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Pedro de Urdemalas (1614-1615), Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

English title: Pedro, the Great Pretender
Date written: from 1614 to 1615
First publication date: 1615
First production date: ?1968
Keywords: identity > class/social standing, family > genealogy, power > inter-personal/game play, family > marriage, love > friendship, art > theatre > metatheatre, art > theatre
Genre and type: comedy

The folk hero Pedro de Urdemalas, known in Spanish balladry and tradition - from mediaeval times to Lorca - as a swindling trickster with a thousand costume and identity changes up his sleeve, is here dramatised by Cervantes.  It’s a delightful if somewhat sprawling tale of Pedro’s life’s journey from vagabond to professional actor.


Pedro’s adventures begin when he reunites a pair of lovers, Clemente and Clemencia, shepherds whose lovers’ spat Pedro skilfully puts to an end. Pedro then joins the mayor of the town, and invents a method for deciding difficult court cases, which involves taking random judgements written on scraps of paper hidden in the mayor’s hood. He then assists in arranging the engagement of Clemente and Clemencia by having the girl enter disguised, so that her father, the mayor, agrees to her marrying Clemente without knowing her identity, for she is the mayor’s own daughter and she fears he may not approve otherwise. Pedro joins the gypsies next, telling his life story in a monologue to the gypsy chief, Maldonado. He then unites another couple of shepherds, Benita and Pascual, whose courtship takes the form of the ritual of the Night of St John, where Benita places her feet in a basin of water and listens for the wind to whisper the name of the man she will marry. The Sexton, Roque, plays a trick on her by saying his name before Pascual can get there to do it, and Pedro solves the problem by suggesting that Pascual take the sacrament of Confirmation, where he can change his name to Roque and thus marry his Benita while keeping the custom.

The gypsy women discuss Belica’s dream to attain a better life, and her friend Inés tells her not to get above herself. Pedro meets Belica and finds her lovely, but full of dreams. The mayor commissions a dance involving male dancers dressed as young ladies, which he thinks will be perfect entertainment for the King’s upcoming visit. Pedro dresses up as a blind man and swindles a widow out of her life savings. The King visits the gypsy camp while out hunting, and meets Belica, the gypsy girl, and the two are intrigued by one another. After Pedro finishes a follow-up scene to conclude his swindle of the widow, final preparations are made for the King’s visit to the country, and the dancers get ready to take the stage. The men dressed as women perform first, followed by a dance by the gypsy women, in which Belica intentionally falls directly onto the King. The Queen is infuriated by the King’s flirtatious reaction and has Belica and the other gypsy dancers imprisoned.

The Queen meets with an old gentleman, Marcelo, who tells her the unbelievable story of the noblewoman who shamefully gave birth out of wedlock; the noblewoman gave the child up to be raised by gypsies, and some jewels that were part of this exchange make their way to the Queen who suspects the child may be near. It turns out to be Belica, who is the daughter of that noblewoman who was a relative of the King’s, making Belica the King’s niece. Pedro swindles a farmer out of his chickens, and joins a troupe of actors who are on their way to rehearsal for a play. He meets their theatre director who invites him to become an actor. Belica, because of the discovery of her noble birth, goes to live at the palace and starts to wear fine clothes, ignoring her gypsy friends and ways. Pedro goes off to perform a play with the troupe, and in a metatheatrical ending says that the play is beginning anew, and will be performed ‘again tomorrow’, making reference to the play the audience has just been watching.


Pedro de Urdemalas is a figure from Spanish balladry and mediaeval folk tradition. Lope de Vega also wrote a play featuring this character and with the same title.  See Friedman 1977.

