Fuenteovejuna was written in 1619, and is one of the best known of all the plays through which the Anglophone world remembers the vast riches of Spain’s Golden Age of theater. The story is based on a historical peasant revolution that took place in Córdoba in 1476, its inspiring explanation of class unity has given it the old-fashioned status of being the first socialist play and a long production history in 20th-century leftist theater.
Fuente Ovejuna is one of de Vega’s most renowned and disturbing plays. The story is about the people of Fuente Ovejuna who are living under the rule of a dictatorial lord, Commander Fernando Gomez de Guzman. The commander, who is a womanizer, is trying to seduce a village girl Laurencia. The girl’s peasant lover puts his own life in risk to threaten the commander in the process allowing the girl to escape.
Here, a commander in ranking, Fernán Gómez de Guzmán, urges his senior to capture the town of Ciudad Real. Girón Grand Master of the Order of Calatrava decides to seize the city. The village and villagers of Fuente Ovejuna are introduced and speak of love. The Commander comes and tries to take two of the women, Laurencia and Pascuala, along with him to his castle, but both the women resist and escape. After hearing about the capture of Ciudad Real, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella discuss about it and vow to take it back.
Later, Laurencia and her lover Frondoso meet each other in the forest. Frondoso hides on seeing the commander coming, and watches the Commander trying to force himself on Laurencia. Frondoso notices that the Commander does not have any weapons on him, and threatens the Commander with his crossbow. In the meanwhile Laurencia escapes the commanders grasp. The Commander is angry with both of them.
All the peasants are engaged in a discussion in the village when the commander comes to the village. The commander demands Laurencia’s father, Esteban, to give Laurencia to him, but Esteban refuses and the Commander considers this as an insult. A soldier comes and asks the Commander to return to Ciudad Real, which was trying to be captured by Ferdinand and Isabella. As soon as the commander leaves, Laurencia and Pascuala come out with another peasant, Mengo.
They then meet Jacinto, another peasant girl, who is also being seduced by the servants of the Commander. Mengo tries to protect Jacinto, but both of them are seized by the servants of the Commander who beat up Mengo, while Jacinto was raped by the Commander and then handed over to his men. In the meanwhile, Esteban agrees to the marriage of Laurencia and Frondoso. The Commander interrupts the wedding celebrations and arrests Frondoso, for threatening him with the crossbow, the commander also arrests Esteban and Laurencia..
Meanwhile the men of the village arrange a meeting to decide the best way to handle this situation. Laurencia, who has been brutally raped and beaten by her attackers, escapes from them
and enters the village, but is not recognised by the villagers initially. Laurencia scolds and shames the men for not trying to rescue her and urges the village men to kill the Commander. The men go away and Laurencia leads the women to form a sort of female army and joins the men in the killing. Arrangements are in full swing to hang Frondoso, the army of villagers enter and kill the Commander and his servants.
The only surviving servant Flores, escapes and conveys this news to Ferdinand and Isabella. This news shocks them, and they ask a magistrate to come to the village for investigation. The villagers, who are celebrating the death of the commander, come to know of the magistrate’s arrival. To save themselves and their village, they decide not to blame any single individual in the Commander’s death, and all of them say “Fuente Ovejuna did it”. The magistrate does not get a satisfactory answer even after repeated torture to men, women and young boys and gives up. Ferdinand and Isabella pardon the magistrate, and the villagers also on hearing their story .
The people of the town take the responsibility of defending each other, their reputation and respect, and the town, when de Guzman threatens the residents of the town. Laurencia, who is one of de Guzman’s victims, leads the peasants in taking revenge in a shocking way that seems right to the Commander’s own vicious cruelty in their fight for justice. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella unexpectedly support the people of the town. Fuente Ovejuna’s rise against dictatorship becomes a nation’s conventional cry against prejudice.
This story is a perfect example of unity among the villagers of a peasant community in the village of Fuenteovejuna whose simple delights and naive romances are jeopardized by the frequent violence’s of a gluttonous nobleman. His brutal abuse finally brings all the villagers together in an exceptional act of fighting. When queried under pain about the killing of their tormentor, the peasants bravely reject to give up any one person amid them, individually and mutually uttering only the slogan: “Fuenteovejuna did it!”
Even though the play deals with matters that were most important to the Spanish Golden Age drama, like respect, love, trust, and devotion, the play mixes all these elements with, “a touch of contempt, the humor, and even the dramatic,” (Ellis-Tolaydo). “Fuente Ovejuna is partly a love story, and partly comedy,” “It is also a supporting drama of the villagers’ daring attitude against the cruel de Guzman.” (Ellis-Tolaydo).
This play shows the power of women, when Laurencia leads all the women in the village against the commander. In a twist on classic gallantry, the men are lead by the women to take revenge for their wrongs and regain their honor. “‘Fuente Ovejuna’ is a brilliant play about love, respect, courageous women and righteousness,” (Nestor Bravo Goldsmith). The play is a deep examination about the methods of power, mutiny and the consequences of applying power unfairly.
Nestor Bravo Goldsmith, Spanish Golden Age masterpiece to open Pardoe Theatre season at BYU
Retrieved 15 February 2007, http://byunews.byu.edu/archive05-Sep-fuente.aspx
Michael Ellis-Tolaydo, “Fuente Ovejuna” opens at SMCM Oct. 20, St Mary’s College of Maryland.
Retrieved 15 February 2007, http://www.smcm.edu/NewsEvents/printrelease.cfm?id=354
‘Fuente Ovejuna By Lope de Vega’
Retrieved 15 February 2007, http://www.southlondontheatre.co.uk/productions/2005/fuente
Una Chaudhuri, Populist Mechanics, Retrieved 15 February 2007, http://www.villagevoice.com/theater/0243,chaudhuri,39344,11.html
Retrieved 16 February 2007, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuente_Ovejuna