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Comedia o Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea.

Over the last twenty years, Castalia has been building up a formidable reputation for producing scholarly editions of Spanish literary texts which are accessible to the general public as well as to the student and more specialised reader. This long-awaited edition* of the book known to most as La Celestina (LC), from one of the senior and most respected of British hispanists, comes to fill an important gap in the series.

The text is one that poses many and varied problems for editor, critic and student alike. First, it has a complex textual and authorial history: its first version, published in 1499, had the title Comedia de Calisto y Melibea, and the author, Fernando de Rojas, disclaimed total responsibility for the work, saying that he discovered the first aucto or act and resolved to finish (|acabar) the work which had so impressed him by adding a further fifteen acts. In 1502(?) a second version appeared, with the different generic label Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, and containing five new acts introducing a new sub-plot and delaying the climax of the action, we are told, by one month.

The work is an unusually rich one for the critic: questions about the nature of love, the extent of late mediaeval belief in witchcraft, the debt of the author(s) to a wide range of learned and popular source material, the proper generic classification of a work which is written in dialogue and has many dramatic qualities, yet which could never be properly regarded as theatrical, and, most notably, the vexed question of the author's moral stance -- all of these have attracted critics and stimulated debate over a long period.

Interestingly, this edition appears in the orange cover which, in Castalia's scheme, corresponds to Renaissance texts, rather than in the green of the Middle Ages: clearly such divisions, arbitrary as they must always be, are even more difficult in the case of a work whose first version was published in 1499 and whose definitive text probably dates from three years later. Although this small point was undoubtedly a decision of the publishers rather than of the editor, one wonders whether he approved, not least because his Introduction and notes put such stress on the debt of LC to fourteenth- and fifteenth-century European works as well as to the classical culture of Greece and Rome as perceived in the Middle Ages.

LC is a notoriously difficult work to edit, most obviously because of its existence in both the sixteen-act (Comedia) version and that of twenty-one acts (Tragicomedia). It must be made plain at the outset that this is not in any sense a full critical edition, with a base-text and variants recorded from other witnesses. Russell follows the edition of Burgos, 1499? (A), for the Comedia, and that of Valencia, 1514 (J), for the Tragicomedia, which is generally supposed to date from 1502 but which survives in no reliably dated early edition. Where he departs from these two texts he indicates this by square brackets in the text, generally with a mention in the notes. A feature of his editorial technique is his use -- greater than in any other modern edition I know -- of early translations, of the work, particularly of that into Italian (Rome, 1506); he also takes full account of the monumental critical edition of Miguel Marciales,(1) sometimes accepting the latter's textual emendations, but more often adopting a sceptically conservative stance. This edition differs from most other modern ones in one feature borrowed from Marciales, namely the division of the acts into scenes or cenas. As Russell says, the sometimes arbitrary division into acts makes it difficult for the reader to find his way around the work (p. 135 n. 182), and he defends the division into scenes saying that |la verdadera unidad estructural es la escena. La division en escenas, dictada por un cambio de lugar o por la introduccion en el dialogo de nuevos personajes, responde a una necesidad logica' (p. 135) He follows Marciales' divisions, sometimes explaining arguable cases in notes (cf. the case of the first three scenes of Act XI discussed on pages 444 and 446); where such discussion is lacking, it is not always easy to follow the logic of the division, as in the case of scenes 3 and 4 of Act 1 (pp. 216-20), where scene 3 apparently begins with Sempronio alone, but with Calisto's presence indicated on page 217; the dialogue between the two then continues into |scene 4' (p. 220). To sum up, while this does not set out to be a text which will fully satisfy the specialist in the way in which a completely critical edition would, it is a wholly satisfactory reading text which will fill a long-felt need.

The Introduction sets out to cover the major critical questions which have arisen over the years, as mentioned above: there are sections on the complex textual tradition, the authorship question, genre, and the themes of love and witchcraft, an analysis of the characters and sources of the work, and particularly useful sections on the use of sentencias and refranes, and on rhetoric. A section entitled |Estructura y forma', as well as discussing the nature of the act and scene, looks at the use of dialogue both in general and in some particulars (the monologue, the aparte) and sketches some problems about the time-scale of the work. There is also a short section on language, and a concluding section (|Ultilogo') which attempts to sum up, including some remarks on the vexed question of the morality of the work: for Russell, ambiguity remains a key word, and he finishes with a question and a conclusion which deserve quoting:

?Sera que el gran descubrimiento de los autores de LC, herederos de una cultura

dogmatica, fue que el escepticismo no solo era postura intelectual factible sino

que tambien era capaz de desvelar nuevas y fecundas perspectivas y formas

literarias? Una edad en que se puede asertar, con Roland Barthes, que la literatura

es, por definicion, ambigua, vera, desde luego, en la compleja ambiguedad de LC

una explicacion a lo menos parcial de su genialidad, no una senal de un fallo

artistico ni una serie de enigmas que es deber del critico resolver de modo definitivo.


