|Véase la versión en español
Switch to the Spanish version
|Véase la versión en holandés
Switch to the Dutch version
La nieve que arde o abrasa Dido & Lucretia in the
Spanish drama of the 16th and 17th centuries,
doctoral thesis of Rina Walthaus, published in the Dutch language.
The subject of this diachronic-comparative study is the presentation and significance of two mythological/legendary female figures from Antiquity in Spanish drama of the 16th and 17th centuries: Dido, whose story was handed down in two different versions and who owes her reputation especially to classical writers like Vergil, Ovid and Justin; and Lucretia, whose fortunes were told by, amongst others, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Livy and Ovid. In Spanish poetry and prose of the Golden Age both women are often represented in the context of female honour and chastity or of female passion, and both of them have led to discussion and controversy. Lucretia and especially Dido also inspired Spanish playwrights of the 16th and 17th centuries to create various dramas in which they are paramount. These are the subject of the study in question, which is, however, not directed towards research of original sources but, rather, of the newly arisen dramatic structures themselves with the novel ideological implications they receive in the 16th or 17th century.
Chapter I (Introduction) explains the basis of this approach. Each work is approached as a novel dramatic structure in which, besides the literary and classical sources, other (cultural, social, religious, philosophical, etc.) phenomena are active in intertextual interlacement. The basic tenet of our study of the dramas about Dido and Lucretia is that the 16th- and 17th-century authors often raise certain topical questions or live issues by means of their adaptation of the classical myth or legend. The popularity of these characters can be explained partly by the exceptional type of woman, full of initiative (like the mujer varonil, the mujer esquiva), beloved by the theatre-goers, as well as the topicality of the subject-matter woman and honour in Spanish Golden Age literature. Also, the dramatic adaptations of the stories of Dido and Lucretia present further themes and ideological questions which were under discussion in that period.
To demonstrate the perpetuation of the Dido and Lucretia themes in Spanish literature, Chapter II (Two women in a controversy) first pursues the transmission from Antiquity to the Spanish Middle Ages and Golden Age. In order to sketch the popularity (or triviality) of both stories, numerous examples from poetry and prose of the Middle Ages and the Golden Age are given, particularly the more extensive (narrative, lyrical, burlesque, satirical) renderings which focus on the events surrounding Dido or Lucretia. Both women are extremely controversial: steadfast or mujer fácil, chaste or lascivious, saint or whore. Originally chaste or not, they appear to have become common property, at least in literature, and to go from hand to hand, idealized or abused.
After a short exposition of the methodological framework, we proceed to an analysis of the dramatic corpus. The works are divided into three groups: the dramas about Dido and Aeneas (Virgil's version), those concerning Dido and Jarbas (Justin's version) and those about Lucretia. Chapter III (The dramas around Dido and Aeneas) studies six works based on Virgil's poetic version of the love of Dido and Aeneas. The first Spanish dramatization of Dido's story, Juan Cirne's 16th century Tragedia de los amores de Eneas y de la Reyna Dido shows, besides Torres Naharro's strong influences, clear traces of the mediaeval chronicle tradition which also handed down Dido's story as well as of the Tragicomedia de Calixto y Melibea. Honour and chastity give rise to one or two discussions and loom up sometimes in a symbolic rendering, but the tragedy of love and a mediaeval vision of Fortune are paramount in Cirne's tragedy. Guillén de Castro's comedia Dido y Eneas, published in 1625, is characterized by several derivations from the romancero and numerous original elements. Guillén de Castro is the first to interweave the story of Dido and Aeneas with that of Dido and Jarbas, Dido's rejected suitor who proceeds to besiege Carthage. This interlacement with elements from the second version of Dido's story returns again and again in subsequent dramas about Dido and Aeneas practically always based on Castro's adaptation. The divine causality recedes into the background and it is especially the dialectic of reason and passion in the human being which forms the essence of this comedia. The anonymous Dido y Eneas. No ay mal que por bien no venga (licencia 1653) is an adaptation from Guillén de Castro's Dido y Eneas, but is nevertheless quite different in character. The gods recede further into the background and the tragedy makes way for an extremely light-hearted, sometimes even farcical, presentation of events and characters resulting in a happy ending (the marriage of Dido and Aeneas). Francisco de Villegas, in his El más piadoso troyano, published in 1669, adopts, sometimes literally, elements from both Castro's comedia and the anonymous No ay mal que por bien no venga and also borrows verses from Góngora. Although the point at issue in Villegas' adaptation, as in No ay mal que por bien no venga, is that of more concrete, external complication (enredo) as opposed to the internalized moral problem of love and honour the end is characterized by a pessimistic echo in which Aeneas' departure from Carthage and Dido's suicide bear a stronger mark of fatality and inevitability than both previous comedias. Cristóbal de Morales' adaptation, the comedia Los amores de Dido y Eneas, from about the middle of the 17th century, focuses directly on the internal action: the psychological struggle especially raging in Aeneas in the choice that is put to him is here rendered as an extremely dynamic process. Quite different in character is the comedia-zarzuela Destinos vencen finezas by the Peruvian author, Lorenzo de las Llamosas. Here the classical story of Dido and Aeneas with the mythical dimension of divine intervention is rather a pretext for an impressive presentation of music, singing, visual and theatrical effects. Dido's suicide is replaced by her marriage to Jarbas.
