Celebrating Balagtas: Why “Florante and Laura” remains relevant
Although Balagtas’ defining work has been around for over a century, it continues to speak the truth in the country’s current situation
Apr 2, 2020
A literary classic and a historical and cultural masterpiece—that is how most people know Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar’s “Florante and Laura” as. Often portrayed as a story that talks about how love conquers all, the awit—a type of Filipino poem consisting of twelve syllables and four stanzas—revolves around lovers separated by unfair situations.
However, “Florante and Laura” is more than a love story—it is a masterpiece that talks about injustice, bad governance and revolution.
In fact, it is said that the famous literary work was written by Balagtas while in prison and was published on his release in 1838. This already hints at how it was motivated by personal experience and awareness of the political situation back when the peace and freedom of the Filipino people were disrupted by the rule of the Spanish government.
It cleverly used allegory, satire and paradox to depict the chaos in the country, much so that even our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, looks up to it as a literary masterpiece.
As Romeo G. Dizon describes in “Reintroducing Balagtas and His Work,” “Florante at Laura” is “a sustained poetic interrogation about the nature of justice, truth and the human commitment to social-political equity” by heralding stories “between father and son, ruler and ruled, lover and beloved, Christian and Muslim [and] man and woman.”
Despite being born into privilege as the son of a duke and a princess, Florante did not turn a blind eye to the suffering of the people in fictional Albania. Betrayed and exiled due to jealousy, the story begins with him tied to a tree and lamenting about the innocent people of his country falling victim to money- and power-hungry officials like Count Adolfo.
In contrast to Adolfo’s hatred and greed deepened by his envy of the people’s adoration towards Florante’s brave and heroic deeds for their kingdom, the latter showed compassion for his people as he begged heaven to save the kingdom amid his suffering.
Aside from ending with Florante being saved and eventually reuniting with Laura, the story provides a light at the end of the tunnel by pointing out that people have power. In the forest, Laura tells Florante that an army led by his childhood friend was able to overthrow the greedy Adolfo, freeing the kingdom from the hands of an unworthy ruler.
The story draws parallels to many points in Philippine history—with its conclusion reminding readers of the various revolutions and People Power movements that our country has gone through, as well as the incarceration of “political prisoners” over the years.
In Lope K. Santos’ analysis of the literary masterpiece titled “Apat na Himagsik ni Balagtas”, he names revolt against a cruel government as the very first on the list. He noted that “Florante and Laura” was able to denote the different kinds of cruelty and corruption of the government.
The same misruling, as well as the greed and lust for money and power that officials had, described in Balagtas’ story continue to be seen to this day. The same goes for the countrymen’s continuous search and battle for justice and peace, which unfortunately remains as challenging as it was in Florante’s story.
With all of these which the prominent Filipino poet pointed out in as early as the Spanish rule still proving to be applicable to the modern times, the lessons and awakening that “Florante at Laura” hopes to express through its words show why it serves as an honorable legacy to Balagtas, the “Prinsipe ng Makatang Tagalog.”
Header photo from National Commission for Culture and the Arts
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