimates the adults in the audience to the farcical mood of the play by advising them: «El autor sólo pide que aniñéis cuanto sea posible vuestro espíritu» (12-13). Such references in both Los intereses creados and La cenicienta emphasize the need to maintain a childlike outlook on life and suggest that the values expressed in Benavente's theater for children were not limited just to youth.

Benavente's version of the well-known fairy tale that ensues closely follows the French variant in terms of the action and the development of the figure of Cenicienta until the end of Act III. The first act establishes the essentially noble character of Cenicienta by contrasting her befriending of the old woman in the woods with Cenicienta's mistreatment by her stepsisters. Act II presents the stepsisters' preparations for the ball, the transformation of Cenicienta into a true princess, and her triumph. After her sudden escape at the stroke of midnight in the closing scene of Act II, the final act portrays the search for the mysterious princess. When the true identity of the princess is discovered, Cenicienta must pass another trial. In scene four, her mother and stepsisters seize Cenicienta and carry her off to a cave inhabited by monsters. This scene, which is absent from both the French and German variants of Cinderella, is reminiscent of traditional Spanish magic plays in which monsters figure among the cast as another means to heighten the spectacular quality of the work, as Andioc observes in Teatro y sociedad en el Madrid del siglo XVIII (104). With the assistance of the old woman, Cenicienta frees herself and the play ends with the poet's view of her apotheosis delivered in a monologue.

La cenicienta requires numerous changes in setting, a typical feature of the traditional comedia de magia. The prologue and the first two acts are divided into three cuadros each, and the third act is divided into four, involving entirely different sets within the prologue and each act. Only two sets are repeated throughout the play so that in all eleven different settings appear in La cenicienta, in contrast with Benavente's drawing room comedies that require minimal or no set changes. Nevertheless, in spite of the increased number, the written text does not suggest the more elaborate sets of the traditional magic play, but rather the generic: «Un jardín en palacio» (49), «Una cocina» (69) or «Una cueva» (96). However, in lengthy reviews of the opening published on December 21, 1919 in Correspondencia de España, Heraldo de Madrid, and El Sol, the drama critics point out the spectacular quality of the sets. In Heraldo de Madrid, for example, «El de los Gemelos» details the splendor of the sets:

Las decoraciones son un derroche de buen gusto, de riqueza y de variedad. La decoración del prólogo es insuperable con la plácida belleza de la alcoba donde duerme la niña que sueña, y la perspectiva del paisaje que se tiende al fondo con la cascada de agua pura y la visión del paso de los Reyes de Oriente. Son también bellísimas las decoraciones del vitral gótico, la cueva de los enanos, el bosque y todas las demás.


Although La cenicienta exhibits more theatricality than Benavente's earlier comedies such as Lo cursi or Señora ama, the action clearly follows the traditional classical division of the plot into exposition, complication, and denouement. Likewise, it reflects his frequent use of the comic structure of classic New Comedy in which the young couples' relationship is initially obstructed by an outside force, in this case Cenicienta's stepmother and stepsisters. Although the special assistance of a magician as in the traditional comedia de magia, Cenicienta is able to overcome the barrier to her happiness. In Teatro y sociedad, Andioc stresses that «la magia constituye en este caso el único medio de transgredir victoriosamente una barrera social» (97) and that magic plays in part owe their popularity to the fact «con el placer estético propiamente dicho ofrece al espectador la ilusión de una realización total de su ser, de una plenitud que le niega el orden social vigente» (97). Although Cenicienta's triumph merely appears recounted in the words of the poet the audience obviously identified with her success through the spectacular effects of the final parade:


El cuadro final produjo efecto extraordinario. Es el momento en que la Cenicienta es conducida al palacio real para que el príncipe cumpla el designio de hacerla su esposa. Desfila por el pasillo central de butacas una larga y vistosa comitiva, en la que Mesejo [the poet] capitanea una turba de chiquillos enmascarados, y la Cenicienta es conducida en silla de manos, precedida y seguida por buen golpe de gente armada.

