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10 Distinct Drama? ... Madrid or mingling freely in the crowd in London where they were not segregated as they were in t...



Distinct Drama? Female Dramatists in Golden Age Spain Alexander Samson

The players themselves consist of men and women: the men are indifferent actors, but the women are very good, and become themselves far better than any ever I saw act those parts, and far handsomer than any women I saw. To say the truth, they are the only cause their plays are so much frequented.

So wrote Sir Richard Wynn of Gwydir, Charles I’s groom of the bedchamber, about the Spanish comedias (plays) that the prince and his entourage attended regularly in Madrid, in his published account of their stay there in 1623.1 His observation that women played women, as opposed to the boys who took female parts in Jacobean London, and his remark on their sexual attractiveness underlying the comedia’s popularity, reflect moral anxieties obsessively explored in the outpouring of anti-theatrical polemic in both England and Spain from the period. Warnings about the dangerous incitement to lust of women parading themselves in public, whether on stage as in Madrid or mingling freely in the crowd in London where they were not segregated as they were in the corrales (theatres), in the cazuela (lit. ‘stewpot’) with its jealously guarded entrance, were commonplace.2 Women were banned for a brief time from the Spanish stage between 1596 to 1598. However, commentators such as Juan de Mariana accepted that boys in drag were a greater evil, potentially tempting spectators into ‘mayor torpeza y maldad’ (greater evil and obscenity).3 The primera dama (leading lady) in acting See Wynn [1623] 1996: 100–1, quoted in Shergold 1967: 266. The standard source on these polemical debates in Spain is Cotarelo y Mori 1904. For an excellent discussion of the analogous controversies in early modern England, see Laura Levine 1994. 3 In his Tratado contra los juegos (Treatise against Games/Gambling) of 1609, cited by Ivan Cañadas in his insightful consideration of female roles (2005: 45). 1 2



companies was habitually paid more than her male counterpart, who was often the manager as well, perhaps a measure of the commercial significance of actresses for the comedia and underlining the truth of Wynn’s observation (Cañadas 2005: 47; see also McKendrick 2006). Their violation of female decorum by making public spectacles of themselves led female actors to be compared to and seen as little more than prostitutes, rameras. The debate about women’s place in the theatre underlined how, despite the divergent staging practices in England and Spain, the figure of the unruly woman haunted both stages. A lot of research has focused on how gender was staged and represented in these contexts, where boys dressed as women, or married women played sexually available maidens, and women crossdressed as men.4 Although women played women in Spain, female parts were mostly written by men, in acting companies run mostly although not exclusively by men. Despite injunctions insisting that all female members of acting companies be married, and regular reports returned to the authorities on all members of companies by their managers, widowed and unattached women do appear on rolls clearly identified as viuda or soltera, widow or single (Oehrlein 1993: 219). While considerable attention has been devoted to female voices and the roles played by women on the early modern stage, less has been written on the surviving corpus of plays by women, although there are signs of growing interest in this drama, not least in the theatrical profession.5 Many of the plays have only become available in accessible editions comparatively recently, a great debt being owed to the work of Teresa Scott Soufas. A major subdivision of the dramatic output of women, only a tiny proportion of which is extant, is convent drama. The best-known example of this genre, which is even less regularly performed and written about than the commercial theatre discussed here (for the obvious reason that it is mostly in Latin), are the witty dialogues written by Sor Marcela de San Félix, Lope de Vega’s daughter; these are extant despite her burning almost all of her poetic output on the instructions of her confessor (for her dramatic output, see San Felix 1988). A similar fate befell the most famous woman dramatist of this period, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, who is not included in the current

4 Lope de Vega referred to this practice: ‘Las damas no desdigan de su nombre, / y si mudaren de traje, sea de modo / que pueda perdonarse, porque suele / el disfraz varonil agradar mucho’ (Ladies should not forsake the name and, if they do change their appearance, let it be in a way that can be forgiven, because masculine disguise is usually highly pleasing) in his Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo (New Art of Writing Plays in this Time) ([1609] 2006: 146). For a useful summary of the controversies in Spain, see O’Connor 2000: 29–118. 5 On dramaturgas see Cecilla 1998 and the section on women playwrights in Thacker 2007 (88–91).



