Out of the Wings

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No hay burlas con el amor (c.1635), Pedro Calderón de la Barca

English title: Love Is No Laughing Matter
Date written: c. 1635
First publication date: 1650
First production date: 1635
Keywords: morality > honour, identity > class/social standing, family > brothers/sisters, power > inter-personal/game play, family > parents and children, love > desire, love > relationships
Genre and type: comedy

It’s a case of unlikely lovers: he’s anti-love and uses women only for a bit of fun, while she’s lost in books and uses such lofty vocabulary her family needs a dictionary to understand her. When his friend convinces him to ‘pretend’ to love her, the trickster finds himself tricked, as ‘only a fool makes a fool of love’ (Calderón 2011: 91-3)).


The first act begins with a classic master-servant inversion. Alonso’s servant, Moscatel, is in love, to the disgust of his master who nearly fires him for daring to get into such a state. Alonso has a friend, Juan, who is in love with a lady, Leonor, and he wants to send her a letter but dares not take the risk of his own servant being recognised when delivering it, so he asks Moscatel to take it to Leonor. When Moscatel does so, he gets caught in the house by Leonor’s father, and has to think on his feet. The verbose Beatriz, Leonor’s sister, disapproves of Leonor’s ‘libidinous’ behaviour and the two women fight over the letter, which is ripped into two pieces. By communicating with a man, one of his daughters is endangering his honour – but he doesn’t know which one. Not knowing what else to do, he uses the one piece of information he has - that Moscatel is Alonso’s servant – and he seeks out Alonso to discover his role in all this.

In the second act, Alonso gives a speech about the merits of different kinds of women, not many of whom he approves for more than a brief dalliance (‘first time round, there’s no such thing as a bad woman or a bad play, just as, second time round, there’s no such thing as a good play or a good woman’ [Calderón 1986]). Leonor’s maidservant, Ines, delivers a letter from her mistress to Juan, and Alonso flirts with Ines. Later, he tries to get Moscatel to act as go-between, carrying a message that Ines would be rewarded if she came to see him in private. Meanwhile, the sisters Leonor and Beatriz are fighting, and Leonor turns their father’s suspicion to Beatriz even though it is her own actions that have led to his concerns. Their father forbids Beatriz to resort to her studies, and entreats her to speak plainly. An obedient daughter, she attempts to please her father but finds it difficult to abandon her love of long words. Juan asks Alonso to pretend to love Beatriz, and he agrees, provided it is all in the spirit of a joke; meanwhile Juan continues to pursue Ines on the side. When Alonso and Beatriz are alone, Alonso is a verbal match for her, and he comes up with a highly amusing flurry of faked love-language. But her father approaches, and Beatriz is forced to ask Alonso and Moscatel to hide in the china cupboard which they do, smashing some of the dishes. The father has locked the doors for the night, so Alonso and Moscatel have to escape by jumping from the balcony.

In act three, Beatriz is concerned for Alonso’s welfare, as he was injured in the jump from the balcony. She sends Ines to visit him, giving her a ribbon for him as a token of her favour. It seems love is at an end for Leonor and Juan, for after the balcony adventure, Juan was in the street and saw Alonso get into a swordfight with men who were lingering outside Leonor’s house. Convinced they were there for Leonor, his jealousy and honour can no longer allow him to pursue her. Leonor asks, could they not have been there for Beatriz? But Juan will hear none of it. Carrying out the errand to deliver Beatriz’s ribbon to Alonso, Ines pretends to be trying to see Alonso in private in a ploy to make Moscatel jealous. Moscatel is hurt, but Ines wins him back with a kiss. Alonso now is beginning to change; he gives Ines a diamond without expecting anything in return, and it seems that tenderness has touched even the anti-love Alonso. When Alonso visits Beatriz, she berates him for sporting with her heart. He replies with a long speech about what he has learned about love, that ‘there is no fooling with love, (No hay burlas con el amor)’ saying that now his love is sincere. The play ends with the arranged marriage of Beatriz to Alonso and, as Juan is now convinced Leonor did not have other suitors, also with the engagement of Juan to Leonor.


