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Role and freedom in Calderon's the great theater of the world.

Every individual intelligence can be regarded as a constitutive part of God, or of the moral world-order.

--E W. J. Schelling (1)


Pedro Calderon de la Barca's drama The Great Theater of the World belongs to the genre of autos sacramentales that arose in Spain in the sixteenth, reached its height in the seventeenth, and disappeared from the stage in the early eighteenth century. (2) It did not spawn imitators outside of the Spanish-speaking world. An auto sacramental is a play performed on Corpus Christi. In 1264, Pope Urban IV introduced the feast of Corpus Christi for the purpose of glorifying the Eucharist. John XXII (1316-34) advocated the institutional and liturgical arrangement of the feast; he decreed, for instance, that its celebration include a procession wherein the consecrated host in the monstrance would be brought outside of the church into the world and then carried back again into the church. The Corpus Christi procession articulates the sacred along with the profane as a liturgical act. In Spain, the arrangement of the procession became more and more splendid over time. Wagons with superstructure provided display areas during the procession; while at first these featured paintings of biblical scenes or saints, later such figures were represented by real persons as tableaux vivants and eventually were scenically reenacted. In the wake of the sixteenth-century schism initiated by the Protestant Reformation, which objected, among other things, to Eucharistic dogma, the feast of Corpus Christi became increasingly valorized among Catholics. In Spain's Siglo de Oro, it became the most important feast of the year.

As the scenic representations on the wagons became progressively more complex over the course of the sixteenth century, they were finally spun off from the procession and performed at its end. Thus arose from various sources--for example, the liturgical dramas performed around Christmas and Easter since the Middle Ages and the dramaturgical elements of the comedia nueva that developed in the sixteenth century--the auto sacramental in Spain as the independent literary genre of the Corpus Christi plays. (3) By the second half of the sixteenth century, it became an integral part of the feast of Corpus Christi. The autos sacramentales--just as the classical tragedies for the Dionysia--were newly written each year for the feast.

An auto sacramental is a one-act play whose subject matter refers to the sacrament of the Eucharist. Etymologically, the determinatum auto comes from the Latin actus; sacramental is the determinans. Thus the auto sacramental, by means of its generic term, refers to the liturgical actus sacramentalis as its subject matter: the transformation of the bread and wine, during the Mass, into the sacramental body and blood of Christ, who is truly present then--really present--in this sacramental form.

Calderon's introduction to the first volume of his collected autos sacramentales (1677) includes an innovative pair of concepts that has been broadly adopted by recent research. He draws a distinction between argumento and asunto, between the action and the subject matter of the plays. The subject matter of the Eucharist underlies all the plays in equal measure; the action that stages the subject matter varies from one play to another. In most of the autos sacramentales, the subject matter of the Eucharistic transformation is displayed in an action whose protagonist is the human soul. Its conversion constitutes the theme; from an initially good life, it transforms itself into evil and is finally, through the redemptive act of Christ, the bloody sacrifice on the cross, redeemed and retransformed into good. The sacrament of the Eucharist is the spiritual and unbloody repetition of the sacrifice on the cross.

From this perspective, The Great Theater of the World seems an untypical play. The fall that makes up the conceptual center of almost all the other autos sacramentales occurs only parenthetically in this play (115, 259, 344, 558, 1198). Here worldliness, creatureliness, and also materiality, not sinfulness, seem to be the other of godliness. In contemporary spiritualwritings, carne, mundo, and diablo are mentioned as the three elementary forms of evil: (4) the carnal condition of man, the wordly condition of creation, and the diabolic disposition of the fallen man in the fallen world. In The Great Theater of the World, Calderon fathoms worldliness in its adverse condition, which is at the same time necessary for salvation. The play is about the interplay of God and world. The original sin is the fault of a fool, almost a bagatelle which impedes the peasant's plowing; it is part of his wordly condition (259). After the earthly heaven of paradise, "este humano Cielo" (122), is lost, worldliness becomes evil. Calderon derives the original guilt from the world-concept; man is essentially worldly. The guilt consists--as Segismundo acknowledges in La vida es sueno (Life is a Dream)--in being born. Adam would have remained human even without the fall; the fall is the sign of his original guilt, which consists in being human, that is, a creature. The fall, one could almost say, was the act of flee will by which man accepted and actively adopted his humanness. The CHILD is the embodiment of this creatural guilt in the play; therefore it remains silent in the Theater of Life. Its dramaturgical counterpart is the voice that announces death. The atonement for the creatural guilt of man is his mortality; death is as natural as guilt. The nihil is constitutive for the world; the appearance is its ontological reality. The actors who already exist in God's mind before the play enact the play in order to illustrate the grandeza of the AUTHOR. The appearance of the world is the feast of God.

But if we take into account that Calderon wrote the play when he was at the apex of his creative and intellectual capabilities--one of his most important plays, La vida es sueno, stems from the same period--the hypothesis suggests itself that its seemingly untypical qualities could well be simply another form of the unfolding of the subject matter.

The Great Theater of the World treats the relation of life and role, world and theater. The figure of the world as theater is handed down from antiquity. (5) Calderon's basic conception is prefigured in Seneca's Epistulae morales ad Lucilium LXXVI and LXXVII. Both letters are about the morally ambitious conduct of life. The honestum, the moral as the good, is the reason to live and the purpose of life, which thereby achieves completion. (6) It permeates the whole life until death: "magnum est honeste mori" (it is important to die honorably; 77:6). Another thought of the letters revolves around the finiteness of life, which has inevitably a deadline: "In hoc punctum coniectus es" (You have been cast upon this point of time; 77:12). And this notion of life is conceptualized in the figure of the world as stage, the life as drama, and the conduct of life as role: "Quomodo fabula, sic vita non quam diu, sed quam bene acta sit, refert" (It is with life as it is with play,--it matters not how long the acting is spun out, but how good the action is; 77:20).

The figure is a topos in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish literature. Cervantes already notes this in Don Quixote: "A brave comparison (quoth Sancho) but not so strange to me, that have heard it often, as that of the Chesse-play, that while the game lasts, every Peere hath it's particular motion." (7) Lope de Vega initiated its scenical unfolding in his play Lo fingido verdadero (The fictional truthful). The idea of a theatrical play about the figure of the Theater of the World as such stems from Calderon: "For Calderon has every where converted that into matter what passed with his predecessors for form." (8)

The relation of life and role, of world and theater, refers meaningfully to the subject matter of the Eucharist when the actor adapts himself to the role in such a way that he does not--as Diderot puts it in the eighteenth-century Paradoxe sur le comedien, or Brecht in the twentieth-century concept of alienation--play his role in a distant manner, but--as Lope de Vega demonstrates in Lo fingido verdadero, or as Lee Strasberg, in succeeding Constantin Stanislavski, develops it in the twentieth century as Method acting at The Actors Studio--really is it. The role and the words corresponding to it in the play transform the actor into the king, the lady, etc., just as the Words of Institution, as form, transform the matter from bread and wine into the Body of Christ, who then is really present.

The allegorical conception of life as role is then a form of conversion. This play, however, does not conceive of it moralistically as the conversion of the human soul in the tension field between good and evil, but socially, politically, and existentially. For the creatural and social man, his social position and his being human generally constitute an elementary role. The transformation, as the subject matter of the Eucharist, thus becomes the essence of man.

The autos sacramentales entailed the development of a particular stage practice that differed from that of a comedia in the corrales. As the plays were performed in different places in Madrid--at first they were presented to the king, then to various dignitaries, and afterward to the folk--and subsequently in the surrounding villages, the stage had to be moved about and therefore consisted of mobile two-storied carts. (9) In spite of this seemingly simple equipment, considerable effort was devoted to the staging of the plays owing to the great importance of the feast of Corpus Christi. The carts were used in conjunction with a platform whereon the action of the play took place. (10) Their superstructure was part of the scenery and of the stagecraft techniques that became more elaborate in the course of the century. A stage cart consisted of a two-storied construction connected to the platform stage by means of a door through which the actors could take and leave the stage.

Although no drawings for the staging of The Great Theater of the World have been preserved, it is possible to imagine the stage construction. At the beginning of the play, AUTHOR and WORLD enter by stepping through different doors, that is, out of different carts (240); there is a divine, or heavenly, cart and a worldly, or earthly, cart. Hence the mortals who at first exist merely in the "thoughts" of the AUTHOR ("en mi concepto" [281]) step out of the divine cart, where they return at the end of the play. After they have been given their roles by the AUTHOR and suitable costumes by the WORLD, they step into the cart of the WORLD, the AUTHOR returns to his own, and the WORLD stays on the scene all by itself. The stage direction following line 628 indicates how the performance has taken place: "While music plays, two globes open at the same time: in one stands a glorious throne whereon the AUTHOR sits; the other, wherein the performance takes place, should contain two doors, one of which is painted with the image of a cradle, and on the other, a coffin."

