Gil Vicente (Portuguese: [ˈʒiɫ viˈsẽtɨ]; c.1465 – c.
1536), called the Trobadour, was a Portuguese playwright and poet who
acted in and directed his own plays. Considered the chief dramatist of
Portugal he is sometimes called the "Portuguese Plautus," often
referred to as the "Father of Portuguese drama" and as one of Western
literature's greatest playwrights. Also noted as a lyric poet, Vicente
worked in Spanish as much as he worked in Portuguese and is thus, with
Juan del Encina, considered joint-father of Spanish drama.
Vicente was attached to the courts of the Portuguese kings Manuel I
and John III. He rose to prominence as a playwright largely on account
of the influence of
Queen Dowager Leonor, who noticed him as he
participated in court dramas and subsequently commissioned him to
write his first theatrical work.
He may also have been identical to an accomplished goldsmith of the
same name at the court of Évora; the goldsmith is mentioned in royal
documents from 1509 to 1517 and worked for the widow of King John II,
Dona Leonor. He was the creator of the famous monstrance of Belém,
and master of rhetoric of King Manuel I.
His plays and poetry, written in both Portuguese and Spanish, were a
reflection of the changing times during the transition from Middle
Renaissance and created a balance between the former time of
rigid mores and hierarchical social structure and the new society in
which this order was undermined.
While many of Vicente's works were composed to celebrate religious and
national festivals or to commemorate events in the life of the royal
family, others draw upon popular culture to entertain, and often to
critique, Portuguese society of his day.
Though some of his works were later suppressed by the Portuguese
Inquisition, causing his fame to wane, he is now recognised as one of
the principal figures of the Portuguese Renaissance.
2.1 As a writer
2.2 As a goldsmith
3 Written works
3.2 Philosophical elements
3.3 Religious plays
3.4 Comedies and farces
4 Influence on Portuguese theatre
5 Publication and influence on other works
6 Works cited
7 See also
10 External links
Guimarães, one of the places where it is claimed the dramatist was
The year 1465, the date proposed by Queirós Veloso, is the commonly
accepted year of Vicente's birth. However, Braamcamp Freire proposes
the year 1460, while de Brito Rebelo proposes between 1470 and 1475.
Vicente's own works indicate contradictory dates. The Velho da Horta
("Old Man of the [Vegetable] Garden"), the Floresta de Enganos
("Forest of Mistakes"), and the Auto da Festa ("Act of the Party")
indicate 1452, 1470, and before 1467, respectively. Since 1965, when
official festivities commemorating the 500th birthday of the writer
were held, the date of 1465 has been almost universally accepted.
Though Frei Pedro de Poiares conjectured Barcelos was Vicente's
birthplace, evidence for this is scarce. Pires de Lima, on the other
hand, proposed Guimarães, which better accounts for Vicente's
identification as a jeweller. The people of
Guimarães have embraced
this theory; a municipal school in
Urgezes is named after the
playwright. There's some stories about Gil Vicente's father,that was
from this parish in Guimarães, so, people believe that Gil Vicente
have lived here too. Another conjecture places his birthplace at
Lisbon. The Beira region is also a candidate because of various
references to it in his plays, more exactly the location of Guimarães
de Tavares, that has been mistaken with Guimarães.
Gil Vicente married Branca Bezerra, who bore him two sons: Gaspar
Vicente (died 1519) and Belchior Vicente (born 1505). After her death,
he married Melícia or Milícia Rodrigues (abbreviated as Roiz), of
whom were born Paula Vicente (1519–1576), Luís Vicente de Crasto
(who organised the compilation of Vicente's works), married to Mór de
Almeida and had issue, Joana de Pina (died 1584) (daughter of Diogo de
Pina de Baião and wife Mécia Barreto, daughter of Francisco de
Aguiar and wife Madalena Barreto) and had issue, and Isabel de Castro,
without issue, and Valéria Borges (or Vicente), who was married
firstly to Pero Machado, without issue, and secondly to Dom António
de Meneses, son of Dom Luís de Meneses, of the bastards of the Lords
de Cantanhede, and wife Brites de Aguiar, and had issue .
