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Las tres justicias en una (1630-1637), Pedro Calderón de la Barca

English title: Three Judgements in One
Date written: sometime between 1630 and 1637
First publication date: 1661
Keywords: morality > honour, morality > punishment, morality > crime, morality > judgement, morality > justice-revenge, family > patriarchy, family > duty, family > parents and children, ideology > morality
Genre and type: tragedy

In this tense tragedy of loyalty and family duty, a son attacks his father after the old man insults him. Imprisoned for dishonouring his father, the son never learns his true paternity; he is in fact the son of another man, whose life he saved in the woods, and for whom he has always felt a strange loyalty and respect. Complete with a love triangle, swordfighting and a garrotting at the end, this is one of Calderón’s most exciting tragedies.


The play begins in the heat of the action, as highwaymen attack Don Mendo and his daughter Violante. Another bandit, Lope Jr., takes pity on the pair and sets them free. Mendo promises Lope will be pardoned for his crimes in return for letting them escape. Lope Jr. reveals the sad story of his life, which was blighted by a cold and distant father. Lope Jr.’s mother was 15 years younger than his father, and their marriage was unhappy. Frozen out by his father, Lope Jr. turned to a life of crime, gambling, thieving and seducing a girl (Estefanía [Stephanie]). Lope Jr. is now wanted for the murder of Estefanía’s brother, who was killed when he sought revenge for his sister’s seduction. Mendo promises all this can be forgiven due to his special relationship with the King and also his long-standing friendship with Lope Jr.’s father (Lope Sr.). As a sign of their friendship, Lope Jr. gives Mendo a knife that will allow him to send messages to him without fear of attack from the highwaymen. As Lope Jr. hands the knife over, it cuts his hand, which he interprets as an omen that Mendo will one day be the cause of his death.

The scene shifts to Lope’s father, who appeals to the King for his son’s pardon. Lope Jr. is wanted not only for the murder of Estefanía’s brother, but also for wounding an officer of the law during his escape from that fight. Lope Sr. reveals that he has paid for Estefanía to enter a convent, and this financial outlay has nearly ruined him. The King refers the judgement of the case to his Minister of Justice, who is Mendo. Seeing his opportunity to repay young Lope for saving his life, Mendo promises to use his power to have Lope Jr. pardoned. Don Lope invites Mendo and his daughter Violante to stay with them, a choice that makes Mendo uncomfortable as he has a past romantic history with Lope Sr.’s wife, Doña Blanca. Young Lope sneaks in to his parents’ house to inform his mother of his imminent pardon, trying his best to avoid his estranged father. Lope Jr. discovers Violante there, and they are attracted to one another, but limit their encounter to a respectful conversation.

In act 2, time has passed and Lope Jr.’s pardon has been approved. He and his friend Guillén are both in love with Violante, and a misunderstanding between them about the direction of the lady’s affection leads them to a swordfight in the street. Lope Sr. steps in to ask his son and Guillén to stop fighting out of respect for his presence.  Guillén is prepared to do so but Lope Jr. draws him back into the fight. Lope Sr. thus takes Guillén’s side, seeing his greater respect for the old man, and insults young Lope, who strikes his father, knocking him down. Unable to take revenge for this dishonour as he is too weak, Lope Sr. once again petitions the King for justice, this time against his son. The King orders Mendo to arrest young Lope. Suspicion is raised about the paternity of Lope Jr., whom Lope Sr. suspects may not be his biological son.

The final act begins with Mendo’s forces of justice seeking young Lope to punish him for his offence against Lope Sr.  Mendo’s allegiance is torn, as he still wishes to pardon young Lope on account of his kindness to him, but the King has ordered that he must be punished for dishonouring his father. Mendo and Lope Jr. meet in the woods, and although young Lope has the upper hand he is unable to kill Mendo out of a strange respect he feels for him, and allows himself to be arrested. Mendo has him imprisoned in his private apartments to ensure he is treated well. Mendo appeals to the King to drop the prosecution against Lope Jr. as, he argues, the whole matter is the result of a misunderstanding. Resolved to get to the bottom of Lope’s paternity, the King visits Doña Blanca. There he learns that young Lope is not Lope Sr.’s son, and neither is he Blanca’s. Young Lope turns out to be the son of Blanca’s sister who was seduced by Don Mendo. Blanca had passed the child off as her own after the sister died in childbirth. When Mendo learns that the young rogue is his son, he renews his efforts to have him pardoned.

