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MEXICO is surprisingly absent from the work of her most prolific comediante, Juan Ruiz de Alarcon y Mendoza. The playwright has stronger ties to the New World than any of his competitors: it was in Mexico that Alarcon was born, received his bachillerato, unsuccessfully pursued an academic career after studying law in Spain, and worked as a lawyer fighting the illegal trade in pulque. When he left Mexico for good, it was to follow a family friend named Luis de Velasco the Younger, an ex-viceroy who had recently been appointed to the Consejo de Indias. In Madrid Alarcon began a prolonged and ultimately fruitful search for a position in the colonial bureaucracy, and near the end of his life made a last unsuccessful attempt to obtain a post in a New World audiencia (King 62-86).

Alarcon's familial, educational, and vocational bonds to Spain's overseas kingdoms far outweigh Tirso de Molina's three years as a professor in Santo Domingo, while Lope de Vega never even sets foot on New World soil. Yet Lope, not Alarcon, writes a pair of plays about the conquest of the New World, and Tirso pens an entire trilogy about the Pizarros. Alarcon's only participation in the conquest-play genre is a single scene in the multi-authored play Algunas hazanas de las muchas de don Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza, marques de Canete, a brief treatment of the conquest of Chile that only underscores Mexico's general absence from Alarcon's work.

We might interpret such absence as part of a self-fashioning strategy, a kind of passing by which Alarcon erases his origins and assimilates into castilian culture. While Serge Denis has made such a claim regarding the playwright's use of language (355-56), Alarcon's production as a whole tells a different story. As this essay will demonstrate, Alarcon does engage, explicitly and implicitly, with the urban reality of Mexico, his criollo origins, and the theme of New World evangelization -- where Alarcon attacks the pro-indigenous theology of Bartolome de las Casas. These issues do not merely serve as a biographical backdrop to Alarcon's production, but instead insinuate themselves into the heart of many of his plays.

The following four sections of this essay demonstrate the presence of Mexico in Alarcon's corpus. The essay's final section shows the unique relevance of a Mexican Alarcon to the continuing polemic over the hegemonic or subversive nature of the Hispanic-Atlantic Baroque. Participants in this debate have tended to treat Alarcon as just another Spanish playwright. Maravall, in Culture of the Baroque, refers to Alarcon only twice, in each case sandwiching an Alarconian quotation into a list of similar lines by Spanish-born authors (98; 116). Alarcon's words help build Mar- avall's wider argument about the "guided" and "mass" nature of the Baroque, but only in the sense that two bricks--indistinguishable from all the others--help build a wall. William Egginton treats Alarcon in a similar way in The Theater of Truth, which works to deconstruct Maravall's portrayal of the Baroque by splitting the hegemonic "major" discourse of Lope de Vega from the subversive "minor strategy" of Cervantes (5-6). In his third chapter, Egginton analyzes three plays, two by Spanish-born playwrights and one by Alarcon, that each reveal the subterranean workings of the "minor strategy." Absent from the seven-page section on Alarcon, and absent from the book as a whole, is a single reference to Alarcon's New World origins (40-46). Alarcon functions, in Egginton's monograph as in Maravall's, as simply one of any number of indistinguishable Spanish playwrights.

While the omission of Alarcon's unique biography from these big-picture monographs is of course understandable, this essay will conclude by arguing that the narrow question of Alarcon's ties to Mexico in fact has important implications for the broader Maravallian debate about the Baroque culture industry. Alarcon, unlike his peers, has extensive experience as subject and agent of Spanish colonialism, as an employee of the Consejo de Indias who worked to manage the lives of criollos like himself and who sought to return to the Americas as a colonial bureaucrat. As we will see, his plays, especially those that treat New World issues directly or indirectly, can make unique contributions to our debates about the hegemonic or subversive possibilities of the Baroque.