A particular instruction on staging, written in 1641 for a performance of the play in Valencia, provides further details: "One of the carts has to be a globe that opens at a given time in order to let down one half which contains a theater providing the whole company with the possibility to perform until the end of the play, while above, in the 'tiring-room' of this theater, there has to be a theatrical machine capable of lifting a woman. And the other cart is a celestial globe (globo de gloria) upon which a stairway has to lead that is attached to the platform and large enough for women and men to climb up." (11) The two globes were installed in the upper story. They were divided into two "hemispheres"; one half was attached to the cart, while the other half opened toward the platform stage and rested upon a column, tree, or hill. The mechanics needed to put the machine in motion or to move the woman mentioned in the text of 1641 through the air--that is, the LAW OF GRACE that rises, according to the stage direction following line 659, "aloft"--show that the carts were provided with a highly elaborate stagecraft technique. The figures who have entered the cart of the WORLD mount on the inside, now being able to pass from the one half, which serves as a miniature stage for the play-within-the-play, through the door of the cradle and later on to exit through the door of the coffin; then they step down again inside the cart and through the cart door in order to re-enter the platform stage, where they give back their costumes to the WORLD and eventually can ascend the celestial globe.


Around 1640, Bartolom4 Esteban Murillo painted a picture called The Two Trinities. (12) On a horizontal axis, it depicts Mary, Jesus, and Joseph, on a vertical axis Jesus, the Holy Ghost, and God the Father. The incarnate Son of God constitutes the crosspoint where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect. Looking upward, he offers his hand to Mary and Joseph. Through him the earthly communicates with the celestial. The two spheres, while clearly differentiated, are at the same time connected. The heavenly light permeates through an opening in the clouds, thus illuminating the earthly landscape in the background; it corresponds to the light that emanates from the head of the Christ Child in radiating from his halo and that coalesces with the rays emerging from the Holy Ghost.

These lines, and the interference between the spheres produced by them, also make up the basic structure of Calderon's play, which makes them evident in its scenic form. The rhetorical interplay between AUTHOR and WORLD, between heaven and earth, wherein the hierarchical order of the Theater of the World is set from the very first lines as the relation of below and above, is at the same time thwarted by the scenic reality: AUTHOR and WORLD enter the stage through different doors on the left and right sides of the scene. The divine that introduces itself into the text as the heavenly is at the same time also the worldly. And when, later, the play-within-the-play is performed in honor of the AUTHOR, it takes place in the "hemisphere," that is, on a level with him, facing the AUTHOR. On the immediate thematic level, this corresponds to the order of obedience and to the freedom of decision: to the categorical, unquestionable distribution of roles made by the AUTHOR (329ff.) and to the openness regarding the embodiment of the roles simultaneously made possible and stipulated by the conception of the play (931ff.). (13)

The situation of the freely made decision is exemplarily performed in the passage where the POOR MAY asks alms of the other figures (862ff.). The decision of whether to give is made by each man for himself; it is how he will be judged at the end of the play. How the earthly action shall cross the upward orientation has been shown by the founder of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), through the very example of the distribution of alms: "The love which moves me and inspires me to give the alms must come from above; that is, from the love of God our Lord. I should feel within myself that the greater or less love that I have for these persons is inspired by God, and that he is clearly the source of the reasons for which I love them more (en la causa porque rods las amo reluzca Dios)." (14) Bartolome de Albornoz writes in the chapter "De la limosna" of his Arte de los contractos (1573): "Alms is a Greek word, and it means mercy. It is a concept of natural law and a divine commandment in both Testaments. Alms are a gift contract between the man who is the giver, and God who is the receiver, and in the name of whom the poor man, to whom they are given, is receiving them; and thus, in giving alms, one does not have to regard so much the one who is receiving them, but God, for the sake of whom they are given." (15) The beggar belongs "to a category classified juridically. Begging was in fact recognized as a right for those who could not work (whom the law distinguished from the vagos, who refused to work). The 'recognized' beggar was obliged to hold a 'licence' furnished by the priest in his place of origin, which allowed him to beg for alms in the locality and six leagues around." This juridical condition goes back to Charles V. When beggary has a regular status, useful in social as well as in religious respects, and qualifies as a profession, it is only logical that beggars be provided also with sickness coverage, "in order that the goodwill [that is, the almsgiving] of these aforesaid parishioners should not be lost." (16) The beggar is virtually a touchstone whereon the individual gives proof of his own realness; in this respect, he is not outclassed and will be, according to this logic, exalted as the abased at the end of the play. This is concisely summarized by the title of the play-within-the-play, "Obrar bien que Dios es Dios:' Through his redemptive act, Christ has reconciled earthly men with heaven; accordingly, men's good works are the heavenly part in the earthly (1377-78). (17)

In his controversial theological disquisitions, notably in the treatise "De reliquiis et imaginibus sanctorum," the Jesuit theologian Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) elucidates the question of iconolatry through the example of almsgiving: "for who worships someone's image worships it without a doubt for the sake of the one whose image it is, and thus the worship that is truly rendered, flows back to the archetype. Just as the saying goes that he who gives alms to the poor is giving them to Christ, not because he does not give them directly to the poor, but because by giving alms to the poor he is giving them for the sake of Christ and is worshipping Christ in the poor." (18) The POOR MAN is a real Christ figure, just as an image is a real representation of what it represents. This constellation of iconolatry and almsgiving indicates certain consequences for the conception of the reality status of images and other works of art. They, too, are works; their reality consists in being operative, in having an effect. In the first instance, Bellarmine is merely referring to the sacred images in their liturgical context. To the extent that the auto sacramental is a literary work in the liturgical context of the feast of Corpus Christi, it widens the scope of the work-concept toward profane works.

The stipulated hierarchy of the divine world order and order of obedience is not sheer despotism, inasmuch as human freedom corresponds to it. The feast of the Theater of the World is God's idea, indeed, but its enactment is in the hands of the world and of men (36ff.). The order of creation will not be perturbed by the freedom of its creatures; it is rather complemented by it and thereby completes itself.

The relation of above and below in the spatial order corresponds to the relation of before and after in the temporal order. In the first half of the play, the word field of "prevenir" constitutes a leading motif (61, 73, 229, 240, 246, 375, 469, 483, 489, 496). It marks the specific temporal structure of the play. With its "prevenci6n" (73), the WORLD restates the "prevenido" (61) of the AUTHOR; the play provided by the AUTHOR for the arrangement of his feast is performed by the WORLD according to the conception of the AUTHOR. (19) This pre-structure becomes apparent in the long monologue of the WORLD (67-278). Therein it provides a framework for the Theater of the World and anticipates the world history as a project; the monologue is consistently written in the future tense. This, however, does not apply in the strict sense for the AUTHOR. As the author of the play and as the creator of the world, he already knows its history, and merely as a spectator of the play-within-the-play is he given the precis of the anticipated play by the WORLD. In this function, the AUTHOR is a figure with whom the real spectator of the auto sacramental The Great Theater of the World can identify, although for the latter what the WORLD tells is mostly in the past. He already knows all this and finds himself, within this knowledge, on a level with the AUTHOR'S knowledge. The providential condition of the world is the deepest ground for the allegory of the Theater of the World. Life is the representation of the providentially foreknown.

The preliminary report of the WORLD is grounded in the providence of the AUTHOR. This foreknowledge is complemented by the performance of the play; just as the history of salvation is being accomplished in the world, the play realizes itself in its staging, although not fully until the supplementary judgment. This leads to a specific form of repetition as the time structure of the play. Incidents are announced before and will be once again recapitulated afterward. By means of the distribution of roles through the AUTHOR and the delivery of costumes and incidental properties through the WORLD, each figure is given its scope of potential action. In turn, the comments of the individual figures anticipate what later on will become the reality of the performance of the play-within-the-play.

The stipulated hierarchical order in premodern Spanish society illustrates this kind of preordination and provides a basis for the conceptualization of life as role in the real lives of the audience. (20) From the moment the role assignments are made, each spectator knows how the figures will act onstage, and part of the spectator's pleasure derives from knowing precisely that the figures will act the way he expects them to; in this regard, he is equal to the AUTHOR. Of course, he has no foreknowledge of the precise execution of the particular roles, especially not before the decision whether or not to give alms to the POOR MAN. The specific embodiment of the role, the decision to act one way or another in a given situation, is subject to the freedom of will of every single figure (931 ff.). The AUTHOR, however, as playwright, already has foreknowledge of this as well; in this respect, he differs from the other spectators. This stretto-like rapprochement of identity and difference meaningfully illustrates the fundamental problem of the play.

The temporal structure of before and after differentiates into the three functions of the AUTHOR. As a spectator, he has foreknowledge of the roles only to the extent that the hierarchical order renders them foreseeable; as the author who has predetermined the roles himself, he only does not know the specific embodiment of the role played by the actor; as the all-knowing creator of the world, he also already knows this. This is the scenic translation of a theological problem discussed in Spain at the time of Calderon: the relation between divine providence--most notably, the influence of the almighty God on the procedures of the world--and human free will. It is set in the larger context of the theological controversies between Reformation and Counter Reformation, in this case the controversy over the doctrine of justification. The question in dispute involves the possible accountability of human actions and their justification.


