Out of the Wings

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El gran teatro del mundo (1633-1648), Pedro Calderón de la Barca


This is an auto sacramental (one-act religious drama) of 1572 lines. Frutos Cortés sees the play as divided into five main sequences of action (Calderón de la Barca 2001). Adrian Mitchell’s translation divides the play into two parts (Calderón de la Barca 1990)

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1990. The Great Theatre of the World. In Three Plays: The Mayor of Zalamea, Life’s a Dream, The Great Theatre of the World, trans. Adrian Mitchell, pp. 159-91. Bristol, Absolute

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 2001. El gran teatro del mundo; El gran mercado del mundo. Ed. Eugenio Frutos Cortés. Madrid, Cátedra (in Spanish)


The play is set in an other-worldly location where God can appear as Director and his cast of characters (the men and women of the world) can appear even after death. God dresses in a long cloak adorned with stars and a majestic headpiece. The Director gives each character a piece of paper as he assigns the roles. Once the parts have been assigned, the players take costumes that suit each role; the King gets a robe and crown, Beauty gets a bunch of flowers, the Rich Man receives precious gems, Discretion gets materials for self-flagellation, the Worker/Farmer or Peasant gets a hoe, and the Poor Man, rather than receiving anything, has to give up his shirt. The stage directions indicate that two ‘globes’ are revealed; presumably they would have been rolled in on carts. The ‘globes’ split open at the centre, revealing two halves. They are meant to represent a celestial plane and an earthly plane. Within the celestial globe, the Director appears on a glorious throne, and the two halves of the earthly globe feature two doors, one with a cradle painted upon it and the other with a grave.  A raised acting area is called for as the Law of Grace appears on high. The characters enter one by one through the ‘cradle’ door, as they enter the stage and their ‘lives’. Discretion offers the Poor Man some bread. A voice is heard singing mournfully from behind the door marked with a grave. Each of the characters exits through that ‘grave’ door. The two globes swing shut, with the Director contained within the celestial globe. When the characters reappear it is as though they have lived their lives, are now dead, and come on stage to recount their experiences. The World takes back the props that were given to them to play their parts, so that they no longer have their distinguishing costumes. The celestial realm appears again, and the Director is seated at a table, upon which are a chalice and hosts for Holy Communion. He selects those characters who have lived their lives well (and performed their parts well) to join him at the table, so it has to accommodate most of the characters (the Rich Man is excluded and is instead alone in Hell). The ‘Tantum Ergo’ is sung at the end.

Cast number
Minimum Maximum
6 males 10 males
3 females 4 females
9 (total) 14 (total)
Cast information
The Voice doesn’t have to be a separate actor, it could be a recording.

Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 4 October 2010.

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