The major effort of the eighteenth century was to revive tragedy within the neoclassical system of three units, promoting an abundant exemplification of French models with translations and adaptations by Corneille, Racine and, later, Voltaire. Rather, we stop to generalize and reason characters and passions on themes also taken up by the national theater (Guzmán el Bueno, by N. Fernández de Moratín; Mudarra González, by the count of Noroña, Sancho García, di Cadalso; Munuza, by Jovellanos; Pelayo, by Quintana, etc.), or on themes of classical theater (Lucrecia, by N. Fernández de Moratín; Agamenón, by García de la Huerta, etc.). Generally there is insufficient psychological analysis, based on summary indications, and the flatness of fantastic achievements. Stronger motifs were then sought, with violent contrasts, tragic developments, in forms of emphatic and sonorous eloquence. Thus came La Raquel (1778) by Vicente García de la Huerta, whose reaction to the French theater was expressed by republishing comedies by Calderón, Solís and others, in his Theatro español (1785-86). The knowledge of Shakespeare, adapted neoclassically or translated according to the taste of the time (Hamlet, by Leandro Fernández de Moratín; Otello, from Teodoro de la Calle), the versions from Metastasio and from Alfieri, in what they present of idyllic heroism or decorous pathetic, document the divergent aesthetic hesitations and the growth of a sensitivity that from the excess of abstraction (on the type of Virginia and Augustín de Montiano ‘s Ataulfo) descends to the pleasure of the vibrations of sentiment captured with delicacy and tearful tenderness (El delincuente honrado, 1774, del Jovellanos; El Duque de Viseo, of Quintana). Although tormented by the preconceptions of neoclassical aesthetics, Spanish theater, especially that of comedy, was not anti-historical. It kept in mind the national reality and dreamed of a concrete humanity in the spontaneity of its individual action. Social ideals in their contrasts of freedom and instinct, of duty and inclination are affirmed in the comedies of Leandro Fernández de Moratín. Lyricist of pure diction and clear style, with a flavor of cold classicism, playwright whose art, within a precise personality of a writer, seems to reflect that of Molière and Goldoni, Moratín satirizes forbidden habits and irrational costumes with happy representation of characters and with the polite irony of those who, smiling and indulging, strike late or senile attitudes of passion (El viejo y la niña ; La comedia nueva or el café ; El sí de las niñas). When, on the other hand, he kept to the typical and the characteristic (El Barón ; La mogigata), he got lost in motifs and caricatured notes. With greater adherence to historical reality, reflecting contemporary customs and above all the life of Madrid (El Prado por la noche ; La plaza mayor por Navidad, etc.), Ramón de la Cruz, a very happy artist, excelled in the closed and linear firmness of the sainete. in backlit literary parodies (Manolo ; Inesilla la de Pinto, etc.). It is the art of good taste, which does not abandon itself to a full aesthetic recreation, and is therefore easy to fall into the excesses of abstract rationalism. More than an original poet, Dionisio Solís was the translator and rewriter of the comedies of Lope, Tirso and Calderón. He popularized their content and adapted them to the pseudo-historical and pre-romantic taste of the time.
Overall, the Spanish eighteenth century, after the period of that abstract criticism that led to the prohibition (1765) of Calderón’s Autos sacramentales, was both reformer and conservative. He accepted and disseminated ideas of Locke’s anti-spiritualist philosophy, accepted the critical and negative tendencies of Montesquieu, the irony of Voltaire and the humanitarianism of Rousseau. However in his fund he remained attached to the indigenous tradition, and was sensitive against the assaults that were made on it from every part of Europe. Catholic Spain was then identified, especially in France, with the polemical monster of the Inquisition. Juan Pablo Forner, who was able to distinguish the values of the literary tradition (Exequias de la lengua castellana ; República literaria) and it was for a true history of Spain against the antiquarîs and the scholars, he posed clearly the literary problem, outside the anti-Catholic schemes of the abstract rationalism of the Encyclopedia (Oración apologética por la España y su mérito literario). The Jesuits, but especially those who were expelled from their homeland and found refuge in Italy (Esteban Arteaga, Juan Francisco Masdeu, Javier Lampillas), were the most fervent advocates of the spiritual heritage of Spanish culture. They inserted it into the general framework of European civilization according to that line of development and progress which was in keeping with the ideology of the time; but all of them, some more and some less, and in particular Juan Andrés (On the origin, progress and current state of every literature, Parma 1782-98), confused art and science, poetry and thought, and made more than anything else a history of culture with national apologetic intentions. However, they were able to highlight the mediating function between West and East exercised by Spain during the Middle Ages. The same Jesuits who participated with Rousseau in the optimistic faith in human nature, placed the ethical ideal in the active participation of the individual in a rational order that unifies and harmonizes individual wills (Eusebio, Mirtilo, Eudoxia, by Pedro Montengón); which is then, in the final analysis, but without the critical conscience being clear, a return to the ethical ideal that belonged to Cervantes and to the purest Renaissance. The pedagogical purposes of an art, in which the sense of reality is urgent, also give concrete value to the scarce poetry that shines in the Horatian sermons and in the Fábulas literarias of Tomás de Iriarte and in the Fábulas moralesby Félix María Samaniego. It is the art of the universal truths of evidence, which has neither travail of thought nor lofty aesthetic purposes behind it and which is rewarded with its indulgent and admonishing smile. Poet of all these tendencies, which were of innovation and re-evaluation, of subjective universal aspirations and of concrete achievements in harmony with the necessity of the national spirit, is Manuel José Quintana (1772-1857). In him are the last pre-romantic and didactic eighteenth century, aesthetic idealism and progressive humanitarianism, rationalism and neoclassicism. The Quintana of the Vidas de españoles célebresand of the excellent anthologies of the Castilian language and epic, is in the same line as Antonio de Capmany, investigator and reconstructor of the historical past of his Catalonia within the love of the common homeland, exalting tradition as a force for political action (Vidas de varones ilustres de España) and a document of eloquence in national historical forms (Teatro histórico – crítico de la elocuencia castellana, 1786-94). But Quintana, trained in the Salmantine school and soon freed himself from the soft idealism of Arcadia, is even more the poet of the fatherland in arms (A España, 1808). He feels the historical tradition as an expression of the perennial soul of the nation (A Guzmán el Bueno ;To Juan Padilla), and religiosity as the center of the interior life and empowering synthesis of all spiritual energies. The Diez cartas a Lord Holland, which constitute his political creed, place us in front of a noble figure of man. Her lyric takes place on logical schemes that govern it and give it the impetus of choral developments where passion speaks by clinging to memories. Sometimes, in its discursive procedures, it may seem rhetorical, if one did not feel the dignified elevation of an eloquent soul who wants action and yearns for action.