Damned by Despair

Damned by Despair, Tirso, The National Theater

As I had never read, seen or even heard of Damned by Despair and all that i knew about the play write was that he was a Spanish monk I didn’t know what to expect. So when I opened my program 5 minutes before the play began my jaw dropped in horror at what I was about to see- a play about a pious Catholic monk pondering on how to get to heaven. However I was much mistaken…
For those of you who do not know the play it may seem to you at first, as it did to me, a play written by a monk about a monk and therefore boring and pious. In reality the play is much more violent and complex.

An extremely pious monk named Paulo has been living in the wilderness for 10 years (note the reference to Christ) when he has a visit from the devil. Paulo suffers from the sin of pride because of his belief that he is so pure that he will go to heaven. The devil tells him to go to Naples to find Enrico, a man whose afterlife will be the same as Paulo’s. Enrico is a terrifying thug who leads a gang of bandits. Paulo thinking that this will mean he will go to hell decides to form his own bandit gang. However, Enrico repents before his death thanks to the persuasion of his father who he loves dearly (perhaps his one redeeming feature). His repentance means that he goes to heaven. However Paulo believing that he is doomed to go to hell because of Enrico’s sins starts his own gang. Believing that he has done too much evil to be forgiven by God he then dies and goes to hell.

The play itself is fantastic bringing religious issues that are relevant even today in our multi-cultural world. The question of whether Enrico should be forgiven for his sins just because he repented is a difficult one and poses a tough moral question.

The actor of Paulo was great portraying the proud monk superbly. The actor of Enrico was not so good but he had a harder part to play. Enrico is meant to be a nobleman. A good likeness of him would be Cesare Borgia. However the production portrays him as a not particularly well off person. This therefore made the role difficult to play because of the very conflicting types of character. Paulo’s servant was played brilliantly. The casting of this role was perfect as he was either Irish or had a good accent which was good because at the time the play was written Ireland was Catholic. This allowed the audience to immediately identify the religion of the two men.

There was often a lot of unused space on stage. The production would have been better of on a smaller stage. However the set was generally good with a cave telling the audience that Paulo has been living like a hermit. There were many parallels with Jesus throughout the play e.g. when Enrico was chained up he looked like Jesus on the cross.

A great play with an OK production

*** 3 stars


picture from http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/damned-by-despair


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