(Aznar Navarro 6)                

As in the French variant of the fairy tale, the old woman whom Cenicienta ingenuously befriends in the woods embodies the aforementioned magical power, suggested from the outset when she advises Cenicienta to remember her: «Mira, cuando tengas alguna pena muy grande o algún deseo que nadie pueda satisfacer, acuérdate de mí. Acuérdate de la vieja del bosque y ¡quién sabe! ¡quién sabe!» (30). This view of the old woman is reinforced at the end of the first act when special theatrical effects typical of magic plays are indicated by Cenicienta's dialogue: «¿Es vuestra cabaña? ¡No! ¿Qué luz es ésa? ¡Estoy soñando! ¿Dónde estoy? ¡Y la pobre mujer no está aquí! ¡Buena mujer! ¿Qué ha sido de ella? Pero... ¿qué es esto? ¿Qué me ha pasado? ¡Qué claridad en todo el bosque!» (30).

The old woman reappears to assist Cenicienta on two occasions in the play. The first time she returns, she provides Cenicienta with the dress for the ball. On this occasion Benavente does not take advantage of any theatrical technique to portray the scene nor does he attempt to transform pumpkins and animals into carriages and attendants as in the fairy tale. Instead, the old woman explains through dialogue the magical transformation that has transpired: «en mi cabaña hay unas arañitas maravillosas que tejieron para ti un precioso vestido. Mira.... Las perlas y los diamantes son las lágrimas de los que han llorado por el mal que otros hicieron» (73). Benavente's characteristic use of dialogue to narrate potentially dramatic moments that take place offstage instead of the use of elaborate stagecraft to dazzle the audience with occurrences on stage differentiates La cenicienta from the traditional comedia de magia.

The second scene in which the old woman renders Cenicienta assistance receives similar treatment. In eighteenth and nineteenth-century magic plays, the characters' entrances and exits provided playwrights the opportunity to heighten the spectacular effect of their works. However, when Cenicienta calls upon the old woman to help her escape from the cave, the stage directions indicate that the old woman enters naturally (96). Instead of using any special powers, the old woman advises her to search for inner strength: «Cuando se camina con buena intención, siempre es seguro el camino. Poco a poco tus ojos verán en la obscuridad. A un lado y a otro del camino te saldrán monstruos a tu paso; es decir, te parecerán monstruos; pero si te atreves a mirarlos de frente, verás que son enanillos como éstos» (97). By emphasizing the psychological power of virtue rather than relying on magical feats to free Cenicienta, the old woman's advice adds a moral tone to the scene.

On the other hand, Fantasía performs transformations and other magical tricks before the audience although they do not require elaborate stagecraft. In the third cuadro of Act I, for example, Benavente presents the transformation of the Court into dancing monkeys when Fantasia has come to entertain the Prince, recreating the scene in words: «Ya están en la jaula. ¿Verdad que no es mucha la diferencia? Ved ahora a los cortesanos. Gritan y se revuelven como monos. Los monos han tomado el aire ceremonioso de vuestros cortesanos» (54). Similarly, without relying on special effects, Fantasia transports the Prince to view Cenicienta in her poverty-stricken condition, indicated by the Prince's question: «¿Adónde me traéis, amigos míos?» (70). In spite of these references to rapid shifts in location, the text does not suggest the use of trapdoors or other stage trickery to produce surprising entrances and exits. Thus, although Benavente's magician figures possess the extraordinary powers of earlier prototypes, he relies on dialogue to convey their prowess even though ironically, more modern technology provided him with greater possibilities. As Aznar Navarro correctly observes in his review, «no hay en La cenicienta aquellas súbitas transformaciones de cosas y personas en que abundaban tanto las que verdaderamente podían llamarse comedias de magia» (6).


