The Sleep of Reason

Citation metadata

Editor: Elizabeth Thomason
Date: 2001
Drama for Students
From: Drama for Students(Vol. 11. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Character overview; Critical essay; Play explanation; Work overview; Biography; Plot summary
Pages: 13
Content Level: (Level 4)

Document controls

Main content

Full Text: 
Page 260

The Sleep of Reason


The Sleep of Reason (El sueno de la razori) was first performed in 1970 and remains the principal work by which Antonio Buero Vallejo is known in the United States. Buero Vallejo’s play is just one of many in his works devoted to criticizing Spain’s long struggle to institute increased freedoms of speech and political action. The Sleep of Reason takes place in the Spain of 1823, just after the French invaded Spain to put the Spanish king, Ferdinand VII, back on the throne (the monarchy was thrown out of power for a three-year period called the Liberal Triennium), and focuses on the king’s obsession to punish those he thinks oppose and threaten him. One man stands out: former painter to the king and one of the world’s great painters, Francisco Goya (1746-1828). Not only is Goya a Liberal, a member of the Spanish faction opposed to unlimited powers of church and crown, but he has recently offended the king in a letter intercepted in the mail.

From one side The Sleep of Reason is a study in imperial repression. But more importantly, the work explores the effects of repression, threat, and intimidation on individuals, most importantly in this case, on Goya. The painter lives in fear of the political consequences of his affiliations, and as a direct or indirect result, exhibits a number of symptoms—from increased insecurity accompanying diminished sexuality, to auditory and visual hallucinations. Buero Vallejo’s play is a timeless case study situated in political and psychological history.

Page 261  |  Top of Article

Reflecting this depiction of both outer political and inner psychological states is the most memorable feature of The Sleep of Reason: the multimedia staging called for by the author. Like most plays it consists of actors in costume and props. But more impressively, the play is staged against the backdrop of large projections of Goya’s puzzling and threatening Black Paintings (c. 1820-1823), the amplified sounds of Goya’s heartbeats and hallucinations, and the live fantasia of sinister dream figures dressed in grotesque costume. The combination of these effects as early as 1970 led one critic to call The Sleep of Reason the first work of “total theater” by a Spanish author.


Antonio Buero Vallejo was born September 29, 1916, in Guadalajara, Spain, just east of Madrid. Buero Vallejo’s father, a military engineer, owned a sizable collection of plays and drama journals. These inspired the young Buero Vallejo to stage his own plays in which he mimicked imaginary battles dressed, for example, as D’Artagnan of Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers(1844), sang old ballads, and read and recited dialogue. Buero Vallejo and his friends progressed into constructing elaborate sets of complete towns with wooden boxes as houses and “actors” made of cardboard. Shifting the props, they acted out legends of the wild west, stories of outer space travel, or fairy tales. But young Buero Vallejo wanted to be a painter, partially from an intense interest in the great Spanish painter, Diego Velazquez (1599-1660). At eighteen, Buero Vallejo enrolled in Madrid’s San Fernando School of Fine Arts. When the Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936, Buero Vallejo ceased study to enlist with the Loyalists as a medic. At the war’s end, in 1939, he was sentenced to death but the sentence was commuted, then reduced to six years. At twenty-nine, in 1946, Buero Vallejo was freed. He made a living, though meager, selling his paintings, but eventually switched to theater. By 1949, he had written several plays and had won two important awards. His one-act play The Words in the Sand won the Friends of the Quinteros Award and his Story of a Stairway won the prestigious Lope de Vega Prize. These awards and the production of his work established Buero Vallejo as the first socially conscious dramatist since the Spanish Civil War.

Buero Vallejo’s success exposed him to the hostility and censorship of critics aligned with the Fascist government of Francisco Franco. Buero Vallejo experienced difficulty in getting some of his plays by the censors, especially those with political themes. Examples of such plays include Adventure in Grey, an allegory of the Spanish Civil War written around 1949 but not performed until 1963, and a history of police torture, The Double Case History of Doctor Valmy, which, though performed in England, was not performed or published in Spain until 1970. Buero Vallejo’s trouble with censors dogged him, even though his target was the Spain of over one hundred years ago.

Buero Vallejo has received numerous prizes, among them the Maria Rolland Prize (1956, 1958, 1960), Nacional de Teatro Prize (1957,1958, 1959, 1980), Fundacion March prize (1959), Critica de Barcelona Prize (1960), El Espectadory la Critica prize (1967, 1970, 1974, 1977, 1981, 1984, 1986), Leopoldo Cano Prize (1968, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1977), Mayte Prize (1974), Cervantes prize (1986), Medalla de Oro al Merito en las Bellas Artes (1993), and the Nacional de las Letras Prize (1996). One of Buero Vallejo’s most recent plays, Mission to the Deserted Town, had its premiere at Madrid’s Teatro Espanol in October, 1999. The play concerns the rescue of an El Greco painting during the Spanish Civil War. In January 1999 there was a major revival of his 1974 play, The Foundation, the production having toured as far as Buenos Aires. Buero Vallejo died on April 29,2000, in Madrid, Spain, of a stroke.


Act I

It is December 1823 and Spain’s King Ferdinand VII is in Madrid. Ferdinand discusses past, present, and future with his advisor, Francisco Tadeo Calomarde. Ferdinand has just been restored to the throne with help from the French, and he and Calomarde discuss what to do with his political enemies, the Liberals. Of special note is the letter that the king’s men have intercepted. It is from Francisco Goya to a friend. The letter contains words against Ferdinand, and for this Calomarde wants Goya hanged. Ferdinand appears calm and instructs Calomarde to arrange two meetings: first, with the commander-general of the Royal Volunteers, the king’s army/police; second, with Don Jose

Page 262  |  Top of Article

Antonio Buero-Vallejo Antonio Buero-Vallejo

Duaso y Latre, a priest and chaplain to the king. Suspense is aroused as a result of Ferdinand’s order to Calomarde not to allow Father Duaso and the commander-general to see each other.

