Hilaire Kallendorf. Conscience on Stage: The Comedia as Casuistry in Early Modern Spain.
Spain's national theater blossomed, beginning in the last two decades of the sixteenth century, at the convergence of a bumper crop of talented playwrights, actors, and directors (autores de comedias); city dwellers hungry for a steady supply of new plays; plus charitable hospitals whose funding relied on playhouse box-office receipts. In the early seventeenth century, printers, sensing a business opportunity, began to sell printed anthologies. Taken together, these sectors engendered one of the modern era's first forms of mass entertainment. Its scale presents a major logistical and methodological challenge today. Though many play-texts have been lost, several thousand survive, including over 300 written by Lope de Vega, the most popular and prolific playwright of the first three decades of the century; Calderon, the dominant playwright of the next generation, left behind approximately 80 comedias and 180 autos sacramentales. These are but two of a large number of active professional playwrights. Yet a miniscule proportion of plays have attracted careful and sustained scholarly scrutiny or are performed regularly in repertories. This book reports on one scholar's project to widen the lens through which we view Spain's "Golden Age" theater.
Specifically, Hilaire Kallendorf demonstrates the still unrealized potential of using on-line databases for locating theater texts in which monologues or dialogues highlight the process of casuistry or "conscience in action." By so doing, she expands the longstanding analytical focus of interiority in comedia studies from a more narrow scrutiny of honor and the honor code, the dominant single issue in the mid- to late-twentieth century scholarship. In this regard, she notes at one point how monologues enact "passion, honour, friendship, love, pleasure, and interest all poised in a delicate game of counterbalancing that threatens to collapse at any moment as each one 'cedes' to the next" (84-85). Throughout, Kallendorf buttresses her analysis by applying the Derridean notion of the trace, proposing it to conceptualize the "footprint" casuistry left within comedia.
In her first chapter, "The Vocabulary of Casuistry," she uses the term caso (case) as an Ariadne's thread to locate plays that enact casuistical reasoning. Chapter 2, "'Que he de hacer?'" / 'What should I do?'" analyzes numerous dramatic monologues that air this pivotal question, whether in moral or tactical terms. Chapter 3, "Asking for Advice: Class, Gender, and the Supernatural," considers how gender differences influence representations of casuistry based on a sample of ninety-seven digitized comedias from which a research assistant did keyword searches designed to find variants of the question, "?que he de hacer?" Kallendorf found here that twice as many men as women in comedias engage in speeches with casuistical reasoning. Chapter 4, "Constructions of Conscience," reports on the search for dramatic representations of motives, intentions, and thoughts, a crucial inquiry given the elusiveness of interiority in early modern texts. Chapter 5, "Casuistry and Theory," offers closing reflections on the literary and social implications of the dramatic enactments of casuistry. Her summation of this section speaks as well to the overall study: "I argue that casuistry offered an escape valve for dramatists and spectators seeking greater autonomy within this admittedly hegemonic system. Although the social atmosphere in Catholic Spain at this time was in no way conducive to privacy or interiority, there was in fact a kind of subversive movement towards moral autonomy on the part of the Jesuit-educated playwrights. These dramatists were also often clerics themselves and thus sanctioned to have a voice" (185). Though Kallendorf's conception of theater's special power to give voice to thoughts that might otherwise be dangerous to express in this or any other ancient regime society is well taken, her notions of both "hegemony" and "voice" need to be unpacked and contextualized. The assertion, for instance, that male clerics who wrote plays were "sanctioned to have a voice" overlooks the obstacles that even the most popular playwrights encountered. Thus, the enormously successful Mercedarian friar and playwright Tirso de Molina was censured for writing profane plays in 1625 by a reform committee, which urged the king to banish him to the most remote convent of his order. From another angle, the important work of James Amelang on autobiography by artisans and by women offers just one example of how scholars are unearthing other realms in which non-elite individuals claimed a voice in society.