The Prince takes a more active role in La cenicienta than in the French or German versions, evident from the outset of the play. In the second cuadro of the prologue, the Prince's emotional state is the central focus as the Court attempts to find a means to distract him. Although his father believes that his problems result merely from a lack of love, this is only a minor cause of his melancholy. Bumbún, the typical wise buffoon, identifies the true source to the King when he suggests that the Prince's depression is really a reflection of their country's sadness (19-20). In a later conversation, the Prince himself confirms this interpretation when he informs Fantasía, who has brought him to visit Cenicienta: «En ellos [los pobres y miserables de la tierra] he pensado siempre desde que supe que existían. ¿Por qué creéis que fue siempre mi tristeza? Yo quisiera reinar y que en mi reino no hubiera miserables ni desdichados» (70). In this way, the repeated references to the Prince's depression introduces a recurring political leitmotiv to Benavente's Cenicienta.

Other evidence of political commentary can be found in the Poets opening remarks in the prologue where his play on words (fantasy/fantastic) satirizes Spain's economic condition: «Ahora prepara los presupuestos de todas las naciones del mundo, que no pueden ser más fantásticos, y el de España, que ya no es fantasía: es la locura» (11-12). Sheehan views the Poet, who acts as Fantasía's assistant, as Benavente's voice to express political concerns, which result from his own personal experience as a deputy in Maura's government (97-98). Similarly, the Poet's commentaries in a later scene from Act II intensify the socio-political content of the fairy tale. Throughout the Poet's conversation with the Prince, the Poet stresses royalty's moral obligation to its subjects and advises the Prince not to forget Cenicienta, who represents poverty (71). His final piece of advise for the Prince in which he claims that the people can only approach their rulers in dreams, but that rulers can approach their subjects in reality (72) clearly conveys royalty's underlying obligations to the people, the essence of this magic play. Consequently, on another level, the marriage of the Prince and Cenicienta, the normal ending in traditional comedy, suggests the marriage or union of the king and his people, adding a serious dimension to Benavente's concept of children's theater. In La escena madrileña entre 1918 y 1926, Dru Dougherty and María Francisca Vilches also note the two levels of the play and comment that in comparison to Benavente's successful satirical comedy La virtud sospechosa, La cenicienta was more effective in its use of satire (124).

Although Benavente's first attempt at the comedia de magia shares some features of eighteenth and nineteenth-century magic plays in its use of multiple settings and the incorporation of the magician figure, Benavente does not exploit elaborate stagecraft and special effects in order to develop the themes of illusion and reality in his first magic play. This lack of emphasis on spectacle is the feature that distinguishes it from the traditional comedia de magia. In contrast, however, Y va de cuento..., Benavente's second experiment with the genre, captures more closely the spirit of earlier magic plays.

Like La cenicienta, Y va de cuento... is also based on a children's story, the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and opens with a prologue that introduces the theme of illusion and reality. The first scene of the prologue presents the chorus of ragdealers who have collected the waste in the world, all of life's negative experiences. As they set fire to the rags they have gathered, not only do they refer to the flames in their dialogue, but the stage is also surprisingly enveloped in fire and smoke (627). In addition, Benavente's use of stagecraft serves a theatrical function as it enables the setting to be shifted immediately to the palace where the fairies spin on golden distaffs. Life's experiences are to be purified and then converted into thread for the fairies to weave a magic veil, symbolic of a child's illusions: «Hay que tejer un velo precioso: el velo de Maya, nuestra diosa; un velo de ilusión y de fantasía... Esta vez el velo de Maya solo será visible para los niños: en él los envolverá nuestra diosa para ocultarles todas esas falsedades, todas las miserias del mundo» (627). In this way, the prologue again prepares the adults in Benavente's   —218→   audience for a magical world where reality does not prevail.

In comparison to La cenicienta, Y va de cuento... is a much more complex work and reflects greater imagination on the part of Benavente as the original folktale accounts for a minor portion of the development of the play. The play proper is divided into four acts which follow the exploits of Juanillo, Benavente's Pied Piper, who is transformed from a lazy vagabond to a handsome prince through the power of magic. In essence, Y va de cuento... combines two different plot-lines within one play. The first is Benavente's version of the original Pied Piper of Hamelin which forms the basis of the action of Act II and serves as the impetus for the second plot-line, the classic comic theme of the young couple whose love is deterred by an outside force, in this case, the giant Tragaldabas. Typical of traditional comedias de magia, the power of magic is the underlying element that unifies the two plots. Juanillo's extraordinary powers stem from the flute, a talisman given to him by Luna at the beginning of the play (634). Through his music, he is able to enchant the mice and later the young children of the village. In this way, under Luna's protection, Juanillo himself becomes the magician figure in Y va de cuento... resulting in a basic difference between his characterization and Cenicienta's since she merely receives the benefits of acts of magic rather than performing them.