Scene two opens at the home of Goya, formerly the king’s painter. Goya lives with his mistress/ housekeeper, Leocadia Zorilla Weiss, who is legally married to someone else, but now estranged. Because Goya is deaf, he speaks to Leocadia in sign language, who signs back. Goya is, for unknown reasons, worried about his daughter and chastises Leocadia for allowing her to go out. When Goya goes out to look for Mariquita, Eugenio Arrieta, Goya’s friend and physician, enters and discusses the old painter alone with Leocadia. She tells Arrieta that Goya is insane. His paintings, says Leocadia, are a sure sign. In one painting, she thinks she is the model for a woman beheading a man (Judith and Holofernes), and is upset at the obscenity of another in which a man masturbates while two women look on (The Busybodies). Dr. Arrieta questions Leocadia, a woman less than half Goya’s age, about her and Goya’s sex life. Arrieta learns that Goya—now seventy-six years old—formerly had a robust sex drive that is now diminished. Arrieta finds that Leocadia also believes Goya crazy because he is unafraid of persecution by King Ferdinand. Leocadia says with all the king’s banishments, whippings, and executions of Liberals (those wanting to rein in the monarchy), Goya, a Liberal, should be fearful and escape. That he refuses indicates madness. When Goya enters and sees the doctor, Goya confirms he is unafraid, even though he has just seen—having just returned from seeking his daughter—the Royal Volunteers near the house. Goya then talks to Arrieta about his paintings. Goya remarks that he was formerly brought before the Inquisition (1478-1834), the infamous Catholic court, to account for painting a nude. Goya then confides he is hearing things and wonders if it means that his hearing is on the mend (throughout the play, Goya has auditory hallucinations heard by the audience over a sound system, but unheard by the characters). The doctor replies that Goya’s hearing is not returning, that Goya is indeed, irrevocably deaf. Leocadia now returns with news the king has decreed new repressive measures threatening Liberals and other enemies of the crown, but she only tells Arrieta. Then Goya tells the doctor he has seen flying men who Goya hopes will “put an end to all the cruelties in the world.” Arrieta advises Goya to escape but Goya says he must remain. The scene ends with Leocadia urging Goya to flee Spain.

Scene three opens in Goya’s home with Leocadia speaking with Gumersinda Goicoechea, Goya’s daughter-in-law. Gumersinda tells Leocadia she refuses to hide Goya from Ferdinand. When Gumersinda leaves, Goya tells Leocadia that he believes she is having an affair with a Royal Volunteer stationed near the estate. She denies it. Father Duaso arrives, sent by Ferdinand. There is some tension between Arrieta (who has also entered) and Duaso, who are, politically, on opposite sides. Goya now enters with news that someone has painted a threatening cross and written “heretic” on the door of his house. Duaso indicates that this kind of harassment will stop if Goya to apologizes to Ferdinand. Goya refuses. As Duaso leaves, a rock, with a threatening note attached, breaks through a window. Still, Goya refuses to leave.

Act II

The king is speaking to Father Duaso, who is reporting on his trip to Goya’s. Duaso argues for Goya’s safety, but Ferdinand is far more interested in Goya’s submission. Though Ferdinand will not actively demand it, he does seem pleased that Goya feels somewhat threatened. Ferdinand affirms he will not rescind the decree making an assault against the property of Liberals pardonable for the reason Page 263  |  Top of Articlethat he wants to keep the Liberals afraid. Duaso is instructed to visit Goya again on December 23, but told not to arrive before 8:00. Ferdinand does not say why.

Goya is alone but listening to the voices in his head, especially that of his daughter, Mariquita. Mariquita tells him to look for the button from a Royal Volunteer’s uniform amongst Leocadia’s belongings. Mariquita fills Goya with suspicions of Leocadia having an affair. When Leocadia enters, Goya reveals his suspicion and shows her a button from an officer’s uniform. She denies any affair, but says an officer did give it to her outside the house and promised to return to get it. Goya doubts Leocadia’s story. Arrieta interrupts them and Leocadia exits. Goya tells Arrieta there have been no more threats since Arrieta last visited (Goya wonders to himself if Leocadia’s affair has kept the threats away). Goya is also worried that the letter he sent has not been answered. By scene’s end, Goya finally receives a letter from his friend asking why Goya has not written. Goya suddenly realizes his letter has been intercepted.

On December 23 at Father Duaso’s, the father and Doctor Arrieta are conferring before going to Goya’s. Arrieta says that Goya’s letter was intercepted and that he wants Duaso to convince Goya he is in mortal danger. Arrieta knows that the king has told Duaso not to leave before 8:00 but convinces Duaso that this indicates Goya could be in danger. Duaso agrees and both leave to try and save Goya.

At his home, Goya is dreaming. In his dream, he hears the voices of demons, part animal, part human (the audience is able to see them) accusing Goya of crimes and tormenting him. When he awakes, he hears beating at the door. Five Royal Volunteers have broken in. They tie Goya in a chair and place him on mock trial. Then they beat him. After, the sergeant rapes Leocadia, with Goya a helpless witness. When the Volunteers leave, Goya accuses Leocadia of having collaborated with the Volunteers. Goya threatens to shoot her, but comes to realize his jealousy has been a sign of his own weakness. As Leocadia ushers him out, Gumersinda enters and Goya (showing he has come to his senses) asks her for asylum. She refuses, saying it will put her family in danger. Angry, he slaps her. Then, as with Leocadia, Goya blames himself, realizing his reason has been sleeping. Duaso and Arrieta now enter too late to save Goya and Leocadia. To make up for what he has done, Duaso promises to provide Goya with temporary asylum until Goya can escape to France.


