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Gil Vicente

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Portuguese dramatist, b. about 1470; he was living in 1536. He took up the study of law but abandoned it for literature. As a lyric poet he is represented by some humorous poems in the "Cancioneiro" of Garcia de Resende. He owes his fame to his plays, and with good reason he is styled the father of the Portuguese drama. He wrote in all no fewer than 42 pieces, of which 10 are in Spanish 14 in Portuguese, and the rest in mingled Spanish and Portuguese. It had already become the fashion for the leading Portuguese authors to write in Spanish as wll as in their native tongue, and this fashion was to continue throughout the Renaissance. Many of Vicente's plays were composed for the purpose of celebrating religious and national festivals; others commemorate events in the life of the royal family ; still others are quite popular in their tone and were intended by him to serve the ends of entertainment only. The first of his plays was the "Visitacao" (in Spanish ), which celebrates the birth of John III, King of Portugal (1502). He recited it himself in the chamber of the Spanish mother of John III. It is known that ladies and gentlemen of the Court, as well as the poet himself, played parts in his dramas when they were produced in the palace. Like the classic dramas of Spain, they are regularly in verse, and they contain lyrics of his own with melodies composed also by him, as well as other popular lyrics and melodies introduced for particular effect. For the sake of convenience the plays may be grouped under the headings of autos (the more peculiarly religious pieces), comedias and tragi- comedias, and farces. The 17 autos are usually called his "Obras de devocao". They reveal an influence of the contemporaneous Spanish dramatist, Juan del Encina, while contemporaneous Spaniards, like Lucas Fernandez and Torres Naharro, may possibly have inspired his profane compositions. But he was never a servile imitator; the life of the time is reflected again and again by him in an original and interesting manner, and, in spite of uncouthness of form, his little dramas remain very readable. Of course, only a genuinely devout Catholic could have written his "Obras de devocao". The first edition of his works was published at Lisbon in 1561-2.


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