Out of the Wings

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El gran galeoto (1881), José Echegaray y Eizaguirre

English title: The Great Galeoto
Date written: 1881
First publication date: 1881
First production date: 1881
Keywords: family > marriage, morality > honour, violence > social, family > duty, family > patriarchy, love, love > relationships, love > friendship
Genre and type: melodrama

Madrid is awash with gossip. A handsome young man has moved in with his older benefactor – who just happens to have a very beautiful young wife. Surely, the gossips agree, such an arrangement is bound to lead to trouble? In El gran galeoto (The Great Galeoto) relationships are ruined and lives destroyed, as a society with an insatiable appetite for scandal decides that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.


Julian (aged 40) and Teodora (aged 20) are a happily-married couple. They live in Madrid, sharing their home and their wealth with the 27-year-old writer, Ernesto. Julian owes his fortune to Ernesto’s father, who is now dead and Julian wants to repay his debt by treating Ernesto as his own son. Teodora looks up to Ernesto as a big brother. The living arrangements suit everyone involved, but not so the rest of Madrid, which is buzzing with speculation about the nature of the relationship between Ernesto and Teodora.

On the night the play begins Severo, Julian’s brother, and his family are due for dinner. As they wait for their guests, Ernesto and Teodora talk alone on the balcony. Ernesto is a very sensitive young man, and he tearfully thanks Teodora for all her and her husband’s kindness to him. His grateful words are misinterpreted by Severo and his wife Mercedes, who have arrived early and have been secretly listening. Previously, Severo has shielded his brother from the salacious rumours about his family. However, when he sees Ernesto and Teodora talking so intimately together, Severo assumes the worst and finally goes to inform Julian about what the whole of Madrid is saying. In turn, Mercedes privately confronts Teodora about her behaviour. The young wife is horrified to learn that she is the subject of such scandalous – and untrue – speculation. Similarly, Julian is outraged that his name is being dragged through the mud. He refuses to believe that the rumours are anything more than idle gossip. However, as the family go into dinner, Julian notices Teodora and Ernesto talking eagerly together once again. Their intimacy momentarily shakes his confidence in their innocence, but he soon resolves to close his ears to the gossips.

By act 2 Ernesto has moved out of Julian’s home and is preparing to leave for Buenos Aires. He hopes his departure will help restore his benefactor’s good name. However, Julian does not want him to leave. He reasons that, if it is the case that Teodora loves Ernesto, then a love rival who is present is preferable to an absent ideal. Julian arrives at Ernesto’s lodgings with his brother to try to convince him to stay. But Ernesto is not there. In fact, as Severo’s son Pepito explains, Ernesto has been involved in a dispute with a nobleman. Ernesto attacked the nobleman for insulting Teodora and Julian, and as a result must fight a duel later that day. Shocked, Julian and Severo leave to find out more, while Pepito waits for Ernesto’s return to his lodgings.

While he waits, Pepito notices that Ernesto has left a copy of Dante’s Inferno open at the story of Francesca and Paolo, who became adulterous lovers after reading the story of the illicit affair between Launcelot and Guinevere. When Ernesto returns to prepare for the duel he explains to Pepito that, while a book might have been the catalyst - or ‘galeoto’ - that led to Francesca and Paolo’s infidelity, the entire town of Madrid risks becoming the ‘galeoto’ that leads him and Teodora astray. After Pepito leaves, Teodora arrives unexpectedly to beg Ernesto not to fight. It is clear that she in fact loves Julian very much and fears that his reputation will be destroyed should another man fight a duel to protect her honour. Suddenly, voices are heard outside. Teodora hides in Ernesto’s bedroom. Pepito and Severo enter the living room, accompanied by a badly-wounded Julian. It is just as Teodora feared: Julian wanted to defend her honour himself and has now suffered the consequences. In shock, Teodora unthinkingly emerges from the bedroom to go to her husband’s side. But her unexpected presence in Ernesto’s house (and indeed in his bedroom) confirms every suspicion Julian has ever had. He falls, devastated, to the ground.

