Article Title

Role and Freedom in Calderón's The Great Theater of the World


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Every individual intelligence can be regarded as a constitutive part of God, or of the moral world-order. —F. W. J. Schelling1

Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s drama The Great Theater of the World belongs to the genre of autos sacramentales that arose in Spain in the sixteenth, reached its height in the seventeenth, and disappeared from the stage in the early eighteenth century.2 It did not spawn imitators outside of the Spanish-speaking world. An auto sacramental is a play performed on Corpus Christi. In 1264, Pope Urban IV introduced the feast of Corpus Christi for the purpose of glorifying the Eucharist. John XXII (1316–34) advocated the institutional and liturgical arrangement of the feast; he decreed, for instance, that its celebration include a procession wherein the consecrated host in the monstrance would be brought outside of the church into the world and then carried back again into the church. The Corpus Christi procession articulates the sacred along with the profane as a liturgical act. In Spain, the arrangement of the procession became more and more splendid over time. Wagons with superstructure provided display areas during the procession; while at first these featured paintings of biblical scenes or saints, later such figures were represented by real persons as tableaux vivants and eventually were scenically reenacted. In the wake of the sixteenth-century schism initiated by the Protestant Reformation, which objected, among other things, to Eucharistic dogma, the feast of Corpus Christi became increasingly valorized among Catholics. In Spain’s Siglo de Oro, it became the most important feast of the year.


1 Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, trans. Peter Heath (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993), 206.

2 This essay is a version of Gerhard Poppenberg’s afterword to his bilingual (Spanish/German) edition of Calderón’s play: “Rolle und Freiheit im Welttheater,” in Pedro Calderón de la Barca, El gran teatro del mundo—Das große Welttheater, ed. and trans. Gerhard Poppenberg, in cooperation with Herle-Christin Jessen and Angela Calderón Villarino (Stuttgart: Reclam, 2012). Spanish quotations and line numbers refer to this edition, based upon the only two seventeenth-century printed versions of the play. The essay has been translated by Sylvia Rexing, Heidelberg. Any published English titles used for translation purposes have been indicated. All other translations of Spanish and German quotations, including the Calderonian lines, are Rexing’s.

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