Like the magician figure of the Mágico de Salerno, the prototype of eighteenth-century comedia de magia, Juanillo is an example of the anti-hero, the outcast of society, one whose «outstanding characteristics are extrinsic to the established social order», and whose «individuality is condemned as a negative example for that society» (Buck 255). In Act I when Juanillo is abruptly awakened, he characterizes himself as a worthless individual who spends his life trying to avoid work:

Yo creí siempre que [el Sol] era el mejor amigo de los holgazanes; yo creía que el Sol era una hermosa inutilidad, como la Luna, como las estrellas...: esas, sí, no sirven para nada, ...como todo lo que es gala, y adorno de la vida..., como yo y mis habilidades. El Sol me ha defraudado: un labrador más.


When he offers to rid the town of mice, the townspeople mock him because they believe he is just a crazy vagabond (642). Even when Juanillo has accomplished the impossible, they refuse to compensate him for his feat because on the one hand, they do not value his work, and on the other, they do not believe in his magical power. Thus, he is rejected by society.

In contrast in Acts III and IV, Juanillo is not treated as an outcast but rather as a hero in King Innocent's realm, a children's paradise full of illusion, where Juanillo and his followers find themselves after appearing to disappear into thin air. Immediately, upon his arrival, the King's ambassador is sent to welcome Juanillo and to invite him to attend a party because the elderly rulers want to populate their kingdom with younger people (654). In fact, the King hopes his daughter, Flor de Nieve, will marry Juanillo so that his realm can be protected by Juanillo's special powers from the evils of Tragaldabas and his Hombres-fieras, who serve as reminders of man's brutality and of the constant threat to man's innocence. This change in Juanillo's reception reinforces the contrast between the illusion of King Innocent's world and the reality of the town's life. Only through faith in dreams, does one reach this enchanted world as Juanillo explains to his youthful followers: «Para venir aquí hay que ser como vosotros, como niños; dejarse llevar por una música al son del alma de los que sueñan... como yo soñaba para vosotros, más que para mí, esta tierra de encanto» (653). In essence, this quotation points to the underlying significance of the play.

Instead of the socio-political connotations of La cenicienta, Y va de cuento... evokes moral and ethical issues. One of the children immediately notices the Biblical overtones of Juanillo's words, and he in turn explains the parallel:

Fue en un pobre lugar, y han pasado muchos siglos desde que, rodeado de pequeñuelos, como yo ahora de vosotros, un Divino Maestro decía: «Para entrar en el Reino de mi Padre habéis de ser como estos pequeñuelos». Aquellas palabras sí eran sones concertados de la Tierra y del Cielo para llevar detrás las almas mejor que esta pobre música mía... Nunca oyeron los   —219→   hombres más divinas palabras de amor que las suyas..., y los hombres no quisieron oírlas, no las han oído todavía.


It is not strange that Benavente's version of the Pied Piper of Hamelin should have such religious connotations, since the comedia de magia is characteristically associated with the religious periods of the theatrical season (Caro Baroja 83).