Vicente died in an unknown location, some say Évora. The year of his
death is commonly recorded as 1536, the year after which he ceased
writing; no further reference to him is found in subsequent documents
of the era. His place of burial is unknown. No surviving portraits of
Gil Vicente remain.
It is assumed that Vicente studied in Salamanca. Though he initially
studied law, he soon abandoned it for literature.
As a writer
O Monólogo do vaqueiro (
Monologue of the Cowherd), as it would have
been performed by
Gil Vicente himself, according to the vision of the
Alfredo Roque Gameiro.
Lisbon: Jerónimos Monastery
His first known work,
O Monólogo do vaqueiro ("
Monologue of the
Cowherd"), was written in Spanish and acted in the rooms of Maria of
Aragon, wife of King Manuel, to celebrate the birth of Prince John
(later John III of Portugal). The first performance, recited by the
playwright himself, took place on the night of June 8, 1502, in the
presence of the king; the queen; Leonor of Viseu, former Queen of
Portugal and widow of John II; and Beatriz of Portugal, mother of the
O Monólogo do vaqueiro contains several elements clearly inspired by
Adoration of the Shepherds
Adoration of the Shepherds which takes place in accounts of
Christ's birth. Its staging included offerings of simple and rustic
gifts, such as cheese, to the future king, from whom great
achievements were expected.
Though Leonor asked him to give an encore performance of the play at
Christmas matins, Vicente decided to write a new play for the
occasion, the Auto Pastoril Castelhano ("Castilian
Because of the influence of Queen Leonor, who would become his
greatest patron in the years to come,
Gil Vicente realized that his
talent would allow him to do much more than simply adapt his first
work for similar occasions.
Vicente, who was in charge of organizing events in the palace, also
directed the commemoration in honour of Eleanor of Spain, the third
wife of Manuel I, in 1520. In 1521, he began serving John III of
Portugal, and soon achieved the social status necessary to satirize
the clergy and nobility with impunity. His popularity even enabled him
to contradict the opinions of the king, as he did in a 1531 letter
defending the New Christians.
As a goldsmith
Many works about
Gil Vicente associate him with a goldsmith of the
same name at the court of Évora; technical terms used by the
playwright lend credibility to this identification.
Camilo Castelo Branco
Camilo Castelo Branco wrote the letter "Gil Vicente, Embargos
à fantasia do Sr. Teófilo Braga" ("Gil Vicente, Refutations of the
Opinion of Mr. Teófilo Braga"), which argued that
Gil Vicente the
Gil Vicente the goldsmith were two different people.
Teófilo Braga, who initially believed them to be the same man, later
adopted a different opinion after reading a study by Sanches de Baena
which showed the different genealogy of two individuals named Gil
Vicente. However, Brito Rebelo demonstrated the historical
inconsistency of these two genealogies by the use of documents from
the Portuguese national archive.
The masterpiece of Vicente the goldsmith's art was the monstrance of
Belém made for the
Jerónimos Monastery in 1506, which was crafted
from the first gold exported from Mozambique. The design of this
monstrance resembles the decorations of the southern portal of the
Santa Maria de Belém
Santa Maria de Belém of this monastery.
Three years later, he became overseer of the patrimonies of the
Convento de Cristo
Convento de Cristo in Tomar, Nossa Senhora de Belém, and the Hospital
de Todos-os-Santos in Lisbon. In 1511, he was nominated vassal of the
King, and a year later he was the representative jeweller in the Casa
dos Vinte e Quatro. In 1513, as master of the balance of the Casa da
Moeda, the Portuguese national mint, Vicente the goldsmith was elected
by the others masters to represent them in Lisbon.
Auto de Mofina Mendes.
