THE text of San Diego de Alcalá has not come down to us in its original or authentic state. It was first published in 1653, eighteen years after the death of its author, in Parte tercera de los mejores ingenios de España, probably from a copy used for stage production. Seventeenth-century Spanish dramatists did not customarily retain a copy of their plays and the stage directors they sold them to altered the texts, sometimes considerably, for their presentation on the stage. Lope de Vega is the most prolific playwright of all time, the number of his full-length plays totaling somewhere between the nearly 400 we have today and a possible legendary figure of 1500. Some 240 were published during his lifetime in parte collections, 144 of these under his personal direction, but even these were not in their original form. Lope laments, in one of his prologues, that his old plays came home to him “like old soldiers from the wars with a wooden leg, half an arm, and an eye missing.” It should be no wonder, then, that the text of San Diego de Alcalá is full of inconsistencies.
Lope never mentioned San Diego de Alcalá in his other writings and letters, but the work is undoubtedly his. It is not known when he composed it. Some critics have believed that it is one of his early works. They point to Alí, a Moor and character in the play, as one reason, believing that Lope would not have used him after the expulsion of the moriscos in 1609. This, however, is a weak argument. The proximity of certain events is also adduced as evidence of an early date. One is the illness of Prince Carlos, referred to toward the end of the third act, who was reportedly cured in 1562 by contact with the saint’s remains. Carlos’s father, Philip II urged canonization for San Diego and it was granted in 1588. Menéndez y Pelayo, Spain’s eminent nineteenth-century scholar, also believed that the style of the play belonged to Lope’s early period. More recently, however, Morley and Bruerton convincingly date the play 1613 through a careful analysis of its versification patterns and because that year marked the 150th anniversary of the saint’s death (he died in Alcalá in 1463) and the 25th of his canonization.
Both modern editions of San Diego de Alcalá are based on the seventeenth-century parte version. Hartzenbusch included it in volume four of Lope de Vega’s plays in the Biblioteca de Autores Españoles (no. 52), which appeared in 1860 but is still being reissued. Menéndez y Pelayo published the same text with minor variants in volume five of Obras de Lope de Vega publicadas por la Real Academia Española series (1890-1913), for which he wrote an interesting commentary.