The direct Biblical references in the aforementioned scene clearly suggest a religious as well as abstract interpretation of the concept of faith, the common theme of the two plots of Y va de cuento... When the townspeople refuse to believe in Juanillo's special power, the town's punishment is the loss of its youth, in other words, the loss of its childlike innocence, its blind faith in dream and illusion as reality. Likewise, when Juanillo must rescue Flor de Nieve from Tragaldabas and his men, at first he fails because Luna has reclaimed the flute. Temporarily, suffering from the same pride as the townspeople, he himself does not recognize the power of his music: «No: declararemos la guerra a los Hombres-fieras, los mataremos a todos: mi valor no necesita de talismanes». (668). Only when Flor de Nieve and the other captured children demonstrate their faith in magic by pleading with Luna, does she return the flute to Juanillo and give him another opportunity to save the Princess. At this point, the importance of faith is underscored. The flute in itself is of no value; it only acquires its magical powers if Juanillo truly believes in its music. The moral and ethical tone of Y va de cuento... is evident in the lame girl's advice to Juanillo to sacrifice his own selfish interest in Flor de Nieve for the good of the King's people: «¡No merecemos ser dueños de ningún encanto si solo nos servimos de él en provecho propio!... Sé bueno, Juanillo, sé bueno, que la bondad es todo el encanto de la vida...» (680). Having sacrificed himself for the common good, Juanillo saves Flor de Nieve and is rewarded by being transformed into the Prince. Thus, the play results in the transformation of Juanillo from an anti-hero to a hero as a result of his belief in the powers of illusion.

In addition to the differing function of Juanillo in the development of Y va de cuento..., Benavente's portrayal of his exploits are more spectacular than those of the old woman or Fantasía, the magician figures of La cenicienta. For example, it is difficult to imagine how the scene of the mice could be staged according to the written text:

Esta flauta suena a lo que se desea cuando yo quiero. Apenas empiece a tocar veréis de todas partes, por todos los resquicios, quiebras y agujeros, rendijas y rajas, resquebrajaduras y desconchaduras, salir, acudir y juntarse ratones y ratas a cientos, millares, de todos colores tamaños y castas... (Empieza a tocar y de todas partes salen ratones y ratas, que se van detrás de Juanillo).


Juanillo's feats in the rest of the act require fewer special effects and resemble those found in Benavente's first comedia de magia. When the town refuses to compensate him for succeeding in destroying the mice, he paralyzes the old villagers while he entices the young with his music to accompany him as in the folktale (646-647). Likewise, the scene of their disappearance is related by the crippled young girl through dialogue (648). In the fantastic world of King Innocent, Juanillo continues to perform special feats through the power of his talisman. Their enactment on stage heightens the spectacle of Y va de cuento... For example, through his music, Juanillo heals the lame young girl who has collapsed from exhaustion. Although the recovery of her ability to walk requires no special effects, tricks of stagecraft would be necessary to enable the actress to change costumes as indicated by Benavente's stage directions: «(Toca la flauta. De las flores se alza la Cojita, vestida de color de rosa, muy embellecida; ya no cojea... salta y ríe)». (658). In reality, this change is even more difficult to accomplish given the fact that the text only indicates that she is out of sight during two brief lines of dialogue46. The final scene of the play would be even more challenging for a director to stage and would require even more technical prowess to perform as written. In this scene, Juanillo has come to liberate Flor de Nieve, but in exchange for Luna's assistance, he has promised to sacrifice his love for the princess and to deliver her to a true prince. As he introduces the latter to Flor de Nieve, Juanillo himself is miraculously transformed into the prince:   —220→   «Dadle vuestra mano... (Al ir Flor de Nieve a dar la mano al Príncipe, este desaparece y Juanillo queda vestido como el Príncipe). ¿Qué es esto?» (681). Although such theatricality is not normally associated with Benavente's works, it is a central feature of the traditional comedia de magia. In part, as a result of Benavente's incorporation of magic in Y va de cuento..., this his second comedia de magia approaches more closely the spirit of earlier magic plays.

