Pirates, Empire, and National Identity in Lope de Vega’s Dragontea

Lope de Vega’s epic poem La Dragontea (1597) chronicles the English pirate Sir Francis Drake’s unsuccessful attack on San Juan as part of a daring maritime ruse to seize the Spanish treasure fleet. Lope’s choice to retell the event as a Virgilian epic, as well as its dedication to the crown prince Filipe III, suggests that the Dragontea is meant to elevate Spain’s maritime heroes to literary status equivalent to Aeneas or Ulysses. Despite its high ambitions for the Dragontea as a national epic, however, the poem was widely criticized for its inaccuracies, and the Council of the Indies eventually had it censored for being “muy al contrario de la verdad.” In another strange twist, Lope’s poem recounts in detail several pieces of information that, at the time, were supposed to be state secrets and ignited controversies over who should receive credit for defeating Drake. In this paper, I will analyze how Lope’s epic rendering of two English pirates, Francis Drake and John Hawkins, sheds light on the early modern state’s understanding of the relationship between history, poetry, and national identity. 

Track: 

  • Spanish Peninsular Studies