Nelson Falcão Rodrigues
was a Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...
Dramaturgy is the art of dramatic composition and the representation of the main elements of drama on the stage. Dramaturgy is a distinct practice separate from play writing and directing, although a single individual may perform any combination of the three. Some dramatists combine writing and...
Journalism is the practice of investigation and reporting of events, issues and trends to a broad audience in a timely fashion. Though there are many variations of journalism, the ideal is to inform the intended audience. Along with covering organizations and institutions such as government and...
and novelist. In 1943, he helped usher in a new era in Brazilian theater with his play Vestido de Noiva (The Wedding Dress), considered revolutionary for the complex exploration of its characters' psychology and its use of colloquial dialog. He went on to write many other seminal plays and today is widely regarded as Brazil's greatest playwright.
Early life and work
Nelson Rodrigues was born on August 23, 1912 in Recife
Recife is the fifth-largest metropolitan area in Brazil with 4,136,506 inhabitants, the largest metropolitan area of the North/Northeast Regions, the 5th-largest metropolitan influence area in Brazil, and the capital and largest city of the state of Pernambuco. The population of the city proper...
, the capital of the Brazilian state of Pernambuco
Pernambuco is a state of Brazil, located in the Northeast region of the country. To the north are the states of Paraíba and Ceará, to the west is Piauí, to the south are Alagoas and Bahia, and to the east is the Atlantic Ocean. There are about of beaches, some of the most beautiful in the...
(Northeast of Brazil), to Mario Rodrigues, a journalist, and his wife, Maria Esther Falcão. In 1916, the family moved to Rio de Janeiro after Mario ran into trouble for criticizing a powerful local politician. In Rio, Mario rose through the ranks of one of the city's major newspaper and, in 1925, launched his own newspaper, a sensationalist daily. By fourteen Nelson was covering the police beat for his father; by fifteen he had dropped out of school; and by sixteen he was writing his own column. The family's economic situation improved steadily, allowing them to move from lower-middle class Zona Norte to what was then the exclusive neighborhood of Copacabana.
In less than two years the family's fortunes would be reversed spectacularly. In 1929, older brother Roberto, a talented graphic artist, was shot and killed at the newspaper offices by a society lady who objected to the salacious coverage of her divorce. Devastated by his son's death, Mario Rodrigues died a few months later of a stroke, and shortly after that the family newspaper was closed by military forces supporting the Revolution of 1930, which the newspaper had fiercely opposed in its editorials. The ensuing years were dark ones for the Rodrigues family, and Nelson and his brothers were forced to seek work at rival newspapers for low wages. To make matters worse, in 1934 Nelson was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a disease that plagued him, on an off, for the next ten years.
During this time Rodrigues held various jobs including comic strip editor, sports columnists and opera critic. In 1941, he wrote his first play A Mulher Sem Pecado
(The Woman Without Sin), to mixed reviews. His following play, Vestido de Noiva (The Wedding Dress), was hailed as a watershed in Brazilian theater and is considered among his masterpieces. It began a fruitful collaboration with Polish émigré director Zbigniew Ziembinski, who is reported to have said on reading The Wedding Dress
, "I am unaware of anything in world theater today that resembles this." In the play, set while the female chief character is hit by a car in the street and undergoes surgery, the stage is divided in three planes: one for real life action happening around the character, another for her memories, a third for her dying hallucinations. As the three planes overlap, actual reality melds with memory and delusion.
Rodrigues's next play, 1946 Álbum de família
(Family Album)- the chronicle of a semi-mythical family living outside society and mired in incest, rape and murder - was so controversial that it was censored and only allowed to be staged 21 years later.
In all, Rodrigues wrote 17 full-length plays. They include Toda Nudez Será Castigada
(All Nudity Shall Be Punished
All Nudity Shall Be Punished is a 1973 Brazilian drama film based on Nelson Rodrigues' play by the same name and directed by Arnaldo Jabor. It was entered into the 23rd Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Silver Bear.-Cast:...
, and Beijo no Asfalto
(The Asphalt Kiss, or, better, The Kiss on
Asphalt), all considered classics of the Brazilian stage. His plays are frequently divided in three groups: Psychological, mythical and Carioca tragedies. In his Carioca tragedies Rodrigues explored the lives of Rio’s lower-middle class, a population never deemed worthy of the stage before Rodrigues. From the beginning his plays shocked audiences and attracted the attention of censors.