Alarcon's longest direct reference to Mexico in his plays comes at the beginning of El semejante a si mismo, where Leonardo spends 71 lines describing the greatest wonder of the world: the "desague mexicano" (I: 352), designed to stem the frequent flooding of Lake Texcoco. Viceroy Velasco, Alarcon's patron, controls scientific experts and "mil y quinientos peones" (I: 354) as they dig a tunnel through the mountains and drain the lake's overflow. The project, says Leonardo, "da eterna paz al reino / y a su autor eterna fama" (I: 354). Water management was always a central concern of Mexico's rulers, both before and after the Conquest (Mundy 190-97), but Leonardo's praise is exaggerated, as the city's devastating Seventeenth-Century floods would demonstrate.

Leonardo's speech is not integrated at all into the rest of the play, except insofar as it links the character to the watery space between the New World and Spain, a space in which he will shipwreck near the play's end while sailing to Peru. Leonardo is a marine character who dwells in the space between worlds. According to Gladys A. Robalino, Alarcon speaks "por medio de Leonardo, como una voz dislocada del texto, un exceso que lucha por afirmar su lugar y que al final es cancelado en el espacio peninsular" (37). Following this reading, the messy sutures that connect the desague scene to the rest of the play correlate with Alarcon's partial integration into Madrid.

Leonardo's shipwreck and exit from the world of the comedia (he joins a religious order and abandons the love plot) might instead be read as a kind of victory, analogous to Alarcon's bureaucratic ambition to enter the Consejo de Indias. Antonio Castro Leal believes that the playwright returned to Spain in the expectation of using Velasco's influence to receive a post with the Consejo, and only later turned to a theatrical career in order to pay his bills and keep his name current; when his ambitions were finally realized under the Olivares administration he ceased writing new works for the stage, or, at least, slowed down his production substantially (Castro Leal 4647; see German Vega Garcia-Luengos for evidence that Alarcon continued writing after entering the Consejo [40]). Thus, to whatever degree Alarcon eventually distanced himself from the literary world, such distancing seems almost prefigured in Leonardo's escape from the storm and from the comedia. The tempestuous world of writing for the stage--with its plagiarism, gossip, and uncertain financial returns--stands in contrast to the benefits Alarcon received once he entered the Consejo, such as government-subsidized rent. (Fernandez-Guerra y orbe 436)

The printed Obras completas likewise aim to further Alarcon's bureaucratic ambitions: the two volumes are dedicated to the head officer of the Consejo de Indias, and it cannot be a coincidence that the first scene of the first play in the first volume includes a speech in which a galan named Ruiz de Alarcon, newly arrived in Madrid, praises the bureaucratic capital of Spain. The desague scene in Semejante performs similar work. It lauds the colonial bureaucracy, establishes a personal connection to important figures such as Velasco, and demonstrates that Alarcon/Leonardo understands a central concern of the Consejo de Indias, how to productively manage the bodies and souls of the Empire's indigenous subjects. Thus Leonardo's support for the controversial repartimiento forced-labor system, which allowed the viceroy to conscript his 1500 indigenous "peones," demonstrates the practical value of controlling colonial bodies.

This is also the theme of Alarcon's scene in the co-written play Algunas hazanas del marques de Canete: the conquistador and future viceroy Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza thwarts an assassination attempt and chooses to "obligar" his Araucanian rival with gifts as part of his strategy of subduing the region. "[E]l que perdona / vence mas que el que se venga" (III: 581), declares the conquistador; forgiveness is true victory and true control. Alarcon's contribution to Hazanas, then, follows in the vein of Semejante: it praises a viceroy for his ability to manage indigenous populations, and insinuates a connection between the playwright and the imperial hero (who shares a surname--Mendoza--with Alarcon).