survey since she was writing in colonial Mexico.6 There were many other nuns who produced drama in the Iberian Peninsula, such as María de San Alberto, Cecilia del Nacimiento, and Sor María do Ceo.7 Feliciana Enríquez de Guzmán, born before 1580 in Seville, wrote two classicizing dramas that sought to respect ‘los preceptos antiguos’ (the ancient precepts) and ‘Leyes de tiempo y lugar’ (unities of space and time) (Soufas 1997b: lines 3 and 5).8 The Tragicomedia de los jardines y campos sabeos (Tragicomedy of the Sabean Gardens and Lands) and its Segunda parte (Part Two) were first published in 1624 in Coimbra and Lisbon respectively, with a second edition of both appearing together in Lisbon in 1627, although the date of the dedication indicates that both were composed before 1619. She was married for the first time at the age of thirty-six to a widower, Cristóbal Ponce Solís y Farfán, who died a few years later, leaving the patronazgo of a chaplaincy to her.9 Within four months of his death she was married again, to Francisco de León Garavito, to whom she dedicated the second play. Very little is known about her life. As a result, a reference in Lope de Vega’s Laurel de Apolo (Apollo’s Laurel Wreath), to a Feliciana who disguises herself as a man in order to study at the University of Salamanca and falls in love with a fellow student, has been taken entirely fancifully as referring to Enríquez de Guzmán. Nevertheless, the dates of her plays and her forthright rejection of Lope’s comedia nueva (commercial plays), and poets who ‘han pagado tanto tiempo torpe y venalmente al ignorante y bárbaro vulgo por tener treguas y paz con él’ (have paid court for too long dishonourably and out of greed to the ignorant, barbarous multitude, in order to enjoy a truce and be at peace with them) (Soufas 1997b: 229), places them firmly in the context of the literary storm between the lopistas and neo-Aristotelians.10 Her first play deals with the betrothal of Clarisel, a Spartan prince, and Beloribo, king of Macedon, to the princesses Belidiana and Clarinda. Segunda parte takes the story forward to their eventual marriages to two different

6 On religious women’s writing, see Surtz 1995. Plays by Sor Marcela and Sor Francisca de Santa Teresa have been partially published in Doménech Rico 1996. 7 See Arenal and Schlau 1989a, San Alberto 1998, Nacimiento 1970, and the forthcoming edition of María do Ceo by Valerie Hegstrom. I would like to thank Valerie for her indispensable help with bibliography on these lesser-known figures. 8 For background on Enríquez de Guzmán, see Louis Celestino Pérez 1988: 1–30 and Soufas 1997b: 225–8. See also the recent study by María Reina Ruíz (2005). All quotations from the plays are taken from Soufas 1997b: 225–71. 9 The term patronazgo refers to inherited income from entailed lands. 10 For background on this, see Porqueras Mayo 1972. Enríquez de Guzmán’s critique of Lopean drama continues in the ‘Carta ejecutoria’ (Letter Patent) in which she orders that ‘todas las comedias guardasen de aquí adelante la traza y arte, leyes y preceptos de la dicha tragicomedia [Segunda parte]’ (from now on all plays must observe the form and method, law and precedents found in this tragicomedy) (Soufas 1997b: 268).



princesses, Maya of Spain and Hesperia of Italy. A profusion of mythical, mythological, and historical figures intermingle on stage in what is a highly static and undramatic demonstration of poetic virtuosity. Even the supposedly comic entreactos (interludes) rely heavily on verse narration of plot and complex, allusive, and erudite witticism rather than action, dialogue, and dramatic irony. Despite internal references that might suggest performance, such as stage directions and a prologue opening ‘En este sitio, señores’ (In this place, gentlemen), the unwieldy number of characters, uncertain plot, and long set pieces (the second act of Segunda parte is entirely occupied by Adonis, Venus, Vulcan, and some cupids) suggest that, if anything, these texts were written to be read as poetry rather than performed dramatically for an exclusive palace or courtly audience. Born around 1600, possibly in Granada, Ana Caro Mallén de Soto spent much of her life in Seville. She won prizes for her poetry, some of it still extant, which ranged from a romance noticiero (newsbearing ballad) to relaciones de fiestas (festival texts), loas (playlets), and a get-well sonnet for Doña Inés Jacinta Manrique de Lara. Dubbed the tenth muse of Seville by her contemporary Luis Vélez de Guevara in his picaresque novel El diablo cojuelo (The Lame Devil), she was a friend of María de Zayas, a fact alluded to by Alonso de Castillo Solórzano in his novel La guarduña de Sevilla y anzuelo de las bolsas (The Seville Thief and Pickpocket) of 1642 and attested to by the eulogistic décimas (verses) she contributed to the preface of Zayas’s Novelas amorosas y ejemplares (1637) (Exemplary Tales of Love), as well as by allusions in the stories themselves: ‘los teatros la han hecho estimada’ (the theatres have made her famous) (Zayas 1948: 230).11 There is no direct evidence that the plays by any other of these women were actually performed. However, Lope de Vega and Juan Pérez de Montalbán were both familiar with dramatic texts by Caro and Zayas, and Rodrigo Caro in his Varones ilustres de Sevilla (Illustrious Men of Seville) described her as ‘insigne poetisa que ha hecho muchas comedias, representadas en Sevilla y Madrid’ (distinguished poet who has written many plays, which have been performed in Seville and Madrid) (quoted in Soufas 1997a: 2). Although her autos sacramentales (religious plays based on the sacraments) are no longer extant, Ana Caro received payments of 300 reales on two occasions for pieces written for Seville’s Corpus Christi celebrations, La puerta de la Macarena (The Macarena Gate) in 1641 and another of 1645 whose title has not survived.12 She wrote another auto sacramental in 1642 entitled La cuesta de Castilleja (The Hill of Castilleja) (Soufas 1997a: ix and xii). 11 Biographical information on Ana Caro, and on most of the other women cited here, can be found in Levine et al. 1993 (see especially Kaminsky 1993), and Zayas 2000: 154ff. Also worth consulting is de Armas 1986: 66–7. 12 The real was a silver coin: 12 reales = 1 gold ducat.



