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El castigo sin venganza (1631), Lope de Vega Carpio

English title: Punishment without Revenge
Date written: 1631
First publication date: 1634
First production date: May 1632
Keywords: morality > honour, morality > punishment, morality > judgement, morality > justice-revenge, violence > personal, violence > revenge, family > marriage, love > relationships, love > lust, love > desire, ideology > honour
Genre and type: tragedy

Hailed as Lope’s finest tragedy, this elegant work tells the story of the beautiful Casandra, recently married to the philandering Duke. When she falls passionately in love with the Duke’s son, an incestuous and adulterous affair develops. When the Duke learns of it, he contrives a Machiavellian solution to have them both killed under false pretences, enacting a punishment without public knowledge of his revenge. Similar in theme to Don Carlos and Phedre, Punishment without Revenge is the Spanish version of this archetypal tragedy.


The play begins with the Duke of Ferrara out in the street after dark, chasing ladies. He has sent his son, Federico, to fetch his new bride, who the Duke is sure will cure him of his philandering ways. The bride, the beautiful Casandra, takes a tumble when her carriage is stuck in the mud, and Federico finds her, carrying her to safety. The stepmother and stepson are much closer in age than Casandra is to the Duke, and Casandra and Federico are instantly attracted to one another. Meanwhile, the Duke promises his niece, Aurora, that she may marry Federico, her cousin, whom she has grown up with and loves. The act ends with the greeting ceremonies as Casandra meets her husband, the Duke, and Federico pines for her.

In act 2, time has passed and Casandra is sorely mistreated by the Duke, who ignores her and insults her by pursuing other women. Federico is ill with melancholy, and the Duke suggests marriage to Aurora, but Federico says he is sure she is now courting the favour of another nobleman, the Marquis. Poor Aurora is being ignored by Federico and complains of his neglect to Casandra. Federico declares to Casandra that he loves her but she knows this is impossible, as she is married to his father. Aurora, feeling rejected by Federico, feigns a relationship with the Marquis in an attempt to incite Federico's jealousy. Meanwhile, the Duke receives a command from the Pope that he must go to Rome, leaving Federico in charge of the dukedom.  Though they both know it is wrong, Casandra and Federico declare their passion for one another.

In act 3 Aurora confesses to the Marquis that she had been feigning love for him, and confides in him that she has witnessed Federico and his stepmother Casandra kissing and behaving as lovers. The Marquis advises her to tell the Duke upon his return that she wishes to marry the Marquis, and they can run away together, to which she agrees. But, in order for his affair with Casandra to remain undetected, Federico declares that he is jealous, and the Marquis withdraws, infuriating Aurora. The Duke has returned, and Federico continues to feign pursuit of Aurora, but Casandra vows he will never marry her. The Duke has reformed while away; he is now dedicated to Casandra, but he receives an anonymous letter informing him of Federico’s and Casandra's licentiousness. Federico asks the Duke's permission to marry Aurora but the Duke suspects it is a cover-up. Aurora refuses the Duke's offer of marriage to Federico, wishing to marry the Marquis instead. The Duke overhears Federico and Casandra quarrelling, and decides to take secret action to salvage his honour without making the offence public. He binds and gags Casandra while she is unconscious, having fainted when he confronted her. The Duke tells Federico that the bound and gagged figure is an enemy, a man who wanted to overthrow him, and asks his son to kill the man. Federico does, and the Duke summons his household, informing them that Federico had found out that Casandra was pregnant with the Duke's heir, and would therefore lose his inheritance, so he killed her.  The Marquis then kills Federico. The Duke thus achieves his revenge disguising it as punishment; he protects his honour without seeming to have taken revenge for the adultery committed by his son and wife.


The play is based on historical events, in that there was a Marquis of Ferrara who served as the inspiration for Lope’s Duke. The historical Marquis, Niccolò, caused great scandal among his people for his profligate behaviour and fathering of a large number of illegitimate children, but he seems to have been a religious man at heart. His people strongly suggested he marry in order to rehabilitate his reputation, and in doing so, his illegitimate son lost his rights to inherit his fortune (and this son is the inspiration for Lope’s Federico). The story continues along the lines of the play, as it was well known that Niccolò’s new wife was caught in an adulterous relationship with his son, and both were publicly executed as a result.  Kossoff indicates that Lope may have learned of this story from the novella by Bandello which tells it, or he may have heard it from the travelling Italian players to whom he was close (Lope de Vega 1970: 20). Another source for the play is the Biblical account of King David, whose various attitudes (warrior-king, sinner, repentant) can be seen in the Duke (Lope de Vega 1970: 21-2). See also Pedraza Jiménez’s edition (Lope de Vega 1999)

which contains the source work, in Spanish.