The notes in an edition such as this have to fulfil many functions: they explain textual variants and other editorial decisions such as the division into scenes; they clear up points of linguistic difficulty (if sometimes arbitrarily or repetitively; but an |Indice de voces anotadas' is a useful tool); they are extremely helpful in drawing attention to references to Petratch, Seneca and other sources, and in particular to clarifying and explaining the many, sometimes obscure, uses of refranes in the text; and they give the editor an opportunity to exemplify points alluded to in the Introduction and to reinforce his own reading of the text. One particularly valuable aspect stems from his own work(2) on the sixteenth-century Celestina comentada, a commentary by an anonymous lawyer which illuminates many aspects of the text and the ideas of its own legally trained author.

Among the editorial judgements contained in the notes, Russell is rightly concerned to point out some of the multiple ironies of the work: thus, remarks by Elicia in VII.4 (p. 383) and by Celestina in IX.4 (p. 418) and XII.10 (p. 479) are seen as prefiguring the calamity of the latter's death; and Melibea's words in XVI.2 (pp. 538 and 539) and XIX.3 (pp. 569 and 570) contain equally clear portents of the final deaths of the lovers. A few such points are perhaps glossed over: for instance, Celestina's remark to Calisto in VI.1 that |Me vida diera por menor precio que agora daria este manto ...' (p. 336) is just one of many hints of the meanness which is to lead to her death. And, most notably, Calisto's death in the Tragicomedia version (XLX.4-5), when he falls in his haste to go to the aid of his servants (pp. 573-4) contains many layers of irony. Not only is Calisto remembering his duties as a master (compare his wholly selfish reaction on hearing in XII.4 of the deaths of Parmeno and Sempronio, where his concerns are for his honour and for the new obstacle now placed in the way of his tryst with Melibea (p. 493)), but further irony resides in the fact that Sosia and Tristan, in whom he seems to have no confidence, have scared away Traso and his companions with ease, while on a previous occasion (XXI.3 and 5), Parmeno and Sempronio, in whom Calisto had shown a quite misplaced trust, had proved themselves wholly inferior in courage and steadfastness.

In two details Russell seems to insist beyond the bounds of reasonable balance. In i 989 he published an interesting article entitled |Why did Celestina move house;',(3) raising the hypothesis that, as summed up in the Introduction to the present edition, |se trata de la conversion en figura literaria de una alcahueta-hechicera historica o legendaria salmantina ya existente al meter mano a la pluma el primer autor' (p. 86). This interesting minor point is referred to on at least nine occasions in notes: that is, whenever reference is made to Celestina's place or former place of residence.

A similar if less marked lack of perspective might be seen in Russell's conviction that Sempronio is himself in love with Melibea (and, in a neat but not wholly convincing parallel, Lucrecia with Calisto). The points at which this claim is made, V.2(p. 333), VIII.3 (p. 387) and IX.2 (p. 412), are all based on the slightest textual evidence -- Celestina's malicious joke in the first case, and in the two others on Sempronio's own words, which need to be interpreted very literally in order to support the weight placed on them. As for Lucrecia's |feelings' for Calisto, this argument is based entirely on aspects of XIX.2, where Lucrecia's words in the song (p. 566), her apparent eagerness (or clumsiness) in helping Calisto to take off his armour (pp. 570-1), and her words |me esti yo deshaziendo de dentera' (p. 172) seem to me to be too slight to bear Russell's interpretation; though, in the last case, there is no doubt that Lucrecia is sexually excited by her mistress's activities (cf. the comic |A tres me parece que va la vencida', ibid.) in a way recalling Celestina's voyeuristic activity in VII.3.

The book does contain a number of misprints; almost all of them are minor and will doubtless be corrected in future editions. In only a few cases might they mislead, and it would be as well to signal these here. On page 186, note 20 has a reference to the text of A, when the prefatory section in question is lacking from that edition, and C is presumably intended; similarly, on page 192 there is a reference in note 21 to |A, C y D', where again the material in question is only in C and D; and finally, on page 487 in note 2, |A, Cy D se imprime' should read |A, C y D; se imprime'. On page 127 there is an unexplained bibliographical reference to |Whinnom, 1957' which should read |San Pedro, 1971' (the reference is to Whinnom's edition).