In act 3 Julian is still badly injured. He spends his days and nights raving about Ernesto and Teodora. Ernesto tries to visit him, only to be confronted by Mercedes. She suspects that Ernesto does indeed love Teodora and resolves to discover whether the feeling is mutual. In private, she tells Teodora that Ernesto has all but confessed that his love for her. To Mercedes’ surprise, Teodora is horrified at this idea, insisting that she loves Julian and Julian alone. Mercedes leaves Teodora to prove herself true to Julian by confronting Ernesto. But when faced with the reality of hurting Ernesto – a man with whom she has been friends for so long – Teodora hesitates. She lies about her reasons for wanting him to leave forever, too embarrassed to even discuss what Mercedes has told her. Confused, Ernesto gets down on his knees and begs Teodora to tell him the truth. Just as he does so, Severo appears. Once again, he misinterprets the behaviour of the two young people and roughly tries to eject Teodora from her marital home. The ensuing ruckus wakens Julian, who enters, only to see Ernesto by Teodora’s side defending her. In the end, Julian dies believing that Teodora has betrayed him. Teodora faints at the news of his death. Finally, after all the gossip and injustice they have endured, Ernesto decides that he will in fact take Teodora for his own wife. He leaves with her swept up in his arms, claiming the townspeople as the ‘galeoto’ that eventually brought the two of them together.


The Divine Comedy (Inferno) by Dante

Ernesto is obsessed with the fifth canto of Dante’s Inferno, which includes the tale of Francesca, whose soul wallows in the second circle of Hell – the circle reserved for the sexually immoral. It tells how she fell into a relationship with her husband’s brother, Paolo, which ultimately led to a duel between the two men in which Paolo was killed. Francesca blames the adultery on the book she and Paolo were reading – the tale of another adulterous couple, Launcelot and Guinevere. She refers to the book as a ‘Galeotto’, which was subsequently used as a synonym in Italian to mean an intermediary or go-between for illicit lovers (Rogers 1923: 373).

  • Rogers, Paul Patrick. 1923. ‘Why El gran galeoto?’, Hispania, 6.6, 372-7

Critical response

El gran galeoto (The Great Galeoto) was both a critical and a public success, and is probably Echegaray’s most popular play.

El gran galeoto contains a number of themes that run through Echegaray’s work in general, such as honour, societal codes and marital relationships. Society itself is criticised in the play, since it is the gossip of ‘everyone’ – who collectively comprise The Great Galeoto – that brings about the final tragedy. As Peter Podol points out, in this play society becomes:

an evil force which actually becomes a character in the drama, functioning generally by means of gossip or slander and serving to impose a rigid and unjust code of honour upon the lives of individuals whose personal virtue is powerless before it. (1972: 56)

A parody of the play was published in 1883, written by Francisco Flores García. It changes the names of the characters although it follows,in an abridged and lighthearted manner, the plot of the original.

The play was adapted into a number of different films. A Spanish version came out in 1951, directed by Rafael Gil. Even earlier than this, American studios had produced silent versions of the play, under titles such as The World and His Wife, Lovers?, and The Celebrated Scandal.

  • Podol, Peter L. 1972. ‘The Evolution of the Honor Theme in Modern Spanish Drama’, Hispanic Review, 40.1, 53-72

Further information

Excerpts from the 1917 translation of the play are available by clicking on the Monologue Archive website [accessed January 2011]. The excerpts are taken from Ernesto’s speeches in scenes 1 and 4 of the Prologue, from Pepito’s monologue in scene 4 of act 1, and from Teodora’s speech to Mercedes in act 3 scene 6.

The original manuscript of the play was dedicated to ‘Everyone’ – reflective of Ernesto’s desire to write a play in which ‘everyone’ is the protagonist. It is also a nod to the fact that ‘everyone’ becomes the ‘Great Galeoto’ that is responsible for bringing Ernesto and Teodora together.

  • Echegaray, José. 1917. The Great Galeoto, trans. Eleanor Bontecou. In Masterpieces of Modern Drama, ed. Barrett H. Clark. New York, Duffield & Company

  • Echegaray, José. 1881. El gran galeoto. Madrid, José Rodríguez. Available online at the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/obra/el-gran-galeoto--0/ [accessed January 2011] (Online Publication)

  • Echegaray, José. 1989. El gran galeoto, ed. James H. Hoddie. Madrid, Cátedra

  • Echegaray, José. 2002. El gran galeoto; O locura o santidad. Madrid, Rueda

  • Echegaray, José. 2002. El gran galeoto, ed. Javier Fornieles Alcaraz. Madrid, Castalia

  • Echegaray, José. 2003. El gran galeoto. Argentina, Cid

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Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 25 February 2011.

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