Out of the Wings

You are here:

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

The Great Pretenders (1992), translated by David Johnston

ACT TWO Scene One


Vega, Lope de. 1992. Two Plays by Lope de Vega: The Great Pretenders and The Gentleman from Olmedo, trans. David Johnston. Bath, Absolute

pp. 46-50
Diocletian has become Caesar of Rome. He tries to ingratiate himself with the people by paying the soldiers, handing out ‘war bonuses’, and throwing a celebration with gladiators and exotic and dangerous wild animals. This is planned for the following day, but first Diocletian will dine with the Senate this evening. Beforehand, Diocletian crowns Maximian with a laurel, promising friendship. The peasant bread-seller Camilla comes to remind Diocletian that he owes her a debt; she requests to be granted access to Diocletian’s presence any time she wishes. He has just given her free run of the palace when a Slave appears with the following message:
Sample text

Enter a slave.


Caesar, Genesius is here

and begs permission to enter.

Enter Genesius.


Great and mighty Diocletian,

let me draw near and worship you.


You are a welcome visitor,

for your fame travels before you.


And if your triumphs and wisdom

could become the stuff of theatre,

great Caesar, I, Genesius,

would act out tales of glory for you

that would keep the poets of Rome—

and not just Rome, of Spain as well—

busy until the sands of time

ran dry.


I have a task for you.

Tonight I dine with the Senate

and you will act a play for us,

something suitably elegant.


Any particular favourite?

Perhaps Terence’s Andria?


Too old-fashioned.


Well then, Plautus.

How about The Boastful Soldier?


I’d rather have action than art.

I have very un-classical tastes.

I’d rather have a good story,

one I can really believe in,

than a play which follows the rules.

Art and nature are different things.

Poets, who are concerned with art,

even in the speeches they write,

where nothing comes from the heart,

nothing ever sounds quite right,

and for the sake of adornment,

decoration and ornament,

for the sake of rhythm and rhyme

subject life to art, every time.

That sort of thing just leaves me cold.


I have one called The Slave of Love.


That title could mean anything.

All plays have got lovers in them.

Who’s it by?


A priest of Jove.


What sort of poetry is it?


Elaborate and, well, priestly.

If he can say: ‘when Aurora

swept the firmament with her gaze,

and called Phoebus from dark Hades’,

then he will.


And what does it mean?


The sun came up. Exotic stuff.

He mentions all sorts of wild beasts,

and even serpents from Libya.


They’re probably his audience.

A tragedy perhaps might suit,

more fitting for the occasion.


Electra by Leonitius,

a masterpiece of tragic force,

much more moving than Sophocles,

words that would melt a heart of stone,

and yet poetry much deeper

than the verses of Seneca.

But I can do you anything.


No tragedies, Diocletian.

Tragedies tell of murdered kings.

Don’t tempt fortune with such a thing,

not on your coronation day.


I’ll leave the choice of play to you.


In that case, the first performance

of my new play will be for you,

here tonight after you have dined.

So if you happen not to like it,

then there’s only me to blame.


And what part will you play, my friend?

I’ve heard you do a wonderful king,

a fiery Spaniard, a wise consul,

a wily Persian, a brave captain,

but best of all, a true lover.


Acting holds a mirror to life,

it’s imitation, reflection.

But like the poet, the actor

takes his art from life, learning from love

to imitate love upon the stage.

An actor who has not felt love,

felt its passion perform in him,

cannot perform love for others—

the pain of absence, jealousy,

the flaring of violence and hate,

these are the feelings which we live,

the stock in trade of the actor’s art.


We shall see all these things tonight.

Come, Maximian, time to dine

and to honour our senators

with our imperial presence.


You have honoured Rome already.

It’s now time that she honoured you.


Camilla, you will dine with us.

You have every right in the world.


If only I had rights to you ...


So that’s your price?


The greatest love,

the greatest treasure in all Rome.

They all leave, except Genesius.


Love, as your flame flickers and grows

and burns in my heart’s deep core,

so my fame as an actor grows.

Your fire, your force of feeling

have touched even Diocletian,

and he can’t wait to see me act,

to watch me imitate my life.

What is imitation, what truth?

The play springs from my will to love;

my intellect is the poet

of the story I’m inventing,

singing the despair I’ve lived through.

And my senses all take on roles

and act out these mad emotions.

My ears are cast as a deaf man

who will not listen to reason;

I hear good advice on all sides

which I ignore, push to one side,

and I persist in foolishness,

knowing that through love I will die.

My eyes play a poor blind beggar

stumbling through the streets mumbling

his passion’s prayer, my sense of smell

a weak soul in the asphodels,

living off the fragrance of flowers,

for my mind lives off fragrant hope,

a flower that is always green,

a flower that will not bear fruit.

My touch wanders like a madman,

constantly reaching for the stars.

A madness has rooted in me,

a thousand different madnesses

that love thinks few, that rage and burn.

The heart is a mad asylum.

And my taste, once my best actor,

now plays but one part; the lover

who rings the final curtain down,

who takes the play to its bitter end.

And though love is a comedy,

it will have no happy ending.

We suffer; this is tragedy.