For the Protestant Reformation, the crucial and distinctive article of faith in the doctrine of justification is the belief that the justification of the sinful man before God is not determined by his own efforts, merits, and works, but takes place by the grace of God alone. Man's contribution is faith. This is why Martin Luther (1483-1546) would make justification by works a central point of the conflict with Roman-Catholic Christianity, and deny it; sola fide, we are saved by faith alone: tides Tacit personam. Inasmuch as the individual believes that he will receive God's grace and will be forgiven, so can God give it to him. The sinful man is reliant on the help of others. This help has been bestowed upon him through the redemptive act of Christ; and for the sake of Christ, God forgives the sinful man. So the cause of justification is by no means due to man, but to God and His love alone, which inspires man's faith. It is the gratia praeveniens, the grace that precedes all human action and sets man's faith free. The faith and the person coming into being because of the faith precede the works. Man's good works are only a result of this grace, which works within the faithful man. So grace is the absolute precondition for all human action. It precedes the works, which are nothing without it. Hence the human will is not free, not liberum arbitrium, but, according to Luther, servum arbitrium, a menial and slavish will. It only acts in dependence on the effectiveness of God's grace.

Thus the Protestant Christian finds himself in a powerless position before God; as a fallen sinner, he can only straighten up through His grace in order to become upright and righteous. This condition is grounded in the fall, the primeval event of the original sin, whereby man--despite baptism--is rendered depraved in his deepest being, unable to do justice to himself. The underlying structure of sinfulness is the very ground for actual sinfulness and for man's inability to achieve something salvific by his own doing. This status represents complete dependence as the disposition of the personality. The faith that arises from insight into one's own powerlessness becomes obedience in the form of acknowledging the grace of God; dependence and obedience become the habit of the person.

Hence, for the theologians of the Council of Trent, which had been convened in reaction to the extending Reformation, the justification of the sinner was an important point as well. On the side of the Catholics, the Tridentium claimed men's freedom of will, and thus men's own contribution to salvation, to be a crucial category. Although human beings, due to the fall and original sin, are "slaves of sin" free will is not dead, but only weakened. (21) Therefore, human works are not bad or sinful only because they are human. Free will allows men to contribute to justification and redemption by their own good works. It becomes the disposition of the personality thereby. It is the dispositiv wherein God's grace becomes efficacious. As such, it is not obedience, but freedom of decision, that becomes the habit of the personality.

In the controversies, questions have been raised about how the relation of will, freedom, and grace is to be grasped, about the possible meanings of a freedom based on the conditions of grace, and about whether it has meaning at all. Luther called it a thing in name only (res de solo titulo), even a name without a substance, an empty name (immo titulus sine re), since the freedom of the servurn arbitrium is merely a freedom bestowed by grace. This position was strictly rejected by the Council of Trent. (22)

As a matter of fact, a concept of freedom without the assistance of grace was excluded by the theologians of the Counter Reformation as well. This was the heresy already condemned in the name of Pelagius in 418, according to which grace only facilitates what free will can do of itself and therefore also wants. At the other extreme is the position that grace is infallibly operative, without human will having any share in it. This leads to the concept of predestination. God determines according to His will who will be saved and who will not.

The question in dispute is the possible relation of freedom to the influence of grace, and why the will is unfree without this influence precisely because it remains a slave to sin. After the fall, man by himself is a mere massa damnata (Augustine) and cannot counteract sinfulness by his own effort. The merits that an act of free will can gain are always only possible with the assistance of grace. Hence the crucial question is how it works when the will is supposed to be and stay free nevertheless.

If the almightiness of God affects the world-processes by physically determining all actions (praedeterminatio physica), there can be no human freedom of the will. Praedeterminatio physica is the term for the infallible determination of the will to act. (23) Yet the decree on justification released by the Council of Trent in 1547 had declared as a dogma, as an authoritative lesson of Catholic theology, that the will cooperates in the event of grace by assenting to it--cooperari assentiendo--and that in any given situation, man is able to decide differently--posse dissentire, si velit--for he is not a passive lifeless thing, inanime quoddam. (24)

The ability to manifest dissent is a matter of will. Hence, in the aftermath and during the whole seventeenth century, the question of will and freedom of the will has been discussed controversially, for there is a problematic tension between human free will and divine almightiness. If human beings can actually choose to behave in one way or another in a given situation and can even refuse divine grace as the ground for good action, divine almightiness is in danger. But if God's almightiness, at full strength, is most powerfully effective, human free will is in danger.

In order to relativize this position, wherein freedom of the will is given up, without questioning divine almightiness, the praedeterminatio moralis needs to be introduced. Divine grace does not operate infallibly physically, but morally, whereby man is inclined, since grace makes a morally persuasive offer, so that the effect occurs infallibly, not by necessity, but through free choice. The claim of grace approaches man in such a persuasive way that he cannot refuse it at all, for he acknowledges its coherence. Thus human free will--which is not physically forced--and divine almightiness--whose moral claim operates infallibly--are both preserved. As a last consequence, however, the praedeterminatio moralis indicates that man's decision to act in one way or another in a given situation does not depend on man's choice, but on the persuasiveness of grace. The declaration of the decision through the persuasiveness of grace makes the free act of will a question of reasonable insight. Descartes illustrated this with an example: "the more I incline to one alternative, whether because I clearly understand that the good and the true are on that side, or because God so disposes my innermost thoughts, the more freely I choose it. Certainly, neither divine grace nor natural knowledge (cognitio) ever diminishes freedom; on the contrary, they increase and reinforce it." The determination through divine grace is as necessitating as that of reasonable insight. The assent to the fact that two plus three equals five is not an infringement of freedom, but its fulfillment. "[F] or if I always clearly saw what is true and good, I would never need to deliberate about a judgment to be made or a course of action to be chosen." (25)

By assuming that such a conception does not even touch the essence of the will to do or not do something of one's own accord, that is, spontaneously (sua sponte), Jesuit theology defended the position of a strong free will and argued for its compatibility with divine providence. The Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina (1535-1600) developed the figure of thought scientia media, the middle knowledge of God. It finds itself between the simple knowledge of God, which refers to everything that is possible according to the laws of causality, and scientia visionis, the broad knowledge of God, which also refers to things that are contingently real. In between these two forms of knowledge, scientia media refers to possibilities that are contingently irreal. This figure of thought is based on the assumption that world-processes are not determined by God's foreknowledge, but rather develop according to the scope of freedom of its creatures. Molina formulated the fundamental problem: "even though God acquires no knowledge from things but instead knows and comprehends everything He knows in His own essence and in the free determination of His own will, nonetheless it is not because He knows that something is going to be that that thing is going to be. Just the opposite, it is because the thing will come to be from its causes that He knows that it is going to be"'26 It is not because God foreknows the future that things happen in the future the way they do, but rather because they happen in the future that God foreknows them. God as the Almighty foreknows the contingent world, which is caused by freedom and evolves from freedom, without predetermining it in His capacity as the Almighty. What God foreknows is not calculable by causal chains, but rather happens contingently by means of human freedom. Scientia media is the knowledge of contingent procedures, inasmuch as they are contingent and, as such, truly flee. This figure of thought was provided so as to render free will thinkable. I do not want something because God foreknows and predetermines it, but rather He foreknows that I want it.

A problematic moment of this figure of thought results from the alteration of the temporal perspective. Although God, by virtue of His almightiness, always already foreknows every eventual decision of His creatures, this very knowledge, by virtue of the free will of His creatures, is also always deferred. It is the paradox of the free act of will that God foreknows human actions while they are free nevertheless. Adam committed sin of his own free will, although God foreknew it; and God foreknew it because Adam would do it that way. Adam could well have not committed the sin, but then God would have foreknown just this. Human actions are free because they are certain, although not necessary, for divine knowledge, "since necessary is the truth whose opposite is impossible." (27)

The foreknowledge of human behavior itself presupposes this behavior; the latter is the precondition for the former. This process takes place simultaneously from two sides and in two times. The "thoughts" of the AUTHOR (37) on the one side correspond to the "approbation" of the WORLD (38) on the other side; the time of the law--of the obedience to the AUTHOR and to his distribution of the roles at the beginning, and to the judgment of the role in court at the end--corresponds to the time of freedom--of the decision to act well, which endows the individual figure with its specific quality. The structure of deferred action--the world is what it will be and was, what it will have been--realizes itself in the different functions of the AUTHOR and maybe is a figuration of the very name of God, in that He said of Himself that He is what He will be (Exod. 3:14).

Men's good works do not cause grace, but are an effect of grace; nevertheless they cause grace to be preserved because man does good actions and does not decide against God's grace. Evil actions cause the individual to lose grace. This is man's contribution. Salvation is a matter of God while damnation is a matter of man, who turns away from God because of his actions. Justification happens through God while condemnation is due to man: "For God does not abandon those who have been justified once by His grace, unless He is not abandoned by them before." (28) Therefore justification occurs not by faith alone, as the Reformers would have it; "no one ought to flatter himself up with faith alone" is an explicit statement against Luther's interpretation of the Epistle to the Romans (3:21-28). (29) In the First Epistle to the Corinthians (9:24-27), Paul the Apostle himself points out the necessity of works through the comparison with the athlete who needs to practice and fight in order to gain the victory. (30) And since nobody knows if his good actions suffice so as to stand in grace, they are a permanent challenge. (31) Merits are acquired therewith: the more good works he does, the more grace man can keep, and the more evil actions he performs, the more grace he will lose. Thus salvation is grace and merit or wage at once. Grace is a power that works within man and helps him; the congregational dispute was fought de auxiliis. Without grace, no meritorious works are possible; against grace, evil actions are possible all the time.