The earliest edition of Caro’s El conde Partinuplés (Count Parthenopeus), written in the late 1630s or early 1640s, is in a printed anthology of 1653, the Laurel de comedias: quarta parte de diferentes autores (Laurel Wreath of Plays: Part Four by Different Authors).13 This play was depicted by her contemporary Juan de Matos Fragoso in La corsaria catalana (The Catalan Corsair) in the hands of a theatre manager (Soufas 1997b: 133). Ana Caro stands out as perhaps the only female dramatist to write for the commercial stage who did have a professional outlet for her work.14 The plot of El conde Partinuplés derives from a French chivalric novel about Partonopleus de Blois which was translated into Spanish in 1497.15 It dramatizes the dilemma faced by Rosaura, Empress of Constantinople, when her subjects demand she marry to avoid ‘ver tu corona / dividida en varios bandos / y arriesgada tu persona’ (seeing your rule divided by factional struggle and your person at risk) (Soufas 1997b: 137–62, lines 78–80), given the prophecy of her father on his deathbed that: un hombre ¡fiero daño! le trataría a mi verdad engaño, rompiéndome la fe por él jurada, y que si en este tiempo reparada no fuese por mi industria esta corona, riesgo corrían ella y mi persona. (lines 177–82) ([A] man, oh fearsome ill!, would repay my truthfulness with deceit, breaking his sworn promise, and if this damage were not repaired by my efforts in time the crown and even my life will hang in the balance.)

The competing duties of married female monarchs had been explored in theoretical works throughout the previous century, following the reigns of a series of women from Queen Isabel (1474–1504) to her granddaughter Mary Tudor (1553–58) and her half-sister Elizabeth I (1558–1603), as well as a series of female regencies from Margaret of Hungary and Mary of Guise to Catherine de Medici. In a treatise published as Elizabeth’s reign began, John Aylmer speculated whether if a queen’s husband ‘breake any lawe, if it were capitall, she myghte strike with the sword, and yet be a wife good inought for the dutye that she oweth to him’, asserting that, on the other hand, ‘if for

13 A seventeenth-century copy in the Biblioteca Nacional, MS 17189, is believed by Alberto Blecua to postdate the printed text, which is generally taken to be the princeps (see Soufas 1997b: 134–5). See also Lola Luna’s edition (Caro 1993a). 14 She is characterized as an ‘escritor de oficio’ (professional author) by Luna (1995: 11–26). 15 For recent criticism on the play see Soufas 1997a: 46–58, Carrión 1999, de Armas 1999, and Whitenack 1999.



her wedlocke dutie to him, she will neglect the commonwealth: Then is she a loving wife to him and an euel head to the countrye’.16 Rosaura, although loath to submit to any man: ¿qué gusto puedo tener cuando ¡ay Dios! me considero esclava, siendo señora, y vasalla, siendo dueño? (lines 285–8) (what pleasure, oh God!, can there be in envisaging myself a slave, when I am a mistress, a vassal being used to command?)

