The first known novel of chivalry, Amadis of Gaul, was printed in Zaragoza in 1508 and served as a model for the novels of chivalry that became (16th cent.) the most popular genre in Spain, together with the anonymous ballads (romances) that were sung and recited everywhere. Meanwhile the spirit of the Renaissance had been invading Spanish letters, and Spain had also become a dominant European power. In the reign of Emperor Charles V, the first picaresque novel, Lazarillo de Tormes, was published (1554); the identity of its author has remained a mystery.
The latter part of the 16th cent. and most of the 17th cent. made up the great era of Spanish literature, known as the Golden Age. At the start of this period the poet Garcilaso de la Vega, stimulated by the work of Juan Boscán Almogáver, succeeded in mastering the meter and essence of Italian verse and in acclimating it to the Spanish spirit, thus revolutionizing Spanish poetry. The chief prose monument of the Golden Age, and one of the masterpieces of world literature, is the novel Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. The picaresque novel flourished; notable examples are those of Mateo Alemán and Francisco de Quevedo. Baltasar Gracián was a leading didactic prose writer.
The Golden Age also produced many superb playwrights. Lope de Vega Carpio, one of the most prolific authors of all time, wrote a multitude of dramas, comedies, and religious plays. Tirso de Molina, Guillén de Castro y Bellvís, and Juan Ruiz de Alarcón were also outstanding playwrights. Calderón de la Barca was the last and probably the best dramatist of the epoch.
Also part of the Golden Age were the great Spanish mystics St. Theresa of Ávila, author of an inspired spiritual autobiography, and her disciple St. John of the Cross, one of Spain's finest lyric poets. Fray Luis Ponce de León wrote exquisite pastorals and Fernando de Herrera left stirring odes, but the most influential poet of the period was Luis de Góngora y Argote, whose precious, ornate verse was the most extreme expression of the baroque in Spanish literature; a cultivated, affected style known as Gongorism dominated Spanish letters in the latter half of the 17th cent.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.