So freedom is a constant decisive battle against evil actions and for good ones. The omission of a good action is evil as well, as The Great Theater of the World shows. Thus human justice, which parallels justification through God, is an effect of grace as well as of human freedom. Merit by good works is not independent, but is possible only because of grace. Merit is a grace and a gift, inasmuch as the individual voluntarily and actively takes on the gift. Grace and freedom constitute the dynamic field of an interaction with the other. God bestows grace, which enables man to do good; then the good works cause the power that allows for them to be preserved, which allows for yet more good works. The distinction between the "theater of fiction" and the "theater of truth" (1390) is drawn by the morally ambitious action. Good works as good actions (cf. 1377) constitute the additional spiritual value of life; they are the truly real in the field of appearance and fiction. This is the economy of abundance at work in the dialectics and dialogics of love through the favor of the other. And it is precisely this moment of grace and favor that withdraws the doctrine of merit and justification from an economy of equivalent exchange on a contractual basis. Good works do not gain a claim by acquiring an equivalent to justification. The figure of the interaction between grace and freedom suspends this type of an economy of calculation, for the good work of the free act of will is--just as grace--always giving more.

Thus The Great Theater of the World is also a typical auto sacramental inasmuch as it presents the transformation from good to evil in the form of good and evil action; it does not do so, however, by reproducing the primal scene of the fall in paradise, like other plays do. It presents the primal scene of charity in the world and the community of men. The acceptance of the role is the primordial form of the transformation that characterizes life as such. The enactment of the role is the morally ambitious decision and the ethically important action that results from it.

God foresees at any moment all the contingent possibilities that arise from men's free decisions and sees a world based on the conditions that result. These are the infinite ramifications of infinitely many possible parallel worlds from which our "real" world is one possibility. God sees the world as the garden of the ramifying paths from Borges's narrative.

The future contingents (futura contingentia), as conditional knowledge and "conditional providence" (Leibniz), have the character of truth. They are respectively true on the conditions of a world developing in some way or another. This respectiveness of truth--a nominalistic trait--is one of the decisive moments of scientia media. The futura contingentia are counterfactual in relation to the respectively other real world, although apparently, they themselves respectively are not counterworlds, but rather infinitely many possible parallel worlds which, being possible, claim truth themselves as well.

In the allegory of the Theater of the World, this concept corresponds to the respectively other and infinitely many possible variations of mise-en-scenes which time and time again realize the possibility of the play somewhat differently. On another level, the different versions of the figure of the Theater of the World--such as Lope de Vegas before Calderon's, as well as the versions of Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Luigi Pirandello after him--are likewise "ramifications" of the figure. So the cosmos of the intertexts opens as one of innumerable parallel realities.

Truth on these conditions is not something predetermined by divine knowledge and therefore seen by the divine intellect, but rather becomes a processual, relational, and conditional category: the interaction between God and world. Free will decides one way or another in a given situation and thereby determines what happens and what God therefore foreknows. God integrates the contingent of the free decision into the system of creation.

If scientia media is far-reaching to the extent that it encompasses not only factual but also hypothetical existence and foreknows how supposed human beings would behave under supposed circumstances according to their freedom, then it obviously is the field of a quasi-experimental simulation of possibilities: the world as an experimental drama in which things do not develop as determined by ambience, birth, and respective circumstances, but according to the respective freedom of every individual. So it is about a knowledge that conceives of the mere possibility in a hypothetically realized form before it is truly realized. This results in a medium between possibility and reality, a potential that is realized in a hypothetical mode, not in the mode of existence. This is the reality of fiction as a parallel world: a real world in the conditional, a construction of "world scenarios" as a "series of free acts of will including their progressionally changing hypothetical future potentials." It is a figure of thought for the historicity of the world, which allows for the possibility of grasping men's "complementary" contribution to creation in the sense of a heterogony of purposes. (32)


Some one hundred seventy years after Calderon's interpretation of the Theater of the World, on the cusp between premodern and modern times, Friedrich Schelling set forth such considerations in his historico-philosophical project System of Transcendental Idealism (1800), illustrating them with the same figure of thought, the Theater of the World. History accomplishes itself as realization of the ideal of justice in the "universal reign of law." This does not happen in the individual but in the human species, before which it "has been set ... as a problem." (33) The ideal unfolds itself through "the gradual realization of the rule of law" as interplay of freedom and necessity, of free will and law (593/203). The universal reign of law, as the true order of freedom, must guarantee freedom in such a way that it is not only "a granted favor" (593/203), but moreover provides the essential free space that allows for the freedom of each individual. It realizes itself only through these infinitely many free spaces. Freedom is geared toward an order through "that which exists without consciousness" and through the "involuntary" that is not subordinate to the will of consciousness (594/204). This unconscious is the agent of order formation; thus the law features an essentially unconscious constitution. "Choice (Willkur) is to that extent the goddess of history" (589/200).

This moment of order formation can be grasped as fate or providence, as reason of the species (Gattungsvernunft) or collective unconscious. This leads to the insight that though the individual can set to work his own doing, he cannot figure out the consequences of this doing at all, since at all times it "can be so completely upset by the incursion of other men's freedom" that the consequences "for all mankind" are not foreseeable. The realization of freedom does not happen in the individual, but rather in the species, which "takes a hand in the play of his freedom" (595/205). The universal order of law is the unconscious because it is opposed to consciousness and the freedom of the individual; it is the objective that "can be realized ... only by the entire species" (595/205) and is "thus dependent ... upon the willing of everyone else" (596/206). Since not everyone pursues the same purpose with his actions, the order must be the interplay of all these different and conflicting purposes. Every individual thus becomes "a constitutive part of God or of the moral world-order."

This is accomplished by the free act of will that constitutes "the wholly lawless actions of men" (597/206). This lawlessness is ordained through the unconscious will of the species toward a collective goal, and is transformed into order. The collective of the species has geared the many individual wills in their respective lawlessness and contrariness "beforehand" toward the universal order. "From the wholly lawless play of freedom, in which every free being indulges on his own behalf, as though there were no other outside him ... something rational and harmonious is still to emerge eventually," as "all the acts of men are guided to one harmonious goal," and "without, and even against, their own will; and this owing to a necessity hidden from them, whereby it is determined in advance that by the very lawlessness of their act, and the more lawless it is, the more surely, they bring out a development of a drama which they themselves were powerless to have in view." This is the "absolute synthesis of all actions" as history, in which "everything that may happen, however contradictory and discordant it may be, still has ... its ground of union" (598/207). The interplay of lawlessness and law, freedom and order, is the harmony of history; the law fits the opposites together.

Such a "preestablished harmony" of law and freedom is conceivable only through "some higher thing" as the "common source" of both. This "higher thing" itself--which is the "ground of identity" between freedom and law--can never in itself attain consciousness as "absolute identity" (600/208). It "can never be an object of knowledge, being an object only that is eternally presupposed in action, that is, an object of belief." But "traces of this eternal and unalterable identity" run, "like the weaving of an unknown hand, through the free play of choice (Willkur) in history" (601/209).

This theologically founded project of a philosophy of history as it evolves from the spirit of freedom as the "wholly lawless actions of men" has been illustrated by Schelling through an ingenious further development of the figure of the Theater of the World, which is set in nuce in Calderon's play.
   If we think of history as a play in which everyone involved
   performs his part quite freely and as he pleases, a rational
   development of this muddled drama is conceivable only if there be a
   single spirit who speaks in everyone, and if the playwright, whose
   mere fragments (disjecti membra poetae) are the individual actors,
   has already so harmonized beforehand the objective outcome of the
   whole with the free play of every participant, that something
   rational must indeed emerge at the end of it. But now if the
   playwright were to exist independently of his drama, we should be
   merely the actors who speak the lines he has written. If he does
   not exist independently of us, but reveals and discloses himself
   successively only, through the very play of our own freedom, so
   that without this freedom even he himself would not be, then we are
   collaborators of the whole and have ourselves invented the
   particular roles we play. (602/210)

The world history is the Theater of the World; men shape their roles therein by inventing these roles in the first place. This freedom is the legacy of the figure of thought of the Theater of the World in modern times. If there is "something rational and harmonious" to emerge, it is "set before" the human species "as a problem."