Likewise, Y va de cuento... exhibits much more variety in the use of settings and scenery than La cenicienta, contributing to its more theatrical quality. In addition to the division of the play into a prologue and four acts reflecting potential changes in setting, the prologue and each of the acts are divided into at least two cuadros, totalling nineteen scene changes. Act III alone is divided into eight cuadros reflecting seven different sets, contributing to the magical spirit of King Innocent's realm. Although the majority of the sixteen different sets do not require elaborate scenery, in a few instances, Benavente's stage directions are much more imaginative than his typical indication of a simple setting such as «el palacio de las Hadas» (627) or «una caverna» (674). Juanillo's initial introduction to King Innocent's land serves as an excellent example of this technical change, calling for laborers carrying tools adorned with flowers and ribbons, young women carrying baskets of fruit and a flock of lambs with ribbons against a backdrop of playlike houses with trees and flowers with a rose colored sky in order to convey a fantastic world filled with happiness (650). In fact, reviews from the opening published in ABC, Correspondencia de España, El Imparcial, and El Sol repeatedly focus on the extravagance of the performance. José de Laserna's description serves as a synthesis of critical opinion: «Ni aquí ni en ninguna parte ha llegado nunca a más altas cimas la magnificencia, la prodigalidad, el derroche de arte, de gusto y de dinero que han sublimado la última producción benaventina» (1).

In addition, the changes between scenes on occasion are more theatrical in nature. In Act II, when Juanillo's music entices all the youth to abandon the town, a dark cloud enveloping the set serves as the transition between cuadros two and three (647). We have already discussed the very dramatic use of fire in the transition between the two cuadros of the prologue. Likewise, Benavente uses more extravagant techniques in the entrances and exits of the characters, heightening the spectacular quality of the work. For example, the arrival of King Innocent's envoy serves as a justification for including an elaborate parade of toy soldiers accompanied by figures from other fairy tales, which both Aznar Navarro and Floridor cite in their reviews as a high point of the performance (4, 15).

Like settings, scene changes, and quick or marvelous entrances and exits, the nature of the cast also contributes to the spectacle associated with the traditional comedias de magia. According to Andioc, the spectators acquire a sense of power through their identification with the hero (103). Consequently, the more exotic and varied the cast the greater sense of power the audience shares. In comparison to La cenicienta, the cast of Y va de cuento... is more numerous and diverse. Besides the appearance of fairies, the personification of animals and inanimate objects contributes to the more fantastic ambience of Benavente's second magic play. For example, in the opening scene, first a sunbeam speaks with Juanillo after awakening him (629), and then an owl introduces him to Luna, the bird's protectress (631). The use of personification fuses the boundaries between illusion and reality, enhancing the extravagant quality of the play. King Innocents archenemy, Tragadalbas, and his Hombres-fieras, create a similar effect. Tragadalbas is not an ordinary glutton; like the Cyclops from the nineteenth-century comedia de magia, La pata de cabra, he is a monstrous giant who threatens to consume King Innocent's realm47. In addition, like his prototypes, his exaggerated portrayal introduces a comic note to the play.

Although Benavente subtitles La cenicienta a comedia de magia, Y va de cuento... captures the true spirit of the eighteenth and nineteenth-century genre through Juanillo's characterization as a magician figure and Benavente's use of theatrical techniques for   —221→   their spectacular qualities. On a superficial level, La novia de nieve, Benavente's final magic play from 1934, appears to be a repetition of his successful model. Like La cenicienta and Y va de cuento..., La novia de nieve is the reworking of a situation from a folktale, in this case, Snegurotckha. Benavente's version, however, more closely parallels the Ostrovsky Snegurotchka rather than the traditional Russian folktale. The former is the source of the Rimsky-Korsakov opera; a dance version of this work was performed at the Teatro Calderón in December 1930 (Haro 7). In Snegurotchka, Spring and Grandfather Frost send their daughter Snow Maiden to Eve with a childless peasant in the land of King Berendey. After living among humans, she wishes to experience the feelings of love. However, when Spring, her mother, grants her wish, Snow Maiden melts in the arms of Mizgir, a wealthy young businessman (Hoover 69).