These observations about Semejante and Hazanas show how we can place claims of Alarcon's "mexicanidad," just as often overstated as discredited, on a more stable foundation. (1) In these plays we find two interrelated motifs: Alarcon praises colonial administrators for their ability to control or convert non-Christians, and he links his descriptions of the New World to his own career ambitions at the consejo de Indias. As we will now see, these strands reappear in plays by Alarcon that do not refer explicitly to the New World. La manganilla de Melilla praises the commander of a North African military garrison for pacifying and enslaving an entire army of Moors; Manganilla and El anticristo enter into New World theological debates about the role of violence in conversion; and the two parts of Don Domingo de Don Blas show the self-invention of a heroic warrior-bureaucrat. If Alarcon rarely engages explicitly with the New World, Imperial Mexico nevertheless permeates his theater.

III. Alarcon's Frontier Empire: La manganilla de Melilla

Alarcon's early play La manganilla de Melilla treats Christian-Muslim conflict (Melilla was and is a Spanish-held fortress in North Africa) and deception (a manganilla is a trick or trap). The moral ambiguity of the play's Christian heroes (they take and rape slaves) matches the strange characterization of one of the Moorish antagonists, the Muslim holy man Amet, who leads thousands of Moorish soldiers into the fortress at Melilla, promising them miraculous victory over the Christians, only to fly away as the Spanish trap his soldiers. Is Amet a Muslim magician whose powers desert him when the hero Vanegas unveils a cross? Or, as Vanegas himself wonders, is he instead an angel sent by God to strike a blow against Islam (II: 260; II: 267)? The play leaves this question unresolved, although the second interpretation is more likely.

The play dramatizes a 1560s attack on Melilla, but it may have been written in response to a 1614 attack on another Spanish garrison in North Africa (Salafranca ortega 46). It certainly responds to the vogue for morisco themes in the first and second decades of the seventeenth century; in fact, one of its moras borrows the name and religious trajectory of a character from Guzman de Alfarache, Daraja. Yet perhaps the play's most interesting feature is the way it dialogues in indirect ways with Alarcon's Mexican origins while addressing the question at the heart of colonialism and the Counter-Reformation: conversion.

The play's connections to Mexico are several. To begin, it stages a frontier reality that Alarcon, growing up as he did during the Chichimec War, could not have failed to experience. Secondly, it places reference to the riches of the Indies in the mouths of its Moorish king Azen but not its Christians (II: 201; II: 212). These comparisons link Azen to gold-promising New World monarchs like Moctezuma and Atahualpa. Descriptions of the North African countryside as filled with "selvas" likewise evoke a more verdant landscape than the Eastern Maghreb would seem to offer (II: 184).

The strongest link between Manganilla's Moors and Native America arises in the characterization of Moorish religion as polytheistic. Such a vision of Islam bears little resemblance to Sunni theology, yet Alarcon develops it consistently throughout the play via the mysterious Amet, who accuses his co-religionists of being "paganos" (II: 251) who must stop worshiping Mohammed as God. Alarcon likewise seeds the speech of his Moorish characters with pagan elements--not only references to Greek mythology, which appear more frequently amongst Muslims than Christians (Moreta 100-101), but also in the animistic threat that Alima makes to her captor Pimienta when he tries to rape her: "Almas tienen estas plantas / y deidades estas selvas, / que castiguen tu delito, / y que te impidan mi afrenta" (II: 187). Alarcon's North Africa is not a mere allegory for Mexico, but the New World elements he places in the mouths of his Moors, as well as his characterization of their religion as animistic and polytheistic, can be profitably traced not only to his mau- rophilic literary sources, but also to his own Mexican origin. The Moroccan "selvas" evoke Mexico, without abandoning their own literary reality.

Just as the play alludes to the New World, it also responds to one of the key debates in New World theology: the ethics of conversion. Alarcon's opinion stands in direct opposition to the theology of the Dominican friar Bartolome de las Casas, a sixteenth-century pro-indigenous activist and author of muckraking works like the Brevisima relacion de la destruccion de las Indias.