Alongside the cyclic concepts of time of pagan antiquity, oriented toward the periodic recurrence of the course of the year and of the stellar constellations, Judeo-Christian culture developed a linear concept of time projected toward an open future. Historical time is directed time; it has a goal. The promise of salvation is the movens of history. "For it is the essence of time to move forward, irreversibly straining toward something new while inquiring into its purpose." (34) Christianity posited salvation through the death of Christ as a historical fact. Yet salvation completes itself only in the moment of his Second Coming. The promise of the Parousia is the shadow of eternity in the historical; time itself is the trace of eternity. The deferment of the Parousia, which became certainty to early Christianity, widens the eschatological tension and opens the future dimension as a function of the past; at the same time, the Gospel's commandment to be watchful urges that the Parousia is imminent at any time (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21).

Linear time is also at work in The Great Theater of the World (182, 429ff., 983ff.). The Theater of Life is the conceptual performance of the lifetime. The time of the performance provides the conception of time and shows in the end that it is not important at all. It matters not, says Seneca, how long the action is spun out, but how good the action is. The moment of the action turns lifetime into quality. The divine law "Obrar bien que Dios es Dios" commands us always to act in such a way as if the Last Judgment were imminent (469ff.). A deferment of the decision for the act is not allowed. The orientation of the action toward God, the consequent arrangement of life sub specie aeternitatis, demands a radical this-worldliness. The decision to act must be made here and now, and the act must be enacted. And if it turns out well, it owes itself to the favor of the moment. The judgment of the act happens only afterward and is always only possible after the fact. The future court (as end of time) judges upon the past act and thus completes its quality. Owing to this double condition of the act, the moment of decision wherein freedom of the will becomes practical is beyond time. The decision is the crisis of time, the elementary moment of disorder which--in the form of free will--constitutes the wild heart of the order. (35)

Along with the linear time order, a cyclic time is at work in The Great Theater of the World. The cycle of nature is another structural moment of the play: "[La] vida [es] una flor / que nazca con el albor / y fallezca con la sombra" (Life is a flower, / born in dawn's first light, / and dying with the dusk; 1164-66). Though this precise day is irretrievably gone at its end, there will be a new one tomorrow; though this discrete rose, once withered, cannot rebloom, another one can; though each life is unique and linear, the role that one plays can always be recast, and the play can always be replayed. This is once more revealed by DISCRETION at the moment of her death, by her saying that she was not religion but rather only one of its members (1243-44). She also explicitly reveals the play of time as being double: "[P]or hoy fin a la Comedia, / que manana hara el Autor" (For today has ended the play / that will be continued by the Author tomorrow; 1250-51). The "theater of fiction." the conceptual performance of life, will be continued and find its closure in the "theater of truth" (1390-91), the court over life. But at the same time, she points out that this discrete performance is not the only one: "[E]mmendaos para manana / los que veis los yerros de hoy" (Amend yourselves in view of tomorrow / for you see the errors of today; 1252-53).


The Great Theater of the World is not only a feast that celebrates the masquerade for the fun of it, but an elementary reflection on the mask and its bearer. The Latin word for mask is persona. Originally, the word seems to have stemmed from theater, denoting the actor's mask that marked his role. In addition, it was used in the judiciary in order to denote the different roles in court: plaintiff, pleader, witness, and judge. Eventually, it referred to the different roles in the hierarchical order of society in which one's place was marked by clothes. Cicero discerned four types of persona, that is, four aspects of personality. The first is common human nature, the second the person's distinctive characteristics, the third a matter of chance, depending on one's particular circumstances. The fourth is prompted by one's own studied choice. (36) In his Encheiridion, Epictetus displayed this train of thought in the very figure of the Theater of the World. (37)

The mask simultaneously doubles and veils the face of its bearer. This entails consideration of the question of how a mask is to be worn, how a role is to be performed. The allegory of the Theater of the World reveals that the mask and its bearer, the role and its actor, merge to become one for the time of the performance. The figures are identical to themselves and, as such, individual and distinct from other figures to the extent that they perform their roles; thus they become persons. The personality of the person is the mask. This does not mean, however, that there is nothing behind the mask, but rather indicates that the figures are indistinguishable from one another before they have taken their roles (281-82); they have, according to Cicero's distinction, but their common nature of man. This is implied in the figures' speech. The KING and the BEAUTY use the first-person plural; it is only the PEASANT who slowly leads over to the individuation of the figures (289-312). And also, afterward, they are all the same again (434, 1407ff.). But this is not absolute either. To divine providence, the figures and their roles are always already known, and present, before (232ff., 291-92). And eventually, although invisibly, it is the modality of the performance that characterizes each figure respectively; the embodiment of the role, as trace of life, leads beyond itself and thus becomes the criterion for the decision in the moment of the final justification, or rejection. The good works are the residue of the earthly in the heavenly (1377-78), and in the end, everyone is what he was, and will have been what he has done.

The Theater of the World is a conception of the AUTHOR; its stage enactment is up to the WORLD. This double structure is constitutive for the play. The performance of the AUTHOR'S conception by the WORLD is itself in turn part of a play; it is the conception of the conception. The Great Theater of the World is an elementary reflection on the very problem of theater, on the relation of appearance and reality, theater and life, fiction and truth. The different stages of the play are at the same time different layers of the development of this relation. The world as fable and fate is created by the Word of God, which enunciates itself as world; the divine logos is accomplished in the long monologue of the WORLD:
   Yo, el gran Teatro del Mundo,
   para que en mi representen
   los hombres, y cada uno
   halle en mi la prevencidn
   que le impone el papel suyo,
   cored parte obedencial,
   que solamente ejecuto
   lo que ordenas, que aunque es mia
   la obra, es milagro tuyo

   (I, the great 2heater of the World/--upon my stage men shall act, /
   and each one shall find in me / what the role imposes on him, / in
   obedience to his part--, / merely carry out / what you ordain,
   because even though / the work is mine, the miracle is yours;

In the play, this monologue fulfills the function of providing the spectator with a preview of what awaits him in the form of the play-within-the-play. It realizes itself in the performance of the play-within-the-play, the reality of which is the representation of the AUTHOR'S conception by the WORLD. Through this interference, the seemingly dear-cut separability of the different levels is suspended. Where the theater ends and reality begins cannot be clearly determined. This becomes particularly evident in the figures and their roles. The figures of the play perform actors who are given roles in the play-within-the-play. As such, however, they are roles themselves already: the roles of actors who play their roles in The Great Theater of the World.

The scope of representation reaches its maximum in the words of the WORLD: "pues me representa a mi: / vulgo de esta fiesta soy" (I represent myself to me, / for I am the crowd of the feast; 672-73). The play-within-the-play begins; the WORLD, as spectator, sees itself represented in the Theater of the World. It doubles the function of the real spectators and confronts them with themselves as spectators. But at the same time, the spectators, as actors of the real world, see themselves represented in the Theater of the WORLD as actors of the play-within-the-play. In the theater as in life, they simultaneously see themselves as actors and as spectators. The real spectators of the play The Great Theater of the World see themselves represented as spectators of a play wherein they themselves are represented as actors in the real world.

The figures, before playing their actual roles, are roles already. Thus birth and death, as boundary markers of the play-within-the-play, are themselves in turn integral parts of the play The Great Theater of the World. Consequentially, the transition between the particular levels of the play is not absolute either; the end of the play is part of the play, the "theater of fictions" shades into the "theater of truth." Death does not mark a veritable boundary. Earth and heaven, both are theater.

The representation, as well as the speech directed toward the audience (1252-53), reduces the distance between play and reality; the transition is a gradual, not a qualitative one. The question of truth, however, is not suspended; it merely has to be asked in a different way. When truth is part of fiction, the relation of the two is no longer an absolute opposition; the fictional, the illusive, becomes part of the truth as constitutive parts. Death is the boundary mark where their structural moments relate with each other.

The double character of truth lies within the act as action and judgment. The decision forejudges possible consequences and executes the act; judgment and justification take place in the court that is to come. The act executed here and now will only be accomplished in the supplementary justification. The reality of the act is that it happens twice and can only be considered as twofold. The moment of the act is marked by the moment of the court. From a dramaturgical point of view, this corresponds to the LAW OF GRACE, which appears periodically in the play, accompanying the actors with its motto and consistently reminding them of the future court. The truth of the act is that it happens--as if--in front of the audience, that it is staged and seen, and thus judged (631ff.). In Oraculo manual y arte de prudencia (1647), Baltasar Gracian formulated this figure of thought as a rule of conduct for the courtier: "Act as though always on view. The insightful man is the one who sees that others see or will see him. He knows that walls have ears, and that what's badly done is always bursting to come out. Even when alone, he acts as though seen by everyone, knowing that everything will eventually be known. He looks on those who will subsequently hear of his actions as witnesses to them already." (38)

Thus, through the judgment that is to be expected, every human act is discharged from transience; the future recall of the act on the Day of Judgment is the trace of eternity in the finite lifetime. And when, in recalling the act, there will be judgment, this will carry forward the trace of time into eternity. This double structure is irreducible. The act that turned out well would then be Nietzsche's "moment of the shortest shadow" the answer in the affirmative as echo of the act--that's the way I wanted it--the justification of which ensues as realization of the rules of the play in its staging. Everyone is what he is supposed to be in correspondence with his role. This is Calderon's DISCRETION, which transvaluates the classical amor fati through the free act of will as loving acceptance of the divine providence in Christian terms.