None of what I have said so far should detract from the excellence of this edition: it amply fulfils its aims of |presentar, corregidas las erratas indudables o probables, un texto tal como lo conocian en forma impresa sus lectores de hacia 1499 en adelante' (p. 11) and of maintaining the conclusion that |la critica celestinesca debe resignarse a que, en el plan ideologico, no puede haber soluciones definitivas, solo posibilidades' (p. 158). Such possibities, though, have to be founded firmly on the text and on our awareness of the literary and cultural background of the authors, and those conditions are amply and rewardingly fulfilled in Russell's edition.

In the remaining paragraphs of this review I should like to raise three matters in which it seems to me that a fuller discussion than was allowed for in the format of the present edition might have led to modified conclusions. They are the debt to previous vernacular literatufe and specifically to the Libro de duen amor (LBA) (see Introduction, (pp. 114-15); the treatment of the theme of love, specifically of courtly love (pp. 56-60), and the question of witchcraft and Melibea's surrender (pp. 67-76).

It is both predictable and reasonable that an empirical and hard-headed critic like Russer should have concentrated on sources of a verifiable nature -- Seneca, Petrarch, Latin and Humanistic comedy, and vernacular authors such as Boccaccio, Piccolomini, Cota, Mena, the Arcipreste de Talavera and Diego de San Pedro. All of this is persuasively argued in the Introduction and equally soundly recorded in notes. On Juan Ruiz, Russell remarks:

Los rasgos que tienen en comun la Trotaconventos de Juan Ruiz y la figura de

Celestina con mas probabilidad deben atribuirse a la percepcion popular de la

alcahueta que, si era figura tradicional en la literatura, era tambien personaje de

carne y hueso muy visible en la sociedad espanola y europea de la wpoca. (p. 115)

That is, of course, unanswerable on one level, though one might remark that the arts used by Trotaconventos in the proxy seduction of dona Endrina (set out in detail by Zahareas in 1965 and by Gybbon-Monypenny in (970)(4) are very like those used by Celestina in her attacks on Melibea's virtue in Acts IV and x. Russell surmises that the author's |gusto por las larguisimas enumeraciones de perfumes, de cosmetica, de alimentos, etc.' (p. 116) may come from the Corbacho, but such lists are equally a feature of Juan Ruiz's work (see stanzas 924-7, 1226-34, 1513-17, etc.). He does admit that the |rhetorical portrait' of Melibea in I.4 (p. 230 n. 9) is a commonplace found in, among other places, the LBA, but such portraits, as demonstrated by Zahareas,(5) are more than a chance feature of the fourteenth-century work, and parallels between this and LC would repay further study. Another common, almost topical, feature is the lament or planctus: one thinks here not so much of the structurally important Act XXI as of the ironic lament of Celestina over Claudina (111.1); Russell calls this |una corta satira del tradicional planctus' and says |ridiculiza el planctus el hecho de que su sujeto es la bruja Dona Claudina' (p. 284 n. 26). One cannot but think of Juan Ruiz's similarly ironic use of the form in his lament for the death of Trotaconventos (LBA, stanzas 1520-78). Finally, on a thematic level, it must be recalled that, if one takes the point of view that, in Whinnom's words "|Love", despite all the protestations of the poets, is no more than lust',(6) a view with which Russell seems largely in sympathy (see p. 571 n. 46, with its reference to |las toscas realidades sexuales que se ocultan ... detras del amor cortes', commenting on Calisto's near-rape of Melibea in XIX.3), then one must admit that that seems to be pretty well what the LBA is about as well -- at least in part.