Las Casas's Latin treatise De unico vocationis modo omnium gentium ad veram religionem (On the Only Way of Calling All People to the True Religion) makes three interrelated arguments about conversion. First, because all potential converts are equally human, missionaries ought to evangelize according to an unico modo, a single technique for all cultures that transcends the civilization/barbarism dichotomy. Second, evangelization must be patient: the desire to convert "se engendre paulatinamente en el corazon de los oyentes" after repeated conversation (130). Sudden road-to-Damascus conversions have no place in Las Casas's conversion theory; true conversion is always a gradual process. Finally, evangelization ought to proceed gently. The pagan soul is drawn to Christianity by means of "la suavidad de la voz, con la alegria del semblante, con la manifestacion de la mansedumbre, con la delicadeza apacible de las palabras, con la amable induccion y con la benevolencia grata y deleitable" (133); fire-and-brimstone sermons or physical threats cannot persuade potential converts, but instead cloud their powers of reason and make it impossible to freely choose Christianity (90).

Violent conversions, according to Las Casas, are simultaneously wrong and ineffective; they drive potential converts away from true faith. Las Casas's peers would adopt different positions. The Franciscan missionary Motolinia, for instance, includes in his Historia de los indios de la Nueva Espana an account of a 1538 missionary play in which a sermon by Saint Francis is interrupted by Native American actors. Francis does not patiently dialogue with his adversaries. Instead, he summons demons that drag the interrupters into Hell, which is then set on fire as the actors slip out a back entrance, giving the audience the impression that the actors are actually being burned alive (107).

Alarcon's approach to conversion in Manganilla resembles that of Motolinia: Vanegas espouses but ultimately abandons Lascasian idealism and adopts a kind of Realpolitik conversion strategy that matches his military deviousness and Alarcon's "particular interest in the issue of deception, its necessity, and its conditional legitimacy" (Whicker 1). As in Motolinia, the control and punishment of bodies is a higher priority than the genuine salvation of souls.

The issue here is the religious state of Alima, the mora whom Vanegas saves from the rapist soldier Pimienta. Alima, secretly in love with Vanegas, finds a way to avoid being ransomed by her unwelcome Moorish suitor Azen, who has pursued her to Melilla: "de Cristo adoro la fe," she declares to her Christian and Muslim paramours (II: 236), knowing that the Spanish refuse to ransom any Moor who converts to Christianity. As the wives of the soldiers of Melilla were almost all Moorish converts to Christianity and the law forbade Spanish women from living in the castle (Salafranca Ortega 18; 20), Alima's conversion gambit may also have an ulterior goal: to land Vanegas as her husband.

There follows a brief theological debate over the nature of conversion, in which Vanegas adopts a purely idealistic perspective. He refuses to baptize Alima, explaining that
   mi ley manda que sea
   voluntario el movimiento
   del que quiere ser contado
   en el gremio de su fe
   y en ti, aunque niegues, se ve
   que esta ocasion te ha forzado:
   y asi, Alima, determino entregarte. (II: 237)

Vanegas, following Las Casas, believes that true Christianity permits neither conversion by the sword nor conversions forced by circumstance.

Alarcon, however, does not allow this position to prevail. Alima fires back with a speech more than four times as long, during which she invokes Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus ("Por ser de temor, dejo / de ser su fe verdadera?" [II: 238]) and offers subtle theological counterarguments to Vanegas:
   Con diversas ocasiones
   de temores y portentos,
   de asombros y de escarmientos
   mueve Dios los corazones
   a conocer lo perfeto
   y buscar su salvacion:
   violentos los
   medios son, mas voluntario el efeto (II:237)

Alima's theological counterpunch can be summarized in a single two-line phrase: "El hombre no ha de juzgar / lo oculto, sino lo expreso" (II: 238). Her professed desire to "ser admitida / en la iglesia militante" (II: 238) means that Vanegas must set aside his suspicions of her insincerity--suspicions later confirmed by Alima's private admission in the third act that she lied about her desire to convert (II: 256).