In spite of his success as a playwright, Rodrigues never dedicated himself exclusively to theater. In the 1950s, besides writing the hugely successful column A Vida Como Ela É
(Life As It Is), he also wrote soap operas, movie scripts, and novels. In the 1960s and 70s he became a well-known TV persona and sports commentator. During this period, Rodrigues relished his role as an iconoclast and had running feuds with major figures of the Brazilian Left and Right.
Controversies, literary and political
Much of Rodrigues's career was filled with controversy, a state of affairs he often courted and even relished. He called his theater "the theater of the unpleasant" and had an almost messianic conviction that it was his duty to hold a mirror up to society's hypocrisies and to expose the darkness in the audience's heart. "We must fill the stage with murderers, adulterers, madmen; in short, we must fire a salvo of monsters at the audience," he said. "They are our monsters, which we will temporarily free ourselves from only to face another day".According to the critic Paulo Francis
Paulo Francis , was a Brazilian journalist, political pundit, novelist and critic....
Rodrigues' constant subject-matter was simple: "human beings are prisioners of irresistible passions, taken as shameful by society [...] and usually punished [...] Nelson was a moral conservative, with a talent for depicting emotions down the waist".
Early on, conservatives labeled him as a "pervert" for his nearly obsessive exploration of sexual taboos (adultery, homosexuality, incest) in his plays, novels and columns. However, as various critics have remarked, Rodrigues' theater and narrative fiction partake of a deeply felt conservative streak shared by other Modernist Brazilian writers (Raul Pompéia
Raul d'Ávila Pompeia was a Brazilian novelist, short story writer and chronicler. He is famous for the Impressionist romance O Ateneu.He is patron of the 33rd chair of the Brazilian Academy of Letters.-Biography:...
, Octavio de Faria, Lúcio Cardoso
Joaquim Lúcio Cardoso Filho, known as Lúcio Cardoso was a Brazilian novelist, playwright, and poet....
, among others) a moral anguish before modern society and the menaces offered by it to traditional religiosity and morals: the flaunting of traditional sexual taboos, specially, being felt as sharply increasing an awareness of moral guilt for living in a society felt as increasingly amoral, where the old hierarchies and taboos were being actively destroyed. An anguish for order that could be summarized by Rodrigues' famous quote: "all women like a beating" (Toda mulher gosta de apanhar
). During the 1960s, Rodrigues was to write that giving room for the young to offer opinion was to turn society upside down, and that Betty Friedan
Betty Friedan was an American writer, activist, and feminist.A leading figure in the Women's Movement in the United States, her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique is often credited with sparking the "second wave" of American feminism in the twentieth century...
should be locked in a mental institution.
It was exactly this implicit awareness of the immorality of existing
social relations that didn't endear Nelson Rodrigues to fellow conservatives: after reading Album de Família
, his close friend, the poet Manuel Bandeira
Manuel Carneiro de Sousa Bandeira Filho was a poet, literary critic, and translator.Bandeira wrote over 20 books of poetry and prose. In 1904, he found out that he suffered from tuberculosis, which encouraged him to move from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, because of Rio's tropical beach weather...
, offered him the advice to try his hand at writing about "normal people". In the early 1950s, the myth of Rodrigues as pervert bogey was already well settled: in 1953, the maverick rightist politician Carlos Lacerda
Carlos Frederico Werneck de Lacerda was a Brazilian journalist and politician.Born in Rio de Janeiro, Lacerda was the son of a family of politicians from Vassouras, Rio de Janeiro State....
compared excerpts from Rodrigues' column to the Communist Manifesto to "prove" that Rodrigues's column was part of a Communist conspiracy to subvert family values; in 1957, a conservative Rio de Janeiro councilman, present at the opening night of Rodrigues' play Perdoa-me por me traíres
(Forgive me for Cuckolding me) pointed a gun at the applauding audience for condoning what he regarded as an immoral play. During the military dictatorship, Rodrigues' 1966 novel O Casamento
, about a middle-aged businessman who gradually realizes his incestuous love towards his daughter on the eve of her wedding, was withdrawn from circulation by government censorship for alleged indecency.
As a playwright, Rodrigues is frequently considered a realist, mostly on account of the self-acknowledged influence exerted on him by the dramatic work of Eugene O'Neill
Eugene Gladstone O'Neill was an American playwright and Nobel laureate in Literature. His poetically titled plays were among the first to introduce into American drama techniques of realism earlier associated with Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, and Swedish...