There are also moments in this study where the study could have benefited from more contextualization in literary and cultural terms. For instance, the primary example of casuistry offered in Chapter 1 is the El animal profesta y dichoso parricida San Julian, a hagiographic drama about the life of St. Julian Hospitaller. Kallendorf follows the late nineteenth-century edition by Menendez y Pelayo, attributing it to Lope de Vega, despite the fact that scholars have doubted he authored this work, at least since the publication of Morley and Bruerton's The Chronology of Tope de Vega's 'Comedias': With a Discussion of Doubtful Attributions (1940; Spanish translation and revision 1968). A manuscript from the 1630s lists Antonio Mira de Amescua as the author, an attribution followed in the 2005 edition by Aurelio Valladares for Granada's Equipo Mira de Amescua (Mira de Amescua Research Team). Beyond the authorship question, Kallendorf skillfully delves into the process of casuistry present in a courtroom debate about damnation versus salvation. But on the outcome, in which the patricide is redeemed and his slain parents liberated from purgatory, she objects that: "Lope would here seem to be offering carte blanche for murder, as long as the right circumstances can be summoned afterwards as an excuse through casuistry (50)." But here, the playwright was adapting a saint's life passed on through popular ballads, painted on church altarpieces, or etched in stained glass, most famously in the Rouen Cathedral windows that inspired Flaubert's St. Julien two centuries years later. Narrating the life of the patricide-saint revered along the byways of folk Catholicism, if much less so in the circles of Counter Reformation reformers, the playwright is not excusing murder through casuistry. Rather, he is tackling the artistic challenge inherent in the sub-genre of hagiographic plays: how to make a well known story suspenseful for a two hour performance before the famously exacting audiences of Spanish play houses.
On the subject of the specific sub-genres, readers might want to supplement Kallendorf's eloquent and sophisticated analysis of conscience in action in a diverse selection of plays with more specific studies of specific plays or sub-genres. For instance, a single paragraph in Chapter 2 discusses Juan Ruiz de Alarcon's Ganar amigos, Agustin Moreto's Lafuer%a de la ley and La misma conciencia acusa, none of which is well known or widely studied. Studies that would match well with this different works discussed here include Margaret Greer's analysis of Calderon's mythological plays and Fausta Antonucci's work on his cloak-and-dagger plays; Juan Maria Marin's study of comedias de comendadores (plays about tyrannical authority figures); Ignacio Arellano and Stefano Arata on comedias urbanas; Teresa Ferrer Valls and Jonathan Thacker on comedias palatinas; plus studies by Marc Vitse, Jesus Menendez Pelaez, and Ignacio Arellano on the overall connections between theology and the theater. By so doing, Kallendorf's own footsteps could lead the reader to many different scholarly conversations.
There is one point, however, that I believe Kallendorf should reconsider entirely. In closing, she avers that the scenes of casuistry in action she explores with early-modern Spanish theater could help explain the "insecurity, the cynicism, even the morbid fatalism of the elusive but tantalizing 'Spanish soul.'(200). She goes on to mention a possible extrapolation to Latin American and the Hispanic United States. I would strongly recommend here Richard Kagan's classic essay on "Prescott's Paradigm" or Jorge Canizares's recent Puritan Conquistadors, both of which expose conceptual problems with the longstanding tendency in Anglo-American studies to distill an essential "Spanish character" from studies of early modern texts.
Notwithstanding this demurral, I believe that Kallendorf's methodology and her discussion of casuistry in diverse scenes have opened a window through which scholars can examine elusive issues of interiority. I am also enthusiastic about the many different kinds of scholarly conversations the book could start, particularly when considered in conjunction with focused studies of specific sub-genres. Moreover, the appendix that lists scenes that highlight casuistry in action could be a rich source for making new connections within the vast corpus of early-modern Spanish plays. The book's main analysis and appendix could also help us fine-tune the longstanding notion that early-modern Spanish theater elevated action over the interiority of specific characters, a point often made in (unflattering) comparisons with Shakespeare. In this sense, Kallendorf invites a reconceptualization of the whole issue of subjectivity.
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|Author:||Wright, Elizabeth R.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2009|
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