Eugenio Arrieta

Eugenio Arrieta is Francisco de Goya’s friend and physician. In Marion Peter Holt’s translation of The Sleep of Reason, Buero Vallejo describes Arrieta as “between fifty-five and sixty. He is vigorous but gaunt. His blond hair is turning gray; he hides his incipient baldness by combing his hair forward; he has a large cranium and the sharp features of an ascetic; he has a gentle and melancholy look.” Arrieta is Goya’s loyal friend, risking his safety by associating with Goya, and by urging Father Duaso, the king’s chaplain, to provide asylum for Goya. Arrieta, though verbally careful, shows dissatisfaction with Ferdinand’s repressive practices, especially censorship.

Francisco de Goya

Francisco Goya (1746-1828) (also called Francho) is one of the world’s great painters and the play’s main character. Depicted as a genius beyond the understanding of those around him, Goya is thought by his mistress, Leocadia, to be going mad: Goya imagines voices and sounds, believes in messianic flying men, imagines Leocadia to be having an affair with a soldier, refuses to believe he in danger from the king, and paints what Leocadia thinks of as horrid and obscene paintings. Goya is, however, under multiple pressures: he is aging and losing confidence in his once robust sexuality, has been isolated from friends, family, and the palace, and is now concerned the king might endanger him. This point in Goya’s life marks the end of a three-year project of fourteen paintings—now called the Black Paintings—on the walls of two rooms of his home. Their subject matter concerns—depending on the interpretation one reads—either fear or courage in the face of threat. At different times during the course of the play, one, two, or three paintings are projected onstage so as to be seen by the audience. They serve as both backdrop to the action and conversational fodder for the characters. As for Goya, Buero Vallejo’s characterization of him is not altogether praiseworthy. Though Goya is under intense pressures, he places his associates in danger by arrogantly believing that the king would not dare harm him, the “great Goya.” When proved wrong, Page 264  |  Top of ArticleGoya, to his credit, finally realizes his mistake and reforms his actions.

Don Jose Duaso y Latre

Father Duaso is King Ferdinand’s recently hired chaplain in charge of censoring publications. Characteristic of a new employee, Duaso is naive, unsuspecting of the king’s will to vengeance. Duaso, though politically opposed to Goya, is a longlasting acquaintance, and so does not want Goya harmed by Ferdinand. On assignment from the king, Duaso tries to convince Goya to prostrate himself before Ferdinand and come back to work as the king’s painter. Goya refuses, and Duaso realizes too late that Goya, as a result of his defiance, is in mortal danger from the king. Duaso agrees to provide asylum for Goya, asks the king to forgive the painter, and gives him leave to go to France. Though not part of the play, the real-life Duaso was successful.

Ferdinand VII

Ferdinand is Spain’s repressive king, a figure more cunningly despicable than Calomarde. Thanks to the French, Ferdinand has recently been reinstated to the throne after three years of exile. Now he is out to revenge himself on Liberals, Masons, Jews, and others who had opposed his absolute authority. Ferdinand wants Goya, not only because Goya is a defiant Liberal who once served him, but because Goya has insulted him in an intercepted letter. The king concocts a plan to make Goya pay: Ferdinand sends soldiers to Goya’s home, to beat and humiliate him, and then rape Goya’s mistress, Leocadia. Ferdinand’s plan is mostly successful: Goya decides to apologize to the king and seek the king’s permission to leave Spain. However, it is not known whether Goya remained defiant by refusing to once again serve the king as court painter.


See Francisco de Goya

Gumersinda Goicoechea

Gumersinda is Goya’s daughter-in-law, married to Goya’s only surviving child. Not fond of Goya (she calls him Leocadia’s “master”), she does not want to offer him asylum, nor bring her children to see him. Leocadia believes Gumersinda and Goya’s son (her husband) want Goya to die so they can inherit his estate. While Buero Vallejo does not reveal whether this is true, his depiction of Gumersinda makes it quite possible.


See Marίa Weiss

Francisco Tadeo Calomarde

Calomarde is the king’s advisor. He wants Goya hanged for insults to the king found in a letter to Goya’s friend. Buero Vallejo describes Calomarde: “He appears to be fifty and is also dressed in dark colors. His hair tousled over a smooth forehead; two shining little eyes gleam in his sheep-like features.” The description is of an evil and fawning man, a sheepish sycophant to a lion king, but ruthless to anyone opposing the king.

Various Dream Figures

These are various animal and carnival figures of Goya’s dream, tormenting him with a trial and beatings. They consist of a bat figure, a cat figure, a horned figure, and two pig figures. They are both shadows of Goya’s thoughts and “foreshadows” of the break-in by the Royal Volunteers.

Volunteers of the Royal Army

The sergeant of the Volunteers gave Leocadia a metal button saying he would return to get it. When Goya finds it amongst Leocadia’s things, he believes she is having an affair with him. Near the end of the play, the sergeant and four soldiers break into Goya’s home on orders from Ferdinand. They loot and break up the house, humiliate Goya by subjecting him to a mock trial, beat him, and then rape Leocadia. Before leaving, the sergeant threatens Goya with a return visit.

Marίa Weiss

The Voice of Marίa (also known as Mariquita) is one of Leocadia’s two children. She appears as a disembodied voice that makes Goya paranoid. Mariquita’s voice urges Goya to suspect Leocadia of an affair with a soldier. Mariquita was born after Goya became deaf. Partially because he regrets never having heard her voice, he hallucinates it (Goya and his wife, Josefa Bayeu, probably had seven children but only one survived). It is usually believed that Mariquita was the issue of Leocadia and Goya.

Leocadia Zorilla Weiss

Leocadia is Goya’s mistress and housekeeper. She is estranged from her husband but takes care of the two children, Marίa and Guillermo. Marίa is now thought to have been Goya’s child. Leocadia and Goya are having problems because he refuses to Page 265  |  Top of Articlebelieve the king seeks vengeance on him. Leocadia is sure of it, and is proved painfully right when Ferdinand sends his men to humiliate her and Goya. Goya suspects Leocadia of having an affair with a soldier, probably because his imagination is stirred up by loss of his sexual appetite and its accompanying insecurities. Leocadia is the play’s smartest character: she is the only one who fears the king’s wrath and power completely. Her perspicacity is, however, fruitless since her loyalty to Goya keeps her with him and makes her a victim of rape by a sergeant of the Royal Volunteers.


