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Juan del Encinas egloga representada en la noche de la natividad: gift giving in search of recognition and recompense.

As Robert ter Horst noted, Spanish Golden Age drama, the apogee of Spanish theater, began at court with Encina's writing (qtd. in Greer 5). Although Encina has traditionally been labeled as the "patriarch of the Spanish drama," his dramatic works have been largely overlooked in favor of Spain's early-modern comedias (Crawford 18). Far from simplistic, static pieces, however, Encina's theater is replete with characteristics that later would become hallmarks of the comedia in the following century--with one of the notable characteristics being that of metatheater. The dramatist's use of metatheater often emphasized the dramatic space of the play--the Duke of Alba's celebrated court. During his stay at the Duke's court, Encina composed the majority of his dramatic pieces (8 of the known 14 works). Encina's selection of "egloga" for the titles of six of these eight plays references the pastoral tradition that was predominantly religious in nature. (1) Breaking from this, Encina presents secular pastores that further develop a new dramatic genre that blends, as Augusto Arias describes, the contemporary Castilian rustic tradition with the Latin heritage established by Virgil's Eclogues (312). (2) Although these characteristics are present in many of the dramatic pieces written during his sojourn at the ducal court, this essay focuses on Egloga representada en la noche de la Natividad, which serves as the princeps of his dramatic collection in the 1496 Cancionero. By analyzing this egloga and the repetition of its themes in the later eighth one, we better understand this young dramatist's incorporation of the pastoral and the emerging dramatic convention of metatheater to establish himself as a dynamic court poet worthy of recognition and recompense.

Though Encina's first egloga contains only 180 verses, there are two distinct sections. In the first shorter section (45 verses) there is one character from the play on-stage, a shepherd. The next section begins with the entry of another shepherd who converses with the first for the remainder of the play. Instead of presenting the traditional birth narrative with biblical shepherds, Encina breaks from liturgical and pastoral expectations to suspend the religious celebration and address issues of personal recognition and recompense. He then presents the more traditional birth narrative with the second egloga. (3) As the first play opens, an unnamed shepherd enters and addresses the audience directly. We later discover that his name is "Juan," representing the dramatist himself, who may have played this role. (4) Juan then turns to praise the Duchess and Duke. In addition to offering flattering words about the Duchess's beauty, the shepherd bestows her with a gift in a seemingly humble tone: "!Miafe! Trayole un presente / poquillo y de buenamiente. / Tome vuestra senoranca" (7-9). After complimenting the Duchess, Juan then turns to his patron, the Duke, and praises him in a hyperbolic fashion, comparing his Maecenas to Julius Caesar and to Priam's son, the Trojan Hector (19-27). He then proceeds to describe the fear that those in both France and Portugal feel in front of such a great soldier. Having the praise issued from the lips of a rustic herder demonstrates how the Duke's fame is so great that it has traveled to the ears of this shepherd. With the two speeches directed to the couple, this first section has been seen by critics as overt praise, even to the point where its overall pur pose has been dismissed as being only "a prologue to the second [Christmas eclogue]" (Crawford 24). (5)

We see, however, that the eclogue's tone and focus change with the arrival of the second shepherd, Mateo. In the second section of the work, the dramatist utilizes the playing space to promote himself by silencing criticisms about his literary worth as well as his heritage. (6) After Juan chastises Mateo for making rude remarks about his presence in the ducal palace, Mateo dismisses Encina's literary merit: "Yo conoco bien tus obras: / todas no valen dos pajas" (75-76). Encina retorts that he has hidden gems, "alhajas," that he will debut in May. Unconvinced, Mateo retorts that he is not alone in his contempt of both Juan and his work: "que bien se que mofaran / de tus obras y de ti" (104-05). (7) Juan asks who these people are, and Mateo easily lists six people who share his low opinion, even Juan's own brother-in-law (109-17). Juan reminds Mateo that a writer's natural process begins with experimentation and inherent errors (127-30) and counters boastfully that at this point in his career he has achieved a degree of mastery that cannot be denied: "que si quieres de pastores / o si de trobas mayores, / de todo se" (124-27). With this back-and-forth rhetoric, Encina stages a defense against his detractors concerning his art. (8) Within the confines of the play, this is successful for Mateo ceases his derogatory remarks and begins to compliment Juan.

After directing defenses and critiques towards his detractors, Encina addresses his lack of compensation from his "amos." Rather than introducing the subject himself via Juan the shepherd, the author has Mateo inquire about their payment to him:

Mateo: ?Que te han dado? ?Que has avido?