Violante goes to rescue young Lope from his arrest in her father’s room, but when she arrives she hears voices through the door and hesitates before entering. Mendo arrives, also hoping to rescue him, and tells Violante that the young Lope is her brother. In a tense final scene, knocks are heard on the two doors to the room simultaneously, and everyone bursts in to where Lope was being held. But they are too late, for he has been strangled and is dying. The King has accomplished his Three Justices in One; with Lope Jr.’s death he has satisfied the public need to punish young Lope for attacking a man he believed to be his father; Mendo is punished with the death of his son for seducing and abandoning Blanca’s sister; and Blanca is punished with the death of young Lope whom she loved as a son, for deceiving her husband by raising Lope Jr. as their heir. However the secret of Lope Jr.’s true paternity will be kept within the family, and the play ends with the public thinking that Lope Jr. died justly as punishment for dishonouring his father.


Bances Candamo, in his Theatro de los theatros, traces the source of this play as an historical occurrence in Aragon of a young man striking his father, only for him to learn later that the son was not his by birth; but as Benabu points out, the evidence for this is scant (Calderón de la Barca 1991: 7). The likelier source posited by Benabu is a play by Lope de Vega, El príncipe perfecto, which uses the historical account of a son striking a father in Portugal under the reign of Pedro I, outlined in Nunes de Leão’s Chronica dos Reys de Portugal (Calderón de la Barca 1991: 9-11). For a comparison of the two plays and study of the historical source material, see Benabu’s introduction to Las tres justicias en una (Calderón de la Barca 1991).

Critical response

Benabu’s introduction to his critical edition of the play takes an approach based on performance, and helpfully offers a reading from the perspective of an actor/director rather than a literary or novelistic approach (Calderón de la Barca 1991). The introduction is in English, and the play-text in Spanish. He explores each main character separately, paying special attention to the dramatic possibilities and readings geared for the stage.

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1661. Las tres justicias en una. In Parte quinze of Comedias nuevas, escogidas. Madrid

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1691. Novena parte de las comedias de Pedro Calderón de la Barca. Madrid, Francisco Sanz

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1830. Las tres justicias en una. In Comedias de Don Pedro Calderón de la Barca, vol. IV., ed. Juan Jorge Keil. Leipzig

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1966. Las tres justicias en una. In Obras completas vol. I, ed. A. Valbuena Briones, pp. 677-709. Madrid, Aguilar

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1991. On the Boards and in the Press: Calderón's Las tres justicias en una, ed. Isaac Benabu. Kassel, Reichenberger (in Spanish and English)

    This is a critical edition with full Spanish text and introduction.

  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 2007. Las tres justicias en una. Barcelona, Linkgua

Useful readings and websites
  • Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. 1991. On the Boards and in the Press: Calderón's Las tres justicias en una, ed. Isaac Benabu. Kassel, Reichenberger (in Spanish and English)

    This is a critical edition with full Spanish text and introduction.

  • Edwards, Gwynne. 1983. ‘Las sueltas calderonianas y Vera Tassis: el caso de Las tres justicias en una’. In Aureum Saeculum Hispanum: Beiträge zu Texten des Siglo de Oro, Festschrift für Hans Flasche, eds. Karl-Hermann Körner and Dietrich Briesemeister, pp. 59-68. Wiesbaden, Franz Steiner (in Spanish)

  • Ganelin, Charles. 2001. ‘Calderón Incorporated: Hands and Speech in Las tres justicias en una and El postrer duelo de España’, Bulletin of the Comediantes, 53,1, 179-95

  • Gordon, M. 1986. ‘Calderón as Tragedian: The Case of Las tres justicias en una’, The Modern Language Review, 81, 2, 337-48

  • Parker, Alexander A. 1962. ‘Towards a Definition of Calderonian Tragedy’, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 39, 222-37

  • Parker, Alexander A. 1964. ‘Metáfora y símbolo en la interpretación de Calderón’. In Actas del Primer Congreso Internacional de Hispanistas, eds. Frank Pierce and Cyril A. Jones, pp. 141-60. Oxford, Dolphin (in Spanish)

  • Sullivan, Henry W. 1981. ‘Las tres justicias en una and the Question of Christian Catharsis’. In Critical Perspectives on Calderón de la Barca, eds. Frederick A. De Armas, David M. Gitliz and José A. Madrigal, pp. 119-40. Lincoln, University of Nebraska

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Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 7 March 2011.

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