Thus Alima is baptized, Azen marshals his armies for the third act's assault on Melilla, and Vanegas applies the lesson he has just learned from Alima, that insincere conversions are not blasphemous subversions of the missionary enterprise but instead useful first steps on the road to Catholicism. For in the play's final act, after trapping a Moorish army in the fortress by faking a Islamic miracle, Vanegas brandishes an image of Christ and proclaims the following:
   El solo es Dios verdadero:
   los que a su ley se conviertan
   de vosotros, seran libres;
   los demas, si no se entregan
   por cautivos, moriran.
    Cierra, Espana!  Espana, cierra! (II: 264)

Gone are any compunctions about conversions influenced by circumstances. Vanegas offers instead a carrot-or-stick ultimatum that bears results: the Christians triumph; Azen, Daraja, and Alima's father all ask for baptism; and many other Moors do the same offstage. Yet, as we learn, Vanegas's threat and promise were in fact yet another manganilla: despite promising liberty to all Moors who convert to Christianity, by the play's end "[c]uantos quedan / con la vida, de los moros, / a esclavitud se sujetan" (II: 266). Only the lovers Daraja and Muley, along with Alima's father Abenyufar, receive freedom, at Alima's request. Azen and the throngs of Moorish converts offstage will remain enslaved, their baptism protecting them only from ransom by their family members.

There is something shocking about this play's insistence on external, not internal, adherence to Christianity. Absent are any personal expressions of piety, akin to Zoraida's devotion to Mary in Don Quijote. Alima's religious trajectory from feigned conversion to an apparently genuine adherence seems to suggest that external compliance is a useful first step towards internal conversion. Yet any evidence we have of Alima's final sincerity is suspect, and made suspicious by her religious deception earlier in the play. We might similarly doubt the conversions of the other Moorish characters, such as Daraja's statement to Vanegas that "la verdad de tu ley / estos prodigios ensena" (II:266). For Alarcon has shown us no Christian prodigies or miracles. Christ's appearance is not a miraculous intervention by God in the world of the play, but a signal planned ahead of time by a crafty Spanish general.

The play, then, turns its back on Lascasian idealism, embracing the role of deception and force in bringing the potential convert closer into the Christian community. Alarcon's conversion theory is intensely practical, focusing as it does on the control of bodies and the ability to obtain tacit religious submission.

Vanegas, in turn, serves as a kind of model of bureaucratic Realpolitik. His ability to control and manage the enemies and subjects of the Crown--from frontier Moors to captives to dissolute soldiers like Pimienta--echoes Alarcon's praise of his protector Velasco in Semejante: both men manage bodies and souls to obtain practical ends, whether the construction of a desague or the safety of Melilla.


In Manganilla immoral means (violent persuasion) are justified by Vanegas's goals (the capture and conversion of a dangerous Muslim army). A similar Machiavellian perspective appears in one of Alarcon's strangest plays, El anticristo. This biblical-historical epic repeats the conversion theme of Manganilla while transposing it into an entirely new corner of Alarcon's imperial world--one that Alarcon again links to Mexico.

Anticristo is set in a Holy Land that seems to belong simultaneously to the biblical past and to the apocalyptic future: we meet Muslims, Jews, Christians, and polytheists in Jerusalem and Babylon; a Jewish Patriarch seems to reign over the latter city as viceroy to the Persian Empire; and the mighty Turkish sultanate has simply vanished. Such collapsing of history, where the dividing line between past and future grows highly unstable, is natural for the apocalyptic mode. Geographical boundaries blur as well. The first scene features an Antichrist who dresses himself in grass clothing in order to lend credence to his false claim of having been raised in the Garden of Eden (II: 321-23), a place linked in the medieval and colonial imagination to the space across the Atlantic. Jaime Concha has seen in the play's opening tableau something like "un grabado de De Bry" that characterizes the play's antagonist as "un Anticristo indiano" (65), by which he means indigenous.

