'La parte del león', (1880) play by Alejandro Tapia y Rivera

‘La parte del león’, (1880) play by Alejandro Tapia y Rivera

Alejandro Tapia was one of the fathers of Puerto Rican literature, one of the most prolific authors of the nineteenth century, and the only one of them to work in all genres. Because of his great contributions to drama, the first theater founded in Puerto Rico bears his name; he was the first to write a theory of the genre, and one of our earliest drama critics. He was a man whose ideas were ahead of his time. As a playwright, Tapia is particularly known for the 1867 play La cuarterona, in which he denounced racial prejudice.

Tapia was born in Old San Juan to a Spanish military father and a Puerto Rican mother from Arecibo. He received his early education at the prestigious schools founded by the Conde de Carpegna and the great educator Rafael Cordero. He worked at the Treasury Department until, at the age of 23 years old, he was exiled to Madrid over a duel. There, in the capital of Spain, he joined fellow Puerto Ricans Román Baldorioty de Castro and José Julián Acosta in a project to gather all the documents about Puerto Rico that were filed there. Tapia later published them as Biblioteca Histórica de Puerto Rico [Historical Library of Puerto Rico] (1854).

In 1852 the new governor of Puerto Rico, Fernando de Norzagaray, granted Tapia a pardon, and he returned to the island, where he was active in the founding of the Puerto Rican Philharmonic Society. That same year he published the first novel written with a Puerto Rican theme, La palma del Cacique. He taught at the Museo de la Juventud in Ponce, was president of the Ateneo Puertorriqueño, and in 1880 was honored by the governor of Spain with the medal of Knight of the Royal and Distinguished Order of Carlos III. Outstanding works include the novels Póstumo el transmigrado (1872), Póstumo el envirginado (1882), and Cofresí (1876); the plays Roberto D’Evreux (1856), Bernardo de Palissy, or El heroísmo del trabajo (1857), and La parte del león (1878); the poem La Sataniada (1874) and other poems found in Misceláneas(1880); the opera libretto Guarionex, with music by Felipe Gutiérrez, first performed in 1854; the biographical works on José Campeche (1854) and Ramón Power (1873); and many published lectures, anthologies, cuadros de costumbres (vignettes of everyday life) and essays. His autobiography, Mis memorias, was left unfinished; it was published posthumously in 1927.

In his book Conferencias sobre estética y literatura: pronunciadas en el Ateneo Puertorriqueño (Lectures on Aesthetics and Literature: Delivered at the Ateneo Puertorriqueño) (1881) Tapia comments on the nature of beauty, examines the essential principles of art, and sets forth the fundamental terms of diverse literary genres, including drama. Tapia died in 1882 while lecturing at the Ateneo to a gathering of the Society for the Protection of Intelligence.

Author: Profa. Gilda Orlandi
Published: September 03, 2014.

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