determines to try to ensure her safety by spying on potential suitors, availing herself of her cousin Aldora’s magical powers. This element of the play requires heavy use of stage machinery, painted backdrops, and the discovery space, as characters are mysteriously transported from one place to another, attacked by a lion, invisibly served a banquet, flown through the air, or appear on stage on horseback. Rosaura’s preference for Partinuplés, the heir to the French throne, needs to overcome two major obstacles. The first of these is what inspires her initial choice: his engagement to Lisbella, who besieges Constantinople in order to reclaim the Count, but renounces her love for him and accepts her rival’s victory. The second obstacle, a reworking of the Cupid and Psyche myth, departs from Partinuplés’s peeping at Rosaura while she is asleep, disregarding her insistence on keeping her identity a secret, and ironically reversing the gaze that has allowed Rosaura to spy on him while he hunts in the royal party at the beginning. She condemns him to death, but is obliged to accept him as her husband when, having been rescued by Aldora, he emerges as the victor of a tournament organized to decide who will win her hand. In a final twist the Count renounces the Kingdom of France for love of Rosaura, and bestows it on Lisbella. Caro’s other extant play is a comedia de capa y espada (cape and sword play), Valor, agravio y mujer (Courage, Offence, and Woman) (late 1630s), which survives in one contemporary manuscript copy.17 Its complexities and ambivalence are signalled from the opening scene, when the villain of the piece, the seducer and abandoner of Leonor, Don Juan de Córdoba, rescues the Countess Estela and her cousin Lisarda from armed bandits who, not content with stealing their jewels, are about to rape them. His chivalrous 16 An Harborowe for Faithful and Trewe Subjectes Agaynst the late blowne Blaste, concerninge the Gouernment of Wemen (Strasburg: 26th April, 1559), sig. Giii. 17 Biblioteca Nacional, MS 6620. See the edition by Luna (Caro 1993b). Recent criticism on this play includes Soufas 1991, Williamsen 1992, Maroto Camino 1996, Gorfkle 1996, Soufas 1997a: 116–25, and Mujica 1999.



bluster, ‘¿a qué aspiran? / ¿A experimentar rigores / de mi brazo y de mi espada?’ (what are you hoping to get? A feel of the force of my arm and sword?) (Soufas 1997b: 163–94, lines 159–61) is greeted with the bandit leader’s underwhelmed ‘¡Dispara, Rufino!’ (Shoot him, Rufino!) (line 168). The morality of masters and servants reflects and parallels each other in the subplot, in which Juan’s servant Tomillo attempts to rape Flora, but is thwarted by her spiking his chocolate drink and despoiling him of his purse. Both Juan and Tomillo are burladores burlados (tricksters tricked) Much has been written about the ways in which the transvestitism of Leonor, her transformation into Leonardo, connotes an essentialist shift in her identity: En este traje podré cobrar mi perdido honor […] Engañaste si imaginas, Ribete, que soy mujer; mi agravio mudó mi ser. (lines 464–5, 508–10) (dressed like this I will be able to recover my lost honour […] You deceive yourself if you think, Ribete, that I am just a woman; my injury changed my very being.)

She has been transformed into a ‘nueva amazona’ (latterday amazon) (line 501) or, as Ribete suggests, ‘el nuevo traje te ha dado / alientos’ (the new outfit has given you balls) (lines 506–7). However, the internal logic of the play underlines the ambiguity of her transformation and its relationship with dress: ‘Yo soy quien soy!’ (I am who I am) (line 507). Some of the best comedy in the play depends not on her occupation of an androgynous space as a mujer varonil (virago), but on an ambivalent, shifting, gender identification, as for example when she provokes Juan into a swordfight, but switches sides when Ludovico joins the combat against him. The homoerotic interest of Estela in este Adonis galán, este fénix español, este Ganimedes nuevo, este dios de amor, mancebo, este Narciso, este sol (Soufas 1997b: lines 915–19) (this elegant Adonis, this Spanish phoenix, this latterday Ganymede, this love god, cherub, this Narcissus, this sun)

despite her rescuer Juan’s earnest courtship, is another example of the way that Caro ‘not only meant Leonor’s male attire to be read as a revelation rather than a cover-up, but also that its ending satisfied her beyond the exigen-



cies of convention’ (Rhodes 2005: 310). An ironic intertextual reference by Ana Caro to herself as playwright appears in a dialogue between Leonor’s co-conspirator Ribete, who comments ‘quieren poetizar / las mujeres, y se atreven / a hacer comedias ya’ (women want to write poetry and nowadays even dare to come out with plays) (lines 1168–70), and the gracioso (clown / comic servant) Tomillo, who retorts: ‘¡Válgame Dios! Pues, ¿no fuera / mejor coser e hilar? / ¡Mujeres poetas!’ (God forbid! Is it surely not better for them to sew and spin? Women poets!) (lines 1171–3).18 The fact that it is Ribete, ‘elegido por mi amigo’ (chosen to be my friend) (line 537), who makes this comment underlines the metafictional irony, since he is instrumental in his cross-dressed mistress’s plot to avenge herself. Discussions about the proto-feminism or otherwise of these plays and playwrights, with the implicit problems this presents of definition and anachronism, do not detract from the fact that they contain original and unusual explorations of female agency, constantly pushing against the limits of comedia conventions, by redeploying devices like cross-dressing and deforming honour revenge plots, and in their very self-consciousness as literary products by women. The argument advanced that Valor, agravio y mujer’s closure is a conservative reassertion of patriarchal values with Leonor’s marriage to her craven seducer Don Juan and his weak ‘Te adoraré’ (I will adore you) (line 2724) (see Stroud 1986: 610), has been countered by critics such as Rhodes, who argues that reading it through ‘the lens of justiciary poetics, Valor becomes a comedy in which Caro advances a moral principle: the verbal articulation of a promise has enduring value because noble integrity guarantees the contractual validity of performative speech’ (2005: 312). The double standard of the honour code is similarly and pointedly exposed by Leonor’s brother Fernando who, despite Juan’s boasts about his amorous exploits, is happy to befriend him – until he discovers that the woman who has been dishonoured is his own sister: ‘mal pagaste de mi pecho / las finezas’ (you have betrayed the loving ministrations of my heart) (lines 2643–4). Initially Fernando refers to Juan’s ‘heroico valor’ (heroic worth) (line 444), but in the final act he joins Estela and others condemning Juan as ‘mal caballero, ingrato’ (dishonourable and ungrateful) (line 2602). The title’s incongruous conjunction of contradictory categories, ‘valor’ (value, worth, valour, courage, or lustre), ‘agravio’ (offence, injury), and ‘mujer’ (woman), is explored in the text through a series of subtle shifts in the meaning of the first term. Leonor describes her revenge being achieved through her ‘valor’ (‘courage’ or ‘worth’, line 555). It is ironically applied a few lines later to Juan’s enjoyment of the Infanta’s favour for his ‘bizarro valor’ (‘dashing gallantry’, line 581). Ludovico honours him for his ‘gran 18

