Félix Lope de Vega y Carpio (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈfeliks ˈlope ðe ˈβeɣa i ˈkarpjo]; 25 November 1562 – 27 August 1635) was a Spanish playwright, poet and novelist. He was one of the key figures in the Spanish Golden Century of Baroque literature. His reputation in the world of Spanish literature is second only to that of Cervantes, while the sheer volume of his literary output is unequalled, making him one of the most prolific authors in the history of literature.
Nicknamed "The Phoenix of Wits" and "Prodigy of Nature" (in Spanish: Fénix de los Ingenios, Monstruo de la Naturaleza; because of the volume of his work) by Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega renewed the Spanish theatre at a time when it was starting to become a mass cultural phenomenon. He defined its key characteristics, and along with Calderón de la Barca and Tirso de Molina, took Spanish Baroque theatre to its greatest heights. Because of the insight, depth and ease of his plays, he is regarded as one of the greatest dramatists in Western literature, his plays still being produced worldwide. He was also one of the best lyric poets in the Spanish language, and author of several novels. Although not well known in the English-speaking world, his plays were presented in England as late as the 1660s, when diarist Samuel Pepys recorded having attended some adaptations and translations of them, although he omits mentioning the author. Some 3,000 sonnets, 3 novels, 4 novellas, 9 epic poems, and about 500 plays are attributed to him. Although he has been criticised for putting quantity ahead of quality, nevertheless at least 80 of his plays are considered masterpieces. He was a friend of the writers Quevedo and Juan Ruiz de Alarcón, and the volume of his lifework made him envied by not only contemporary authors such as Cervantes and Góngora, but also by many others: for instance, Goethe once wished he had been able to produce such a vast and colourful work.
Félix Lope de Vega y Carpio was born in Madrid to a family of undistinguished origins, recent arrivals in the capital from Valle de Carriedo in Cantabria. His father, Félix de Vega, was an embroiderer. Little is known of his mother, Francisca Fernández Flórez. He later added the distinguished name of Carpio from one of his in-laws. After a brief stay in Valladolid, his father moved to Madrid in 1561, perhaps drawn by the possibilities of the new capital city. However, Lope de Vega would later affirm that his father arrived in Madrid through a love affair from which his future mother was to rescue him. Thus the writer became the fruit of this reconciliation and owed his existence to the same jealousies he would later analyze so much in his dramatic works. The first indications of young Lope's genius became apparent in his earliest years. His friend and biographer Pérez de Montalbán stated that at the age of five he was already reading Spanish and Latin, and by his tenth birthday he was translating Latin verse. He wrote his first play when he was 12, allegedly El verdadero amante, as he would later affirm in his dedication of the work to his son Lope, although this statements are most probably exaggerations. His great talent bore him to the school of poet and musician Vicente Espinel in Madrid, to whom he later always referred with veneration. In his fourteenth year he continued his studies in the Colegio Imperial, a Jesuit school in Madrid, from which he absconded to take part in a military expedition in Portugal. Following that escapade, he had the good fortune of being taken into the protection of the Bishop of Ávila, who recognized the lad's talent and saw him enrolled in the University of Alcalá. Following graduation Lope had planned to follow in his patron's footsteps and join the priesthood, but those plans were dashed by falling in love and realizing that celibacy was not for him. Thus he failed to attain a bachelor's degree and made what living he could as a secretary to aristocrats or by writing plays. In 1583 Lope enlisted in the Spanish Navy and saw action at the Battle of Ponta Delgada in the Azores, under the command of his future friend Álvaro de Bazán, 1st Marquis of Santa Cruz, to whose son he would later dedicate a play. Following this he returned to Madrid and began his career as a playwright in earnest. He also began a love affair with Elena Osorio (the "Filis" of his poems), who was separated from her husband, actor Cristóbal Calderón, and was the daughter of a leading theater director. When, after some five years of this torrid affair, Elena spurned Lope in favor of another suitor, his vitriolic attacks on her and her family landed him in jail for libel and, ultimately, earned him the punishment of eight years' banishment from the court and two years' banishment from Castile.