Antichrist's satanic ambition similarly extends to the New World: if his first conquests are Ethiopia, Egypt, and Libya, by the third act he has conquered both Spain and the Antipodes (II: 525).

New World geography appears in Antichrist's opening costume, as well as in the play's references to the Garden of Eden and to the Antipodes. New World themes are also present in one of the play's central concerns: conversion. As we will now see, Anticristo continues the anti-Lascasian approach of Manganilla, concluding that the sword, and not gentle, patient evangelization, is the best conversion tool. The final image of the play, after all, is Antichrist's defeat: flying into the air via tramoya after ordering the deaths of the protagonist Sofia and the gracioso Balan, he encounters an angel who smites him with a sword and sends him tumbling down into a trapdoor from which flames emerge.

Anticristo is constructed around a series of opposing characters who represent the play's fundamental conflict between good and evil. The prophet Elias (one of the two enigmatic witnesses of Revelation 11) faces off against the anti-prophet Elias Falso (the Beast of the Land), but, as if to heighten the difficulty of distinguishing between false and true prophets, Alarcon writes these two parts in such a way that they can be played by a single actor, for Elias and Elias Falso never appear onstage at the same time. Likewise, when Elias and Antichrist debate one another, Elias's satanic rival literally echoes and reverses his lines (Concha 68). A more surprising doubling appears in the third act when Antichrist sees his adversary Sofia appear in his harem and beckon him alluringly. A succubus has adopted Sofia's form in order to entice Antichrist into further debauchery, it seems, but Alarcon creates confusion in both antagonist and audience by having the same actress play both Sofias.

Although the play develops strong oppositions between good and evil characters it often uses visual elements in such a way as to make it difficult to tell which is which--a tendency that fits John Parker's Derrida-inflected reading of Antichrist as "the dialectical counterpart to Christ, his doppelganger and dark supplement" (2). Such a perspective appears most strongly in the play's use of magic, for Antichrist, as in Alarcon's biblical sources, is an expert imitator of miracles (he flies five times, predicts the future, imprints a magical mark on his followers, and even strikes Sofia mute). Christian and Antichristian miracles often mirror one another perfectly. For instance, Elias flies through the air to snatch up and rescue Sofia in the second act, while in the third act Antichrist does exactly the same to capture her. This sense of overlap between miracles and magic, already present in the play text, finds most shocking expression in an episode from the play's performance history. As we know from a letter written by Luis de Gongora, during one performance the actor portraying Antichrist was too terrified to go out and attempt the final trick--a flight into the air followed immediately by a dive into Hell through a trapdoor. The actress portraying Sofia, having just been killed offstage at Antichrist's command, saved the day by donning his costume, attaching herself to the tramoya, and enacting the stunt perfectly (Fernandez-Guerra y Orbe 291-92). The implications of such an unplanned substitution are fascinating: the martyr Sofia, who ought to undergo some kind of apotheosis for her sacrifice, instead steps into the clothes and role of her arch-rival and then descends to eternal torment. This one-time body-switch, not planned by Alarcon, nevertheless highlights themes already present in his play text (much like the scene in which a demon appears in Sofia's form).

Jules Whicker puts a didactic spin on the play's uncanny overlap between miracles and magic: the goal is "to demonstrate the unreliability of appearances as a basis for discriminating between good and evil" (42). Whicker sees no "moral skepticism" here; rather, Alarcon is "seeking to direct the audience towards an evaluation of the action in more reflective and intellectual terms" (42), a Baroque desengano that calls us to use reason to distinguish good from evil (for instance, Antichrist's occasional tendency to misquote Scripture gives away his true identity).

While some elements of Whicker's argument seem valid, the play in fact goes much further in its approach to conversion. The religious trajectory of the gracioso Balan suggests that the path to desengano is not simply a matter of abandoning the visual for the rational. Instead, Christian miracles and military force play a pivotal role in Balan's conversions, deconversions, and eventual martyrdom. If Vanegas deconverts from Lascasian idealism in Manganilla, in Anticristo Alarcon explores the process of Realpolitik conversion from the convert's perspective. The play undermines visual and verbal miracles but uses both to convert Balan.

