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Great Theatre of the World


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AT: The Great World-Theatre; The Great Stage of the World A: Pedro Calderón de la Barca Pf:c.1633–5, Madrid Pb: 1655 Tr: 1856 G: Auto sacramental in 1 act; Spanish verse S: The World, indeterminate period C: 8m, 2fThe Author (God) calls upon World to provide the setting for the lives of the figures he calls forth: the Rich Man, the Worker, the Poor Man, the King, Beauty, and Discretion. The World provides a prologue, describing the progress of time from the earliest beginnings to the salvation offered by Christ. The figures summoned by the Author are told that they must follow their respective roles in life, playing out their parts without rehearsal, and must choose between good and evil. The Author watches from his throne, as a globe opens with a stage for the characters to live out their lives. The Prompter, the Law of Grace, admonishes and encourages them with the repeated phrase: ‘Do good, for God is God.’ As the characters approach death, and their globe closes, they must return their costumes to World, so that the King is once more reduced to the level of the Poor Man. The globe opens once more to reveal the sacrament of the Eucharist, to which initially only Discretion and Poor Man are admitted, although the King is eventually rewarded after a spell in purgatory.

AT: The Great World-Theatre; The Great Stage of the World A: Pedro Calderón de la Barca Pf:c.1633–5, Madrid Pb: 1655 Tr: 1856 G: Auto sacramental in 1 act; Spanish verse S: The World, indeterminate period C: 8m, 2f

Calderón was the supreme master of the auto sacramental, the performative accompaniment to the Corpus Christi day processions. As well as teaching a moral lesson, the auto sacramental was a rallying point for the Catholic faith, now threatened by the Reformation, and for its alliance with the Spanish Crown and the theatre. From the point of view of theatre history, the play offers an allegory, not dissimilar from Everyman, but now staged with spectacular stage effects and here implying that ‘all the world's a stage’. Hofmannsthal adapted the original for the Salzburg Festival in 1892, where it was staged by Max Reinhardt.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Pedro Calderón de La Barca (1600—1681) Spanish dramatist and poet


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