Out of the Wings

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Lo fingido verdadero (c.1608), Lope de Vega Carpio

English title: The Great Pretenders
Date written: c. 1608
First publication date: 1621
Keywords: ideology > religion and faith, art > theatre > metatheatre, art > theatre, love > desire
Genre and type: comedia de santos
Title information

Lo fingido means ‘the feigned’ or ‘the false’ or ‘the pretended’, and verdadero means ‘truth’ or ‘true thing’ or ‘real thing’. So Lo fingido verdadero is ‘the real fakery’ or the ‘false truth’. The title includes a sense of ‘the pretend becomes real’ with an understood hecho (‘made’) in between the words fingido and verdadero.


Lope dramatises the relationship between religious experience and role play by fusing them into one. It is the story of St. Genesius, executed by the emperor Diocletian for converting to Christianity after portraying a Christian in a play to entertain the Emperor. It is the Spanish Golden Age play that best exemplifies the world-as-stage metaphor brought to life onstage.


This play depicts the Roman martyr Genesius, who is put to death as a Christian convert after playing the role of a Christian for the entertainment of the emperor Diocletian. The play begins with the fall of Carino, Diocletian’s predecessor, who is killed by the husband of a woman he has raped in an expression of his unbounded, lawless power. The next in line to be emperor, Numerianus, is murdered by Aper, who desires the throne. In response to this treachery, Diocletian kills Aper, and is crowned the next emperor. To celebrate his accession, he commissions a play from the greatest actor in Rome, Genesius, who is also a playwright, and who writes a play based on his own love life; he casts his beloved Marcela opposite the man she loves, Octavio, and the couple run away together ‘for real’ during the course of the play. Once they return, they reveal that they have been married, but Genesius still hopes to win her back. Finding her impervious to his advances, Genesius is hopelessly in love and distraught. Diocletian, having enjoyed the first play, hears that Genesius is an even better actor when playing the part of a Christian, so he orders the troupe to perform again. While he is rehearsing backstage, Genesius hears the voice of an angel saying to him that he must play his part for real, for his soul will be saved, and the angel’s voice chills Genesius to the bone; he converts on the spot. Once onstage Genesius improvises his lines, and the acting company are in disarray as they can no longer follow along as he’s deviating from the script. Diocletian asks Genesius if he is really acting or if he has indeed converted to Christianity, and Genesius becomes ever more impassioned in his love for Christ. The Emperor has no other choice as it is the law, and he orders Genesius executed and his acting troupe exiled from Rome. Genesius dies impaled on a pole, and he remains a devoted Christian in his dying monologue, while his acting troupe redistribute the roles and plan how they will carry on performing without him.


Based on the story of St. Genesius, who converted to Christianity while performing for the emperor Diocletian, and was executed.

Critical response

Lo fingido verdadero is often seen as Lope’s most metatheatrical play, and as a dramatic representation of some of Lope’s ideas about theatre set down in his Arte nuevo. Its religious aspects, namely the Christian consequences of role play and the importance of role play in conversion, have not been discussed as much as the implications of role play in social interactions and the play’s metatheatrical comments about the relationship between life and the stage. The work’s two plays-within-the-play and the constant shifting of characters and roles pulls the nature of performance and identity to the fore.

  • Vega, Lope de. 1621. Decima sexta Parte de las Comedias de Lope de Vega Carpio. Madrid

  • Vega, Lope de. 1916-30. Lo fingido verdadero. In Obras de Lope de Vega, ed. Emilio Cotarelo y Mori, vol. 9. Madrid, Real Academia Española

  • Vega, Lope de. 1992. Lo fingido verdadero, ed. M.T. Cattaneo. Rome, Bulzoni

Useful readings and websites
  • Canning, Elaine. 2004. Lope de Vega’s Comedias de Tema Religioso. Serie A: Monografías, 204. Woodbridge,Tamesis

  • Canning, Elaine. 2008. ‘Sacred Souls and Sinners: Abstinence and Adaptation in Lope’s Religious Drama’. In A Companion to Lope de Vega, eds. Alexander Samson and Jonathan Thacker, pp. 147-58. Woodbridge, Tamesis

  • Dixon, Victor. 1997‑8. ‘Lo fingido verdadero y sus espectadores’, Diablotexto: Revista de critica literaria, 4-5, 97-114 (in Spanish)

  • Dixon, Victor. 1999. ‘ “Ya tienes la comedia prevenida ... la imagen de la vida”: Lo fingido verdadero’, Cuadernos de teatro clásico, 11, 53-72 (in Spanish)

  • Fischer, Susan L. 1976-77. ‘Lope’s Lo fingido verdadero and the Dramatization of the Theatrical Experience’, Revista Hispánica Moderna, Columbia University Hispanic Studies, 39, 156-66

  • Grubbs, Anthony John. 2006. ‘The Dramatization of the Arte nuevo: Revisiting Lo fingido verdadero’, Bulletin of the Comediantes, 58, 2, 341-57

  • McGaha, Michael D. 1986. Introduction to Acting is Believing, translation of Lo fingido verdadero by Lope de Vega. San Antonio, TX, Trinity University Press

  • Trueblood, Alan S. 1964. ‘Role-playing and the Sense of Illusion in Lope de Vega’, Hispanic Review, 32, 305-18

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

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