« VorigeDoorgaan »
AUTO DA ALMA (THE SOUL'S JOURNEY)
EXHORTAÇÃO DA GUERRA (Exhortation to War)
FARSA DOS ALMOCREVES (THE CARRIERS)
I. LIFE AND PLAYS OF GIL VICENTE
THOSE who read the voluminous song-book edited by jolly Garcia de Resende in 1516 are astonished at its narrowness and aridity. There is scarcely a breath of poetry or of Nature in these Court verses. In the pages of Gil Vicente1, who had begun to write fourteen years before the Cancioneiro Geral was published, the Court is still present, yet the atmosphere is totally different. There are many passages in his plays. which correspond to the conventional love-poems of the courtiers and he maintains the personal satire to be found both in the Cancioneiro da Vaticana and the Cancioneiro de Resende. But he is also a child of Nature, with a marvellous lyrical gift and the insight to revive and renew the genuine poetry which had existed in Galicia and the north of Portugal before the advent of the Provençal love-poetry, had sprung into a splendid harvest in rivalry with that poetry and died down under the Spanish influence of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. He was moreover a national and imperial poet, embracing the whole of Portuguese life and the whole rapidly growing Portuguese empire. We can only account for the difference by saying that Gil Vicente was a genius, the only great genius of that day in Portugal, and the most gifted poet of his time. It is therefore all the more tantalizing that we should know so little about him. A few documents recently unearthed, one or two scanty references by contemporary or later authors, are all the information we have apart from that which may be gleaned from the rubrics and colophons of his plays and from the plays themselves. The labours of Dona Carolina Michaëlis de Vasconcellos, Dr José Leite de Vasconcellos2 and Snr Anselmo Braamcamp Freire are likely to provide us before long with the first critical edition of his plays. The ingenious suppositions of Dr Theophilo Braga3 have, as usual, led to much discussion and research. He is the Mofina Mendes of critics, putting forward a hypothesis, translating it a few pages further on into a certainty and building rapidly on
1 Falamos do nosso Shakespeare, de Gil Vicente (A. Herculano, Historia da Inquisição em Portugal, ed. 1906, vol. 1. p. 223). The references throughout are to the Hamburg 3 vol. 1834 edition.
2 See infra Bibliography, p. 86, Nos. 42, 62, 79.
3 Bibliography, Nos. 21, 24, 25, 26, 30, 51, 52, 59, 89.
these foundations till an argument adduced or a document discovered by another critic brings the whole edifice toppling to the ground. The documents brought to light by General Brito Rebello1 and Senhor Anselmo Braamcamp Freire2 enable us to construct a sketch of Gil Vicente's life, while D. Carolina Michaëlis has shed a flood of light upon certain points. The chronological table at the end of this volume is founded mainly, as to the order of the plays, on the documents and arguments recently set forth by one of the most distinguished of modern historical critics, Senhor Anselmo Braamcamp Freire. The plays, read in this order, throw a certain amount of new light on Gil Vicente's life and give it a new cohesion. Whether we consider it from the point of view of his own country or of the world, or of literature, art and science, his life coincides with one of the most wonderful periods in the world's history. At his birth Portugal was a sturdy mediaeval country, proud of her traditions and heroic past. Her heroes were so national as scarcely to be known beyond her own borders. Nun' Alvarez (1360-1431), one of the greatest men of all time, is even now unknown to Europe. And Portugal herself as yet hardly appraised at its true worth the life and work of Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460), at whose incentive she was still groping persistently along the western coast of Africa. His nephew Afonso V, the amiable grandson of Nun' Alvarez' friend, the Master of Avis, and the English princess Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt, was on the throne, to be succeeded by his stern and resolute son João II in 1481. In his boyhood, spent in the country, somewhere in the green hills of Minho or the rugged grandeur and bare, flowered steeps of the Serra da Estrella, all ossos e burel, Gil Vicente might hear dramatic stories of the doings at the capital and Court, of the beginning of the new reign, of the beheadal of the Duke of Braganza in the Rocio of Evora, of the stabbing by the King's own hand of his cousin and brother-in-law, the young Duke of Viseu, of the baptism and death at Lisbon of a native prince from Guinea.
The place of his birth is not certain. Biographers have hesitated between Lisbon, Guimarães and Barcellos: perhaps he was not born in any of these towns but in some small village of the north of Portugal. We can at least say that he was not brought up at Lisbon. The proof is his knowledge and love of Nature and his intimate acquaintance with the ways of villagers, their character, customs, amusements, dances, songs and language. It is legitimate to draw certain inferences-provided 1 Bibliography, Nos. 29, 48, 57, 66, 83, 95.
2 Bibliography, Nos. 53, 73, 82, 88, 97.
4 Guerra Junqueiro, Os Simples.
we do not attach too great importance to them-from his plays, especially since we know that he himself staged them and acted in them1. His earliest compositions are especially personal and we may be quite sure that the parts of the herdsman in the Visitaçam (1502) and of the mystically inclined shepherd, Gil Terron, in the Auto Pastoril Castelhano (1502) and the rustico pastor in the Auto dos Reis Magos (1503) were played by Vicente himself. It is therefore well to note the passage in which Silvestre and Bras express surprise at Gil's learning:
S. Mudando vas la pelleja,
Sabes de achaque de igreja!
G. Ahora lo deprendi....
Que naciste en serranía.
G. Dios hace estas maravillas.
It is possible that Gil Vicente, like Gil Terron, had been born en serranía. Dr Leite de Vasconcellos was the first to call attention to his special knowledge of the province of Beira, and the reference to the Serra da Estrella dragged into the Comedia do Viuvo is of even more significance than the conventional beirão talk of his peasants. Nor is the learning in his plays such as to give a moment's support to the theory that he had, like Enzina, received a university education, or, as some, relying on an unreliable nobiliario, have held, was tutor (mestre de rhetorica) to Prince, afterwards King, Manuel. The King, according to Damião de Goes, 'knew enough Latin to judge of its style.' Probably he did not know much more of it than Gil Vicente himself. His first productions are without the least pretension to learning: they are close imitations of Enzina's eclogues. Later his outlook widened; he read voraciously2 and seems to have pounced on any new publication that came to the palace, among them the works of two slightly later Spanish playwrights, Lucas Fernández and Bartolomé de Torres Naharro. With the quickness of genius and spurred forward by the malicious criticism of his audience, their love of new things and the growing opposition of the introducers of the new style from Italy, he picked up a little French and Italian, while Church Latin and law Latin early began to creep into his plays. The parade of erudition (which is also a satire on pedants) at the beginning of the Auto da Mofina Mendes is, however, that of a comparatively uneducated man in a library, of rustic Gil Vicente in the palace. Rather we would believe that he spent his early life in peasant surroundings, perhaps actually
1 Cf. André de Resende, Gillo auctor et actor. (For the accurate text of this passage see C. Michaëlis de Vasconcellos, Notas Vicentinas, I. p. 17.)
2 Os livros das obras que escritas vi (Letter of G. V. to King João III).