Juan: Aun agora no he cumprido.

Mateo: Llugo, ?no te han dado nada?

Juan: No me han dado, mas daran dexandolos Dios bivir. (151-55)

Encina is careful to have Mateo broach the topic of how the ducal couple has rewarded him and express astonishment, through the repetition of the question, that Juan has not received anything from them. Juan is able to maintain the persona of a faithful shepherd in his response as he employs the future tense ("daran") when speaking of the rewards he will receive. In response to this realization, Mateo reminds Juan of the Duke's immense fortune and assures him that he will undoubtedly be richly rewarded (156-60). Although Encina appears to praise the Alba's wealth and status, critics argue that this section contains veiled criticism concerning the tension between patron and poet with respect to the Duke's lack of compensation for Encina. (9) While describing this section, Andrews states, "[w]hat seems to be praise is, on a closer inspection, actually accusation and censure, softened by the subtlety of Encina's pastoral rhetoric, which permits the ironic mixture of praise, mockery, accusation, persuasion, request, and demand" (121). Whether one believes that this short exchange is subtle or blatant, it is easy to see that the shepherds' dialogue would at least remind the Duke of his noble duties towards the artist.

Although scholars have focused on Encina's concerns with respect to his recognition as poet and then criticism of the Duke for his lack of recompense within the second half of the eclogue, one could argue that these concerns begin, in fact, in the opening section of the play. As mentioned above, Juan, in the exordium of the eclogue, praises the Duke by comparing him to two legendary figures--Caesar and Hector. For Yarbro-Bejarano, this passage expresses Encina's overt praise for the Duke's military might (147). Although heroic symbols, Caesar and Hector may also be viewed as foreboding figures for they both unexpectedly met their demise at the hands of others. If one considers the dichotomy of these classical figures as both praise and warning, Encina displays his trepidation over the Duke's future safety and, thus, the present and future financial arrangements with his new patron. Encina's concern is not unfounded, for he knew that in 1492 the Duke returned to his palace in Alba de Tormes after completing a military campaign to re-conquer Granada. Yet the possibility loomed that the Duke would return to ser vice at any time. (10) In addition to these classical allusions, the dramatist establishes the Duke as a shepherd-like figure and boasts of his ability to protect and take care of his flock: "que los mas hambrientos lobos / huyen mas de su ganado" (39-40). Encina suggests that the Duke's possible untimely death would leave the flock unprotected. For the dramatist, the "flock" represents the court artists, thus he utilizes this specific metaphor to express his trepidation concerning his stay at the ducal abode. Without a shepherd, there will be no court and, more to Encina's concern, no recompense. Of course, the astute reader/audience member will have already discerned the triple shepherd-flock analogy: (1) the shepherd Juan and his herd, (2) the Duke and flock of artists, and (3) the association of Christ as the divine shepherd, which would be an appropriate and fortuitous theme for a Nativity play. At his court, the Duke could become a patron of the arts and, like a shepherd, tend to his "flock" of artists. Encina's use of the pastoral combined with the classical allusions allows him to praise his patron but to also express his concerns about the future of the Duke, his court, and his patronage.

In addition to expressing his concern about the Duke's longevity and, perhaps, future ability to justly compensate the court artists, Encina manipulates his laudatory remarks to the Duchess to remind her husband of his fiscal obligations to the court poet and dramatist. To metonymically remind the noble couple of this arrangement, Juan gives a physical object to the Duchess. Juan informs the audience that the gift is not an edible morsel, which could have been the expectation due to his humble herding profession. Instead, he announces that his offering is something far greater: "Y no penseis ahitaros, / que no es cosa de comer, / sino nuevas de prazer" (10-12). In the staged performance, the gift would have been visible to everyone present, or at least those in close proximity to the Duchess. Readers of the text, though, are already informed about the gift for the prose introduction explicitly describes it: "[Encina] llego a presentar cien coplas de aquesta fiesta a la senora Duquesa" (97). With this, we see that Encina's gift to the Duchess are verses that he composed. (11) Encina's use of his own writing for the gift, combined with the reference to the "alhajas" in the second half of the egloga, allows him to highlight his talent so that the ducal couple and court members will recognize him as a worthy court artist. He begins with a visual presentation of his artistic talent in the first section and then verbally dismisses his detractors in the second half of the work.