Discussed by Cañadas (2005: 49), who describes the play as first-rate.



valor’ (‘great worth’, line 762). Leonor as Leonardo underlines ‘el valor de mi sangre’ (‘the illustriousness of my family’, line 660) and praises her brother’s famed ‘valor’ (‘generosity’, line 746). Her plea that the world ‘ha de ver en mi valor’ (‘must see some worth or value in me’, line 866) is partially fulfilled in Juan’s recognition of Leonardo’s ‘valor tan grande’ (‘great worthiness’, line 1449), and finally brought about with Leonor’s explanatory codicil, ‘tanto puede en un pecho / valor, agravio y mujer’ (‘that is what courage, offence and woman are capable of achieving in one breast’, lines 2721–2). The play is constantly concerned with destabilizing an audience’s ability to read value(s), in the sense of something’s relative worth as opposed to its inherent value. Legal records show that women did have legal recourse if they were seduced with promises of marriage or ‘estupro bajo palabra de matrimonio’. However, sexual behaviour in Spain conformed precisely neither to Catholic doctrine that of course condemned such deceit, nor to the honour code that responded by annihilating the offending stain (see Dyer 2003: 441). Whether or not the justice narrative in the play draws a morally flawed Don Juan back to the strictures of honourable behaviour, it presents a markedly different vision of women making unexpected sexual choices, washing their lost honour in blood, or offering men a way out of dishonour through marriage. María de Zayas’s work La traición en la amistad (Friendship’s Betrayal) has generated the greatest enthusiasm perhaps of any of the works considered here, especially in the theatre.19 A recent translation and bilingual edition (Zayas 1999) have been followed by two productions in America: at the Spanish Drama Festival ‘El Chamizal Siglo de Oro’, directed by David Pasto in 2003; and by the Washington Women in Theatre, directed by Karen Berman in 2006.20 Another production by the Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico (National Theatre) toured Spain in 2004 and there have been two further editions (Zayas 2003, 2006). One of its central themes is female friendship and solidarity and its betrayal.21 Just over half the dialogue in the play is delivered by female characters, and its settings are dominated by the interior, domestic, spaces they inhabit. The opening scene shows Marcia confessing her sudden love for Liseo to her friend Fenisa, who on seeing his portrait, falls for him as well and then in the soliloquy that follows asks:

For a biographical sketch of Zayas, see Margaret Greer’s essay in this volume. For more information on the theatre productions, see López-Mayhew 2004, Mujica 2008, and Voros 2008. 21 On the theme of female friendship in Zayas, see Gorfkle 1998, Wyszynski 1998, Maroto Camino 1999, and Vollendorf 2005. 19 20



¿Soy amiga? Sí. Pues, ¿cómo pretendo contra mi amiga tan alevosa traición? (Soufas 1997b: 277–308, lines 163–65) (Am I her friend? Yes. Then, how could I so maliciously betray her?)

