Adelardo Lopez De Ayala Y Herrera (1828-1879), Spanish writer and politician, was born at Guadalcanal on the 1st of May 1828, and at a very early age began writing for the theatre of his native town. The titles of these juvenile performances, which were played by amateurs, were Salga por donde saliere, Me voy á Sevilla and La Corona y el Puñal. As travelling companies never visited Guadalcanal, and as ladies took no part in the representations, these three plays were written for men only. Ayala persuaded his sister to appear as the heroine of his comedy, La primera Dama, and the innovation, if it scandalized some of his townsmen, permitted him to develop his talent more freely. In his twentieth year he matriculated at the university of Seville, but his career as a student was undistinguished. In Seville he made acquaintance with Garcia Gutierrez, who is reported to have encouraged his dramatic ambitions and to have given him the benefit of his own experience as a playwright. Early in 1850 Ayala removed his name from the university books, and settled in Madrid with the purpose of becoming a professional dramatist. Though he had no friends and no influence, he speedily found an opening.
A four-act play in verse, Un Hombre de Estado, was accepted by the managers of the Teatro Español, was given on the 25th of January 1851, and proved a remarkable success. Henceforward Ayala's position and popularity were secure. Within a twelvemonth he became more widely known by his Castigo y Perdón, and by a more humorous effort, Los dos Guzmanes; and shortly afterwards he was appointed by the Moderado government to a post in the home office, which he lost in 1854 on the accession to power of the Liberal party. In 1854 he produced Rioja, perhaps the most admired and the most admirable of all his works, and from 1854 to 1856 he took an active part in the political campaign carried on in the journal El Padre Cobos. A zarzuela, entitled Guerta a muerte, for which Emilio Arrieta composed the music, belongs to 1855, and to the same collaboration is due El Agente de Matrimonios. At about this date Ayala passed over from the Moderates to the Progressives, and this political manoeuvre had its effect upon the fate of his plays.
The performances of Los Comuneros were attended by members of the different parties; the utterances of the different characters were taken to represent the author's personal opinions, and every speech which could be brought into connexion with current politics was applauded by one half of the house and derided by the other half. A zarzuela, named El Conde de Castralla, was given amid much uproar on the 20th of February 1856, and, as the piece seemed likely to cause serious disorder in the theatre, it was suppressed by the government after the third performance. Ayala's rupture with the Moderates was now complete, and in 1857, through the interest of O'Donnell, he was elected as Liberal deputy for Badajoz. His political changes are difficult to follow, or to explain, and they have been unsparingly censured. So far as can be judged, Ayala had no strong political views, and drifted with the current of the moment. He took part in the revolution of 1868, wrote the "Manifesto of Cadiz," took office as colonial minister, favoured the candidature of the duc de Montpensier, resigned in 1871, returned to his early Conservative principles, and was a member of Alfonso XII.'s first cabinet.
Meanwhile, however divided in opinion as to his political conduct, his countrymen were practically unanimous in admiring his dramatic work; and his reputation, if it gained little by El Nuevo Don Juan, was greatly increased by El Tanto por Ciento and El Tejado de Vidrio. His last play, Consuelo, was given on the 30th of March 1878. Ayala was nominated to the post of president of congress shortly before his death, which occurred unexpectedly on the 30th of January 1879. The best of his lyrical work, excellent for finish and intense sincerity, is his Epístola to Emilio Arrieta, and had he chosen to dedicate himself to lyric poetry, he might possibly have ranked with the best of Spain's modern singers; as it is, he is a very considerable poet who affects the dramatic form. In his later writings he deals with modern society, its vices, ideals and perils; yet in many essentials he is a manifest disciple of Calderon. He has the familiar Calderonian limitations; the substitution of types for characters, of eloquence for vital dialogue. Nor can he equal the sublime lyrism of his model; but he is little inferior in poetic conception, in dignified idealization, and in picturesque imagery.
And it may be fairly claimed for him that in El Tejado de Vidrio and El Tanto par Ciento he displays a very exceptional combination of satiric intention with romantic inspiration. By these plays and by Rioja and Consuelo he is entitled to be judged. They will at least ensure for him an honourable place in the history of the modern Spanish theatre.
A complete edition of his dramatic works, edited by his friend and rival Tamayo y Baus, has been published in seven volumes (Madrid, 1881-1885).