The shepherd's presentation of the gift to the Duchess also demonstrates Encina as a master of stagecraft. The playwright stresses that the gift is not food, which plays with audience expectation. Encina's offering is not a common, edible bite, but something much more unique and uncommon for a shepherd--a poem. He uses metatheater to draw the Duchess into the theatrical world via direct address, which blurs the line between spectator and performer. To accomplish this, Encina uses the imperative form of the verb "tomar" to offer her the poetic work (9). This obligates the Duchess for it transfers the audience's gaze from Juan to the Duchess while the gift is being presented to her. With this, he not only silences his new actress in the play, for she has no spoken lines, but he also obligates her to accept his gift. At first, one may simply conclude that this is a well-meaning gift befitting court tradition. (12) When considering theories posited by Marcel Mauss and Georges Bataille, however, this present becomes charged with obligations on the part of the recipient. For as Bataille notes, the giver of a gift has power over the recipient and "the recipient is obligated to nullify that power by repaying the gift" (204). In his study Essai sur le don, Mauss also speaks of the inherent debt associated with gift giving as related to morality, stressing the need of a return gift by the recipient to demonstrate one's honor. This highly-visual offering should not be wholly qualified as an act of servile praise, but rather a bold move to force the Duke's hand to recognize Encina as a worthy artist and compensate him for his artistic offerings. Staged in court, the first section of the play transforms the audience into witnesses to the gift-giving exchange, who will then hear in the second section that Encina has not received anything from his patron. Thus, though Encina fulfills what may be considered expected laudatory obligations with the gift presentation, he also expresses his concerns over the Duke's reciprocity. Encina's use of both metatheater and the pastoral in this first section to express his financial concerns and highlight his own literary production with the gift exchange are repeated in the second section of the egloga. What has previously been seen as laudatory is actually charged with underlying concerns that are amplified in the second half of the egloga.

Encina returns to the tactic of gift giving in the eighth and final play of the 1496 Cancionero--Egloga de Mingo, Gil y Pascuala. This playwright offers a second literary gift using techniques that echo the gift exchange of the first egloga. In the eighth, Encina, through the shepherd character Mingo, expresses his trepidations with respect to entering the court. He has, though, brought a gift to offer to the ducal couple. Similar to the Nativity egloga, Encina incorporates pastoral imagery to humbly describe his gift: "el esquilmo del rebano, / quanto pude arrebanar" (55-56). The courtier-turned-shepherd, Gil, reassures him that the couple will receive him for "bien sabe su magestad / que eres un pobre pastor" (71-72). Mingo proceeds to address the ducal couple, and, once again, there are no lines assigned to them, but they are drawn into the dramatic space by this metatheatrical device. Similar to the first gift, there is no mention of the true identity of the gift within the play's dialogue. The eighth eclogue's prose introduction reveals that the gift is "la copilacion de todas sus obras" (171). This exact wording is used in the introduction of the Nativity egloga to describe the "alhajas" that are discussed in the second half of the play. The promise described within the first play of the collection is realized as a gift in the last play. What Encina had previously used to silence his detractors and boast about his literary worth now becomes the second literary gift offered in court. The sheer magnitude of this gift surpasses his first offering, thus exponentially increasing the reciprocity required by the Duke. Describing the gift as an "esquilmo" would metonymically remind the Duke of the primary source fueling the family's coffers, the wool trade, and of his ability to reward the fruit of Encina's labors. (13) Along with this symbol of the Duke's wealth and the presence of a "pobre pastor" with his "esquilmo," Encina presents his ultimate gift with the expectation of just compensation.

With the publication of the 1496 Cancionero, Encina's theatrical works became available to the general reading public. What was previously seen as a gift offered to the ducal couple, his "alhajas" in the first egloga and his "equilmo" in the eighth, is now offered to a larger reading public. (14) We do not know for certain if Encina's bids to the Duke for compensation via his performed gift-giving scenes were to this playwright's satisfaction. It is known, however, that Encina himself closely edited the collection before its publication and composed a prose introduction for each egloga that reveals the true identity of both the gifts. (15) By publishing his Cancionero, Encina offers a detailed, public account of his attempts to receive recognition and recompense as court artist within the Court of Alba. Regardless if successful or not during his sojourn there, the publication of his dramatic repertoire within the Cancionero leads to a larger achievement than what Encina sets out to accomplish in the first egloga--the legacy of being known as the father of Spanish theater.




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Arias, Augusto. "Virgilio en castellano." Hispania 18.3 (1935): 311-20.