Like Ostrovsky's work, Benavente's magic play deals with the theme of impossible love, but in La novia de nieve the fairy queen Aurora Boreal sends Princess Flor de Nieve to the childless rulers of an imaginary kingdom, whose major concern is the lack of an heir for their throne, immediately establishing the socio-political overtones of the play. According to Sheehan, the king's interest in the future of his subjects reflects the socio-political consciousness of Benavente's ideal concept of monarchy (138), apparent also in La cenicienta. La novia de nieve, divided into a prologue and three acts, also exhibits the same external structure as Benavente's first two magic plays. The prologue introduces the situation and explains the origin of Flor de Nieve; however, there no longer is a direct appeal to the audience to suspend disbelief and to accept fantasy as reality, suggesting a change in the audience's expectations. The action of Act I and Act II alternates between scenes in which Fogarata, King Armiño's buffoon and assistant, attempts to entertain Flor de Nieve and yet protect her from self-destruction due to her unstable nature while Copo de Nieve, one of the fairies in the court of Aurora Boreal, mischievously attempts to destroy the princess by uniting her with her impossible love, Príncipe Sol. After Copo de Nieve succeeds with her plan in the first half of Act III, the future of King Armiño's realm is in question and civil war breaks out. Nevertheless, peace is finally secured through the help of magic, and Flor de Nieve, miraculously transformed into a rose, reappears at the end of the play in a triumphant celebration of her return.

Although the plot of La novia de nieve is not as complex as that of Y va de cuento..., the alternating structure calls for sixteen changes in sets. Act I and Act II require three sets each while Act III requires ten set changes. Except for the luxuriant garden in Act I and the palace of Flor de Nieve made from blocks of ice and inhabited by polar bears, seals and penguins which later crumbles under the effects of the sun's rays in Act III, none of the other sets suggests the extravagance of Y va de cuento... nor are there any such indications in the reviews published in ABC, La Libertad, El Sol, or La Voz. In its use of other special effects, La novia de nieve blends aspects of both La cenicienta and Y va de cuento... in creating a spectacular atmosphere. On the one hand, like La cenicienta, there is not extensive use of elaborate stagecraft to suggest extravagant entrances and exits or magical transformations except the aforementioned destruction of the palace. Instead, Benavente returns to the use of dialogue. For example, when Flor de Nieve reappears as a rose at the end of the play, Copo de Nieve describes her change in a poem before the princess walks on stage (180-81). As in Y va de cuento... the major role played by the inanimate world, namely Don Pepino and Doña Lechuga, contributes to the development of a fantastic world opposite to the audience's normal perception of reality. Like Tragaldabas and his Hombres-fieras, Don Pepino and Doña Lechuga add to the humorous tone of this magic play48. Instead of the influence of traditional comedias de magia, Fernández Almagro points out the potential role of film as a source of these scenes from La novia de nieve when he observes: «concretamente, el cuadro de la huerta, animado vegetales y bestias, con aire burlesco que nos lleva a recordar a Disney» (6). In general, this influence of film on the creation of spectacle in La novia de nieve indicates greater parallels   —222→   with Una noche iluminada and La duquesa gitana rather than La cenicienta or Y va de cuento... even though it is based on a folktale.

In spite of these similarities, La novia de nieve differs essentially from Benavente's first two magic plays in the incidental role of magic in the internal structure of the work. Although Aurora Boreal, the magician figure, uses her special power initially to create Flor de Nieve as the snow princess and later to revive her as the flower princess, she does not grant Flor de Nieve or the Principe Sol any special powers through a talisman. More importantly, Flor de Nieve and the Principe Sol do not need magic to help them overcome a social barrier in order to unite in marriage because Flor de Nieve falls in love with a prince, obviously her social equal, instead of one of her subjects. Furthermore, faith in illusion as a means to reach an impossible union is no longer the central theme of this magic play since both Flor de Nieve and Principe Sol live in a fantasy world unlike the couples in La cenicienta and Y va de cuento.... This change in Flor de Nieve's object of desire is also a major variation in the original Snegurotchka theme where Ostrovsky's Snow Maiden falls in love with a human of a lesser rank. As a result unlike the protagonists of Benavente's first two magic plays, neither Flor de Nieve or Principe Sol is a social outcast. The social equality of Benavente's frustrated couple is an important distinction between his use of folktale in this comedia de magia and in his first two because it eliminates the identification and empowerment ordinarily felt by the audience. Whether it was a conscious change or not the elimination of the class difference modifies the character of La novia de nieve and makes it a philosophical work, which is also the impression recorded in a review from its opening: «Ahora la magia se ha intelectualizado, y eso va perdiendo para su efecto en los chicos» ABC 45).