The medium for this elementary between of human life is allegory. In many of the autos sacramentales, Calderon inserted poetological considerations on the allegorical condition of his plays and on the history of man they deal with in the horizon of the history of salvation. (39) A passage from El verdadero Dios Pan (1670) illustrates one aspect of the allegorical according to Calderon's understanding:
   La alegoria no es mas
   que un espejo que traslada
   lo que es con lo que no es;
   y esta toda su elegancia
   en que salga parecida
   tanto la copia en la tabla,
   que el que estfi mirando a una
   piense que estfi viendo a entrambas

   (Allegory is nothing more/than a mirror which translates/that which
   is to that which is not;/and therein lies all of its elegance/that
   the copy on the stage/appears to be so similar/that he who's
   looking at one/thinks he's looking at both.) (40)

Both elements of the allegory are configured in such a way that on close examination one does not see represented "that which is not" by "that which is" but both of them simultaneously. The distinction between appearance and reality, dream and life, theater and world, is at most of analytical interest to Calderon. For him, it is not about revealing the truth behind the mask and not by any means about being deluded by appearances. The fear of his contemporary Descartes that "some evil spirit, supremely powerful and cunning, has devoted all his efforts to deceiving me," that "all external things are no different from the illusions of our dreams, and that they are traps" (First Meditation), is alien to Calderon. (41) The world is theater, and life is dream. Allegory, therefore, provides the form of the configuration and knowledge. It is the figure of the interaction between the world and God, between this life and the hereafter. It is the word which has become form, the interplay between the sensual and the spiritual dimensions, the sense in the form of its material substrate. For this reason it is not the function of the formal condition of the play-within-the-play to make the spectators keep a critical distance from the self-reflected event onstage, as they realize its "stage" character and thus see through its illusiveness, but rather, as the different levels of the play also render the boundary between stage and audience, theater and world, permeable, it is the distinction between reality and play, existence and appearance, that are cast into doubt. Parallel to The Great Theater of the World, Calderon dealt with this problem in the drama Life Is a Dream. Prince Segismundo's experience that it is not possible to distinguish with absolute certainty between dream and life does not lead him--as it does so many of Calderon's contemporaries--to the pathos of vanity, to the devaluation of that which is, taken as a whole, only because it could at any time turn out to be an appearance, a simulacrum, but rather to the valorization of the appearance which he acknowledges as a dimension of reality as a whole. In the course of the play, Segismundo achieves a form of serenity in view of this suspension between existence and appearance.

The human being as role in the drama of life on the stage of the world is a conceptual allegory that arises from insight into the finiteness of life. If the role of life ends with death, this can lead to a distancing from life and to a devaluation of the world; if the brevity of earthly life precedes another, heavenly survival after death, the earthly world can become a mere appearance in relation to the heavenly world above.

Calderon's plays do not deny illusiveness by trying to find another, veritable reality instead; rather they demonstrate that appearance is an elementary dimension of being. Life is not only a role, it is only to have as a role. Material and biological life is formatted by a spiritual and symbolic dimension. Thus it actually becomes life. And this spiritual dimension achieves its essential reality precisely to the extent that it leads men to treat their fellow men in a morally ambitious way by orienting them toward the good. This is the meaning of the title Obrar bien, the play-within-the-play that serves as allegory of the Theater of the World. The good--in the sense of good acts and good works--provides reality with truth, without which it would remain a mere appearance. Hell is a figure of the nothingness of life.

The structure of the play has been analyzed in various ways; these have been based mainly on dramaturgical or content criteria. Marc Vitse has compared these criteria, basing his investigation on the metrical scheme. The structure he describes consists of three or five parts, depending on the emphasis given particular passages: the prelude in heaven and preparation of the Theater of the World; the play Obrar bien; and the sequel to the Theater of the World and justification or rejection of the figures in court. (42) The particular parts, the transitions between the different levels, are each marked by the AUTHOR. With his entrance, the play begins; he introduces the figures of the Theater of the World and the prelude in the theater (279ff.); his words lead into the play-within-the-play (629ff.) and conclude it as well (1254ff.); and eventually, the AUTHOR initiates the court scene (1440ff.). The end of the play, however, is constituted by words spoken by the WORLD. The supplementary relation between the two is thus emphasized once more. The Great Theater of the World is not simply a cycle of emanation issuing from the AUTHOR, circulating through the Theater of the WORLD, and flowing back to the AUTHOR; the WORLD is a constitutive part of the conception. Just as the wagons of AUTHOR and WORLD provide the flame for the stage, their words provide the flame for the play; in between, there is the play of the Theater of the World.

One particular entrance of the AUTHOR, however, does not partake of this system (931 ff.). Not only does it mark the middle of the play-within-the-play--before, the figures had entered the stage through the door of the cradle and had been given the chance to prove themselves through their actions toward the POOR MAN'S plea for alms; afterward, they will verbally resume their performance in a sort of life script and then leave the stage through the door of the coffin--but, most notably, it marks the caesura in the play and articulates its problematics: the relation of role and execution, obedience and decision, law and freedom. The orders of the AUTHOR are explained and complemented by the LAW OF GRACE: "A cada uno por si,/y a todos juntos, mi voz/ha advertido, ya con esto/su culpa serli su error./(Canta.) Area al otro como a ti,/y obrar bien, que Dios es Dios" (To each one for himself, ! and to all of them together, my voice / has proclaimed it; thus,/their guilt will be their fault./[Sings.] Love your neighbor as yourself,/and do good, for God is God; 945-50).

The law, as the unity of these three moments, is at the same time the title (438), the content (488), and the subject matter of the play-within-the-play and thus of the Theater of the World. The law is a commandment, although it does not command what to do, only that there is something to be done. And to do, that is, to act, means to do good works, to act well toward others. This is the concise formula of the law; its generality ensures the freedom of the individual.

The behavior of the remaining figures exemplifies the meaning of the law. The POOR MAY depends on the help of all the others; these, however, think they can do without him and do not have to help him. Each individual behaves in his own way, according to his own role, toward the poor MAY. And each will be observed by the AUTHOR and judged at the end of the play. The law demands that every individual act toward the other as if he were the other as well as being ready to act at any time in place of every other. As a law, this constitutive proxy of every individual for every other individual--Kant will later speak of the "general lawgiving of its own"--is the basic principle for humans living together. But since every individual--except DISCRETION, who, following Christ, acts well in the place of others (1374ff.), thus showing how it can be done--takes himself, and not the other, as the basis of his actions, when he is confronted with the POOR MAN, their actions are altogether marked by confusion (940ff.).

Each figure knows he should behave according to his role. Yet that role also provides him with a range of choices; this is his very freedom. This does not mean freedom and equality in terms of natural law: it is only before and after their existence as roles in the play-within-the-play that the figures are free and equal in such an emphatic sense (282, 379-434, 1386ff., 1407ff.). The play is about the freedom of decision in view of an opportunity given by chance, as the figures slide into situations wherein their roles do not prescribe everything. Freedom, in this sense, is an addition to the role.

In the moment of decision, role, act, and critique, as well as providence, freedom, and court, all interact, and the illusiveness of earthly reality achieves the power of truth. The qualitative aspect of the role emphasized by Seneca is unfolded by Calderon as decision and act: obrar bien. The moment of truthfulness, being a moment of real presence, is that of the act taking place in the prementioned tension field--within the scope of the role and with regard to the judgment that is to come; it provides the role with its certificate of authenticity.

The life of man is a day (e.g., 1045ff., 1165ff.). Then death, as the other side of life, is the night. And as sleep is a little death, so is death, in Christian thought, a grand sleep. The court, as another play--on another stage--is part of the theater; it stages rejection and justification in the bright night of resurrection. It is a striking trait of this passage that even hell worships the Eucharistic body and joins in its praise (1441-42 and 1564ff.). This does not mean that those condemned to hell are also redeemed in the end, since eternal punishment in hell is exemplarily executed on the RICH MAN. Apparently, the "dulces voces ... acordadas y sonoras" constitute the sonority of the paean to the Eucharist, a concord of the voices of heaven and hell; this is its palintropic harmony, the harmony as constellation of opposites, the creation as a gigantic conceit (concelvto). (43) To grasp hell as part of the harmony of the world bears witness to a strong concept of the world, of beauty, and of justice, one that has become increasingly difficult to understand in the course of subsequent modernity and sprawling sensibility.

The complementary relationship between life and death, WORLD and AUTHOR, the difference between the heavenly and the earthly globe in the mise-en-scene, creates the scope wherein the Theater of the World comes into being and continues to take place. The worldly is the essential nihil of creation and the sign of its finiteness. The Theater of Life, staged as a play-within-the-play, is repeatable indeed, but at the end of time and at the end of the feast of creation, everything will--as has already been announced by the WORLD in the beginning (209ff.)--vanish in a vast fire. Thus the cosmic cataclysm of the apocalypse becomes the magnificent, all-illuminating completion of the feast through a firework. In the beginning, however, the AUTHOR also refers to the WORLD as Phoenix (25-26). (44) Hence/he Great/heater of the World is a cosmogony; it reveals creation as coming-to-be and passing away. And it is thinkable that one, once finding the world waste and empty again, could possibly reconstruct it from this play--a god, indeed, should he well be.