Repression and Fear

The characters of The Sleep of Reason can be divided into two categories: repressors and the repressed. The repressors are both real and unreal. The real repressors are King Ferdinand VII, Calomarde, and the soldiers of the Royal Volunteers. They are engaged in the same project: intimidation of the Spanish populace to force political compliance. Methods of intimidation include banishments, beatings, and executions. While Calomarde is clearly evil in machination, the soldiers are evil in practice. Calomarde wants Goya hanged for insulting the king in a private letter to a friend and the soldiers break in and loot Goya’s home, beat and humiliate him, and rape Goya’s mistress. The king’s depravity is far more subtle, primarily because others execute his orders while he speaks quietly and embroiders flowers (somewhat like the archenemy stroking a white cat in a James Bond film). Ferdinand masterminds the plan to teach Goya fear and humility, sends the soldiers to dress Goya in the costume of the “penitents” on trial before the Inquisition, and then subject him and Leocadia to torment.

The unreal repressors appear in Goya’s dream as animal figures subjecting a sleeping Goya to humiliations nearly identical with those suffered at the hands of the soldiers. These dream figures (bat, cat, horned figure, and two pigs) are five, the same number as the Royal Volunteers. The bat-man is a composite figure combining the Inquisitional judge and the sergeant of the Royal Volunteers; the cat figure, a composite figure of Leocadia and Calomarde; the horned figure represents both death and the king; and the two pigs are Royal Volunteers. The only major difference between dream and reality

Sidebar: HideShow


  • Compare and contrast two historical periods: the period just after Ferdinand’s restoration to the Spanish throne in 1823, and the time of Franco’s takeover of Spain after its civil war (1936-1939). Then, investigate the late sixties in Spain for events that could have immediately led to Buero writing The Sleep of Reason.
  • Study the history of Spain from the 1800s to the present. Focus on attempts to limit the power of church and crown in order to establish greater freedoms and increased political input. Present your findings as a “Democracy Chronology” or “Democracy Timeline.”
  • After studying the Black Paintings, provide reasons for their projection at particular times in The Sleep of Reason. Present these findings to your class showing the paintings as either slides or plates from books.
  • Provide your class with a history of twentieth-century Spanish theater up to The Sleep of Reason. Supplement your paper with a timeline copied on a transparency for display on an overhead projector.

is Leocadia: in Goya’s dream, transmuted by his suspicious nature, she is a repressor, but in the rape scene, she is a victim.

The repressed figures are Goya, Leocadia, Gumersinda, and Doctor Arrieta. Of these Gumersinda is the most difficult with whom to sympathize—her actions appear motivated by selfishness. Goya also is not entirely sympathetic, since his arrogance is the cause of Leocadia’s rape and the threatening crucifix painted on Arrieta’s door.

Only one figure is left—Father Duaso. He is a more complex person because he operates on the side of the repressors, but retains sympathy with the victimized. The reason Duaso teeters between repressor and repressed is largely the product of his naivete: Duaso cannot imagine the king would take Page 266  |  Top of Articlesuch extreme measures to subdue Goya, an innocent, old man that no longer represents an important threat. By the time Duaso realizes his mistake, he has himself become a repressor.

Sanity versus Insanity

Was Goya insane? Leocadia plainly thinks so. She calls Goya’s The Busybodies obscene since it pictures a masturbator; Judith and Holofernes paranoid (since she thinks it depicts her as Judith cutting off the head of Goya as Holof ernes); lastly, she claims Goya told her that she was the “witch” in Asmodea. She also knows that Goya hears voices. Her strongest reason for thinking Goya insane is his fearlessness of the king’s persecution. Buero Vallejo stands behind most of Leocadia’s claims. In the first case, she knows Goya gratifies himself, though it is not clear whether Leocadia thinks masturbation, or its depiction, is obscene. The second related point of debate is whether the obscenity (wherever it lies) indicates insanity. Buero Vallejo leaves this to readers. Next, Leocadia’s claim that she is Judith is borne out in Goya’s dream where she nearly beheads him with a knife. And finally, Goya does call Leocadia a witch, though his comment does not refer to Asmodea. As to hearing voices there is little doubt, since Goya tells Arrieta he hears them. The most damning of Leocadia’s claims about Goya’s madness—that he is not afraid when he should be—is proven painfully true. Still, do these lapses of judgment prove him foolish or insane?

Apart from Leocadia’s judgments, other factors might lead readers to think Goya insane. He believes he has seen flying men but cannot decide whether they will be good or evil when they intervene in human affairs, as he assumes they will. Is this visionary, Goya seeing into a future when humans fly, or delusional, a product of messianic hope? Finally, there exists the issue of Goya’s paranoia about Leocadia having an affair. Because he has found the sergeant’s button, Goya’s suspicion is not completely unfounded. But after the soldiers rape Leocadia and beat and humiliate him, Goya persists in his paranoia believing she has invited the soldiers in. If this is madness, is it temporary since he soon realizes his mistake? And one final question: If none of these—obscenity, auditory and visual hallucinations, foolish arrogance, and severe paranoia—in and of themselves bespeak insanity, what about all of them combined? By leaving the question unanswered, Buero Vallejo might be indicating that madness is not the most important issue.



The Sleep of Reason takes place in Madrid during the month of December 1823, ending December 23. There are three locales in the play: the king’s palace in Madrid, Goya’s estate (quinta del sordo, house of the deaf), and Father Duaso’s quarters in Madrid. Goya’s estate and the king’s palace are located across the Manzanares River from each other, close enough to be seen through a spyglass. All scenes take place inside.