. Actually, in terms of style, Rodrigues' work is a kind of belatedly Expressionism
Expressionism was a modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas...
, combining an appearance of empirical reality (the accurate portrayal of small everyday happenings and the use of the contemporary Brazilian vernacular
A vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population, such as a national language or lingua franca.- Etymology :The term is not a recent one...
) surrounding a kernel of mythologized, intense and unrealistic - to the point of "cartoonish absurdity" - psychological dramatic action. In it, the viewpoint is always that of the small man who acts as the writer's alter ego, with his "obtuse, fanatic, delirious obsessions" - the small man of the 1950s Rio de Janeiro lower middle-class,who, as Rodrigues himself, had "a single suit, a single pair of shoes", and was torn between the longing for a lost moral order - specially, when a male, to the threat posed to his authority by the incipient female emancipation fostered by the development of a urban milieu and its possibilities of unwitnessed encounters and his (or hers) sexual drives.
It was this petit-bourgeois, almost lumpen viewpoint, that explained Rodrigues' antipathy towards the higher middle-cass intelligentsia that made much of the political Left of the period ("I'm not moved by marches of the ruling classes", was he to say before a march of protesters against the military dictatorship).Conversely, for those Brazilian writers that equated modernism in literature with support for social change, Rodrigues' longings for a lost old order made it impossible to accept the reality of his formal innovations: for the great modernist Oswald de Andrade
José Oswald de Andrade Souza was a Brazilian poet and polemicist. He was born and spent most of his life in São Paulo....
, Rodrigues' literature was "nothing but a wretched newspaper feuilleton", and Rodrigues himself "an ill-educated, [albeit] illustrious, pervert". However, in 1962, Rodrigues' 1958 play Boca de Ouro
(The Golden Mouth) - the tragedy of a mobster of the illegal Brazilian animal lottery (jogo do bicho
Jogo do Bicho is an illegal gambling game in Brazil, prohibited by federal law since 1946. Very popular throughout the country, the "game" is actually a lottery-type drawing operated on a regional basis by mobsters known as contraventores , bicheiros or banqueiros...
) known for his set of gold false teeth, hence the title - was to be adapted to the screen by leftist director Nelson Pereira dos Santos
, who tried to meld Rodrigues' moralizing streak with Brechtian social drama and American mob film
Mob films are a subgenre of crime films dealing with organized crime, often the Mafia. Especially in early mob films, there is some overlap with film noir.-History:...
A fervent, spontaneous anticommunist already before the military coup d'etat of 1964, Rodrigues was generally regarded as apolitical before the dictatorship, during which he was to engage in constant clashes and running feuds with the Left. During much of the 1960s and early 1970s, he included incendiary attacks in his newspaper column against various opponents of the dictatorship—a list that ranged from leaders of leftist movements and guerrilla organizations to the bishop of Olinda Helder Câmara
Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara was Roman Catholic Archbishop of Olinda and Recife.He was known as the 'Bishop of Corum' and took a clear position with the urban poor....
and the Catholic literary critic Alceu de Amoroso Lima, eventually leading charges of being an apologist for the dictatorship. One of his collections of articles - where he offered, in an almost daily basis, an exquisite mix of adulation for the dictatorship and denunciation of allegedly communist plots -he proudly titled O Reacionário
His support for the dictatorship, however, was by no means unconditional. In 1968, he participated in an anti-censorship rally to protest the closing of eight plays by the military censors, and undersigned a petition that formally requested that such censorship be rescinded. He also successfully intervened to help release well-known leftist Helio Pellegrino from jail and testified at a military tribunal in favor of jailed student activist Wladimir Palmeira. He managed to keep among his friends several people who were confirmed leftists at the time, people like theater director Augusto Boal, actor and black activist Abdias do Nascimento, and filmmaker Arnaldo Jabor.
In his later years, such support for the dictatorship was tempered by the arrest and torture of his son, a militant opponent of the regime. In one of his last political interventions, he asked for a general amnesty of political prisoners. Afterwards, in poor health and unable to write during most of the late 1970s, Rodrigues died in 1980 in Rio de Janeiro.
After his death, landmark productions of his plays in the 1980s and '90s as well as the publication of several collections of his writings, helped secure his reputation as a great playwright and literary figure.
Newspaper column collections
Works in English
Life as it Is
, stories transl. by Alex Ladd, 2009, Host Publications, Inc. http://www.hostpublications.com