That brings me to my second |question', that of the treatment of love -- specifically courtly love -- in LC This is, of course, a much-argued theme, and Russell's discussion on pages 56-60 sums up the accepted position, as analysed by critics such as Aguirre, Berndt, Green, Martin, Parker and van Beysterveldt,(7) in an even-handed way, stressing the elements of vassalage, to the point of worship, discretion, even secrecy, the exclusion of marriage as an outcome, and even a |marcado tono masoquista' (p. 58). The notes to the text reinforce this picture: in XI.3, Calisto's request to Celestina to |Hablar cortes' is glossed with the remark that |la sugerencia de la vieja de que Melibea estaba ya a las ordenes de su amante era contravenir una de las leyes principales del amor cortes' (p. 446 and n. 15). There is, indeed, as has frequently been suggested, a sense in which LC can be seen as parodic of the courtly ideal. But what has seldom been spelt out explicitly is that the courtly ideal is just that: it is a literary ideal, a complex verbal and emotional game whose relationship to |real' life is always a tenuous one. Parker's description of the courtly-love convention as |a kind of wish-fulfilment, an attempt to envisage a pure and perfect love by conceiving it as a self-sacrificing and therefore ennnobling devotion'(8) is relevant here. What makes LC different from other courtly love literature -- including, for instance, Diego de San Pedro's Carcel de Amor, discussed by Russell on pages 116-17 -- is not only that the courtly convention is parodied, but that it shows it operating -- or not operating -- in the real world. Instances of this are, for instance, Sempronio's reproving of his master in VII.4 for treating Melibea's favours |como si hovieras embiado por otra qualquiern mercaduria a aa placa', on which Russell rightly comments that Sempronio is pointing out the falseness of Calisto's |pretensiones de amante cortes' (p. 397 and n. 55); or Celestina's sapient remark to Calisto in VI.I that the only difference between |las publicas que aman' and |las escondidas donzellas' is that the latter |aunque estin abrasadas y encendidas de vivos fuegos de amor, por su honestidad muestran un frio exterior, un sosegado vulto, un aplazible desvio, un constante animo y casto proposito' (p. 340; cf. n. 25).

This is an aspect of what Russell refers to in his Introduction as the |contexto cotidiano, mas o menos realista' (p. 67) within which the lovers are placed. When all is said and done, courtly love is by its nature unreal; if it is portrayed in a |realistic' context such as that which we have here, it will inevitably be shown to be false, hypocritical and ultimately comic, as in the final garden scene (XIX.3), where even the now ardent Melibea is distressed by Calisto's wandering hands, and the idyll collapses into Lucrecia's bathetic |A tres me parece que va la vencida', however that dubious phrase is to be interpreted (pp. 571-2 and nn. 46, 49).

This approach is implicit in the comic dialogue between Calisto and Sempronio in I.4, but we can, I think, see a specific point in that scene at which it becomes explicit. In reply to a dubious jest by Sempronio, quoting Aristotle, |Asi como la materia apetece a la forma, assi la muger al varon', Calisto asks the rhetorical question |?quando vere yo esso entre mi y Melibea?', which, while far from courtly in itself, becomes partially so in the context of the (expected) reply |Nunca'. But Sempronio says |Posible es', and follows this up, a few lines later, with the words |yo quiero tomar esta empresa de complir tu desseo', becoming even more specifically worldly a moment later when, rewarded by Calisto with the brocade waistcoat, he says in an aside: |si destos aguijones me da, traergela he hasta la cama' (pp. 232-3), This is the point, for me, at which courtly pretension is shown to be irrelevant in this work: Calisto may in a perverse way have been happy in his despair, sitting in a darkened room, strumming his lute and raving about his adored beloved, the object of his worship. But in the |real', commercial world inhabited by Sempronio and Celestina, love is a marketable commodity and that is ultimately the way in which it is to be treated in the rest of the work.

My final question is that of Celestina's occult powers, and the seriousness with which we are to take her conjuring of the Devil and the subsequent part played by this in the seduction of Melibea. Russell has previously written a masterly study of this subject,(9) and he loses no opportunity, either in the Introduction (pp. 67-76) or in the notes to appropriate passages, to reinforce his belief that we are meant to take the role of the Devil and the subsequent spell of philocaptio seriously. He is persuasive, as ever, but I wonder whether he does not, on this point, allow insufficiently for the ambiguity which is elsewhere seen as such a feature of the work. Two aspects are perhaps worthy of further discussion. The first and minor one is that while the conjuration itself (III.3) is apparently serious -- Russell points out that the absence of witnesses |excluye cualquier posibilidad de que Celestina lo monte como treta para enganar a otros' (p. 72) -- it is preceded by a frankly comic assembling of ingredients in the previous scene, in which Celestina sounds for all the world like an authoritarian cook sending her kitchen-maid to the pantry (III.2; pp. 290-1), and this cannot but undermine, if not sabotage, our taking a wholly serious view of what follows.