Humbert (1858) makes the argument that Calderón was influenced by Molière’s play Les femmes savants, although other critics may disagree, as the dates may not support this theory. Quevedo, the great Spanish satirist, had published his La culta latiniparla in 1631, a few years before No hay burlas con el amor was first performed. Quevedo’s satirical work was a tongue-in-cheek primer for how to speak and act as a learned, cultured lady. Beatriz does not use phrases directly lifted from La culta latiniparla, but the spirit of the piece and its timing suggests it may have formed part of Calderón’s inspiration for her character. (Calderón1986: xxi)

Critical response

This play has been neglected by critics in recent years, though it received a flurry of attention with the publication of two translations in the 1980s. Boswell’s 2011 production (at the Ustinov Studio at the Theatre Royal in Bath, England) has revived interest in the play, which was well received by critics.  Dominic Cavendish of the Telegraph wrote: ‘Beginning with some splendid master-on-servant abuse, in which Milo Twomey’s rakish Don Alonso berates Peter Bramhill’s put-upon Moscatel for having the temerity to fall in love, The Phoenix of Madrid is a knotty-plotty, swashbuckling comedy that lampoons 17th-century idiocies (autocratic aristocrats, overweening patriarchs, ridiculous honour-codes) while reminding us that male and female follies in matters amorous remain one of the great constants. There’s a welcome strand sending up rhetorical pretension in the form of Frances McNamee’s priggish and affected Beatriz, who gets entangled in her forward younger sister Leonor’s illicit liaisons – but there are enough unexpected passages of heartfelt lyricism too to remind you Calderon had a poet’s soul.’ (Cavendish 2011)

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1650. No hay burlas con el amor. In Parte quarenta y dos de comedias de diferentes autores. Zaragoza, Juan de Ybar

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1981. No hay burlas con el amor, ed. Ignacio Arellano. Pamplona, University of Navarra

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1986. Love Is No Laughing Matter / No hay burlas con el amor, trans. Don Cruickshank and Seán Page. Dual-language edition. Warminster, Aris and Phillips (in Spanish and English)

Useful readings and websites
  • Arellano, Ignacio. 1983. ‘El sentido cómico de No hay burlas con el amor’. In Actas del Congreso Internacional sobre Calderón y el Teatro Español del Siglo de Oro’, ed. Luciano García Lorenzo, pp. 365-80. Madrid, CSIC (in Spanish)

  • Atkinson, W. C. 1927. ‘Studies in Literary Decadence: II. La comedia de capa y espada’, Bulletin of Spanish Studies 4, 80-9.

  • Cavendish, Dominic. 2011. ‘The Phoenix of Madrid / Iphigenia, Ustinov Studio, Bath, review’, The Telegraph, 17 October http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/8832607/The-Phoenix-of-Madrid-Iphigenia-Ustinov-Studio-Bath-review.html [accessed 31 March 2012]

  • DeArmas, F. A. 1988. ‘Love Is No Laughing Matter (No hay burlas con el amor)’, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 65, 4, 411-12

  • Humbert, C. 1858. ‘Das Urteil des Herrn von Schack über Molière’s Femmes savantes’, Archif für das Studium der neuern Sprachen und Literatur 23, 63-99 (in German)

    [referenced by Cruickshank and Page in Calederón 1986]

  • Quintero, M. C. 1987. ‘Demystifying Convention in Calderón, No hay burlas con el amor’, Romance Notes 27, 3, 247-55

  • Roman, D. 1991. ‘Spectacular Women: Sites of Gender Strife and Negotiation in Calderón, No hay burlas con el amor and on the Early-Modern Spanish Stage’, Theatre Journal 43, 4, 445-56

  • Rull, E. 1982. ‘No hay burlas con el amor’, Revista de Literatura 44, 87, 167-8

  • Soler, Patricia. 2009. ‘Love Is No Laughing Matter’ review. Comedia Performance 6, 1, 216-19

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Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 16 May 2012.

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