Literary Devices

Foreshadowing is the most prominent device. Its most memorable employment is in Goya’s dream, when animal monsters subject him to torture, trial, and humiliation. This is just before Goya wakes up and is subjected to the same treatment by soldiers of the Royal Volunteers. Allegory is another device: the events of Spain in 1823 refer to Franco’s Spain (1939-70) and, partially, to Buero Vallejo’s own story when he was jailed after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Symbolism and allegory abound in Goya’s Black Paintings, complex and opaque enough to occupy the contents of numerous books and studies. The play is a combination of modes: historical and realistic because it depicts primarily real events and real people, but also fantastic since it indicates the inner state of the painter, his auditory hallucinations, his amplified heartbeats, and the terrifying phantasmagoria of his dreams.


The play has no soliloquies and almost all dialogue is between two people: Ferdinand and Caloverde, Goya and Leocadia, Leocadia and Gumersinda, Duaso and Arrieta, and so on. The dialogue’s most unusual feature is that much is signed, Goya being deaf. It is, however, characters speaking to Goya who use it, and rarely Goya himself, since he is deaf but not mute. The other prominent aspect of the dialogue is that the disembodied voices are of two sorts: those of real persons like Mariquita, or of males and females from the paintings. These are heard by Goya and no one else onstage.

Set and Sound

Set and sound are the most distinctive aspect of Buero Vallejo’s multimedia production. Not only are there sets with props and costumed characters, but Goya’s paintings are projected onstage, timed to Page 267  |  Top of Articlecoincide with applicable dialogue or events. The paintings are employed as objects for characters’ discussion, or as “silent” accompaniment to happenings on stage. While the play has no music, there is plenty of projected sound: not only characters’ lines, but a profusion of words from disembodied voices and sounds thrown into the auditorium. These are primarily Goya’s auditory hallucinations and heartbeats. One final aspect of the sound is its absence: when characters sign, only traces of speech are seen. Such multimedia aspects make Buero Vallejo’s play larger than the stage, as large as the theater.


Movement is not a large part of this play except when Goya and Leocadia are violated by the five soldiers of the Royal Volunteers and shortly thereafter when Goya and Leocadia quarrel. Movement mostly arises in terms of successive paintings projected onstage, and sign language performed primarily by Leocadia, Arrieta, and Gumersinda.


The victor of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39)—aided by Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy—was the far Right Nationalist general, Francisco Franco. Franco defeated the leftist-radical Republican Popular Front which had, six months before the war, gained power in legal elections. Franco’s rule (1939-75) was characterized in the early years by repressive military tribunals, political purges, suppression of regional languages and cultures, censorship (which affected some of Buero Vallejo’s plays), and economic woe for most of the populace. Franco imprisoned former Republican, also known as Loyalist, soldiers in camps where many were starved while they awaited court martial. Members of labor syndicates and the Popular Front were also threatened with trials. The Popular Front originated in 1935 with Stalin, who advocated a strategy of “popular front” alliances between socialists and communists throughout the world to fight fascism, especially Franco. As was the case in Ferdinand’s Spain, Freemasonry was considered one of the most heinous crimes. An estimated one million people went to prison. Thousands were condemned to death and executed. Mussolini’s son-in-law, Count Ciano, visited Spain in the summer of 1939 and reported that 200 to 250 executions took place every day in Madrid, 150 in Barcelona, 80 in Seville. It is estimated that approximately 200,000 people were executed from 1939 to 1941, when state killings started tapering off. Many of the jailed were freed after hard labor ruined their health or their place in civil society was destroyed. Buero Vallejo, himself, had been a medic with the Popular Front Republicans and was imprisoned after the war for six years. During his imprisonment, Spain entered World War II, sending 40,000 troops to fight with the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, Japan) against the Allies (Britain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States). When the war began going badly for Axis, Spain declared its neutrality, but sent raw materials to the Allies. As a result, Spain escaped sanctions by the Allies after the war.

Franco’s hold on power, while successful, was not without opposition from monarchists led by Don Juan, heir of Alfonso XIII, king of Spain (1886-1931), and from communist guerilla attacks. During this period, the Catholic Church controlled Spain’s education and the country existed as an autarky (self-sufficient state) out of choice and because it was excluded from the United Nations until 1955. In 1953, an agreement establishing four United States military bases in Spain supplied Franco with the money to hold down oppositional elements. A concordat with the Pope gave Franco added respectability.

Franco played his allies—the Falange (the ruling party), monarchists, and Catholics—one against the other in order to promote those he knew were loyal to him and to keep rightist factions in balance. From the left, political opposition mounted from student protests and workers, and from unsuccessful attempts by the Communist Party of Spain to form a united front against Franco. Meanwhile, Spain suffered from inflation, a growing deficit, and workers’ strikes. Devaluation of European currencies brought about the Stabilization Plan (1959), which forced Franco to abandon the economic nationalism, protectionism, and state intervention characteristic of autarky. The opening of Spain to international trade and a subsequent encouragement of private enterprise in 1963 brought Spain out of economic doldrums. Tourism, foreign investment, and wages increased. The mass migration from country to city resulted in a dramatic drop—from 42 percent in 1960 to 20 percent in 1976—in the agricultural workforce. Spain was becoming industrialized. But the only substantial cultural result of industrialization and wealth was the Press Law (1966), enabling greater freedom of the press. Meanwhile, workers kept up the pressure, forming their

Page 268  |  Top of Article

Sidebar: HideShow


  • 1823: Goya finishes his fourteen Black Paintings on the walls of his home, quinta del sordo, in Madrid.

    1969: Vito Acconci’s Conversion ushers in “body art” with an attempt to conceal his body’s masculinity, partially by burning the hair off his body and hiding his genitals.

    1970: Jose Gudiol publishes his four volume work, Goya: 1746-1828, Biografia, estudio analitico y catalogo de sus pinturas, in Barcelona.

    Today: All the Black Paintings—now existing as oil on canvas—have been restored and hang in Madrid’s Prado Museum.

