Lope de Rueda’s plays, among them Los engañados (The Deceived, 1558?), met great acclaim among contemporaneous audiences. Yet unlike the continued literary prestige enjoyed by the play’s Italian source, Gl’ingannati (The Deceived, 1532), Rueda’s work has been reduced to a sidenote in literary history. Such a decline in the author-actor’s critical fate speaks to the importance of physical performance to his popularity: performance that, this article argues, did not rely on memorized written dialogue. Through a comparison of Los engañados and Gl’ingannati, this article hopes to demonstrate that—plot aside—the Spanish play bears closer resemblance to the improvised Italian plays of the commedia dell’arte than it does to the scripted Gl’ingannati. An analysis of the work’s structure in the light of studies on commedia dell’arte scenarios, and the elements of orality found in its dialogue that imply spontaneous composition, shows Rueda’s play to carry all of the hallmarks of improvisation. As such, this article suggests that improvisation must be recognized as a production mode of early modern theatre well beyond the borders of the Italian peninsula.

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