In this hilarious comedy of disguise and mistaken identity, no less than four characters appear on stage dressed in green as ‘Don Gil’. But who is the real Don Gil? That’s just it; no one, because he doesn’t exist!
The play opens with Doña Juana in the clothes of a man, dressed all in green including her breeches. She has been betrayed in love; the man to whom she is engaged, Martín de Guzmán, has now made plans to marry a wealthier woman, Inés. He intends to woo Inés using a false name, that of ‘Don Gil’. Juana comes to Madrid dressed as a man, taking the false name ‘Don Gil’ for herself, in order to watch Martín’s every move and hopefully thwart his plans.
Two fathers make an important agreement: Inés’s father, Don Pedro, agrees that since Martín’s father says his son is not able to marry Inés (on account of being engaged to Juana), he will send another worthy man to marry her instead, and this man’s name is ‘Don Gil’. But this is really a ruse set up by Martín and his father, and Martín uses this name to meet Inés’s father, who agrees to the match. Martín is thus the approved suitor of his lovely and rich Inés, and Juana is left on her own.
However, it turns out that Inés already has a lover: Juan. When her father overhears their intent to marry, he immediately confronts her and reveals that he has a better financial match in mind for her: Don Gil. She mocks his unrefined name (‘Gil’ has rustic associations). Juana appears in her man’s green breeches outfit to meet Inés and another lady, Clara, pretending to woo Inés. Inés works out that her father wants this handsome ‘Gil’ to be her husband, and is pleased as she finds ‘him’ attractive. She arranges to meet ‘him’ that night at her house. Her now-jilted fiancé, Juan, is understandably very jealous.
Inés meets with her father, and tells him she adores ‘Gil’, which confuses the old man because the man he plans for her to marry, Martín/Gil, has not met her yet. Martín/Gil protests when she fails to recognise him (because she has fallen in love with Juana/Gil). Clara reveals that she also loves Juana/Gil, the ‘Don Gil of the Green Breeches’ who Inés describes, and the girls threaten each other jealously. Martín plaintively says he will wear green breeches since that colour pleases her, though he does not know who this other ‘Don Gil’ could be.
In the second act, Juana appears dressed as a woman and is leading a double life, because dressed as ‘Gil’ she has thoroughly enraptured Inés. Neither Martín nor Juan are happy with this ‘Gil’ who has stolen their lady-love. Juana has rented a house next door to Inés, and has befriended her while dressed as a woman, ‘Elvira’. Juana has made this friendship in order to keep an eye on Martín and make sure he does not make any headway in his suit of Inés.
Juana comes up with an additional plan to send her servant with a letter to Martín saying that Juana is in a convent, pregnant with his child. With that false information she intends to throw him off his growing suspicions that she may in fact be posing as Don Gil. Meanwhile, Inés has given up on Juana/Gil as he has not been seen for some time (because she has been living as ‘Elvira’); Inés intends to give in to her father’s wishes to marry the ‘other’ Gil, who is really Martín. As she hates him, she asks Juan to kill Martín/Gil and get him out of her way.
The rest of the second act continues the ‘Gil’ confusion by adding a third ‘Gil’, claimed by Juana/Elivra to be an impersonation by a man she invents, Miguel. The plot is further complicated by the miscarriage of three letters, which are intercepted by Juana/Gil and used to her advantage. Martín/Gil is left confused again at the end of the act.
The third act begins with more false information: Juana sends her servant to Martín with the ‘news’ that she has died in premature childbirth, brought on by the shock of the news that he was coming to visit her. Juana sends more letters with false information: one to ‘Elvira’ in which Juana/Gil claims to love her and not Inés, which is of course infuriating for Inés. The second letter is to her father, an appeal for him to rescue her from violence done to her by Martín and revealing that he is falsely pursuing Inés in the guise of ‘Don Gil’ (that last part happens to be true).
There is a love scene between Juana/Gil and Clara, in which promises of love and faithfulness accompanied by hand kissing are witnessed secretly by Inés. Juana/Gil pretends that it was all just a joke, and reveals her identity as a woman, claiming it has been her, ‘Elvira’, all along, dressing as ‘Gil’ in order to see how far she will go and whether she really loves Don Miguel or not. Inés only believes her when Juana/Elvira agrees to put on one of Inés’s dresses. A servant cannot believe his eyes, thinking he has found Don Gil in a dress, and says that a hermaphroditic master is not right, that fish and meat should not be eaten together at once. The women make up and agree to wait together at the balcony to see if Don Gil will visit.