  • 1823: After the French enter Spain to restore Ferdinand VII to the Spanish throne, Major Rafael de Riego, who in 1820 had initiated a Liberal constitutional revolution against the monarchy, is publicly humiliated and then executed for treason on November 7. In addition, Ferdinand begins intense repression of Liberals.

    1969: Following intensifying protests over the government’s treatment of political prisoners and the suspicious death of a student in police custody, Spain’s dictator, Francisco Franco, suspends civil liberties for three months. Freedom of expression and assembly, the right to choose one’s residence, immunity from search and seizure of private homes without a warrant, and the right to have charges brought within seventy-two hours of arrests are all abrogated. Professors and students are targeted for jailing and deportation. About 700 people are imprisoned.

    Today: Spain is a parliamentary democracy with universal suffrage.

  • 1823: The Catholic Church, in collaboration with King Ferdinand VII, gains renewed control over Spain.

    1970s: The Church and Franco’s government begin a separation of church and state.

    Today: Though Spain is ninety-nine-percent Roman Catholic, church and state have become entirely separate.

own organizations—particularly Workers Commissions—to negotiate claims of unfair pay and plan strikes. Workers even began to get sympathy from certain groups within the Church, particularly younger priests.

Throughout Spain, regional nationalisms proved intractable. Most important was Basque nationalism in northern Spain, which also began to gain the sympathy of the clergy. With the Burgos trials of members of the ETA (from the Basque, “Basque Homeland and Liberty”—the combat wing of the Basque party) for terrorism in 1970, Franco’s government found itself discredited abroad. In the 1960s, new problems arose over Franco’s successor. Franco wanted Juan Carlos to be instated as king and head of state but this did not happen. In June 1973, Luis Carrero Blanco, another of Franco’s men, was named head of state. By December, Blanco was dead, assassinated by the ETA. Another premier, Carlos Arias Navarro, succeeded him as the first civilian ruler since the Spanish Civil War. Franco died November 20, 1975, and was succeeded by King Juan Carlos I. Because of Juan Carlos, Spain actively moved toward increased internationalization and liberalization to the point where, today, Spain has become a member of the European Economic Community.


As multifaceted and multilayered as Buero Vallejo’s play is the history of its critical reception. Unlike controversies surrounding some plays, The Sleep of Reason does not fire controversy, but research and Page 269  |  Top of Articleanalysis. Shortly after The Sleep of Reason first appeared in 1970, Ricardo Domenech, in “Notas sobre El sueno de la razon,” points out that the epoch of civil discord under Ferdinand VII resembles the period during and immediately following the Spanish Civil War; the play is therefore both historical and contemporary. Domenech also draws parallels between Ferdinand and Goya: Ferdinand embroiders and Goya paints, and both use spyglasses to view each other across the Manzanares River running through Madrid. In the same year, Juan Emilio Aragones, in “Goya, pintor baturro y liberal,” calls the work the first spectacle of “total theater” by a Spanish author. “Total” refers to the play’s use of audio and visual projections, and the depiction of Goya’s inner and outer life. In “El sueno de la razon de Antonio Buero Vallejo,” Angel Fernandez-Santos notices that the play contains elements of each of three major forms of contemporary theater—participation, distancing, and the absurd—all of them combined in satiric and macabre scenes like the dispute between Leocadia and Gumersinda. In 1970, John Kronik points out that Goya’s criticism of a reality which does not correspond to ideals is the result not of hate, but of love. Two years later, in a more lengthy analysis of The Sleep of Reason, Robert B. Nicholas continues the observations of Domenech on the parallels between Ferdinand and Goya. Nicholas views both characters as dominated by fear. John Dowling subsequently picks up on Nicholas’s motif of fear but places it in the black paintings in which terror and irrationality are combined.

The most important text in English on Buero Vallejo’s life and works is Martha Halsey’s Antonio Buero Vallejo. She observes a thread running through Buero Vallejo’s work until the early seventies: “In The Sleep of Reason, as in the preceding two plays [A Dreamer for a People and Las Meninas], Buero Vallejo dramatizes certain negative moments in Spain’s history to illustrate problems whose essence and reality are still present today and to point out the need for tolerance and intelligence. In these plays, no less than in Story of a Stairway, Today’s a Holiday, and The Cards Face Down, we see the tragedy of present-day Spain.” Lastly, in the introduction to Buero Vallejo’s Three Plays: The Sleep of Reason, The Foundation, and In the Burning Darkness, Marion Peter Holt writes that “Buero Vallejo’s Goya is a visionary. Not only is he an artist of genius but he sees beyond the present reality to a more enlightened future, though his associates view his musings on benevolent flying men as another manifestation of dementia.” Holt sums up The Sleep of Reason this way: “no modern work for the stage has dealt more compellingly with the effects of terror and intimidation on the creative mind in a repressive society.”


Chris Semansky

Semansky teaches literature and writing at Portland Community College. In the following essay, he discusses the genesis of Goya’s engraving and the role of Buero Vallejo’s title, The Sleep of Reason in his play by the same name.

Francisco Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters(El sueno de la razon produce monstruos, 1799) has—theorizes Eleanor A. Sayre in her and Perez Sanchez’s Goya and the Spirit of Enlightenment—at least two possible antecedents. The first is Charles Monnet’s engraved frontispiece for JeanJacques Rousseau’s Philosophic, volume two (1793). In Monnet’s engraving, reason can be said to issue from the eye of God in the form of light beaming down on the desk and person of Rousseau, philosopher-muse of the French Revolution (1789). Rousseau is intensely awake, hand-to-head, deep in active thought as Lady Liberty stands near and splayed-open books and papers lie at Rousseau’s feet. While dreams do not have a role in this engraving, Rousseau did write Reveries d’un promeneur solitaire (Daydreams of a Solitary Stroller,1776-78). Rousseau shares other loosely related features with Goya: Rousseau was threatened by a king, suffered a long-term physical ailment like Goya’s deafness, was known as a famous paranoid, and, as a young man, was apprenticed to an engraver.

