chapter  6
Courting Arcadia: Lope’s Arcadia (1598)
Pages 27

The year 1598 was a watershed year for the dreams and aspirations of both Lope de Vega (1562-1635) and the Spanish monarchy. The death of the somber Philip II (born 1527) in 1598 seemed to announce the end of an era of glittering imperial rule and global expansion that had begun to show some cracks in the foundation, as evinced by the devastation of the Spanish Armada in 1588 (an expedition in which Lope participated), the endless wars the crown continued to lead on the continent and elsewhere, and the dramatic upswing in plague, poverty, and famine on the peninsula. Yet the Spanish monarchy and empire would remain a force to be reckoned with for most of the seventeenth century, and there was hope that the new king and his circle could still right the foundering ship of state. In reality, Philip III’s ascent to the throne would usher in an epoch in which, in retrospect, the crown appeared to mask the gradual disintegration of Imperial Spain by staging lavish court spectacles and assembling writers, painters, and intellectuals of unparalleled brilliance in the history of the nation. As for Lope, as Elizabeth Wright has pointed out, until 1598 the author enjoyed celebrity primarily as a playwright and as a composer of verse for the romanceros, the popular collections of ballads. Thus, Lope’s fame rested on his public image as a successful creator of art produced for the masses. Wright convincingly argues that Arcadia, along with the epic poems La Dragontea, published also in 1598 but before the pastoral romance, and Isidro, published afterward in 1599, constitute part of a carefully mounted bid by the artist to align himself with powerful, aristocratic patrons, refashion himself as a Spanish Virgil, and realize his personal dream of becoming Philip III’s cronista, his ofcial chronicler or historian, an aspiration ultimately doomed to failure (Wright 13-23; McNair; Sánchez Jiménez, Lope pintado 72-79).