Illustration of the original edition of Auto da Barca do Inferno (Act
of the Ship of Hell)
Christmas-related themes, very present in Gil Vicente's works since
the first order from Queen Leonor, have also a strongly symbolic and
suggestive meaning. Here, a painting from the contemporaneous Vicente
Gil (not to be confused with the playwright)
Vicente's oeuvre spans the years between 1500 and 1536. Most of his
plays were intended for performance at court, where he and the ladies
and gentlemen of the court participated in their production. He wrote
no fewer than forty-four pieces, ten of which are in Spanish, fourteen
in Portuguese, and the remainder in mingled Portuguese and Spanish.
His plays may be grouped into four main categories: acts, or
devotional plays; comedies tragicomedies; and farces.
Like Spain's classical dramas, his plays are often in verse form. In
addition, they feature his own musical compositions and well as
popular lyrics and melodies of the time.
He was also a noted lyric poet in both Portuguese and Spanish, as
represented by several poems in the Cancioneiro of Garcia de
Resende. He wrote a number of vilancetes and cantigas ("songs")
which were influenced by a palatial style and the themes of the
Some of his works are profoundly religious, while other are
particularly satirical, particularly when commenting upon what Vicente
perceived as the corruption of the clergy and the superficial glory of
empire which concealed the increasing poverty of Portugal's lower
Vicente's works were partially influenced by the Iberian popular and
religious theatre that was already being done.
Pastoral themes present
in the writings of
Juan del Encina
Juan del Encina strongly influenced Vicente's early
works and continued to inform his later, more sophisticated plays. The
Erasmus and of
Renaissance Italy also impacted his
Luís Vicente, his son, classified Vicente's sacred plays as acts and
mysteries and his secular plays as farces, comedies, and
tragicomedies. His plays may be further divided into pastoral acts,
religious allegories, biblical narratives, episodical farces, and
narrative acts. However, many of his works blend both secular and
sacred elements; for example, Triologia das Barcas ("Trilogy of the
Ships") contains both farcical and religious motifs.
Vicente is one of the most important satirical authors of the
Portuguese language. His satires were severely critical, anticipating
Jean-Baptiste de Santeul's later epigram (often mistakenly attributed
Horace or Molière), castigat ridendo mores ("[Comedy] criticises
customs through humour"). He portrayed Portuguese society of the 16th
century with perceptiveness and insight, using many characters
inspired by Portuguese social stereotypes of his time. In addition,
rustic characters, such as sailors, gypsies, and peasants, are common,
as are more fantastical characters such as fairies and demons. Though
he commonly referenced popular dialects, Vicente maintained the
lyricism of his words.
Positive aspects of Vicente's works include imagination, originality,
and a proficiency in technical knowledge of theatre. Though
spontaneous, sardonic, and emotive, his works maintain a directness
and simplicity of dialogue which is lyrical without being florid or
exaggerated. He expresses himself in an unexpected, Dionysian way
which does not always obey the aesthetic and artistic principles of
balance. Vicente's works seem to show a spirit in conflict: his
portrayals of the flaws of others appear almost rash and cruel, while
his devotional and pastoral works, and those scenes in which he
defends the oppressed, give an impression of tenderness, docility, and
humaneness. In contrast, his works sometimes include a romanticism
which combines eroticism and waggery with more erudite influences such
The worlds presented in Vicente's works could be considered as
representative of the duality of Platonic idealism. The first world is
the abstract, an ideal place of serenity and divine love that leads to
inner peace, quietness, and "resplendent glory", according to his
letter to John III of Portugal. The second world, which he portrays in
his farces, is the physical: a false world, tired, without order or
remedy, and lacking in strength.
His satirical works depict the second world, in which human flaws are
caricatured with little regard for actual or historical truth. Though
critics call attention to these anachronisms and narrative
inconsistencies, it's possible that Vicente considered these errors
trivial in his portrayals of an already false and imperfect world. In
contrast, his representations of the mythic, symbolic, and religious
aspects of Christmas, such as the figure of the Virgin Mother, the
infant Jesus, and
Christmas eve, demonstrate a harmony and purity
which is not present in his social commentary.
Unlike plays which echo
Manichaeism by presenting the dichotomy of
darkness and light, Vicente's work juxtaposes the two elements in
order to illustrate the necessity of both.