According to Sayre, the other inspiration for Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters was an engraving, Quevedo Dreaming in volume one (1699) of the works of the famous Spanish satiric poet, Francisco de Quevedoy Villegas (1580-1645). In 1639, Quevedo, while in Italy, was accused of having slipped into the Italian king’s napkin a satiric poem against the royal favorite, the count-duke of Olivares. As a result, Quevedo was imprisoned in the monastery of San Marcos in Leon from 1639 to 1643. Upon release, his health was ruined. Quevedo’s alleged poem is suggestive of Goya’s intercepted letter in The Sleep of Reason, and Quevedo’s imprisonment (1639-43)

Page 270  |  Top of Article

Sidebar: HideShow


  • The Origins of Totalitarianism is a set of three historical essays by Hannah Arendt, twentieth-century German philosopher. The original manuscript was first published in 1949. The three works in the series are Totalitarianism, anti-Semitism, and Imperialism. For those mystified by state-sanctioned acts of large-scale cruelty—like those of Ferdinand VII or Francisco Franco—Totalitarianism is a crucial text.
  • How It Is is a 1964 tragi-comedy by Samuel Beckett, one of the twentieth-century’s great novelists and playwrights. The work is a hellish, hallucinatory journey of near blindness and deafness, a complex and unparalleled maze of torture and hallucination.
  • The Wretched of the Earth is a 1963 study by the French-Algerian psychoanalyst, Frantz Fanon. This powerful examination of the role of violence in imperialistic oppression and the psychology of those suffering under its heel is a classic of revolutionary literature.
  • The Interpretation of Dreams, by Sigmund Freud, was first published in English translation in 1913. Freud regarded this work as his most valuable. His study begins with a history of dream interpretation until 1900, moving to what Freud called the “dream-work,” a description of the dream’s modes of operation.
  • The History of Hell, by Alice K. Turner, from 1993 is a book of color plates and text charting the geography and populations of hell from the clay tablets found in the Tigris-Euphrates valley and written almost four thousand years ago to what Turner calls “the age of Freud.” The book’s pictures of hell make a fine compliment to Goya’s black paintings.

could remind one of Buero Vallejo’s imprisonment (1939-46). In the Quevedo engraving, a sitting, slumbering Quevedo leans—head on hand—on his desk in what seems like a library. On the table is an unfurled sheet with two of Quevedo’s works listed, the pertinent one being Los Suenos de Don Francisco de Quevedo. In the engraving, Quevedo’s dreams and work appear to be almost the same. Sayre is certain Goya read Quevedo’s Dreams and that it played an important role in the creation of Goya’s own series, Caprichos, of which Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is part. Quevedo had written that from his dreams he learned there was little difference between demons and humans. Partially inspired by Quevedo, Goya made twenty-eight or more sketches of his own Dreams as preparation for the Caprichos. In Dreams, humans were transformed into animals, monsters, or witches. Of this series, two pen and ink drawings over chalk (they were to be sketches for the frontispiece to the Dreams series) served as preliminary sketches to the The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. Both of the preliminary sketches show Goya asleep at drawing table or desk, forehead upon folded arms. In the earlier of the two, numerous animals, demons, and Goya himself populate his dreams. In the second of the pair, there are only animals: bat, cat, and owl figures. All of these are night-creatures, creatures often associated with evil, falsehood, and ignorance, often opposed to a light long associated with goodness, truth, and knowledge. In the margin below the second sketch, Goya wrote: “The author dreaming. His only purpose is to banish harmful ideas commonly believed, and with this work of Caprichos to perpetuate the solid testimony of Truth.”

In Goya’s aquatint, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, from which Buero Vallejo took the name of his play, Goya is still asleep at his table. On the table’s side can be seen the title of the work. Behind the sleeping Goya are bats, owls, a black cat, and what Sayre calls a lynx. All of these creatures appear to represent enemies of light and its metaphors. The lynx, however, likely serves as Goya’s Page 271  |  Top of Articlekeen-eyed guide through the darkness, in order to “perpetuate the solid testimony of Truth.” At the end of Sayre’s short essay on The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, she collects various interpretations:

Prado: “Imagination forsaken by Reason [sic] begets impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the source of their wonders.” Sanchez: “When Reason falls asleep, all is filled with phantoms and monstrous visions.” Stirling: “The sleep of Reason begets monsters, and one must be a lynx to decipher their meaning.” Simon: “When men deafen themselves to the cry of Reason, the world is filled with visions.”

It is perhaps obvious that the above interpretations are similar, interpretations with which Rousseau and Quevedo would likely agree.

It may be noteworthy that Buero Vallejo has left off the predicate, “produces monsters,” from the title to his play The Sleep of Reason. Perhaps it was simply to avoid duplication of Goya’s title, or to keep the reference to Goya’s title less obvious. But there might be another reason: Buero Vallejo was more ambivalent than Goya about what the “sleep of reason” produced. To test this theory, it might be useful, before addressing Goya, to briefly examine the other major characters in whom it can be said “reason sleeps”: Calomarde, Ferdinand, Duaso y Latre, and Leocadia. Calomarde and Ferdinand are never seen sleeping, but their reason appears sleepy in this sense: they believe that revenge will rid them of more enemies than it will produce or inflame. The monsters they “produce” are the five Royal Volunteers, their number and actions almost exactly corresponding to the monsters of Goya’s dream. Father Duaso’s reason can also be said to sleep: he is unaware that his political employer, the crown, is capable of such extreme brutality. Father Duaso does not “produce” monsters but enables the monsters running and representing Spain. This is the reason Goya says that Spain is “A country at the edge of the grave, whose reason sleeps.”

