Ariano Suassuna

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: Phoebe
  • Created on: 17-04-16 17:12

AdC: Context

  • Linked to popular culture: traditional arts, folklore and high culture
  • Strong link to literary tradition
  • Based on folheto poems: long narrative tales with a moral ending
  • Originally told by travelling storytellers
  • Reproduced in folheto (written down) form
1 of 12

Ariano Suassuna

  • Well-loved literary figure in Brazil
  • Born in 1927 in João Pessoa, into a powerful political family
  • Father was governor of the state, murdered when Suassuna was 3 during a series of upheavals known as the October Revolution
  • Family moved to Taperoá, in the interior of the state, where the play is set
  • He went to school in Taperoá, and then studied law (hence the detail he puts into the trial)
  • Studied at the University of Recife, graduated in 1950 and worked as a lawyer for 50 years
  • This underpinned his understanding of right and wrong
  • His real interest lay in theatre, as he wrote and directed puppet shows from an early age
  • Always involved in setting up and supporting amateur theatre companies
  • During his time at university he became friends with like-minded musicians and actors and founded a theatre group - closely linked with North-Eastern culture
  • Was very ill in 1951 and converted to Catholicism
  • Conscious nature of his faith, and criticised those who flouted theirs
  • Wrote various plays based in the classical tradition in the 1950s
  • Influenced by Shakespeare, Molière and Gil Vicente
  • Strong link between his culture and the classical dramatists of Europe
  • Suassuna uses the possibilities of the stage for slapstick, farce and acrobatics
2 of 12

Morality Play

  • Unsurprising to see the Devil and Jesus
  • Devil not called devil but "encourado" and "o cão" - leathery one and dog
  • Superstition that mentioning the name of the devil would conjure him up
  • Jesus not referred to as Jesus but Manuel - normal man
  • Compadecida: "com" - with, helping.  "Padecer" - to suffer, also linked to paixão
  • She suffers with you (compassionate)
  • Religion is very important to the people of NE Brazil, they rely on prayer and religion to comfort them in their very difficult lives
  • NE is very isolated from everywhere, meaning religion became very important and priests were able to gain significant power over their flocks
  • Superstition, rumour and storytelling were rife, some priests were worshipped like saints and were rumoured to have performed miracles
  • One priest became famous for performing miracles, for being the protector of the poor and appeared in many local plays and in local culture
  • The play harks back to the picaresque tradition - Iberian traditional character called pícaro - a loveable rogue, cheeky, often with a quest, living by his wits, making fools of his enemies and of authority figures
3 of 12

The Play itself

  • Admires the pícaro, avenges the poor, uses deception as a means of defending himself
  • João Grilo = cricket, like Jiminy Cricket (the conscience of the play)
  • A cricket makes annoying noises through the night, like him poking at authority figures
  • The rest of the characters of stock characters: the avaricious priest, the cuckolded husband, the businessman and proud landowner, the exploitative, powerful, unfaithful wife
  • Morais = plural of morals = ironic
  • The bandit is also a very popular character in NE Brazil
  • Combines cruelty and good deeds like Robin Hood
  • Some were hired as hit men by landowners
  • Similar to the mafia
  • Existed up until the 1930s
  • Bandits are rarely condemned by poets, rather they are seen as legitimate products of an unjust society, the only thing they can do
  • They have a recognisable type of uniform: lots of leather
4 of 12


  • Starts with a circus troop on stage
  • The clown speaks first, urges people to see the play
  • Sycophantic
  • Play is going to be an exercise in morality
  • It deals with judgement and the church
  • The clown explains that he is the representative of the author, playing the role of the author
  • He functions as a chorus
  • Puns and misunderstandings
  • Repetition helps to establish the idea of the catchphrase
  • The audience is rooting for João Grilo because he has been mistreated
  • Cat that shits money = goose that lays the golden egg
  • 3rd act of the play is a trial (Day of Judgement)
  • Very rude to the devil, no respect
  • Devil = grumpy, whereas Manuel and Mary are good-humoured
  • They are much more informal, but command much more respect
  • The devil tries to command them through fear and intimidation 
5 of 12

Blurb on translation

  • The intrepid men of the harsh sertoes of North-eastern Brazil, who live by cattle raising and subsistence farming, are, by repute, exceptionally energetic, shrewd and pious
  • The chief rogue in this modern miracle play has all these characteristics
  • João Grilo is a petty thief, a crook of all trades, and especially a very fast talker
  • The plot of this play demonstrates that Grilo can talk himself out of any conceivable scape
  • He is a picaresque character in a modern setting
  • Seasoned with a good dash of social satire, the play presents types of characteristics of rural Brazil against a background of folk beliefs and tall tales
  • The playwrite's satire is directed at great landowners, courts of law and legalistic quibblings, at race prejudice, and at worldly, avaricious, hypocritical members of the clergy
6 of 12