In Chapter IV (The dramas around Dido and Jarbas) three dramas that centre upon the historical version of the stead-fast, chaste Dido are analysed. The late-16th century tragedy Elisa Dido, published in 1609, was written by Cristóbal de Virués according to the rules of classical tragedy, in accordance with the classicistic trends of the generation of tragedians Virués belonged to. Elisa Dido preaches, through the edifying classical example of the chaste queen of Carthage and the moralizing contemplations of a chorus, the Christian ethics of asceticism and contemptus mundi, so typical of the period of the Counter-reformation. In contrast to this static drama, the Tragedia de la honra de Dido restaurada by Gabriel Lobo Lasso de la Vega, published in 1587, represents more dynamic theatre full of action and incidents and forms a link with the development of the comedia lopesca that reaches perfection shortly thereafter. Lasso de la Vega exposes the poetic fiction of Vergil's Aeneid and dramatizes in defence of Dido the true story of the chaste queen of Carthage. This tragedy shows the numerous turns of the wheel of Fortune which Dido had to face ever since her marriage to Sychaeus. Virtue and conjugal love triumph in their stead-fastness. If Virués' Dido typified more the contemplative ideal of ascetism and contemptus mundi, Lasso's Dido represents rather the ideal of constantia in real life. Cubillo de Aragón also writes his comedia about Dido within the context of the topical controversy about the Carthaginian queen and he too accuses Virgil of slander in this very apologetic adaptation: La honestidad defendida de Elisa Dido, Reyna, y fundadora de Cartago, published in 1654. In this light-hearted comedy full of stereotyped confusion and complication, the defence of Elisa's honour and opinión is paramount, resulting in a happy ending.
The considerably less numerous Golden Age dramatizations of the legend of Lucretia are examined in Chapter V (The dramas around Lucretia). The Farsa de Lucrecia by Juan Pastor (ca. 1528) is rooted in the primitive phase of Spanish theatre and is characterized by a strong vulgar element, which results in a degradation of the classical subject matter. Nevertheless, in the protagonist's conception of honour is reflected he individualistic attitude which is so characteristic of the Renaissance. Well over a century later, Rojas Zorrilla writes his tragedy Lucrecia y Tarquino (probably between 1635 and 1640), in which the conflict of reason an passion and the theme of honour and the loss thereof are paramount; the political component constitutes an important sub-plot here and is another manifestation of the destructive fire of passion opposing reason, virtue and freedom. Rojas shows how human passion and infatuation (combined with power) but also an excessively strict code of honour together lead to disillusionment and destruction among the characters involved. This tragedy is hereby dominated by an atmosphere of desperation, inevitability, destruction and disillusionment. The Baile de Lucrecia y Tarquino by Agustín Moreto y Cabaña, from about the middle of the 17th century, is completely different in character. The tragic story of Lucretia is completely abandoned to a carnivalesque parody and satire. By numerous means typical of the teatro menor or teatro breve, Moreto parodies both the well-known literary myth of Lucretia's chastity and rape and the myth of conjugal honour which the comedia de honor usually upholds.
In Chapters VI (Women, honour and women's honour) and VII (The drama of the individual and power) the elaborations of some specific ideological aspects concerning the metaphysical/religious, political, social and moral components of the myth/legend and its various dramatic adaptations are compared in the diachronic sequence of the dramas. Chapter VIII (Conclusion) sums up the principal conclusions. The investigation of the presentation and significance of Dido and Lucretia as protagonists in the Spanish drama of this period leads us in the first place to the theme of woman's honour and chastity. The concept honour of the woman (honor, honra, honestidad) appears to be varied and many-sided; in the 16th century dramas an intrinsic moral aspect of honour comes first, whereas in the 17th century the social and collective aspect is rather more the determining factor. On the basis of the analysis of our corpus we can observe the varying content of this principle of honour and the divergent importance attached to it in the plays. Additionally, the dramatic function of this principle lending itself to the well-loved device of dramatic irony needs to be emphasized.