In 1919, Benavente rediscovered the potential of the comedia de magia for popular entertainment and adapted folktales instead of classical or Biblical themes to the eighteenth and nineteenth-century genre. Of his three magic plays based on folktales, Y va de cuento... most closely approaches the eighteenth and nineteenth-century genre, both in the use of spectacle and in the portrayal of the protagonist as a magician figure. However, in adapting the comedia de magia to his own style, Benavente never abandons the social, moral, or philosophical aspect of his treatment of the theme of impossible love nor dialogue as the dominant feature of his technique in spite of a newfound theatricality. Given the popularity of La cenicienta and Y va de cuento... Benavente attempts to revive his own model of success, but the magic of the theater is no longer able to compete with the power of film to dazzle the audience with its special effects, and he abandons magic plays as a genre in 1934 after the production of La novia de nieve.


Andioc, René. Teatro y sociedad en el Madrid del siglo XVIII. Madrid: Fundación Juan March and Castalia, 1976.

Aznar Navarro, F. Rev. of La cenicienta. Correspondencia de España 21 Dec. 1919: 6.

Aznar Navarro, F. Rev. of Y va de cuento. Correspondencia de España 23 Dec. 1919: 4.

Benavente, Jacinto. La cenicienta. Teatro. Vol. 28. Madrid: Hernando, 1923. 38 vols.

___. Los intereses creados. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1969.

___. La novia de nieve. Obras completas. Vol. 6. Madrid: Aguilar, 1963. 11 vols.

___. Y va de cuento... Obras completas. Vol. 4. Madrid: Aguilar, 1962. 11 vols.

Buck, Donald C. «Juan Salvo y Vela and the Rise of the Comedia de Magia. Hispania, 69.2 (1986): 251-61.

Bueno, Manuel. Rev. of Y va de cuento... Heraldo de Madrid 23 Dec. 1919: 4.

Caro Baroja, Julio. Teatro popular y magia. Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 1974.

Diez Canedo. Rev. of La novia de nieve. La Voz. 30 Nov. 1934: 3.

Dougherty, Dru and María Francisca Vilches. La escena madrileña entre 1918 y 1926: Análisis y documentación. Madrid: Fundamentos, 1990.

El de Gemelos. Rev. of La cenicienta. Heraldo de Madrid 20 Dec. 1919:4.

Fernández Almagro, M. Rev. of La novia de nieve. El Sol 30 Nov. 1934: 6.

Floridor. Rev. of Y va de cuento... ABC. 23 Dec. 1919: 15.

Gies, David T. Theater and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Spain: Juan de Grimaldi as Impresario and Government Agent. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.

Glaze, Linda S. «Benavente y la tradición de la comedia de magia». Teatro de magia /2. Ed. Ermanno Caldera. Roma: Bulzoni, 1991. 115-32.

González López, Emilio. «El teatro de fantasía de Benavente». Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos. 320-21 (19), 308-26.

Grimaldi, Juan de. La pata de cabra. Ed. David T. Gies. Roma: Bulzoni, 1986.

Haro, Eduardo. Rev. of La novia de nieve. La Libertad 30 Nov. 1934: 7.

Hoover, Marjorie L. Alexander Ostrovsky. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

Laserna, José. Rev. of Y va de cuento... El Imparcial 23 Dec. 1919: 1.

Peñuelas, Mareclino C. Jacinto Benavente. New York: Twayne, 1968.

Rev. of La cenicienta. El Sol 21 Dec. 1919: 10.

Rev. of La novia de nieve. ABC 30 Nov. 1934: 45.

Rev. of Y va de cuento... El Sol 24 Dec. 1919: 10.

Sánchez Estevan, Ismael. Jacinto Benavente y su teatro. Barcelona, Ariel, 1954.

Sheehan, Robert Louis. Benavente and the Spanish Panorama 1894-1954. Chapel Hill: Hispanófila, 1976.