Out of the Wings

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Jacinto Benavente y Martínez

Personal information
Surname: Benavente y Martínez
First name: Jacinto
Born: 12 August 1866, Madrid, Spain
Died: 14 July 1954

Jacinto Benavente (1866-1954) is considered to be one of Spain’s most important playwrights. Born in Madrid, he enjoyed a comfortable upbringing as the son of the esteemed paediatrician, Mariano Benavente (whose statue stands in Madrid’s Retiro Park). From an early age Benavente was interested in theatre: he even made puppets with which he would perform the plays that he wrote as a young man. At the beginning of the 1890s Benavente published his first works. One of these, the epistolary novel Cartas de mujers (Letters from Women), consisted of a series of pieces written by different female characters through which Benavente explored aspects of the female psyche. This focus on women is something that Benavente maintained throughout his career as a dramatist in that, more often than not, his female characters are considerably more complex than his male ones. Benavente’s first performed play El nido ajeno (Another’s Nest) premiered in 1894. This production was largely a critical and public failure. Despite this, many now claim that it was a starting point in Spain’s contemporary theatre tradition (Benavente 1996: 14), and that the audience at the time failed to recognise the innovation of the piece (Benavente 1972: 9).

Jacinto Benavente was writing theatre at the same time as Miguel de Unamuno and Ramón María del Valle-Inclán. In fact, he used to attend the same tertulia as Valle-Inclán at the Café Madrid, before the two writers fell out. While Benavente is often considered to belong to the group of intellectuals described as the Generación del 98 – along with Unamuno and Valle-Inclán – he nevertheless stands out by having refused to be as critical of the political and artistic climate in Spain as these other dramatists were. Benavente’s reluctance to criticise the political elite and thus compromise his chances of literary greatness often led to accusations from his peers that he had sacrificed his principles for success (Benavente 1972: 10). Indeed, despite his popularity amongst audiences, by 1922 Benavente had grown tired of the frequent criticism of him in the press, and moved to the United States to work as an artistic director. That same year, while still in the US, Benavente won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1923, after a highly-successful speaking tour throughout the United States, Benavente returned to Spain as a recognised literary great. Unlike many intellectuals, Benavente’s success continued during Franco’s regime, and his political position during and just after the Civil War is still a topic of some debate. In his later years, as a frail man Benavente was more or less housebound, although he remained lucid until he died, quietly, on 14 July 1954.

  • Benavente, Jacinto. 1972. Los intereses creados, ed. F. Lázaro Carreter. Salamanca, Anaya (in Spanish)

  • Benavente, Jacinto. 1996. Los intereses creados. La malquerida, ed. José Montero Padilla. Madrid, Castalia (in Spanish)

Further information

Benavente and Echegaray

The relationship between the theatre of José Echegaray (1832-1916) and Jacinto Benavente has long been a topic of scholarly interest. It is widely contended that Benavente’s theatre, in its innovation, is ‘anti-Echegarayan’ (Benavente 1972: 18). This is, on the surface, a valid argument, in that Benavente avoids the excesses of violence and melodrama that characterise a number of Echegaray’s plays, such as El gran Galeoto (Benavente 1972: 19). However, while it can be said that the theatrical styles of Benavente and Echegaray differ considerably, it would be a mistake to say that Benavente’s theatre is a complete rejection of that of his precursor. As José Montero Padilla notes, Benavente in fact admired the theatre tradition that came before and, particularly in early works, his drama was marked by the same kind of melodramaticism common to Echegaray’s theatre (Benavente 1996: 16). In addition, it is significant that Benavente did not sign the manifesto produced by members of the Generación del 98 which attacked the kind of theatre that Echegaray wrote. His reasons were two-fold: partly out of admiration and devotion for this dramatist, and also because he did not want to alienate his public which was, essentially, the same public who watched Echegaray’s plays (Benavente 1972: 20).

  • Benavente, Jacinto. 1972. Los intereses creados, ed. F. Lázaro Carreter. Salamanca, Anaya (in Spanish)

  • Benavente, Jacinto. 1996. Los intereses creados. La malquerida, ed. José Montero Padilla. Madrid, Castalia (in Spanish)


Benavente’s theatre explores the social mores of upper middle-class and aristocratic society. While Benavente’s plays often critique the hypocrisies or inanities of bourgeois and courtly life, they do so gently, rather than acerbically. In his introduction of the 1996 edition of Los intereses creados (The Bonds of Interest), José Montero Padilla explains that Benavente’s dramatisations of upper middle-class Madrid city life are of great historical value, in that they document a particular period in time and place (Benavente 1996: 36). This is not to say, however, that Benavente’s work is solely of documentary value. Plays such as Los intereses creados (The Bonds of Interest) – set not in Benavente’s Madrid but in seventeenth-century Italy – deal with timeless themes, such as greed and love. In this way, Benavente’s work is also an important exploration of the human condition, and of the female psyche in particular (Benavente 1972: 22).

  • Benavente, Jacinto. 1972. Los intereses creados, ed. F. Lázaro Carreter. Salamanca, Anaya (in Spanish)

  • Benavente, Jacinto. 1996. Los intereses creados. La malquerida, ed. José Montero Padilla. Madrid, Castalia (in Spanish)


Benavente’s work varies in style. He is probably most well known for his social comedies, although he also wrote plays for children and psychological works consisting of symbolist and fantastical elements. In plays such as Los intereses creados (The Bonds of Interest) Benavente borrows elements from the Italian commedia dell’arte genre. Much of his work is quietly critical of society, and the bourgeoisie in particular. The subtlety of this criticism is probably one of the most recognisable characteristics of Benavente’s work. Rather than direct attack, he uses subtle irony and comedy to make his points.

Plays in the database
Useful reading and websites
  • Ayllón, Cándido. 1963. ‘Experiments in the Theatre of Unamuno, Valle-Inclán and Azorín’, Hispania, 46.1, 49-56

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 22 February 2011.

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