Fuenteovejuna Summary

Lope de Vega


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Fuenteovejuna Summary

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Fuenteovejuna by Lope de Vega is a three-act play written in the early 1600s, and published with a collection of his works in 1619. The play is based on the historical events of 1476 in the town of Fuenteovejuna. Fernan Gomez de Guzman, a member of the Order of Calatrava and commander in charge of the village, was mistreating the people, so they worked together to overthrow and kill him. King Ferdinand II of Aragon sent a magistrate to investigate the matter, and despite the threat of torture, the people would say only thing—that Fuenteovejuna had killed the former commander.

Lope de Vega’s play opens in the home of Rodrigo Tellez Giron. Rodrigo is the Grand Master of the Order of Calatrava. He is meeting with Fernan Gomez de Guzman, who convinces Rodrigo to seize the town of Ciudad Real for Portugal. Rodrigo decides that they will take the city, and names Guzman his Commander. In the capture of the city, Guzman attempts to take two women, Laurencia and Pascuala, against their will—but they manage to escape. Meanwhile, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain swear that they will retake Ciudad Real. Later in the first act, Laurencia meets with her lover, Frondoso, in the woods. The Commander follows and while Frondoso hides, Guzman tries to force himself on Laurencia, neglecting the crossbow he’d carried. Frondoso steals the crossbow and leaves with Laurencia. The Commander curses them both.

Act two opens in the village of Fuenteovejuna, with the Commander and Esteban, Laurencia’s father. The Commander demands that Esteban give Laurencia to him, but he refuses, earning the Commander’s ire. Before he can act on it, a soldier arrives to tell the Commander that Ferdinand and Isabella’s forces have surrounded Ciudad Real. The Commander leaves to deal with this, and Laurencia and Pascuala flee with a peasant, Mengo. They meet another peasant girl, Jacinta. Mengo tries to protect her, but the Commander’s men catch them. They threaten to whip Mengo, and warn the Commander will rape Jacinta before passing her along to his men. Laurencia and Pascuala are able to evade capture, and Esteban gives his permission for Laurencia and Frondoso to marry. However, before they can complete their wedding ceremony, the Commander returns. He arrests Frondoso for threatening him with the crossbow. Both Laurencia and Esteban protest, so they are also arrested.

In the third and final act, the men of Fuenteovejuna are trying to decide what to do about the Commander’s treatment of their people. The Commander had Laurencia beaten, and attempted to exercise droit du seigneur. This practice, translated as “Lord’s right,” gave medieval aristocracy the right to have sex with subordinate women on their wedding night. While there is no historical evidence of this practice actually taking place, it appears in many references in later years. Laurencia manages to fight off the Commander’s men and escapes custody. She meets with the men of Fuenteovejuna and scolds them for not attempting to save her; she convinces the men to kill the Commander. The Commander and his men are preparing to hang Frondoso when the villagers rush in and attack the Commander, killing him and most of his servants and men. One servant, Flores, escapes and goes to Ferdinand and Isabella to report the revolt in Fuenteovejuna. Ferdinand sends a magistrate to investigate. Meanwhile, the villagers are partying after liberating themselves from so evil a character when the magistrate arrives. They claim that Fuenteovejuna did it. The magistrate proceeds to torture indiscriminately—including children—to get an answer, but he gives up when after a lot of torture, no other answer is provided. The play ends with Ferdinand and Isabella issuing pardons to Rodrigo and the villagers.

Lope de Vega is one of Spain’s most prominent contributors to literature. He was active during the Spanish Baroque era, and is considered second only to Cervantes in his importance in creating literature of the Spanish culture and language. Fuenteovejuna has been reproduced over the centuries since it was written, including as a musical in Greece. Outside of Spain, Lope de Vega is considered one of the greatest Western dramatists, for not only did he produce a large body of work that influenced local theater and represented local culture, but he also influenced drama for a wider audience. Lope de Vega wrote about 500 plays, nine epic poems, over 3,000 sonnets, four novellas, and three novels. To this day, eighty of Lope de Vega’s plays are considered masterpieces of Baroque drama. In addition to being a prolific poet and playwright, Lope de Vega was also a marine in the Spanish Navy. Scarlet fever eventually claimed Lope de Vega’s life, and he died in Madrid—the city of his birth.