  • Friedman, Edward H. 1977. ‘Dramatic Structure in Cervantes and Lope: The Two “Pedro de Urdemalas” Plays’, Hispania, 60, 486-97

Critical response

The Royal Shakespeare Company production (in English) was well reviewed, and often mentioned Osment’s translation which was written in verse-forms which matched the rhyme scheme and metre of the original Spanish verse. See Billington 2004 and Shuttleworth 2004

  • Billington, Michael. 2004. Review of Pedro, the Great Pretender, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, Guardian, 10 September, p. 26

  • Shuttleworth, Ian. 2004. Review of Pedro, the Great Pretender, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, Financial Times, 13 September, p. 17

  • Cervantes, Miguel de. 1615. ‘Pedro de Urdemalas’. In Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses nuevos, nunca representados. Madrid, Viuda de Alonso Martín

  • Cervantes, Miguel de. 1986. El rufián dichoso; Pedro de Urdemalas, eds. Jenaro Talens and Nicholas Spadaccini. Madrid, Cátedra

  • Cervantes, Miguel de. 1988. La entretenida; Pedro de Urdemalas, ed. Luis F. Díaz Larios. Textos universitarios. Barcelona, PPU

  • Cervantes, Miguel de. 1992. Pedro de Urdemalas, ed. Jean Canavaggio. Clásicos Taurus, 17. Madrid, Santillana

  • Cervantes, Miguel de. 1998. La entretenida; Pedro de Urdemalas, eds. Florencio Sevilla Arroyo and Antonio Rey Hazas. Cervantes completo, 16. Madrid, Alianza

Useful readings and websites
  • Canavaggio, Jean. 2000. ‘Variaciones cervantinas sobre el teatro en el teatro’. In Cervantes entre vida y creación, pp. 147-63. Alcalá de Henares (Madrid), Centro de Estudios Cervantinos (in Spanish)

  • Casalduero, Joaquín. 1966. Sentido y forma del teatro de Cervantes. Madrid, Gredos (in Spanish)

  • Forcione, Alban K. 1970. Cervantes, Aristotle, and the Persiles. Princeton, University Press

  • Friedman, Edward H. 1977. ‘Dramatic Structure in Cervantes and Lope: The Two “Pedro de Urdemalas” Plays’, Hispania, 60, 486-97

  • Friedman, Edward H. 1981. The Unifying Concept: Approaches to the Structure of Cervantes’ Comedias. York, South Carolina, Spanish Literature Publications Company

  • López Alfonso, Francisco J. 1991. ‘El error que nunca existió en la edición príncipe de Pedro de Urdemalas’. In Comedias y Comediantes: Estudios sobre el teatro clásico español, eds. Manuel V. Diago and Teresa Ferrer, pp. 271-7. Valencia, Universitat de Valencia (in Spanish)

  • Nagy, Edward. 1981. ‘La picaresca y la profecía dentro de la visión estética y social cervantina en la comedia Pedro de Urdemalas’. In Cervantes su obra y su mundo: Actas del I Congreso Internacional sobre Cervantes, ed. Manuel Criado de Val, pp. 273-9. Madrid, Edi-6 (in Spanish)

  • Osment, Philip. 2007. ‘The Rhyme and Reason: On Translating Pedro de Urdemalas’. In The Spanish Golden Age in English: Perspectives on Performance, eds. Catherine Boyle and David Johnston with Janet Morris. pp. 89-99. London, Oberon

  • Rogers, Daniel. 1962. ‘“Romances de Germanía” and the “Mocedades” of Pedro de Urdemalas’, Notes, Modern Language Review, 57, 400

  • Salomon, Noël. 1985. Lo villano en el teatro del Siglo de Oro, trans. Beatriz Chenot. Madrid, Castalia (in Spanish)

  • Sánchez, Alberto. 1981. ‘Ambientes picarescos en el teatro de Cervantes’. In Homenaje a Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, ed. Isidoro González Gallego, pp. 663-81. Salamanca, Biblioteca de la Caja de Ahorros y M. de P. (in Spanish)

  • Sevilla Arroyo, Florencio and Antonio Rey Hazas. 1988. Introduction (Introducción). La entretenida; Pedro de Urdemalas, pp. i-liv. Cervantes completo 16. Madrid, Alianza (in Spanish)

  • Zimic, Stanislav, 1992. El teatro de Cervantes, Madrid, Castalia (in Spanish)

Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 24 February 2011.

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