The Gardener's Dog

gardeners dogEl Perro del Hortelano is a 1618 play by the Spanish playwright Lope de Vega. Its title refers to the proverb of the dog in the manger – it is an adaptation of a Spanish version of the story which deals with the emotional complications of class conflict. The haughty countess Diana rejects her many aristocratic suitors and falls in love instead with her handsome young secretary, Teodoro, who is the lover of her maid. Unwilling to let the couple marry, she is also unwilling to marry him herself.

De Vega's title relates to the parallel European idiom current in Dutch, Danish, German, French, Portuguese and Italian as well. It refers to a variant story in which a gardener sets his dog to guard his cabbages (or lettuces). After the gardener's death the dog continues to forbid people access to the beds, giving rise to the simile "he's like the gardener's dog that eats no cabbage and won't let others either" or, for short, "playing the gardener's dog" (Spanish: hacer el perro del hortelano)


The countess Diana is enraged when she hears that a man was seen leaving the upper chambers of the palace. He threw his cap at the candle, snuffing out the only light so that he could not be identified. Diana sends for her ladies-in-waiting and questions them to learn who had been visited by a lover during the night. Dorotea and Anarda plead innocent but whisper to Diana that Marcella has a lover in the palace. He is Teodoro, secretary to the countess Diana herself. Marcella confesses her love but protests that it is a pure love. Teodoro wants to marry her. Diana gives her consent to the marriage but cautions Marcella to stay away from Teodoro until the wedding day; otherwise passion might consume honor. After her ladies leave her alone, Diana realizes that she, too, loves Teodoro, but since he is not highborn she cannot proclaim her love.

Teodoro, who had indeed been the man involved in the midnight escapade, fears that he will be found out and banished or executed, but he cannot get Marcella out of his heart. Tristan, his lackey, begs him to forget Marcella and never see her again lest Diana punish them; it is Tristan who threw the cap and snuffed out the candle so that his master would not be recognized while escaping. Soon afterward, Diana tricks Tristan into revealing his part in the affair; she also sends for Teodoro and subtly hints at her love for him in a letter she feigns is intended for someone else.

Marcella goes to Teodoro and tells him that Diana has blessed their betrothal. Confused, Teodoro takes Marcella in his arms just as Diana appears. When he thanks her for giving Marcella to him, their capricious mistress orders Marcella locked in her room to await her decision concerning the wedding. Then Diana again hints to Teodoro that she loves him, whereupon he renounces Marcella. He regrets rejecting Marcella, but he cannot put aside the lure of wealth and power that will be his if Diana takes him for a husband. After Marcella is released from the locked room, Teodoro, meeting her, spurns her love and disgraces her. Marcella swears revenge on him and on Anarda, who has, as she learns, betrayed her and Teodoro to Diana because Anarda thinks Marcella has been encouraging Fabio, a gentleman with whom Anarda is in love. Marcella, meeting Fabio, offers him her love and greatly confuses that poor man by her words and actions.

When two noblemen, the Marquis Riccardo and Count Federigo, both beg for Diana’s hand, she sends Teodoro to tell Riccardo that she chooses him for her husband. Deserted by the lovely countess before she is really his, Teodoro turns back to Marcella and tells her that he loves only her. At first she spurns him and declares she will marry Fabio, but at last love wins over...