  • João and Chico struggle for daily bread in a representation of the life of the poor in the NE
  • They gull a series of comical stereotypes: baker, landowner and priest - in a series of interrelated episodes united by the passion of the adulterous baker's wife for her little dog who died from eating the food she supplies to then as occasional workers, and the daughter of the landowner Antônio Morais - a magnificent comic character who represents the colonial pretensions of the erstwhile "colonial" class who owned the great estates (or "fazendas") of the region in which sugar production was central to a once-booming economy
  • The Catholic Church gets a particularly lively ragging for its combination of simony and superstition as represented by the put-on parish priest and a domineering bishop no less self-interested than him - while a larger than life bandit Severino de Aracaju, who attacks the towns and slaughters the inhabitants, is ultimately forgiven by Jesus in a posthumous denouément set in Heaven
  • There the fate of the main characters is mercifully arbitrated y in a courtroom contest between Satan and a black Jesus, with the Virgin Mary interceding as the Virgin inkeeping with her prayer-book promise
  • Odd and extravagant as this scene is, it conveys the morality of the play better than the antecedent scenes since every character manages to reveal a saving grace as well as demonstrating the unforgiving harshness of the Nordeste environment which they all share and endure in different ways 
7 of 12

Plot 2.0

  • Last to die in the bandits' onslaught is João himself 
  • An intensely witty and ingenious rogue in the best picaresque tradition, he contrives to spin everyone around his finger throughout the narrative and ends by getting Severino to order his side-kick to shoot him dead so that he can meet his revered saint in heaven for some minutes on the understanding that a miraculous flute which João has ingeniously convinced him possesses the power of bringing the dead back to life - in this case Chicó rigged up with a little balloon of blood - will effect his speedy resurrection
  • In heaven with the rest, João is more or less master of his fate and manages to down-face the Devil himself in the little matter of eternal damnation
  • With becoming modesty he refuses to claim any personal virtues and turns down the Virgin's offer of a purgatorial sentence but accepts the compassionate offer of a return to earth to 'sin no more' - but do not expect a pious conversion!
  • João's resurrection coincides with the moment when Chico is digging him a sandy grave, triggering a comical mixture of dismay and joy as he rises from the wagon on which he has been laid out in death
  • Together the two donate their ill-gotten gains from the other deceased characters to the Virgin, to whom Chicó promised such a recompense if his friend came back to life - hardly expecting that he would
8 of 12


  • In form and structure, AdC combines the techniques of the puppet show, the miracle play and the commedia dell' arte with those of the circus and of theatre-in-the-round
  • Seasoned with more than a dash of social satire, the play presents types characteristic of rural Brazil against the background of folklore
  • The folklore is that of the sertões, the semi-desert Backlands of eastern Brazil: an area of cattle raising and of precarious subsistence farming
  • By repute among Brazilians of the cities and the coastal regions, the men of the sertão are hardy, energetic, shrewd, intelligent - although often illiterate - and pious, although superstitious
  • When hunger has driven them to seek work in other parts of the country, love of their land causes most of them to return as soon as the cessation of the drought - or of the floods - permits them to till their fields again
9 of 12

Folk origins of the plot

The folk origins of the plot as well as theme are based on two folk ballads and an auto - a religious dramatic sketch for puppets

O Entêrro do Cachorro is an anonymous folk balad of the Nordeste

História do Cavalo que Defecava Dinheiro is another very popular folk ballad from the region

The intercession of Our Lady, Mary, the Compassionate, is based on an anonymous folk play O Castigo da Soberba also well known in the Nordeste

In addition there is a wealth of picaresque tricks and jokes and tall tales that would command the admiration of an Andalusian - or a Texan

10 of 12

Christian tradition

  • Another important element in the play is Christian tradition as understood and visualised by the dwellers in the Backlands
  • Satan and his companion appear as leather-clad cowpunchers
  • The Blessed Virgin is loved as a friend and worshipped as a gentle and merciful advocate and intercessor who tempers the reluctant justice of an amiable deity
  • He directs his shafts at the affluent, at the well-to-do merchant, and especially at the 'colonels', the Brazilian term for the great landowners
  • In passing, he takes a few cheerful sideswipes at court procedure and legalistic quibbling, at bureaucratic nonfesance, at Christians who are ignorant of the Bible, at race prejudice
  • As in the medieval danse macabre, types of clergy and members of the laity are satirised
  • Two of the clergy as virtuous and sincere men of God, but a bishop and a priest are accused of worldliness, simony, avarice, arrogance, laziness, hypocrisy, and of engaging in politics
  • The playwright's satire should not be misunderstood
  • Suassuna was a Protestant who became a convert of Catholicism in his mid twenties.
  • He is seriously concerned with the way some Christians flout their faith and ethics
  • In this play, Suassuna employs satire and Brazilian folklore to make a universal appeal as timely as it is timeless
11 of 12

Essay titles

  • Discuss the theme of spectacle in AdC
  • How does Suassuna reconcile the conflicting claims of justice and mercy in AdC
  • 'Blessed be ye poor; for yours is the kingdom of God' Discuss in relation to AdC
  • How does Suassuna engage with his audience in AdC?
  • Discuss the theme of birth or rebirth, literal or figurative, in AdC
  • Discuss the role of props and special effects in AdC
  • Discuss Suassuna's attitude towards violence in AdC
  • 'God exists in everything and is in every place'. Examine the religious vision of Suassuna, particularly in his portrayal of life on earth
  • In AdC the characters are also actors. What dramatic effects does Suassuna achieve by this?
  • By drawing on popular culture, Suassuna is contributing to the auto tradition established by Gil Vicente - discuss
  • What is the role of the Palhaço in AdC?
  • AdC derives its power from a skilful blend of satire and moral teaching. Discuss
  • Account for the stress laid on the humanity of Christ in AdC
  • Discuss the roles of the female characters in AdC
  • Discuss Suassuna's treatment of the Virgin Mary
12 of 12


No comments have yet been made

Similar Other resources:

See all Other resources »See all Portuguese literature resources »