With respect to the image of the woman, we must conclude that the 16th century corpus shows an essentially more positive approach, in that the authors take the female protagonist completely seriously in her endeavour and describe preferably a mujer fuerte who is highly principled, is guided by reason and does not waver but triumphs. Concrete form is given to reason mainly in an endeavour to preserve honour, which appears to incorporate a strong sense of personal dignity rather than an external purely socially directed norm. The 17th century, interested in the dynamic of the erotic/emotional goings-on and human ambivalence, puts the character preferably in a moral-existential dilemma and shows, in most cases by far, a Dido who falls prey to passion. The image of the human being who knows inner struggle and doubt may indeed be more human and real in our eyes, but it appears to be accompanied by a loss of depth on the part of the protagonist, who thereby emerges considerably less serious and sometimes even frivolous. Real degradation is found only in Moreto's baile. The Lucretia presented by Rojas Zorrilla is an exception: as a mujer fuerte she is really taken seriously.
The political element that emerges here and there comprises mainly a form of speculum principis and incidental statements about royalty or the relationship between sovereign and people; Rojas' tragedy is an exception, for he gives the political component much more dramatic dimension. Dramatically functional are, however, the symbolic implications sometimes acquired by the political events with reference to the primary action or theme, so that the political and military agression can reflect the moral conflict and/or the sexual conquest.
The metaphysical/religious component in the dramas concerning Dido reveals a shift from the supremacy of the classical gods towards the operation of a more Christian Fortune or Providence responsible for the misfortunes and trials which are beyond human control this especially in the 16th century dramas and towards a greater degree of autonomy for man himself, who is put to choices driven by supernatural powers, external circumstances or inner motivations and is thereby given greater responsibility for the consequences of his own choice. Particularly the play-wrights of the 17th century appear interested in human duality, that delicate ground between reason and passion where the right road must be chosen of one's own free will, more than in edifying examples that steadfastly follow the road of reason and honour. In this respect, the story of Dido and Aeneas constitutes more useful and dramatic matter. The number of playwrights who choose this version of Dido's life history is significant: of the eight DidoAeneas dramas of the Golden Age we know to exist (that is, including the works of Alonso de las Cuevas and Antonio Folch de Cardona), six belong to the 17th century; of the three Dido dramas based on Justin's narration of the steadfast, chaste queen, only one.
The ideological principle that encompasses the global view of all the Golden Age tragedies and comedies about Dido and Lucretia is the moralistic philosophical concept of the relationship of reason, passion and human free will. The theme of honour and chastity can not be considered apart from this ideological framework, but is rather a concrete embodiment of the rationale that should dominate female action as well. While the 16th century authors present in Dido and Lucretia mainly the external trial of woman's ratio and the triumph in which her endeavour to maintain honour and dignity compels only admiration, those of the 17th century show mainly woman's downfall through passion and present her rational endeavour to maintain honour with a certain scepticism.
Considered in diachronic succession, the Spanish Golden Age dramas about the Carthaginian queen and the Roman matron thus demonstrate the changing ideological tendencies of the period. On the whole, a shift from tragedy to comedy occurs with the exception of Rojas Zorrilla's tragedy which results in demythologizing the classical myth/legend and the protagonist as character. The dramatic presentations of the two mythological/legendary female figures nevertheless offer ideological aspects that represent an enrichment with respect to their Nachleben in Spanish poetry and prose. As protagonists of a drama, Dido and Lucretia become three-dimensional; placed in the network of relations and events that constitute the dramatic action as a whole, we see them from within and they come forward with their own perspective and their own motivations. The possibility of using the spatial and visual dimension offered by the theatre for a metaphorical or symbolic rendition of an abstract or psychic action also contributes to the enrichment and deepening of the subject. As characters on a 16th- or 17th-century Spanish stage, Dido and Lucretia, with their specific story, gain in substance and significance. They become more than simply an example or material for comparison and more than a passive object of glorification or degradation: they become human individuals, prompted by ideals, sentiments or other motivations of greater or lesser depth, and precisely by the topical ideological background recognizable by a 16th- or 17th-century audience.