In contrast, as soon as Marcia learns from Laura that Liseo has revealed unwittingly in his sleep that ‘Marcia y Fenisa me adoran’ (Marcia and Fenisa adore me) (line 789), she takes her side and sets about avenging the wrong done to her new friend Laura and herself by her confidante Fenisa. Fenisa has trysts with Liseo, Juan, and Lauro, and confides in her servant Lucía that: ‘Diez amantes me adoran, y yo a todos / los adoro, los quiero, los estimo / y todos juntos en mi alma caben’ (Ten lovers adore me and I adore, love, and cherish them all, my soul has enough room for all of them) (lines 1518–20).22 This remark immediately precedes her attempted seduction of Marcia’s long-suffering admirer Gerardo, the only person to actually spurn her advances. In fact some critics have argued that Fenisa is a kind of female Don Juan and that the play represents Zayas’s reworking of Tirso’s version of the legend (Larson 1994: 129–38). She is also a female counterpoint to Liseo, who courts her, and Marcia, and the abandoned Laura. Lucía asks Fenisa, ‘¿Pues cómo puede ser que a todos / quieras?’ (How is possible for you to love all of them?) (lines 2388–9), to which she answers: a todos cuantos quiero yo me inclino […] a los feos, hermosos, mozos, viejos, ricos, pobres, sólo por ser hombres. (I favour all those who I love […] ugly, beautiful, young, old, rich, poor, just because they are men.) (lines 2392, 2394–5).

In one of her soliloquies, she challenges the audience’s moral condemnation of her: ‘amando mucho, mucho siento; / no es razón que tu audiencia me condene’ (loving many, I feel deeply, it is not fair that your audience condemns me) (lines 2367–8), and she cries when she learns that Juan has gone back to Belisa and Liseo has left her for Marcia. Her altercation with Belisa over Juan, in the Pasto staging a scene transformed from ‘a cat fight, into a sword fight’, is another indication of the depth and complexities written into this part (Larson 2008: 88). The gracioso León comments on the fight: ‘si no viniera, / ellas, con hermoso brío, / se asían de las melenas’ (if she [Marcia] hadn’t come, they’d have been pulling each other’s hair with enticing vigour) (lines 2790–2). 22 As Sharon Voros puts it: ‘Fenisa’s brazen overtures to men have attracted the lion’s share of scholarly commentary’ (2008: 230).



By the end of the play Marcia and Belisa have tricked Liseo into signing himself over in marriage to Laura. León’s misogynistic interventions, often undercutting his master Liseo’s inflated glosses on his lust, provide some of the funniest moments in the play. His subsequent sufferings at the hands of a livid Fenisa, and his upstaging by Belisa, might suggest that Zayas is providing a kind of poetic justice for the women in the audience. Lucía addresses the female part of the audience directly to question Fenisa’s capacity to love so many: ‘digan, señoras, ¿no miente / en decir que quiere a todos?’ (What do you think, ladies? Is she not lying when she says she loves them all?) (lines 2481–2). Liseo insists as he brings the play to a close that: ‘no ha un año que en la corte / sucedió como se cuenta’ (not a year ago exactly the same thing as you have heard happened at court) (lines 2909–10). While León, in one of the play’s most subversive moments, offers Fenisa up to any interested male spectators: Señores míos, Fenisa, cual ven, sin amantes queda; si alguno la quiere, avise para que su casa sepa. (lines 2911–14) (Gentlemen, Fenisa, who you see here, is left without a lover, if anyone wants her, let us know so we can give you her address.)

This metatheatrical collapsing of the distance between the moral, gendered worlds of the stage and audience holds the mirror up to their own responses, being simultaneously comic, degrading, liberating, and provocative. Fenisa’s eventual exclusion by the other women could be read as the punishment for her ‘traición en la amistad’, but as each of them pairs up with a man guilty of exactly the same fickle, capricious, refusal to choose one partner, a more radical reading might suggest that it is Fenisa’s ­friendship and female solidarity that has been betrayed. As in Ana Caro’s Valor, agravio y mujer, female friendship is intertwined with eroticism and power. Marcia’s interest in ‘hermosura’ (beauty) is apparent when she tells Laura ‘los ojos / me tienen enamorada’ (your eyes have made me fall in love with you) (lines 909–10), exclaiming when Laura fully unveils, ‘Hermosa sois’ (You’re beautiful) (line 915). And Belisa continues even more suggestively: No hay más bien que ver cuando viendo estoy tal belleza: el cielo os dé la ventura cual la cara; si hombre fuera, yo empleara en vuestra afición mi fe. (lines 915–20)



(There is no greater joy than to look at your beauty, let heaven give you as much luck as with your face. If I were a man I would worship only you.)

