Book Report on:
Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna
By Eric Odynocki
While I was away in Spain, I took all Spanish literature classes and so learned quite a bit of the Castilian literary heritage. One of the authors whose works I read was the playwright, Lope de Vega, who is basically the Spanish equivalent of Shakespeare and was renowned for his poetic diction, colorful characters and his intricate plots which the masses could enjoy. One of his plays that most impressed me was Fuente Ovejuna, the translation of which might be something like Sheep Fountain or perhaps even Sheep Well. Now, I must caution that I will provide a full synopsis of the play below so for those of you who do not wish the story to be spoiled, I suggest you stop reading now and simply take out the text from the library or watch its many film versions. Of course, it would be better to see it in Spanish but I believe English versions of the play are available, but as with most translations, the original beauty of the diction may be lost. I will end this introduction before going on to the plot by saying that for those of you who enjoy Baroque theater, a strong female character, and bloody vengeance during an awesome rebellion, then Fuente Ovejuna is right up your alley!
Based on an actual event, this play takes place in a remote village called, of course, Fuente Ovejuna during the reign of the Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (that’s back in the late 1400’s, folks). In this village live two childhood sweethearts, Frondoso and Laurencia whose courtship promises a happy future marriage. The tranquility of their lives is brutally interrupted, however, when Mr. BAMF himself, Fernán Gómez de Guzmán, a commander of the army, enters the village and begins acting like a tyrant, or jerk if you prefer, towards its people. Fernán sets his beady lascivious eyes on Laurencia and causes misery at her wedding with Frondoso by imprisoning the groom and taking the bride away to do as he wishes with her. Later on, the men of the village sit in the house of Laurencia’s father so as to chat over the predicament. Laurencia enters all battered and bruised to the point that no one recognizes her. She then presents my favorite part of the play, a monologue in which she throws the biggest (pardon my language) b*tch fit at the men of the town, calling them sheep, cowards, women, and even maricones for having let this atrocity happen to her. Abashed, the men try to recover their machismo by taking up arms against Fernán. Laurencia, who is apparently still pissed off, even rouses all the women of the town to join in the fight. The village then marches on the castle of Fernán and captures it, freeing Frondoso and killing and decapitating the tyrant. When the king and queen hear about this, they are horrified and send an inquisitor to investigate. Despite his many methods of torture, the inquisitor returns to the king and queen to report that no one in the village divulged the name of the murderer but kept insisting, “Fuente Ovejuna did it.” In the end, the king and queen must decide whether to pardon or condemn to death, the entire village…
From the description I provide above of the play’s story, it should be quite easy to fathom as to how groundbreaking it really was. During a time when women were subservient to men and took a secondary role in society and public affairs, Lope de Vega provides Laurencia and the other women of the town as reprieve from the reality of the past. Unlike the typical, or at least expected, “Oh-woe-is-me” attitude most dainty and frail female characters would have in such a situation during this literary period, Laurencia actually fights back with no mercy, inspiring an entire village to rebel and defend its dignity. Such a radical difference is what made me love the play, and I am sure you will, too. It should also remind us of a little saying that goes a little something like: “Hell hath no fury…”