November, 1837, Epes Sargent’s revenge tragedy, Velasco: A Tragedy, in Five Acts, premiered in Boston. The play was received with approval and published in book form in 1838. Unlike Sargent’s other major play, The Bride of Genoa, this work can be found online. Withholding spoilers, I’ll cover the major plot points in the play and briefly discuss it. You’ll find a small excerpt from the play at the end of this post.
The play, comprising of a cookie-cutter plot, besprinkled with two-dimensional politics and sometimes sub-par humor, threatens its own demise in sinking into the depths of forgotten drama. However, Sargent’s exceptional literary voice, outside of his vague humor, redeems these mundane qualities. The main plot revolves around the love story of Velasco and Izidora. Sargent purports the play to be historical, although “many of its scenes and situations are purely imaginary” (9). According to The Dramatic Mirror, and Literary Companion, Vol. 1, the play was based on “an incident in the life of the celebrated Spanish champion, Don Rodrigo Diar de Bivar” (64). The Dramatic Mirror further illustrates the tale, explaining, “This renowned hero, to avenge an insult offered to his father, slew, in single combat, the aggressor, Don Gomez of Gormaz, being, at the same time, betrothed to his daughter, Donna Ximenar. The Lady appealed to the Spanish monarch for redress; but was, subsequently, if we may credit popular tradition, united to the Campeador” (64). They criticize that Sargent absolutely took “poetical liberties” in the execution of this historical tale, just as Sargent acknowledges in his “Advertisement.” It may be agreed, therefore, that although Don Rodrigo Diar de Bivar’s tale faintly echoes the plot of Sargent’s work, Sargent personifies these historical figures and manipulates them into characters of his own design, paired with a lackluster plot.
This plot is as follows. Velasco and Izidora reunite after Velasco’s absence and vow to marry. Izadora, already engaged to a gentleman by the name of Hernando, breaks off her engagement in order to be with Velasco. Hernando proceeds to conspire and break Velasco and Izidora’s engagement through whatever means possible. Julio, Izidora’s brother, sees through Hernando’s plot and warns both his sister and their father, Gonzalez, of the foreshadowed doom. To further disrupt the unification of Velasco and Izidora, and through Hernando’s dastardly doing, Velasco’s father, De Lerma, shows dishonor towards Izidora’s father, Gonzalez. In order to clear De Lerma’s name, Velasco offers to settle the score between his father and Gonzalez. This is where Velasco and Izidora’s relationship begins to take a major tumble. Two houses are now divided, and Velasco has vowed to reclaim honor to his father’s name by placing honor and chivalric duty before love. As the genre suggests, this tragedy does not end well.
As previously mentioned, the plot is pretty basic. However, based on Sargent’s intelligent dialogue and expert stage directions, it is easy to see why this play was received well during its time. (Although, it feels like many plays were received well during the Victorian era.) It succeeds in carrying a classic air, whether it be due to the language or some vague charm about it that I still can’t pinpoint. Therefore, while in the mood of giving it more credit than I fear is due, Sargent’s play should be ranked outside of “Victorian” literature and placed amongst its successful forebears in drama. The stock plot, superb dialogue, sometimes humorous speech, inclusion of politics, and love story mixed with tragedy equal the proper ingredients to make a successful play, after all. The only thing it’s missing is a paranormal scene—or is it? Read to find out! It’s worth a couple hours of your time.
Here’s a very short excerpt taken from the beginning of the play, to allow you to test the waters.
Before the Castle of De Lerma—Time, sunset.
(Enter Velasco in the full costume of a knight of the eleventh century, followed by Alfonzo, his squire.)
Home! home, at last, Alfonzo! There they shine,
The old ancestral bulwarks, in the rays
Of the declining sun! A year has passed
Since last I gazed upon them—there they rise,
The same, as when a careless child I play’d
Beneath their mighty shadows. How each nook
Prates of the olden time! The very air
Is fragrant as the breath of infancy!
Old towers! I bring you no unworthy inmate,
No spotted scutcheon, no inglorious name!
Alfonzo! By the calendar, what day?
Is it not Santiago’s?
Ay, my lord.
This day completes my term of banishment.
(If you’re interested in reading more of what the Dramatic Mirror had to critically say, click here.)