Out of the Wings

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O locura o santidad (1877), José Echegaray y Eizaguirre

English title: Madman or Saint
Date written: 1877
First production date: 1877
Keywords: family > parents and children, family, love > relationships, love, identity > class/social standing, morality > honour, morality, Social > Hierarchy
Genre and type: melodrama

What does an honest man do when he learns a secret that will destroy everything he has? Is it admirable or simply madness to tell the truth? In Madman or Saint, Don Lorenzo learns that – no matter how honest you are – if the world chooses to believe you are mad, the truth counts for nothing.


Don Lorenzo lives in a lavish house with his wife Angela and his daughter Inés. When he was a young man, Lorenzo suffered from a nervous illness after the death of his beloved mother. Even now, 20 years later, Lorenzo’s family doctor Tomás still keeps an eye on his friend’s mental heath. Lorenzo’s daughter Inés has fallen in love with Eduardo, the son of a Duchess. However, even though Lorenzo is extremely wealthy, he lacks a title, and the Duchess may not consent to her son marrying beneath him. Inés has inherited her father’s nervous disposition, and her parents are worried that she might die broken-hearted should the marriage not go ahead. And so, near the start of the play, Lorenzo resolves to speak to the Duchess. Before he can do so, he receives news that his old wet nurse Juana is gravely ill. Lorenzo has not seen Juana in over twenty years. Even so, he does not want her to die alone. He goes with Tomás to bring Juana back to his comfortable surroundings, leaving his visit to the Duchess for later.

While Lorenzo is away, Eduardo arrives with wonderful news. He has convinced his mother to allow him to marry Inés. In fact, the Duchess plans to visit Lorenzo and Angela that very night to discuss arrangements. But Lorenzo is soon to be distracted by his new houseguest, Juana. As soon as she arrives, the dying old woman insists on speaking to him in private. They talk about the past; about how, when Lorenzo’s mother died, Juana was accused of stealing a valuable locket from her. Juana admits that she did indeed steal the locket, but only because it held the whereabouts of a letter addressed to Lorenzo from his mother. Juana confesses that she did not want Lorenzo to discover the secrets of this letter. Now that she is dying, Juana has brought the letter with her so that Lorenzo can read it. It turns out to be a confession by Lorenzo’s mother, in which she admits that he was secretly adopted. Juana reveals that she is Lorenzo’s real mother. She gave him to her wealthy employers so that he could have a comfortable and happy upbringing.

As an extremely honest man, Lorenzo is racked with guilt at having inherited a name and a fortune under false pretences. He decides that he must renounce both. Consequently, when Lorenzo meets the Duchess, he declares that his parentage is tainted and that, because of this, his daughter cannot marry Eduardo. The Duchess agrees with Lorenzo, but Inés takes to her bed with a nervous fever. Eduardo remains desperate to marry Inés, and convinces his mother that no one need know of the scandal: Lorenzo’s wealth could be redistributed to the rightful heirs in secret. The Duchess urges Angela to convince her husband to keep the whole affair quiet. But Lorenzo refuses to go against his saintly principles, even for the sake his daughter’s happiness.

At this point in the play, only Lorenzo knows that Juana is his real mother. To the rest of the characters, Juana is just Lorenzo’s old nursemaid. Honest to a fault, Lorenzo now wants to reveal the truth about her. Juana is horrified at the thought: if Lorenzo renounces his good name and his fortune, her sacrifice for him will have been in vain. And so, she decides to take her secret to the grave. While Lorenzo is out of the room, she removes the incriminating letter from its envelope and throws it into the fire. She then replaces it with a blank page. Just then, Lorenzo re-enters the living room, pursued by a hysterical Inés who is begging to be able to marry Eduardo. In the ensuing chaos, Juana collapses, dying. Lorenzo clutches her, repeatedly addressing her as ‘Mother’. But Juana fervently denies the relationship, making sure that no one will ever believe Lorenzo’s story.

After Juana’s death, Lorenzo’s friends and family begin to doubt his sanity. In the chaos, it looked like he smothered the old woman in a delusional frenzy. Without Lorenzo’s knowledge, Tomás sends for Doctor Bermúdez and two orderlies from the local asylum to come and assess his friend’s mental health. Even though a diagnosis of madness would allow the wedding to go ahead (madness being preferable to a tainted lineage, as far as the Duchess is concerned), Angela and Inés now just want Lorenzo to be declared sane. Meanwhile, unaware of his family’s fears for his sanity, Lorenzo has invited a scribe to take down a public statement renouncing his name and his wealth. However, as he waits for the scribe’s arrival, Lorenzo overhears the two orderlies talking about the ‘madman of the house’. He had been led to believe that the orderlies were Tomás’s friends come to witness the statement. Now he realises that they are from the local asylum. The time has therefore come for Lorenzo to prove that he is not a madman, but rather a saint, prepared to give up everything he has for the sake of honesty. With everyone assembled, he triumphantly brandishes the envelope left by Juana. He opens it, only to discover a blank piece of paper inside. Horrified, Lorenzo realises that he has just secured his place at the asylum. Only poor Inés now believes her father. The world has declared him a madman, and he is dragged off, with his loyal daughter promising she will do everything she can to rescue him.


At the start of the play Lorenzo reads from Chapter 74 of Part Two of Don Quijote de la Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes. This is the ending of Cervantes’ novel, during which Don Quijote renounces his madness, and expresses his regret that it has taken him so long to regain his sanity.

Critical response

O locura o santidad (Madman or Saint) was one of Echegaray’s most popular plays, alongside El gran galeoto (The Great Galeoto). Shortly after its first publication in 1877, it was performed to great reviews both in Spain and in South America. Don Lorenzo is considered to be typical of a number of characters in Echegaray’s work who are ‘quixotically devoted to honesty’ (Newberry 1966: 124), and whose respect for the truth leads them into desperate situations – such as being forced into the asylum in this play.

  • Newberry, Wilma. 1966. ‘Echegaray and Pirandello’, PMLA, 81.1, 123-9

  • Echegaray, José. 1901. O locura o santidad. Boston, D. C. Heath & Company

  • Echegaray, José. 1964. O locura o santidad. In Teatro escogido, pp. 373-444. Madrid, Aguilar. Available online at the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes at http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/obra/o-locura-o-santidad--0/ [accessed January 2011] (Online Publication)

  • Echegaray, José. 2002. El gran galeoto; O locura o santidad. Madrid, Rueda

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 1 March 2011.

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