Lope de Vega was the creator of the national theater in Spain, and his achievements in drama are comparable in many respects to those of Shakespeare in England. Lope embraced all of Spanish life in his drama, combining strands of previous Spanish drama, history, and tradition to produce a drama with both intellectual and popular appeal. A prodigious writer whom Cervantes called the "monster of nature," Lope is attributed by his biographer with nearly 2,000 plays, 400 religious dramas, and hundreds of pieces of poetry and literature in every form. He was also involved throughout his life in numerous amorous and military adventures and was ordained as a priest in 1614. In his didactic poem New York Art of Writing Plays (1609), Lope defined his primary purpose as entertainment of the audience. He recommended a three-act play in which the outcome is withheld until the middle of the third act, when the denouement should be swiftly developed. Maintaining that the possibilities of classical theater had been exhausted, he advocated casting Terence and Plautus aside, that is, abandoning the classical unities. His definition of drama was eclectic, admitting combinations of comedy and tragedy, noble and lower-class characters, a variety of verse forms as demanded by different situations, and a wide panoply of themes---national, foreign, mythological, religious, heroic, pastoral, historical, and contemporary. His major strength was the execution of plot; he created no character of the depth or complexity of Shakespeare's major figures. He captured the essence of Spanish character with his treatment of the themes of honor, Catholic faith, the monarchy, and jealousy. In Peribanez (1610?), a lower-class hero is shown to be more honorable than a nobleman. King Henry the Just, a fictional creation, pardons Peribanez for his revenge killing of the nobleman who contrived to dishonor him by abusing his new bride. In Fuente Ovejuna, a play based on an event narrated in the Spanish chronicles, the people resist a cruel overlord, refusing to join the army he tries to mount against King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel. After the overlord interrupts a village wedding, the townspeople of Fuente Ovejuna collectively murder him and finally receive pardon and gratitude from the Catholic kings. Toward the end of his life Lope lost popularity, but all of Madrid attended his funeral, and his death was mourned throughout Spain. Albert Camus adapted his play, The Knight of Olmedo (1623?), for French-speaking audiences.
Comedia de extraordinaria complejidad y modernidad en el conflicto que plantea: si la soberanía reside en el pueblo, cuando la autoridad (que ha recibido el poder del pueblo) actúa al margen de quien le otorgó el poder, ¿es lícito levantarse contra la autoridad? Lope de Vega, amigo siempre del poder, parece responder afirmativamente a esta pregunta. Sólo parece… Esta comedia de Lope pone sobre las tablas la venganza colectiva de un pueblo contra el tirano. Inspirada en hechos históricos del tiempos de los Reyes Católicos, este drama encarna la defensa de la libertad frente a la opresión. Los habitantes de la villa de Fuenteovejuna, víctima de un noble despiadado, se rebelan contra los abusos de su señor y lo matan. Cuando la justicia representada por el Rey investiga, buscando un responsable, a la pregunta de «¿quién ha sido?», todos los habitantes de la villa, a coro, responden lo mismo: «Fuente Ovejuna, todos a una».