Zayas won renown in the literary academies of the day for her poetry, was known as the Spanish Boccaccio for her novelas, and like her friend Ana Caro she was dubbed the tenth muse. The critical attention her work has received is a fair reflection of its importance.23 Leonor de la Cueva y Silva’s La firmeza en la ausencia (Constancy in Absence) is a representative, well-wrought kingship play about a galán (courtier), Juan, who finds himself in competition with his king, Filiberto, for the love of Armesinda. The king’s disorderly passions lead him to claim tyrannically to his sister that his person ‘no está sujeto a ley’ (is not subject to law) (Soufas 1997b: 198–224, line 511), except ‘La del gusto’ (that of his own pleasure) (line 513). The play dramatizes Franco-Spanish rivalry, with Juan, it has been suggested, being loosely modelled on the Gran Capitán, Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, and dispatched to repel a French invasion of Naples (an allusion to the battle of Garigliano in 1503), in the hope of his death. Armesinda’s awareness of the evanescent nature of reputation is underlined by her claim that the letter from her lover, ‘en seis años de amor / es el primero’ (in six years of love it is the first) (lines 381–2), something they have agreed so as not ‘perder honra y fama’ (not to lose integrity and reputation) (line 391). At the king’s instigation, Juan’s friend Carlos tells Armesinda, first, that he has married another woman, then, that he is dead. Neither stratagem avails in overcoming her constancy, as she weighs up, in a series of moving soliloquies, the options left to her of entering a convent or committing suicide, and anatomizes the pathological nature of male jealousy and desire. The play underlines her stoic resistance to Filiberto’s cajoling, threats, and deceptions, demonstrating that fickleness, far from being a typically female failing, Mal ha dicho quien ha dicho que la mudanza se engendra solamente en las mujeres, por su femenil flaqueza (lines 1170–3) (He was wrong who said that changeability is bred only in women, as a result of their female weaknesses)

is in fact symptomatic of men: ‘tan varia naturaleza / como en el hombre se ve’ (just such a variable nature as is to be seen in men) (lines 1164–5). One 23


There is now an extensive secondary bibliography on the play: see Zayas 1999, 2003,



of the most interesting readings of the play suggests that Armesinda’s resistance relies on ‘her assumption of the courtly role of faithful but unrequited lover caught in the suspended state of desire’, a strategy that renders her resistant to the material realm and absent from physical desire by occupying a male subject position (Soufas 2000: 147; see also Soufas 1997a: 59–69 and Voros 1997). Leonor de la Cueva probably deserves to be better known, not just for this play, her one surviving excursion into drama, but also for her poetry, preserved in a manuscript miscellany, probably her own, copied alongside work by Cervantes, Lope, Góngora, and Juan de Salinas. She was born in 1611 in Medina del Campo into the minor nobility and, it used to be thought, remained unmarried until her death in 1705 at the age of ninetyfour (Levine et al.1993: 125–30; Soufas 1997b: 195–7). As a result of the recent discovery by Sharon Voros of her last will and testament and other documents, we now know, as well as the date of her birth, that she was married to Baltasar Blázquez de Frías; we can also identify the contents of her personal library.24 Two of her brothers were soldiers, while another became a canon in the city. Her uncle was the poet Francisco de la Cueva y Silva. The manuscript of her play, MS 17234 of the Biblioteca Nacional, originally belonged to the Dukes of Osuna. The most prolific among these playwrights was Ángela de Azevedo. Born in Lisbon, she moved to Madrid with her parents, who were in royal service, and became a lady-in-waiting to Isabel de Borbón, Philip IV’s queen from 1621 until 1644. She was married, but took the veil after her husband’s death and entered a Benedictine convent with her only daughter (see Soufas 1997b: 1–3). Her three plays all survive in printed copies. Dicha y desdicha del juego y devoción de la Virgen (Fortune and Misfortune at Cards and Devotion to the Virgin) is the story of two pious but poor young nobles, Felisardo and María, and how devotion to a shrine to the Virgin enables them to overcome material and spiritual obstacles to their happiness and prosperity. The play comments on the changing relationship between social status and wealth, the immorality of the marriage market, and how economic problems in Spain were promoting gambling and the bargaining of young women for financial advantage.25 La margarita del Tajo (The Pearl of the Tagus) is a comedia de santos (saints’ play) based on hagiographical tradition and ballads about the fourth-century Portuguese martyr Santa Iria (St Irene). It depicts Irene’s struggle to cling on to her virtue in the face of pursuit by

24 See Voros 2009 for an analysis of the library and new documentary information. I would like to express my gratitude to Sharon for sharing this material with me. 25 On this play see Soufas 1997a: 73–90 and de Armas 2003. More generally on Azevedo, see Ferrer Valls 2006 and Gascón 2006: 127–44.



