It is an axiom that the king is a pillar of Spanish Golden Age drama. Indeed, whether fictional or historic, on the stage or in the audience, the figure of the king is prevalent in the world of the comedia as a site of cultural anxiety surrounding the role of the monarchy in the newly urbanized and litigious seventeenth-century Spanish society. Scholars such as Melveena McKendrick (Playing the King) and Frank Casa (“The Duality of the King in Golden Age Drama”) have explored the personage of the king in a variety of these plays. Neither of these studies makes mention of Lope’s Amor, pleito y desafío, even though the king plays a prominent role in the drama. Here I propose to examine this particular play and the role of the king in determining justice in an increasingly hazy moral universe. Written in 1621, the year of the transfer of power from King Felipe III to King Felipe IV, Amor, pleito y desafío presents us with a monarch who stands in stark contrast to the remoteness, pageantry, and spectacle of Felipe IV’s court. Indeed, Lope’s King Alfonso is accessible, a good listener, and respectful of the opposing codes of conduct that hold sway over his populace, including chivalry, courtly love, and the proliferating, nascent legal system. Simply put, he is an unusually sensitive, humane, and just king for the cultural context of Lope’s Spain.
Version of record can be found through Bulletin of the Comediantes.