Ramón María del Valle-Inclán
First NameRamón María
BirthVillanueva de Arosa [Vilanova de Arousa], Province of Pontevedra, Galicia (1866)
DeathSantiago de Compostela, Spain (1936)
Spanish writer. Ramón María del Valle-Inclán’s disconcerting, fantastic and bitingly satirical work is well suited to puppets in many of its aspects. In the prologue to one of his esperpentos (a literary style in Spanish literature that uses cruelly distorted descriptions of reality in order to criticize society), Los cuernos de don Friolera (The Horns of Don Friolera, 1921), subsequently published together with other esperpentos under the title Martes de Carnaval (Mardi Gras, 1930), Valle-Inclán expresses his approval of bululú: a genre of popular theatre played by a puppeteer in taverns, presenting stories of cuckolds, sometimes replaced, if necessary, by tales of sacred origin. The language and style are hardly distinguishable, between the Neapolitan, Latin, Portuguese or the Cantabrian, but, as one of the characters affirms, “these puppets on the shoulders of a blind man are more evocative than all of the Spanish rhetorical theatre…”
The dialogue invented by Valle-Inclán is one of the rare examples of literary evidence we have on the bululú, a form of puppet theatre then popular in Spain. Yet its morality and philosophy impacts all of this playwright’s work. The most important genre, which he invented, the esperpento (grotesque farce), is directly related, in its ironic and satirical vision, to the puppet theatre of the time – even down to the construction of the characters and the situations, typical of this sharp-edged, angry show to be seen at the time in the streets and taverns. He defined his theatre as: “…looking at the world from a higher plane, regarding the characters of the plot as beings inferior to the author, with a touch of irony. The gods are the sane characters. This is a very Spanish style, the style of the demiurge, who does not believe he is in any way made of the same clay as his puppets… This style is defined in Goya.”
Valle-Inclán influenced writers such as Federico García Lorca and Antonin Artaud by his invention of a theatre which broke with tradition. He subtitled some of his plays “mysteries for silhouettes” – Ligazón (Liaison, 1926) and Sacrilegio (Sacrilege, 1927); or “melodramas for puppets” – La rosa de papel (The Paper Rose, 1924), La cabeza del Bautista (The Head of the Baptist, 1924). These works were collected under the title Retablo de la avaricia, la lujuria y la muerte (Puppet Play of Greed, Lust and Death, 1927). Previously there had appeared Tablado de marionetas (Puppet Stage, 1926), which brought together three farces published at different times. Although it appears that all these were not written specifically for puppet theatre but for actors who were to perform as puppets, several European companies have interpreted them with puppets.