Austin, Brother. "Juan del Encina." Hispania 39.2 (1956): 161-74.

Bataille, Georges. The Bataille Reader. Eds. Botting, Fred and Scott Wilson. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1997.

Crawford, J. P. Wickersham. The Spanish Pastoral Drama. Philadelphia: Publications of the U of Pennsylvania Department of Romanic Languages and Literatures, 1915.

Encina, Juan del. Cancionero de Juan del Encina: primera edicion, 1496. Web. 09 Aug. 2012.

--. Teatro completo. Ed. Priego, Miguel Angel Perez. Madrid: Catedra, 1991.

Greer, Margaret Rich. The Play of Power: Mythological Court Dramas of Calderon de la Barca. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991.

Mauss, Marcel. The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. Trans. Halls, W. D. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1990.

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Stern, Charlotte. "Juan del Encina's Carnival Eclogues and the Spanish Drama of the Renaissance." Renaissance Drama 8 (1965): 181-95.

Surtz, Ronald E. The Birth of a Theater: Dramatic Convention in the Spanish Theater from Juan del Encina to Lope de Vega. Princeton: Princeton U, Dept. of Romance Languages and Literatures; Madrid: Editorial Castalia, 1979.

Yarbro-Bejarano, Yvonne. "The New Man and the Shepherd: Juan del Encina's First Dramatic Eclogue." Revista canadiense de estudios hispanicos 11.1 (1986): 145-60.

(1) Two of Encina's pieces portray the passion and resurrection of Christ and are titled "representaciones." These pieces do not follow the secular portrayal of shepherds described here.

(2) Precursors to Encina's secular shepherds can be seen in Fray Inigo de Mendoza's Vita Christi (c. 1480) (Crawford 12).

(3) The second egloga of the 1496 Cancionero is entitled Egloga representada en la mesma noche de Natividad. As the title indicates, the play is a companion piece to the first egloga, performed on the same evening.

(4) The relationship is described in the prose introduction to the eclogue which states: "Y aquel que Juan se llamava entro primero ... en nombre de Juan del Enzina" (97). For the prose citations, the page number is provided, while verse numbers are given for the play's dialogue.

(5) In her analysis of Encina's Carnival plays, also companion pieces, Stern shows that this laudatory introduction is the precursor to the loa of later comedias (182).

(6) See Yarbro-Bejarano for a nuanced reading of Encina's defense as it relates to emerging concepts of the noble poet within the Renaissance world.

(7) As Brother Austin points out, Encina's stay in the ducal palace was riveted with rivalry (162).

(8) Both Andrews and Yarbro-Bejarano analyze the nature of this criticism in their respective research.

(9) Andrews believes that Encina is outraged as the Duke's ignores his financial obligations (121) while Yarbro-Bejarano analysis is more subtle, showing that the verses serve as a source of tension that reminds the Duke of his patronage (157-59).

(10) In fact, Encina bemoans the possibility of the Duke returning to war in another play, Egloga representada en la noche postrera de Carnal: "Yo siempre llanteo y cramo, / que se suena que nuestramo, / sin mentir, / se quiere a las Francias ir" (33-36). This may refer to the later averted war and subsequent peace in the battle for Naples between France and Spain (1495) or the Treaty of Narbona (1493).

(11) Perez Priego notes that these verses were probably the one hundred-copla poem Natividad de Nuestro Salvador trobado por Juan del Enzina, which was dedicated to the Duquesa de Alba in the 1496 Cancionero (98, n. 7).

(12) See Surtz for the gift-giving tradition in Spanish plays.

(13) Yarbro-Bejarano points out that the "history of the Alvarez de Toledo is also that of the victory of sheep over agriculture. The immense power of the Castilian high nobility rested on an economic base: the control of the wool trade through the Mesta" (148). Carla Rahn Phillips and William D. Phillips explore the issue from an economic point of view showing that the "Mesta [wool trade] undoubtedly played a role in monetizing the economy of Castile and fostering commerce ... the success of the wool production and exports contributed to the overall economic strength of Castile in the late fifteenth century" (46).

(14) In the prologue of the Cancionero, Encina describes the work as "la copilacion de sus obras" (fol. Ir).

(15) Crawford reminds us that Encina also edited his works, since "many of his compositions had been so corrupted that he no longer recognized them, and he also wished to silence his detractors" (22).
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Author:Nelson, Benjamin J.; Wilks, Kerry K.
Publication:Romance Notes
Date:May 1, 2013
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