the married nobleman Britaldo and the lascivious monk Remigio (see Soufas 1997a: 90–104). El muerto disimulado (Playing Dead) is a deliciously witty comedia de enredo (love comedy) involving a pair of cross-dressed siblings. The sister Lisarda disguises herself as a man in order to seek out and kill her brother’s murderer. Meanwhile, her brother, Clarindo, who has been miraculously restored to life, disguises himself as a woman in order to test Jacinta’s fidelity and to spy on his friend and suspected assassin, Álvaro. The author comments on the incredibility and complexity of her plot through Lisarda, ‘¿En qué comedia se han visto / más extrañas novedades / ni enredos más excesivos?’ (In what play have you ever seen more strange novelties and excessive twists and turns in the plot?) (lines 2863–5), and later through the gracioso Papagayo: ‘¿qué diablo de poeta / maquinó tantos delirios?’ (what devil-poet came up with these delirious ragings?) (lines 3128–9).26 The dramatists discussed here are only a selection of the women who wrote plays in early modern Spain. A number of other dramatists’ works still languish in relative obscurity: Bernarda Ferreira de la Cerda, Cazador del cielo (Heavenly Huntsman); Sor Maria do Ceo, Preguntarlo a las estrellas (Ask the Stars), En la más oscura noche (In the Darkest Night) and En la cura va la flecha (Healing Arrow), and several autos sacramentales, including Mayor fineza de amor (The Greatest Love Compliment), Amor y fe (Love and Faith); María Egual, Los prodigios de Tesalia (The Thessalian Prodigies) and Triunfos de amor en el aire (Triumphs of Love in the Air); and Juana Teodora de Sousa, El gran prodigio de España, y lealtad de un amigo (Spain’s Greatest Prodigy and the Loyalty of a Friend).27 In this group of survivals, a number of works possess real distinction, from Ana Caro’s plays about women subverting partriarchal norms and transcending their status as objects of sexual exchange to María de Zayas’s explorations of the corollary of homosocial friendships among women. Their ironic inversions and reversals of comedia nueva and drama de honor (honour play) conventions not only function as commentaries on their own place on the stage as female dramatists, but also point up the limits of male-centred dramas both

26 For some recent material on this play, see Stoll 1999, Maroto Camino 2001, MúzquizGuerreiro 2005, Gascón 2006: 83–97, and Hegstrom 2007. 27 Soufas (1997ª: 169), and see Simón Palmer 1992, a catalogue of women’s writing in the Biblioteca Nacional. There are other dramatists about whom even less is known, such as Mariana de Carvajal, Isabel Señorina de Silva, Beatriz de Sousa, and Paula Vicente. For a complete list see Hegstrom and Williamsen 1999: 319–24, Appendix i. There is also a useful survey by Doménech Rico 1997 and another short introduction by Hegstrom and Stoll 2002: 112–15. For a complete account of women’s writing in early modern Spain, see Mujica 2004; on women as readers/writers, see Luna 1996.



on and off the stage. While mothers are generally absent from male-authored comedias, in these plays there is a corresponding lack of fathers. It is difficult to generalize about what makes the material produced by these dramaturgas distinct from that of their male contemporaries.28 However, they focus more profoundly on female friendship, offering more nuanced explorations of women’s roles, granting them agency in driving the plot rather than acting as mere vehicles for male conflict, and demonstrating a sustained interest in self-fashioning, the transformative possibilities of speech, and identity (see Larson 2000). There is a social asymmetry involved in comparing this corpus with the rest of Golden Age drama, since all of the women considered here are of noble background. This is why they were educated enough to be able to compete with writers like Lope and Alarcón and others, whose origins were considerably more modest and whose impetus to write for the theatre was financial as well as artistic. It is nevertheless surprising that they chose to write drama rather than confining themselves to the more acceptably aristocratic medium of manuscript poetry. Despite anxieties about female decorum and an ongoing feminist / antifeminist strand in humanist writing, women dramatists wrote self-confident, original, and subversive plays in early modern Spain. It is hard not to want to imagine how seventeenth-century audiences might have responded to León’s invitation at the end of La traición en la amistad for any man present to shout out if he wanted Fenisa’s address, a brilliantly comic and ironic moment, crossing the boundary between actors and audience, and playing on the centrality of women to the comedia observed by Sir Richard Wynn. Much work remains to be done in making silenced female dramatists from the early modern period speak again.

Further reading Doménech Rico, Fernando, 1997. ‘Autoras en el teatro español: siglos xvixviii’, in Autoras en la historia del teatro español (1500–1994), ed. Juan Antonio Hormigón, 2 vols (Madrid: ADE), i, pp. 391–604 Hegstrom Oakey, Valerie, and Amy Williamsen (eds), 1999. Engendering the Early Modern Stage: Women Playwrights in the Spanish Empire (New Orleans, LA: UP of the South) Serrano y Sanz, Manuel, [1901] 1975. Apuntes para una biblioteca de escritoras españolas desde el año 1401 hasta 1833, 2 vols, BAE, 268–71, 2nd edn (Madrid: Atlas)

28 See Voros 2000 for an attempt to discover whether their use of terms such as ingenio (wit) is different.



Soufas, Teresa Scott, 1997a. Dramas of Distinction: A Study of Plays by Golden Age Women (Lexington: UP of Kentucky) ——, 1997b. Women’s Acts: Plays by Women Dramatists of Spain’s Golden Age (Lexington: UP of Kentucky)

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