  • Vega, Lope de. 1970. El perro del hortelano; El castigo sin venganza, ed. A. David Kossoff. Madrid, Castalia (in Spanish)

  • Vega, Lope de. 1999. El castigo sin venganza. Historias trágicas ejemplares, sacadas del Bandello veronés: François Belleforest, ed. Felipe B. Pedraza Jiménez. Barcelona, Octaedro (in Spanish)

Critical response

This play is generally accepted as one of Lope’s best treagedies,, and indeed one of the best of the Golden Age. As such, critics have tended to focus on the nature of ‘tragedy’ employed by Lope, which he addresses in his brief prologue to the play. The punishment and revenge aspects of the work are often fodder for critics as the Duke’s punishment of his wife and son is thought to be somewhat justified within the moral and social laws at the time.  It is, however, also a private revenge on the part of the Duke and therefore a sinful act of retribution, where forgiveness would have been more Christian. Notions of public and private honour are therefore at issue. This play has also been discussed in terms of its Bandellian source, as well as its historical echoing of King Philip IV (known for his womanising ways, reflected, perhaps, in the Duke), and his son Prince Carlos, who had an illicit relationship with Philip IV’s wife Isabel, thus allying Carlos with Federico and Isabel with Casandra.

  • Vega, Lope de. 1966. El castigo sin venganza, ed. C. A. Jones. Oxford, Pergamon

  • Vega, Lope de. 1970. El perro del hortelano; El castigo sin venganza, ed. A. David Kossoff. Madrid, Castalia

  • Vega, Lope de. 1987. El castigo sin venganza, ed. José María Díez Borque. Madrid, Espasa-Calpe

  • Vega, Lope de. 1999. El castigo sin venganza. Historias trágicas ejemplares, sacadas del Bandello veronés: François Belleforest, ed. Felipe B. Pedraza Jiménez. Barcelona, Octaedro

    It also contains a Spanish translation of the source text of El castigo sin venganza (Punishment without Revenge), a French version of Bandello’s novella.

  • Vega, Lope de. 2005. El castigo sin venganza, ed. Antonio Carreño, 6th edn. Madrid, Cátedra

Useful readings and websites
  • Dixon, Victor, and A. A. Parker. 1970. ‘Two Lines, Two Interpretations’, Modern Language Notes, 85, 157-66

  • Dixon, Victor. 1973. ‘El castigo sin venganza: The Artistry of Lope de Vega’. In Studies in Spanish Literature of the Golden Age Presented to Edward M. Wilson, ed. R. O. Jones, pp. 63-81. London, Tamesis

  • Dixon, Victor. 1996. ‘On Translating the Duke's First Soliloquy in Lope de Vega's El castigo sin venganza’. In The Knowledges of the Translator: From Literary Interpretation to Machine Classification, eds. Malcolm Coulthard and Patricia Anne Odber de Baubeta, pp. 213-42. Lewiston, New York, The Edwin Mellen Press

  • Edwards, Gwynne. 1981. ‘Lope and Calderón: The Tragic Pattern of El castigo sin venganza’, Bulletin of the Comediantes, 33,2, 107-20

  • Evans, W. P. 1979. ‘Character and Context in El castigo sin venganza’, Modern Language Review, 74, 321-34

  • Fischer, Susan L. 1981. ‘Lope's El castigo sin venganza and the Imagination’, Romance Quarterly 28, 1, 23-6

  • Fischer, Susan L. 2009. ‘Lope’s Aspectuality and Performativity: El castigo sin venganza (Punishment without Revenge)’. In Reading Performance: Spanish Golden Age Theatre and Shakespeare on the Modern Stage, pp. 134-59. Woodbridge, Tamesis

  • Friedman, Edward H. 2008. ‘El castigo sin venganza and the Ironies of Rhetoric’. In A Companion to Lope de Vega, eds. Alexander Samson and Jonathan Thacker. Woodbridge, Tamesis

  • Lawrance, Jeremy. 1994. ‘A Note on Scenic Form in El castigo sin venganza’. In The Discerning Eye: Studies Presented to Robert Pring-Mill on His Seventieth Birthday, eds. Nigel Griffin, Clive Griffin, Eric Southworth, et al., pp. 57-76. Llangrannog, Dolphin

  • McKendrick, Melveena. 1983. ‘Language and Silence in El castigo sin venganza’, Bulletin of the Comediantes, 35, 1, 79-95

  • Stroud, Matthew D. 1994. ‘Rivalry and Violence in Lope's El castigo sin venganza’. In The Golden Age Comedia: Text, Theory, and Performance, eds. Charles Ganelin and Howard Mancing, pp. 37-47. West Lafayette, Purdue University Press

  • Videos of El castigo sin venganza (Online Publication) (Moving images) (in Spanish)

  • Wade, Gerald E. 1976. ‘Lope de Vega’s El castigo sin venganza: Its Composition and Presentation’, Kentucky Romance Quarterly, 23, 357-64

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Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 10 March 2011.

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