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María de Zayas y Sotomayor

Personal information
Surname: Zayas y Sotomayor
First name: María
Commonly known as: María de Zayas
Other versions of the name: María de Zayas y Sotomayor
Born: 1590, Madrid, Spain
Died: c. 1661

María de Zayas y Sotomayor was born in Madrid, and baptised on 12 September, 1590. Her family was noble, her father holding important positions in the military and in service to the aristocracy. She lived in Madrid for most of her life, except for periods spent in Valladolid (from 1601 to 1607), when the royal court moved there, and Naples (from 1610 to 1616). These journeys were made due to her father’s changing duties, first as an officer in the Order of Santiago, then in the service of the Count of Lemos. From 1617 onwards she spent most of her time in Madrid , and from 1621 to 1637 she was active in Madrid’s literary life. (There is some evidence to suggest she also spent time in Saragossa and Barcelona [Zayas y Sotomayor 2007: 16].) Although it is really Zayas’ novels that have secured her place in the literary canon, one play survives, La traición en la amistad (‘Friendship Betrayed’), written between 1618 and 1620, before she began to be known for her prose work. Her two major collections of writing are the Novelas amorosas y ejemplares (published in 1637) and the Segunda parte de las novelas amorosas y ejemplares (Desengaños amorosos) published in 1647. These works were republished frequently and translated widely, and they sold well. As a noblewoman she perhaps had the means and the time to write that women of lower social stature did not enjoy, but even noblewomen were not educated and brought up to express themselves in writing as were her male contemporaries.  Thus her literary achievements not only provide a fresh perspective, but also stand out as a victory against the suppression of the female voice in a patriarchal society. There is no evidence that Zayas ever married; her disappearance from literary life after 1647 suggests she may have married, but there could be a wide variety of other reasons for this silence.

(See Zayas y Sotomayor 1905; Zayas y Sotomayor 2007; Soufas 1997: 273-4; Zayas 2003)


María de Zayas is thought of as a feminist writer, championing the role of women and depicting female characters as strong and capable of controlling their own lives. Her play, La traición en la amistad, revolves around the themes of female friendship, solidarity and betrayal, as well as the standard comedia themes pertinent to the genre, namely courtship, love, honour and deceit (though, true to form, the confusion is resolved and order restored at the play’s conclusion).


As a dramatist, Zayas departs from the typically male-controlled world of the comedia and gives her female characters the will and the power to court and marry the men of their choosing. While comedia women are sometimes shown as pawns in the ‘male-dominated marriage market’ that forms the backdrop to so many plays’ plots, Zayas instead draws her women as individuals who can work together or on their own to accomplish their goals. See Soufas 1996: 141 and Zayas y Sotomayor 2007: 14-15.

Plays in the database
Useful reading and websites
  • Ordóñez, Elizabeth J. 1985. 'Woman and Her Text in the Works of María de Zayas and Ana Caro', Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, 19, 1, 3-15

  • Armas, Frederick de. 1976. The Invisible Mistress: Aspects of Feminism and Fantasy in the Golden Age. Biblioteca Siglo de Oro. Charlottesville, Virginia

  • Brownlee, Marina S. 1995. ‘Postmodernism and the Baroque in María de Zayas’. In Cultural Authority in Golden Age Spain, eds. Marina S. Brownlee and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, pp. 107-27. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press

  • Soufas, Teresa Scott. 1996. Dramas of Distinction: A Study of Plays by Golden Age Women. Lexington, University Press of Kentucky

  • Soufas, Teresa Scott. 1997. ‘María de Zayas y Sotomayor’. In Women’s Acts: Plays by Women Dramatists of Spain’s Golden Age, ed. Teresa Scott Soufas, pp. 273-6. Lexington, University Press of Kentucky

  • This is a useful bibliography on this author: http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/L/A-Robert.R.Lauer-1/Zayas.html [Accessed July 2010] (Online Publication)

  • Useful website on this author: http://home.infionline.net/~ddisse/zayas.html [Accessed July 2010] (Online Publication)

  • Vollendorf, Lisa. 2005. ‘Women Onstage: Angela de Azevedo, María de Zayas, and Ana Caro’. In The Lives of Women: A New History of Inquisitional Spain, pp. 74-89. Nashville, Vanderbilt University Press

    Review of this book by Kathleen Costales. 2008. Comedia Performance, 5, 1.

  • Williamsen, Amy R. 1992. ‘Engendering Interpretation: Irony as Comic Challenge in María de Zayas’, Romance Languages Annual, 3, 643-8

  • Williamsen, Amy R. and Valerie Hegstrom, eds. 1999. Engendering the Early Modern Stage: Women Playwrights in the Spanish Empire. New Orleans, University Press of the South

  • Williamsen, Vern. 1982. The Minor Dramatists of Seventeenth-Century Spain. Boston, Twayne

Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 13 October 2010.

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