Christmas eve, one of his
common motifs, is symbolic of his philosophical and religious views:
the great darkness borders the divine glory of maternity, birth,
forgiveness, serenity, and good will. The darkness is necessary to
provide contrast with the light.
Though his patriotism is apparent in works such as Exortação da
Guerra ("Exhortation of War") and Auto da Fama ("Act of Fame"), or
Cortes de Júpiter ("Courts of Jupiter"), it doesn’t merely glorify
the Portuguese Empire; instead, it is critical and ethically
concerned, especially with the newly available vices which arose due
to commerce with the East, that brought a sudden enrichment and
disruption of the social fabric.
Many of Vicente's plays were composed in order to celebrate religious
festivals; these seventeen plays are called his "Obras de devoção"
("Devotional works"). In these plays, also called "autos", or
"acts", Vicente blended themes from Medieval morality plays with
theatrical mumming and the liturgical dramas that were used in Corpus
One of his first devotional plays was Auto da Fé ("Act of Faith") in
1510. Like a morality play, it explores the journey of the
Soul as it
travels to the arms of the Mother Church. On its way, it is waylaid by
Devil and led to goodness by an Angel.
His magnum opus is considered to be the Triologia das Barcas ("Trilogy
of the Ships"), which consists of the three plays Auto da Barca do
Inferno ("Act of the Ship of Hell"), written 1516; Auto da Barca do
Purgatório ("Act of the Ship of Purgatory"), written in 1518; and
Auto da Barca da Glória ("Auto of the Ship of Heaven"), written in
1519. These plays combine morality narratives with criticism of
16th-century Portuguese society by placing stereotypical characters on
a dock to await the arrival of one of the ships which will take them
to their eternal destination. The characters are of a variety of
social statuses; for example, in Auto da Barca do Inferno, those
awaiting passage include a nobleman, a madam, a corrupt judge and
prosecutor, a dissolute friar, a dishonest shoemaker, a hanged man,
and a Jew (who would have been considered bound for
Hell in Vicente's
His religious lyricism shows the influence of the Cantigas de Santa
Maria ("Songs of Saint Mary") and is exemplified in such works as Auto
de Mofina Mendes ("Act of Mofina Mendes", literally, in the Portuguese
of that time, "Act of Disgrace [Mofina] It Self [Mendes]),
Anunciação ("Annunciation"), and in the prayer of Saint Augustine in
Auto da Alma ("Act of the Soul"). For this reason, Vicente is
sometimes called the "Poet of the Virgin."
His other notable religious works include Auto Pastoril Castelhano
Pastoral Act") written in 1502; Auto dos Reis Magos ("Act
of the Magi Kings") written in 1503 for
Christmas celebrations; and
Auto da Sibila
Cassandra ("Act of the
Sibyl Cassandra") written in
1503, a play which announced the
Renaissance ideals in Portugal.
Comedies and farces
Vicente's comedies and farces were likely influenced by indigenous
popular entertainment. Contemporaneous Spaniards, like Lucas Fernandez
and Torres Naharro, may also have influenced his style.
Vicente's comedies blended slapstick and satire; in addition, his use
of dialect clearly delineated the social classes of his characters.
The staging of these plays maintained the simplicity of morality
plays. For example, two simultaneous scenes might utilize a single
curtain to divide them.
Auto da Índia ("Act of India"), written in 1509, was one of his first
comedies. This play, which shows his proficiency with the form, is
comparable to a modern bedroom farce. Vicente wrote farces throughout
the rest of his life; one notable example is Farsa de Inês Pereira
Farce of Inês Pereira"), written in 1523.
Influence on Portuguese theatre
Works of Garcia de Resende. In the Miscelânia, he defends Vicente as
the "Father of Portuguese theatre."
Prior to Vicente, few dramatic stagings had taken place in Portugal.
However, a few notable performances had established theatrical
precedence in courtly and religious contexts.