What follows is a comical case of multiple mistaken identities. Pretending to be ‘Don Gil’ becomes a ruse taken on by many characters one after another, with increasingly complex and funny results. Martín takes it further by also planning to dress in green breeches like Juana/Gil, and Juan prepares to kill this Martín/Gil in a duel. However Martín thinks that Juan is actually Juana’s ghost threatening him from beyond the grave, and his guilt for having impregnated her and thus causing her death drives him to run away, though he swears he’ll marry Inés whether Juana has her otherworldly revenge or not.
Clara is now dressing as a man in order to pretend to be Don Gil and see if Inés responds to her love as him, proving that Don Gil has been unfaithful to Clara. She unfortunately runs into Juan, who vows to kill her (thinking she is Don Gil). There are now three Don Gils on stage, as Juana/Gil appears too, so Clara/Gil and Martín/Gil are completely confused. A duel breaks out among them, of course.
Juana’s father comes to save her, and accosts Martín, who still believes (wrongly) that Juana is dead. Men come to enforce his marriage to Clara, who has sent them to seek Don Gil who wears green breeches, which is of course how Martín/Gil appears. He is also accused of having assaulted Juan, in addition to the charge of killing Juana. Juana appears dressed as a man but reveals her identity and her deception, and Martín is confused enough to agree to marry her. Juan, who has only suffered a flesh wound, is married to Inés. Antonio is engaged to Clara in a somewhat perfunctory manner, and the play ends with its marriage contracts and identities sealed up and revealed.
Critics have argued that Don Gil is intended as a possibly parodic reaction to another play probably of Tirsian authorship: El burlador de Sevilla, the play that made the unrepentant seducer Don Juan so famous. Gijón Zapata’s theory is that Don Gil is actually an ‘Antitenorio’ play (a play that is anti-Don Juan Tenorio). Minter also puts forward an argument for ‘Don Gil as a pastiche of The Trickster of Seville’. See Gijón Zapata 1959 and Minter’s discussion in Tirso de Molina 1991: 23-31.
Review of Boswell’s 1990 production: “In addition to being richly comic, the play constantly keeps within its sights issues of manipulation and abuse of faith, of the imperatives of dignity and respect. Doña Juana's convoluted stratagems to regain (and chasten) her betrothed trample merrily over the integrity of everyone she comes into contact with, yet she never loses audience sympathy - this is an old-fashioned comedy, after all. They may not make 'em like that any more, but this tight, assured and joyous production keeps the tradition alive and kicking.” Written for City Limits magazine. Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved. The full review can be read online here: http://www.cix.co.uk/~shutters/reviews/90033.htm [Accessed 17 April 2012]
Tirso de Molina. 1971. Don Gil de las calzas verdes, eds. Everett W. Hesse and Charles J. Moolick.. Salamanca, Anaya
Tirso de Molina. 1990. Don Gil de las calzas verdes, ed. Alonso Zamora Vicente. Madrid, Castalia
Tirso de Molina. 1991. Don Gil de las calzas verdes / Don Gil of the Green Breeches. Bilingual edition in English and Spanish, trans. Gordon Minter. Warminster, Aris and Phillips (in Spanish and English)
Adams, Nicholson B. 1936. ‘Siglo de Oro Plays in Madrid, 1820-1850’, Hispanic Review 4, 342-57
Bushee, Alice H. 1939. Three Centuries of Tirso de Molina. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press
Gijón Zapata, Esmeralda. 1959. El humor en Tirso de Molina. Thesis, University of Madrid.
Hatzfeld, Helmut. 1979. ‘The Styletype of Tirso de Molina's Don Gil de las calzas verdes: the Problem of the Moderate Baroque’, Neohelicon 7, 1, 29-41
Haverbeckojeda, E. 1984. ‘A Semiotic Approach to Tirso de Molina’s Don Gil de las calzas verdes’, Estudios filológicos 19, 45-67
Hesse, Everett W. 1962. ‘The Nature of the Complexity in Tirso’s Don Gil’, Hispania 45, 3, 389-94
McKendrick, Melveena. 1974. Woman and Society in the Spanish Drama of the Golden Age: A Study of the mujer varonil. London, Cambridge University Press
For La sibila Casandra, see pp. 45-51.
For La fuerza de la costumbre, see pp. 98-102.
Smith, P. J. 1990. ‘Tirso de Molina: Don Gil of the Green Britches’, The Times Literary Supplement 4578, 1400, Dec. 28
Wade, Gerald E. 1959. ‘On Tirso’s Don Gil’, Modern Language Notes 74, 609-12
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Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 16 May 2012.