More serious is the question of Melibea's reaction. Philocaptio is, indeed, one explanation; but an attentive reading of the text surely leaves one with at least the impression that love and hate are closely connected emotions. In III.I, Celestina's remark that |la muger o ama mucho a aquel de quien es requerida, o le tiene gran odio; assi que, si al querer despiden, no pueden tener las riendas al desamor' is glossed by Russell as |son capaces las amantes de despedirse con palabras de odio del que realmente quieren' (p. 288 and n. 44); her later remark (VI.I) that |a quien mas quieren, peor hablan' (p. 340) is also relevant; and Russell remarks, commenting in |flashback' on Melibea's violent physical reaction to Celestina's mention of Calisto's name in IV.5, that it |hace recordar las de las celebres crisis analiticas freudianas' (p. 344 n. 42). In his Introduction, he talks of passionate sexual love as a form of locura (pp. 60-3), and he cites the view of the seventeenth-century translator of LC into Latin, Gaspar von Barth, that |los poderes dialecticos de la vieja hubieran bastado para vencer a Melibea sin la necesidad de ninguna intervencion diabolica' (p. 75). It is a pity that he did not have the space to follow up that approach among more modern critics, perhaps most persuasively represented by Shipley's 1975 article |Concerting through conceit', which sees Melibea's capitulation as, in essence, a compact to preserve the decencies by the use of covert language to talk of the love of which Melibea is ashamed to speak publicly.(10)

It is also worth recalling the view of Van Beysterveldt that Melibea's resistance can be seen in terms of a socio-cultural convention rather than as a question of personal morality (|la honestidad de Melibea representa una actitud socialmente condicionada: no se la puede considerar de ningun modo como una expresion de la intimidad moral de su persona';(11) he also points to Lucrecia's remark in X.4, |mucho antes de agora tengo sentida su llaga e calado su desseo' (LC, p. 439) as evidence of Melibea's long-standing passion, perforce covered up for the sake of convention).(12)

Without being the definitive edition, even of its kind, of LC -- the text is simply too rich for that -- this is a masterly setting-out of a coherent and consistent critical position; that it continues to provoke questions like those raised here should be no surprise, should indeed be seen as a compliment, were one necessary, to Russell's fertile and questioning vision of the text. (*) Fernando de Rojas, Comedia o Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, edicion de Peter E. Russell, Clasicos Castalia, 191 (Madrid: Castalia, 1991). 632 pp.


(1) Celestina: Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, ed. M. Marciales, 2 vols. (Urbana, Ill.; Chicago, 1985). (2) P. E. Russen, |El primer comentario critico de La Celestina: como un legista del siglo XVI interpretaba la Tragicomedia', in Temas de la Celestina y otros estudios. Del Cid al Quijote (Barcel 1978), pp. 293-321. (3) P. E. Russell, |Why did Celestina move house?', in The Age of the Catholic Monarchs, 1474-1516: Literary Studies in Memory of Keith Whinnom, ed. by A. Deyermond and I. Macpherson (Liverpool, 1989), pp. 155-61. (4) A. Zahareas, The Art of Juan Ruiz, Arcipreste de Hita (Madrid, 1965); G. B. Gybbon-Monypenny, "|Dixela por te dar ensiempro": Juan Ruiz's adaptation of the Pamphilus', in Libro de buen amor Studies, ed. by G. B. Gybbon-Monypenny (London, 1970), pp. 123-47. (5) Zahareas, The Art of Juan Ruiz, pp. 143-58. (6) K. Whinnom: |Interpreting La Celestina: the motives and the personality of Fernando de Rojas', in Mediaeval and Renaissance Studes on Spain and Portugal Honour of P. E. Russell, ed. by F. W. Hodcroft et al (Oxford, 1981), pp. 53-68 (p. 60). (7) J. M. Aguirre, Calisto y Melibea, amantes cortesanos (Zaragoza, 1962); E. R. Berndt, Amor, muerte y fortuna en |La Celestina' (Madrid, 1963); O. H. Green, Espana y la tradicion occidental, Vol. I (Madrid, 1969); J. H. Martin, Love's Fools: Aucassin, Troilus, Calisto and the Parody of the Courtly Lover (London, 1992); A. A. Parker, The Philosophy of Love in Spanish Literature, 1480-1680 (Edinburgh, 1985); A. van Beysterveldt, |Nueva interpretacion de La Celestina', Segismundo, XI (1975), 87-116. (8) Parker, The Philosophy of Love, p. 17. (9) P. E. Russell, |La magia, tema integral de La Celestina', in Temas de la Celestina, pp. 241-76. (10) G. A. Shipley, |Concerting through conceit unconventional uses of conventional sickness images in La Celestina', MLR, LXX (1975), 324-32. (11) Van Beysterveldt, |Nueva interpretacion de LC', p. 79. (12) Ibid., p. 100.
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Author:Pattison, D.G.
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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