The above sample taken from the translation The Great Pretenders (1992) by David Johnston is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

ACT THREE Final Scene


Vega, Lope de. 1992. Two Plays by Lope de Vega: The Great Pretenders and The Gentleman from Olmedo, trans. David Johnston. Bath, Absolute

pp. 76-81
Just before this scene, Genesius has been rehearsing backstage, and he hears the voice of an angel saying to him that he must play his part for real, for his soul will be saved. Genesius encounters Fabius backstage who says the voice was his, but Genesius is convinced he has heard the voice of a real angel. The following is the play Genesius and his troupe perform for Diocletian; the captain who drags him on is part of his ‘Christian martyr’ act. Once onstage Genesius improvises his lines, and the acting company are confused when he begins to act as a real Christian, deviating from the script. Diocletian’s interjections are his reaction to the performance he is witnessing, which begins to turn real as Genesius becomes more and more impassioned as a real Christian and the troupe and audience begin to realise he is not acting.
Sample text
Genesius is dragged on in chains by a captain and three soldiers.

Treat me at least with some respect.


Shut up!


Death holds no fear for me,

and I’ll suffer prison for Christ.

But I spoke to you out of pride,

and I am heartily sorry.

Insult me, torture me, kill me,

do with this body as you please,

for the sake of Christ I will endure.


Go easy with him.


I like this.

It’s an arresting beginning.


He plays the part to perfection.


Oh, God, I am yours already.

Bring me baptism, free me now,

or let them spill my blood for you,

for blood and water cleanse alike.


That’s not in the play.


He’s like that,

he’s a dab hand at improvising.


Well, he’s certainly in good form.


It’s playing in front of Caesar,

it gets the old humours going.

An angel appears on a balcony.


God has heard you and read your heart.

Your desire has filled him with love.

Come up and I will baptise you.


Lord, my lips know not what to say.

Read the silent words of my heart.

He goes up to the balcony.

What the hell is he playing at?

We didn’t rehearse it like this?


This isn’t improvisation.

It’s anarchy.


Where’s he off to?


God knows.


The Christians follow Christ.

He’s pretending that he’s been saved,

that the angel came to get him,

and whisk him off to . . . wherever.


Stuff and nonsense, if you ask me.


Try telling them that.


He’s praying.

That’s what they do you know, just talk

instead of a good sacrifice.

And then they eat a bit of bread.


It’s all a mystery to me.

Music sounds and angels appear; one holds a basin of water, another a white candle and another a hood.


Lord, who knows the secret of our hearts,

who raised dead Lazarus from the tomb,

who forgave a thief on the cross

and brought him to reign at his side,

who plucked Jonah from the wild sea

who showed himself to Isaiah,

now bless this bread for it is yours.

Yours is the glory.

Mine the martyrdom.

Break this bread for me.

Bring me back to life.

Yours is the cross.

Mine is the sorrow.

I will act no more.

The curtain closes.

A great actor!


A superb scene!


Like the real thing!


True conviction!

Humility and arrogance.


He speaks and gestures with such ease

that you’d swear he wasn’t acting.

Genesius appears and begins to come down.


Lord, you have given me your grace,

strengthen now my heart with your love,

hold me now in the face of death,

sustain my weakness at this hour.

I am ready, my friends. Take me.


I just can’t work like this, lovey.

What scene is this supposed to be?

What’s my cue? Where are we? I’m lost.


And I’ve been found. I’m here to die.

God has written my cues for me,

all my entrances and exits,

all my acts were written in him.

For all the world is an actor,

and without these cues all is lost.


Prompt! Genesius has lost his cue.


Prompt! Prompt!


I have no need of prompts.

My words come from inspiration,

from an angel who called to me:

‘Genesius! Genesius,

walk, for that is the will of God’.

The play was wrong, badly scripted.

Where it said devil, there was God;

and for heaven we read hell;

and life for everlasting death,

and glory for eternal pain;

the play was wrong; the actor lost.

But an angel taught me my lines,

and prompted me to speak to God.

You are witnesses to this play.

It is right you have enjoyed it

because heaven is the reward.

I am God’s; I am of his faith;

I shall be his finest actor.


Prompt! He’s completely lost his place.

He’s making all this up.

Fabius appears, dressed as an angel.


Hark! Hark!

Genesius, God has sent me

to have a quiet word with you.

He beats out syllables on his hand as he speaks these lines.

That’s beautifully timed, Fabius,

but we’ve already done this scene.

You’ve baptized him already.




No point in doing it again.


I didn’t.


You did.






Actors, you forget where you are.

You are performing for Caesar.


The fault is mine. You can blame me.


The play’s half-baked. How dare you all

bicker like this in my presence?


You saw an angel, great Caesar?




Well, he says it wasn’t him . . .

He wants to do the scene again.


We all saw him with our own eyes.


Great Ceasar, if it can be proved

that I’ve already played my scene,

I’ll lay my head upon the block.


The above sample taken from the translation The Great Pretenders (1992) by David Johnston is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment. Please log in or sign up for a free account.

  • King's College London Logo
  • Queen's University Belfast Logo
  • University of Oxford Logo
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council Logo