University of Heidelberg


(1) Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, trans. Peter Heath (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993), 206.

(2) This essay is a version of Gerhard Poppenberg's afterword to his bilingual (Spanish/German) edition of Calderon's play: "Rolle und Freiheit im Welttheater," in Pedro Calderon de la Barca, El gran teatro del mundo--Das grosse Welttheater, ed. and trans. Gerhard Poppenberg, in cooperation with Herle-Christin Jessen and Angela Calderon Villarino (Stuttgart: Reclam, 2012).

Spanish quotations and line numbers refer to this edition, based upon the only two seventeenth-century printed versions of the play.

The essay has been translated by Sylvia Rexing, Heidelberg. Any published English titles used for translation purposes have been indicated. All other translations of Spanish and German quotations, including the Calderonian lines, are Rexing's.

(3) Further explanations and bibliography concerning the history, genre, dramaturgy, and content of the autos sacramentales can be found in Alexander A. Parker, The Allegorical Drama of Calderon: An Introduction to the Autos Sacramentales (Oxford: Dolphin, 1943); Bruce W. Wardropper, Introduccion al teatro religioso del siglo de oro: Evolucion del auto sacramental antes de Calderon (Salamanca: Anaya, 1967; 1st ed., 1953); Ricardo Arias, The Spanish Sacramental Plays (Boston: Twayne, 1980); John E. Varey, "La escenografia de los autos sacramentales: el estado de la cuestion," in La escenogrqfia del teatro barroco, ed. Aurora Egido (Salamanca: UIMP, 1989), 25-32; Ignacio Arellano, "El auto sacramental" in Historia del teatro espafiol, ed. Ignacio Arellano (Madrid: Catedra, 1995), 685-737; Barbara Kurtz, The Play of Allegory in the Autos Sacramentales de Pedro Calderon de la Barca (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1991); and Gerhard Poppenberg, Psique y alegoria. Estudios del auto sacramental espafml desde sus comienzos hasta Calderon (Pamplona: Universidad de Navarra; Kassel: Reichenberger, 2009).

(4) Cf. Heinrich Denzinger and Peter Hunermann, eds., Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum: Kompendium der Glaubensbekenntnisse und kirchlichen Lehrentseheidungen, 38th ed (Freiburg: Herder, 1999), 1541.

(5) Cf. Ernst Robert Curtius, Europaische Literatur und lateinisches Mittelalter (Bern: Francke, 1948), 138-44; Wilfried Barner, Barockrhetorik (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1970), 86-131; and mainly Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory, 4 vols. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988-94), 1:135-257.

(6) Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Ad Lucilium epistulae morales--Epistles 66-92, trans. Richard M. Gummere (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1920), 77:4. Subsequent quotations from this source are cited parenthetically in the text.

(7) Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, The History of Don Quixote of the Mancha, trans. Thomas Shelton, 4 vols. (London: D. Nutt, 1896), 3:90. Subsequent quotations from this source are cited parenthetically in the text.

(8) August Wilhelm von Schlegel, Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, trans. John Black (1846; New York: AMS, 1973), 495.

(9) Cf. Norman D. Shergold, A History of the Spanish Stage from Medieval Times until the End of the Seventeenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), 425ff. One might recall the beginnings of theater itself. Thespis, according to Aristotle the inventor of tragedy, toured the country and staged his plays on his wagon: "et plaustris vexisse poemata"; Horace, De arte poetica, 275-76. In Don Quixote, part II, chapter 11, the protagonists encounter such a cart upon which the actors of an auto sacramental travel across the country.

(10) Cf. Shergold, History, 415; see also 91-92, 95-96.

(11) The Spanish text appears in Hermengildo Corbato, Los misterios del Corpus de Valencia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1932). It is also cited in Norman D. Shergold, "El gran teatro del mundo y sus problemas escenograficos," in Hacia Calderon: Coloquio anglogermano, Exeter 1969, ed. Hans Flasche (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1970), 77-84 (80); cf. also Shergold, History, 442. After Shergold, it is particularly John J. Allen and Domingo Yndurain and Allen who have explored the mise-en-scene in their editions of the play. See Pedro Calderon de la Barca, El gran teatro del mundo, ed. Domingo Yndurain (Madrid: Alhambra, 1981), and Pedro Calderon de la Barca, El gran teatro del mundo, ed. John J. Allen and Domingo Yndurain (Barcelona: Critica, 1997). Further literature concerning this matter can be found in Varey.

(12) The Two Trinities is the first of Murillo's two versions of the theme; today it hangs in the Stockholm National museum.

(13) The attitude of obedience permeates the whole play (cf. 75, 160, 253, 289, 603, 1365). It is one of the basic principles of the Jesuit Order. Ignatius of Loyola ("Deus est, ergo oboedio") inserted the question of obedience in the statutes of the Order: see "On Obedience," in Ignacio de Loyola, Obras completas, ed. Ignacio Iparraguirre and Candido de Dalmases, 4th ed. (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1982), part VI, chap. 1,561. In the letter "On Perfect Obedience." dated 26 March 1553, which he dedicated to the brethren in Portugal, he writes: Therefore, my dear brothers, try to make the surrender of your wills entire. Offer freely to God through His ministers the liberty He has bestowed on you. Do not think it a slight advantage of your free will the ability of restoring it wholly in obedience to Him who gave it to you. In this you do not lose it, but rather perfect it in conforming your will wholly with the most certain rule of all rectitude, which is the divine will, the interpreter of which is the superior who governs you in place of God"; Letters of St. Ignatius of Loyola, trans. William J. Young (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1959), 25. Obedience corresponds to free will, which belongs, according to the Catholic view, to the basic capacities of man and which the theologians of the Jesuit Order in particular have defended theologically.

(14) Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, trans. Anthony Mottota (New York: Doubleday, 1964), 135. These exercises provide a preparation technique for a morally ambitious decision; they could well have been momentous for Calderon, the disciple of the Jesuit Colegio Imperial de Madrid. Don W. Cruickshank, Don Pedro Calderon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), chaps. 3 and 4, provide information regarding Calderon's educational background.

(15) Bartolome de Albornoz, "De la limosna," in Arte de los contratos (1573), partly reprinted in Adolfo de Castro, ed., Obras escogidas de Filosofos (Madrid: M. Rivadeneyra, 1873), 231-32 (231).

(16) Marcelin Defourneaux, Daily Life in Spain in the Golden Age, trans. Newton Branch (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1979), 218 (emphasis added); cf. also 112, 173.

(17) In order to guard against the potential malfeasance arising from one's legal status, which might also partially" explain the PEASANT'S reaction to the POOR MAN, Sancho Panza installs during his governorship an "alguacil de pobres" who should "examine them, to know if they were so: for under colour of fained maimenesse, and false sores, the hands are Theeves, and health is a Drunkard" (Don Quixote, 4:113). And Cristobal Perez de Herrera, in his capacity as "protomedico por su Majestad de las galeras de Espafla" begins his Discursos del amparo de los legitimos pobres, y reduccion de los fingidos, ed. Michel Cavillac (1598; Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1975), with an elaborate discourse "on the disadvantages which arise when the feigning beggars ask for alms, and on the fictions that they contreive in order to get them out of the veritable poor," preceded by the emblem of Justice (18-19). Only the second discourse, preceded by an emblem depicting "the filial pity of the stork, the state of the bees, and the order and providence of the ants," treats "the way of sheltering the lawful beggars, and the protection of the bashful poor, and the prisons, the prisoners, and the orphans" (50-51).

(18) Roberto Bellarmino, Disputationes de controversiis christianae fidei adversus hujus temporis haereticos, 8 vols. (Ingolstadt, 1587-93), 7:2, 21.

(19) In the figure of EL AUTOR, different meanings of the word autor operate within a complex semantic field. This interplay establishes a ground for the subject matter of the play that results from the lexis and the semantics of the Spanish language. The Diccionario de A utoridades indicates different levels of meaning: the director of a theater company is its autor; the playwright, too, is the autor; finally and above all, God, as the creator of the world, is the supremo hacedor y autor de todo lo criado. See Diccionario de autoridades, Real Academia Espanola, 6 vols. (1726-39; Madrid: Gredos, 1963). The play unfolds this field of a theodramatic conception (see Balthasar), thus revealing the divine character of the theater as well as the theatrical character of the Divinity.

(20) The distribution of the roles made by the AUTHOR in the Theater of the World is the truthful mirror of the distribution of social roles in hierarchically structured early modern European societies. Richness and poverty are part of a quasi-natural order that is not to be scrutinized. In another classical text that anticipates the figure of the Theater of the World, Epictetus holds similar views: "Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it be his pleasure you should act a poor man, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you: to choose it, is another's"; The "Encheiridion" of Epictetus and Its Three Christian Adaptations: Transmission and Critical Editions, ed. Gerard Borer (Leiden: Brill, 1999). The role assigment is made by the author; it is not a question of choice. The choice everyone has only concerns the enactment of the role. One can act it well or not, but cannot change it. This is not an option in hierarchically structured premodern society. Carroll B. Johnson, "Social Roles and Ideology, Dramatic Roles and Theatrical Convention ill El gran teatro del mundo," Bulletin of the Comediantes 49 (1997): 247-72, investigates the figures in Calderdn's play in relation to the social reality of the time.

