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El príncipe constante (c.1629), Pedro Calderón de la Barca

English title: The Constant Prince
Date written: c. 1629
First publication date: 1636
First production date: 1629
Keywords: morality > honour, morality > vice-virtue, violence > personal, violence > cruelty, violence > torture, identity > ethnicity, power > war, power > use and abuse, ideology > religion and faith
Genre and type: tragedy, historical drama

One of Calderón’s most poignant historical dramas, this is the story of the Prince Ferdinand of Portugal, who suffered unbearable torment rather than allow the Christian city of Ceuta to fall into Muslim hands.


The King of Fez wants his sister, Fenix, to marry Tarudante, Prince of Morocco to gain his support for the conquest of Ceuta. But she is already in love with the military general, Muley. Muley comes to the King with news of how they must fight against the approaching Portuguese forces to keep hold of Tangiers and also to gain possession of the city of Ceuta. Muley is upset at Fenix’s engagement to Tarudante, seeing the portrait he has sent her which Fenix has been forced to accept. Once the battle between the Muslims and the Christians is underway, Muley fights directly with the Prince of Portugal, Fernando (Ferdinand). Ferdinand is victorious, and Muley surrenders. The two form a bond when Muley reveals that he is more upset by the loss of his love, Fenix, than by his defeat. Ferdinand, sympathising with his pains of love, frees Muley and tells him to go back to his lady explaining that a noble Spaniard will be her willing prisoner instead. Returning to battle, Prince Ferdinand loses and is taken prisoner by the King of Fez. The King demands that the city of Ceuta be handed over to him in exchange for Ferdinand’s release.

Muley visits Ferdinand in prison and tells him not to worry, he is sure Ferdinand will be restored to his own kingdom just as Muley was when Fernando captured him. At first, Fernando is treated very well by the King, even asked to take part in courtly activities. But soon Ferdinand’s brother, Enrique, arrives in mourning clothes to say that the King of Portugal, Duarte, has died from the grief of Ferdinand’s capture and imprisonment. In Duarte’s will, it was decreed that Ceuta was to be exchanged for Ferdinand’s life. But Ferdinand refuses to be traded, preferring Ceuta to remain Christian than to fall into Muslim hands. He tears up and then eats the papers offering Ceuta in exchange for his freedom.

The King of Fez, desiring above all else the possession of Ceuta, now begins to treat Ferdinand very badly in prison, starving him and forcing him to endure hard labour. Muley, however, swears to repay the debt he owes to Ferdinand for freeing him on the battlefield, and offers to help him escape. Muley arranges for tools to cut the prison bars and a ship to take Ferdinand and all the Christian prisoners home. But as Muley is explaining this, the King of Fez approaches and, suspecting him, makes Muley the personal guard responsible for Ferdinand’s incarceration. Muley asks Ferdinand’s advice, whether he should be loyal to the King or to Ferdinand, and Ferdinand nobly advises that Muley’s loyalty to the King is his highest responsibility.

Ferdinand’s body begins to decay as he suffers from disease and starvation, with only his servant Brito and his friend Don Juan remaining to aid him in his suffering. Both Muley and Fenix beg the King of Fez to show some mercy to the Prince but the King insists all Ferdinand must do is hand over Ceuta and he will be freed.

The new King of Portugal, Alfonso, visits the King of Fez and offers ransom money in exchange for Ferdinand, warning he will rescue the Prince by force if the King does not accept. Tarudante is to marry Fenix, and Muley is put in charge of keeping watch over her until delivering her into her husband’s custody. Muley laments losing both his bond with Ferdinand and his beloved Fenix, all in one day.

The King of Fez passes by Ferdinand, now reduced to begging in the street; Ferdinand asks not for freedom but for death, but the King refuses and Fenix is also repulsed by him. Ferdinand dies in abject poverty, with the loyal Don Juan at his side.

Out on the coast, King Alfonso prepares for war. Ferdinand appears to him from beyond the grave, bringing a light to guide the Portuguese army to victory. The Christians win the battle, capturing Fenix, Tarudante and Muley. Ferdinand, appearing to King Alfonso, asks him to rescue his body. Alfonso trades Fenix for Ferdinand’s body, asking as he does so that the King of Fez marry her to Muley as reward for his great friendship and kindness to Ferdinand. The play ends with Alfonso ordering a state funeral for the loyal and Catholic Ferdinand, the Prince of Constant Faith.


The play is directly influenced by La fortuna adversa del infante don Fernando de Portugal, a play attributed to Lope de Vega (although the play’s modern editor, Sloman, posits Francisco Tárrega as the probable author). The story is that of the imprisonment and suffering of Prince Ferdinand of Portugal, who was taken prisoner by the Moors in the conflict over Ceuta. He suffered nobly and was willing to give his life to keep Ceuta a Christian territory.

  • Sloman, Albert E. 1950. The Sources of Calderón’s ‘El príncipe constante’. Oxford, Basil Blackwell (in English and Spanish)

Critical response

This play is one of Calderón’s major canonical works, and it has enjoyed scholarly attention as well as high-profile productions such as Grotowski’s 1966 ‘Poor Theatre’ production. Larson has written a thorough scholarly review of that production and the history of Grotowski’s theatre (Larson 2004).

See also these reviews [Accessed September 2010]


Descriptive review of Grotowski’s production [Accessed September 2010]

Further information

The Constant Prince was also translated by Coleridge (London, 1879)

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1636. El príncipe constante. In Primera Parte de las Comedias de Don Pedro Calderón. Madrid, José Calderón

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1968. El príncipe constante, ed. A. A. Parker. Cambridge, University Press

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1970. El príncipe constante, 4th edn. Madrid, Espasa-Calpe

Useful readings and websites
  • Larson, Donald R. 2004. ‘Embodying Transcendence: Grotowski’s The Constant Prince’, Comedia Performance, 1,1, 9-45

  • Porqueras-Mayo, Alberto. 1982. ‘Función y significado de Muley en El príncipe constante’. In Approaches to the Theater of Calderón, ed. Michael D. McGaha, pp. 157-73. Washington, DC, University Press of America (in Spanish)

  • Sloman, Albert E. 1950. The Sources of Calderón’s ‘El príncipe constante’. Oxford, Basil Blackwell (in English and Spanish)

    Note this also contains the full text of the play La fortuna adversa del infante don Fernando de Portugal, written about 1595-8 and attributed to Lope de Vega, which served as the source for Calderón’s play.

  • Spitzer, Leo. 1965. ‘The Figure of Fènix in Calderón’s El príncipe constante’. In Critical Essays on the Theatre of Calderón, ed. Bruce W. Wardropper, pp. 137-60. New York, New York University Press

  • Wardropper, Bruce W. 1958. ‘Christian and Moor in Calderón’s El príncipe constante’, Modern Language Review, 53, 512-20

  • Whitby, William M. 1982. ‘Calderón’s El príncipe constante: Structure and Ending’. In Approaches to the Theater of Calderón, ed. Michael D. McGaha, pp. 143-55. Washington, DC, University Press of America

  • Wilson, E. M. and Entwistle, William J. 1939. ‘Calderón’s “Príncipe Constante”: Two Appreciations’, The Modern Language Review, 34, 2, 207-22

Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 31 January 2012.

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