During the reign of
Sancho I of Portugal
Sancho I of Portugal (1185–1212), Bonamis and
Acompaniado, the first recorded Portuguese actors, put on a show of
arremedillo and were paid by the King with the donation of lands.
In a document dated 1281, Dom Frei Telo, Archbishop of Braga, refers
to liturgical dramas which were performed during Catholic festivities.
In 1451, theatrical acts accompanied the festivities of the wedding of
Infanta (Princess) Eleanor of Portugal with Emperor Frederick III of
According to the Portuguese chronicles of Fernão Lopes, Gomes Eanes
de Zurara, Rui de Pina, and Garcia Resende, spectacular stagings took
place in the courts of John I of Portugal, Afonso V of Portugal, and
John II of Portugal. For example,
Rui de Pina
Rui de Pina refers to one instance
in which King John II himself played the part of The Knight of the
Swan in a production which included a scene constructed of fabric
waves. During the action, a fleet of carracks with a crew of
spectacularly dressed actors entered the room accompanied by the sound
of minstrels, trumpets, kettledrum, and artillery.
Other significant Portuguese theatrical works include the eclogues of
Bernardim Ribeiro, Cristóvão Falcão, and Sá de Miranda, and the
Pranto de Santa Maria (1435), an early liturgical drama by André
Dias. Garcia de Resende, in his Cancioneiro Geral, designates a few
other works, such as Entremez do Anjo by D. Francisco of Portugal,
Count of Vimioso, and the lays of Anrique da Mota. Vicente likely
assisted in the production of these works, which include comedic
Though Vicente did not invent Portuguese theatre, his works surpassed
any done before that time. His writing in Portuguese and in Spanish
shaped both modern Spanish and modern Portuguese drama. His
contribution to creating new forms, such as the farce, and raising the
morality play to its apotheosis created the base upon which Portuguese
and Spanish drama would be built. Though some of his works were later
suppressed by the Inquisition, he is now recognized as one of the
greatest dramatists of the
Renaissance and the leading name in
Portuguese theatre. According to Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo, Vicente
is "the most important figure of the primitive peninsular
playwrights…[There was no one] who surpassed him in Europe in his
Publication and influence on other works
The first edition of Vicente's complete works was published in Lisbon
in 1561-2 by his children Paula and Luís. In 1586, the second edition
was published; however, many parts were heavily censored by the
Inquisition. The third edition was not published until 1834 in Hamburg
by Barreto Feio, after which Vicente's work was finally rediscovered.
Since that time, various composers, such as
Max Bruch (who made Von
den Rosen komm' ich (Von dem Rosenbusch, o Mutter) from Vicente's De
la rosa vengo my madre [from the rose I come my mother], which also
had a version by Schumann) and
Robert Schumann (who made his Spanische
Liebeslieder [Spanish Love Songs] no. 7. Weh, wie zornig ist das
Mädchen from Vicente's Sañosa está la nina [Irritated is the little
girl] and no. 3. Lied, op. 29 no. 2 from Vicente's Canción [Song];
and two of his Spanisches Liederspiel no. 1. Erste Begegnung, op. 74
no. 1 and no. 3. Intermezzo, op. 74 no. 2), have set Vicente's poetry
to music in the form of lieder. Most of these were translated into
German by Emanuel van Geibel.
A quote from one of Vicente's plays, "The pursuit of love is like
falconry", appears in the epigraph of Gabriel García Márquez's novel
Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
Ford, J.D.M. "Gil Vicente." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York:
Robert Appleton Company, 1912. v. 15.
"Vicente, Gil." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Columbia
University Press, 2006.
"Vicente, Gil." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2006.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Gil Vicente
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gil Vicente.
Portugal in the Age of Discovery
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the
public domain: Ford, Jeremiah Denis Mathias (1912). "Gil
Vicente". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. 15. New York:
Prestage, Edgar (1911). "Vicente, Gil". In Chisholm, Hugh.
Encyclopædia Britannica. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Gil Vicente at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Gil Vicente at Internet Archive
Gil Vicente at
LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
Poems in Spanish
One poem in Spanish and its translation to Esperanto
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