(21) Denzinger and Hunermann, 1521.

(22) Ibid., 1552-83.

(23) Cf. Wolfgang Hubener, "Praedeterminatio physica," in Historisches Worterbuch der Philosophie, ed. Joachim Ritter et al., 13 vols. (Basel: Schwabe, 1971-2007), 7:1216-25.

(24) Denzinger and Hunermann, 1554.

(25) Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, with Selections from the "Objections" and "Replies," trans. Michael Moriarty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 41-42.

(26) Luis de Molina, On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of "The Concordia," trans. Alfred J. Freddoso (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), Disputation 52, number 19, p. 179. Later, in Disputation 41, number t, Molina writes, "The general concurrence of God on natural actions is not a concurrence of God on free will as the cause of these actions ... but it is an immediate influence, along with free will, on the action.... [T]he influence of God, along with free will, through the general concurrence on natural actions does neither in time nor in nature precede the influence of free will on those actions, but rather do they interdepend and are altogether at the same time in the nature of things." For the original text, see Molina, Liberi arbitrii cum gratiae donis, divina praescientia, providentia, praedestinatione et reprobatione Concordia, ed. Johannes Rabeneck (1588, 1595; Ona: Madrid Soc. Ed., 1953).

(27) Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Essais de theodicee sur la bonte de Dieu, la liberte de l'homme et l'origine du mal, ed. Jacques Brunschwig (Paris, Flammarion, 1969), 125.

(28) Denzinger and Hunermann, 1537.

(29) The Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Ecumenical Council of Trent, Celebrated under the Sovereign Pontiffs, Paul III, Julius III, and Pius IV, trans. J. Waterworth (London: C. Dolman, 1848), 38.

(30) Denzinger and Hunermann, 1538.

(31) According to de Molina, On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of "The Concondia," Disputation 52, number 39, pp. 194-95, "Now, God foreknows those things that are relevant to our salvation or damnation in the same way that He foreknows those things that are relevant to other future contingent effects; nor do the former acquire any more necessity from the divine foreknowledge than the latter. Surely, a farmer would be considered crazy if, worried about God's foreknowledge, he became remiss in sowing his seed and if for this reason, lured by the idea that God foreknows everything from eternity and that things are going to occur just as He foreknew they would, he did not plant his seed or was going to plant less than he otherwise would have. For since the foreknowledge neither helps nor hinders him, he shall reap as he has sown. (The more seed he has planted, the more he will reap; but if he has planted nothing, then he will harvest nothing--a situation he ought afterward to attribute not to God's foreknowledge but to his own stupidity and negligence.) So, too, we should regard as much more insane someone who, worried about God's foreknowledge and lured by a similar line of reasoning, became more remiss and lax in acting righteously, in restraining his drives, in overcoming temptation, and in doing those things that are required in order to attain a greater reward of beatitude; nor should he afterward blame God's foreknowledge and predestination, but rather he should blame himself--especially since, whereas the farmer's labor might be wasted because of adverse weather or chance events, this man by contrast can be deprived of the fruits of his labor by no cause other than his own will. Indeed, he will find that the more strongly he binds himself in obedience to God, the more prepared and prompt God always is to bestow more gifts." Cf. also Francisco Suarez, On Efficient Causality: Metaphysical Disputations 17, 18, and 19, trans. Alfred J. Freddoso (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 388: "[I]f the farmer neglects to plow the earth, which is a free act for him, then the natural crop is impeded, even if there is the right amount of rain and even if all the other causes concur?

(32) Cf. Sven Knebel, "Scientia media: Ein diskursarchaologischer Leiffaden durch das 17. Jahrhundert," Archiv fur Begriffsgeschichte 34 (1991): 262-94 (289). Klaus Reinhardt, Pedro Luis S. J. (1538-1602) und sein Verstandnis der Kontingenz, Praescienz und Pradetermination: Ein Beitrag zur Frulgeschichte des Molinismus (Munster: Aschendorff, 1965), provides a tableau of the doctrines in the field of contingence, freedom, and divine foreknowledge, which illustrates the contemporary positions in the context of historical positions.

(33) Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, System des transzendentalen Idealismus (1800), in Scbriften von 1799-1801 (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1967), 327 634 (591). The translation appears in Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, 202. Subsequent quotations from Schelling are cited in the text; the page numbers of the German edition are followed by those of the English translation.

(34) Jacob Taubes, Occidental Eschatology, trans. David Ratmoko (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 12.

(35) In the text, the use of the word confusion marks the trace of the nihil in the world: from the chaotic nihil before creation (86, 112) to the annihilation of the individual through death (1004, 1158). When finally the earthly is called the condition of confusion (940), it has an essential part in this moment of the nihil.

(36) Marcus Tullius Cicero, On Obligations (De Officiis), trans. P.G. Walsh (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), book I, par. 107-15.

(37) Cf. note 14 above. Concerning the history of the idea of the person and role, see Manfred Fuhrmann, "Persona, ein romischer Rollenbegriff," in Identitat, ed. Odo Marquart and Karlheinz Stierle (Munchen: Fink, 1979), 83-106; Rolf Konersmann, "Welttheater als Daseinsmetapher" in Der Schleier des Timanthes: Perspektiven der historischen Semantik (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1994), 84-168, and Siegmund Schlossmann, Persona und prosopon im Recht und im christlichen Dogma (Kid/Leipzig: Lipsius & Tischler, 1906; repr., Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1968).

(38) Baltasar Gracian, The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence, trans. Jeremy Robbins (London: Penguin Classics, 2011), aphorism 297, p. 111. The original appears in Bahasar Gracifin, Oraculo manual y arte de prudencia, ed. Emilio Blanco (Madrid: Catedra, 1995).

(39) For further explanation, see Poppenberg, Psique y alegoria.

(40) Pedro Calderon de la Barca, El verdadero Dios Pan, in Obras completas, tomo III: Autos sacramentales, ed. Angel Valbuena Prat (Madrid: Aguilar, 1987), 11. 143-50.

(41) Descartes, 16.

(42) Marc Vitse, "Metrica y estructura en El gran teatro del mundo de Calderon," in La dramaturgia de Calderon: tecnica y estructuras, ed. Ignacio Arellano and Enrica Cancelliere (Frankfurt a.M.: Vervuert; Pamplona: Universidad de Navarra, 2006), 609-24.

(43) Sebastian de Covarrubias Hornzco, Tesoro de la Lengua Castellana o Espanola (1611), ed. Ignacio Arellano and Rafael Zafra (Pamplona: Universidad de Navarra; Madrid: Iberoamericana; Frankfurt a.M.: Vervuert, 2006), defines concepto as "el discurso hecho en el entendimiento y despues ejecutado" (cf. verb concebir), Autoridades as "la idea o imagen que forma el entendimiento." In seventeenth century theories of poetry, concepto became a term for the keen-witted products of the ingenio, i.e., for the conceptual subject matter of poetry that was therefore called "conceptualist." In the second chapter of his treatise Agudeza y arte de ingenio (Acuteness and Art of the Ingenious, 1642/48), 2 vols., ed. Ceferino Peralta, Jorge M. Ayala, and Josep M. Andreu (Zaragoza: Prensas Universitarias de Zaragoza, 2004), Baltasar Gracian made a proposal for its definition: "Consiste, pues, este artificio conceptuoso en una primorosa concordancia, en una armonica correlacion entre dos o tres cognoscibles extremos, expresada por un acto de entendimiento.... [E]s un acto del entendimiento que exprime la correspondencia que se halla entre los objetos" (Thus this conceptualist artifice consists in a prime congruence, a harmonic correlation between two or three cognoscible extremes that is expressed through an act of understanding.... It is an act of understanding that expresses the correspondence which is to be found between the objects; 1:27). The correspondence between the widest extremes, that is, between heaven and earth, God and men, and, at the end of the play, among the four last things--paradise, purgatory, limbo, and hell--then constitutes the concepto of this play and, furthermore, that of the world as creation.

(44) "I foresee the time," Goethe said, "when God will have no more joy in [mankind], but will break up everything for a renewed creation. I am certain that everything is planned to this end, and that the time and hour in the distant future for the occurrence of this renovating epoch are already fixed. But a long time will elapse first, and we may still for thousands and thousands of years amuse ourselves on this dear old surface"; Johann Peter Eckermann, Conversations of Goethe with Johann Peter Eckermann, ed. J. K. Moorhead, trans, John Oxenford (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 1998), 275. This conversation took place on Thursday, 23 October 1828.
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Title Annotation:Pedro Calderon de la Barca
Author:Poppenberg, Gerhard
Publication:Comparative Drama
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Sep 22, 2013
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