Leocadia’s reason might be said to sleep because Doctor Arrieta believes she is overwrought, that Goya’s behavior is driving her toward madness. Without Buero Vallejo judging Leocadia negatively, he might seem to agree. Leocadia is depicted as hysterical, maybe even paranoid, her major motivation for action being fear. She is so overpowered by fear that she understands it as the pinnacle of sanity, portraying Goya’s fearlessness as sanity’s opposite. While overwhelming fear (at least in the United States) is often thought a kind of sickness, an

Sidebar: HideShow


impediment to confidence, ambition, and success, Buero Vallejo’s Leocadia exhibits a fear that is well founded—and she pays for ignoring it when she and Goya are brutalized by the king’s men. Was Buero Vallejo asserting that Leocadia’s “unreasonable” fear was in fact reasonable, that sometimes what may seem like a sleeping reason is the opposite? Still, while Leocadia might have exhibited the sanity of insanity, was her reason awake when she thought Goya’s asleep?

The nature and meaning of reason are uncertain even with Goya himself, whose reason can be said to sleep and not sleep. Was it not asleep when, wideawake, Goya ignored Leocadia’s seemingly unreasonable fears of royal revenge? Was it not asleep, when Goya, fully awake, suspected Leocadia of collaboration and an affair with the sergeant of the Royal Volunteers? And finally, was his reason not napping when wide-awake, he heard the voice of Mariquita urging him to suspect Leocadia of betrayal? But while Goya’s reason slept in terms of reading Ferdinand’s intentions, he was not provided with information about the king’s edict pardoning those who would violate the property of Liberals. And Goya was right that Leocadia had contact with the sergeant who gave her his button. On these counts, Goya’s reason was only partially asleep, combined as it was with imagination. And what of Goya’s dream when his reason is supposed to be fully asleep? While he did dream a monstrous Leocadia-as-Judith, armed with a knife to cut off his head which proved to be untrue, he did produce animal monsters that were amazingly accurate foreshadowings of the Royal Volunteers. Thus, while Goya’s dreams produced monsters, they were not wholly monstrous since a great deal of the dream came true.

Goya’s flying men are a final issue. Were they the product of reason or its slumbering? When Goya first mentions them to Arrieta they seem Page 272  |  Top of Articlepresentiments of a hundred years into the future. But as Goya continues, he invests the flyers with messianic qualities: “they’ll come down. To finish off the king and put an end to all the cruelties in the world. Maybe one day they’ll descend like a shining army and knock on every door. With blows so thunderous. . . that even I will hear them.” Goya does end up hearing them: between dream and waking the flying men turn out to be those avenging angels, the Royal Volunteers, come to continue, rather than “put an end to all the cruelties in the world,” and “knocking so loud that even I [Goya] can hear them.” By play’s end, Goya shows he has understood the irony: “Will the flyers come? And if they come, won’t they treat us like dogs?” In Goya’s waking visions—while reason slumbered—the flying men appeared almost like angels yet they turned out to be monsters.

Buero Vallejo has added an important variation to Goya’s less complicated title, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, a complication nearer the Prado Museum’s interpretation: “Imagination forsaken by Reason begets impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the source of their wonders.” Buero Vallejo might have stated his interpretation as follows: While the sleep of reason may or may not produce monsters, only during wakefulness can a sleeping reason empower them.

Source: Chris Semansky, in an essay for Drama for Students, Gale Group, 2001.


Aragones, Emilio, “Goya, pintor baturro y liberal,” in La Estafa Literaria, No. 438, February 15, 1970, p. 36.

Buero Vallejo, Antonio, Three Plays: The Sleep of Reason, The Foundation, and In the Burning Darkness, translated and introduced by Marion Peter Holt, Trinity University Press, 1985, pp. xiv, xii.

Domenech, Ricardo, “Notas sobre El sueno de la razon” in Primer Acto, No. 117, February 1970, p. 8.

Dowling, John, “Buero Vallejo’s Interpretation of Goya’s ’Black Paintings,’” in Hispania Vol. 56, No. 2, 1973, pp.449-57.

Fernandez-Santos, Angel, “Sobre El sueno de la razon de Antonia Buero Vallejo,” in Insula, No. 280, March, 1970, p. 15.

Halsey, Martha, Antonio Buero Vallejo, Twayne, 1973, p. 124.

Kronik, John W.,“Buero Vallejoy su sueno de la razon,” in El Urogallo, Nos. 5-6, October-November-December, 1970, p. 156.

Nicholas, Robert B., The Tragic Stages of Antonio Buero Vallejo,1972, No. 23 in the series, Estudios de Hispanofila, Department of Romance Languages, University of North Carolina, p. 96-97.


Bertrand, Louis, and Sir Charles Petrie, The History of Spain, Part I and II, Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1969.

Bertrand and Petrie’s work is broken up into short periods for focus and easy digestion. It also contains ancillary materials: maps, several genealogies of royal lines, and a list of important events.

Gudiol, Jose, Goya 1746-1828, Tudor Publishing Company, 1971.

This four-volume work has all of Goya’s work in large plates, usually showing both the whole work and often several details. Most plates are in black and white. When looking for the black paintings, prepare to be confused by titles not used by Buero Vallejo.

London, John, Reception and Renewal in Modern Spanish Theatre: 1939-63, W. S. Maney, 1997.

London tackles international theater’s impact on Spanish theater. Buero Vallejo’s first major play, Historia de una escalera gets much attention from London as he calls it one of Spain’s two most important postCivil War plays.

Muller, Priscilla E., Goya’s “Black’ Paintings, Hispanic Society of America, 1984.

Muller is an incredible critic doing exhaustive research into the possible and best interpretations of Goya’s ambiguous series, made even more difficult to interpret because of decay. Her ambitious attempt is not only to see these works as a series but a series in a particular order of placement on the walls of Goya’s home, the quinta del sordo.

Perez, Sanchez, Alfonso E. Sayre, and Eleanor A. Sayre, Goya and the Spirit of Enlightenment, Bullfinch Press, 1989.

For all other works besides the black paintings, this is the best volume for both plates and interpretation. Find The sleep of reason produces monsters on p. 115.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2693600025