Balan begins the play as a Jewish shepherd who happens to witness the first meeting between Antichrist and his future disciples. The gracioso stands amazed at the play's first demonic tramoya, Elias Falso's ascent into heaven (a reenactment of the biblical Elijah's ascension millennia earlier). "Senor," Balan asks one of the Jewish bandits, "en efeto, es el / el verdadero Mejia?" The miracle does not speak for itself, but Antichrist immediately acts to resolve the shepherd's doubts: "Si, Balan" (II: 482). This verbal miracle, knowledge of a man despite never having met him, likewise parodies a biblical passage, Christ's conversation with the future disciple Nathaniel in John 1. Balan, convinced that Antichrist "es el divino Mejia / prometido al pueblo hebreo," receives the Mark of the Beast on his hand (II: 482-83).

Converted to the camp of Antichrist by words and images, Balan next appears midway through the second jornada boasting to a Jewish fellow traveler of the miraculous powers that the Mark offers him. He jumps off the top of a mountain intending to fly, only to crash into the stage (thus foreshadowing Antichrist's failed flight at the play's end). Balan's instant deconversion ("El Mesias no es Mesias" [II: 510]) might lead us to interpret this scene as dramatizing the failure of satanic magic and the triumph of Christian miracles. Alarcon will not allow such a reading to stand, however. For Sofia herself has recently been cursed by Antichrist for scorning his advances. Unable to open her mouth--just as Balan is unable to move his legs--she faces an identical abandonment by her Messiah. If she finds comfort in a book by a Dominican scholar about the suffering of the righteous, Antichrist uses similar arguments a few moments later when he persuades Balan to continue worshiping him. Neither miracles nor words, then, help to distinguish one position from another.

Balan's religious waffling continues into the play's final act, as symbolized by the two hats he wears to a battle between the Christians and the forces of Gog and Magog: he switches back and forth between a Christian sombrero and a Jewish bonete as one side or the other seems to prevail. He decides to remain a Jew after seeing a flying Antichrist kidnap Sofia, yet only twelve lines later his religious identity is put back into play: a Christian soldier enters with sword drawn and begins a comic theological debate, in which he and Balan go back and forth naming saints in their religion, plucking a hair from their rival's head for each saint they name. The winner will keep his faith and his hair; the loser will admit that the other's religion is superior. The mock battle begins evenly, and Balan even pulls ahead by citing Jacob and his twelve sons (which allows him to pluck thirteen hairs at once), but the Christian obtains sudden victory upon invoking "[l]as once mil / virgenes" and ripping off Balan's wig, leaving "un casco de calabaza, como pelado" (II: 533). The comic debate suddenly turns deadly serious: "Cumple lo que has prometido / o te mato," threatens the Christian, and Balan responds "Fui vencido, / hare lo que prometi" (II: 534). Balan receives baptism offstage and refers to himself as a Christian for the rest of the play, either because of his promise or because he can read the writing on the wall: after the decisive defeat of Gog and Magog, Antichrist's days are numbered. In any case, Balan's multiple layers of hairpieces (a fake bald cap, underneath fake hair, underneath alternating Jewish and Christian hats) suggest the difficulty of identifying any stable or sincere religious identity in the gracioso.

At some point between this scene and the play's conclusion, however, Balan's conversion to Christianity seems to have grown deeper. He withstands torture at the hands of Antichrist's minions and then plays a key role in unmasking the impostor by proving Antichrist's lack of omniscience to the entire court. Balan's complex path towards something that resembles Christian martyrdom suggests that, for Alarcon, conversion is a combination of several elements: miracles, such as Balan's healing upon kissing a cross; words, such as the book that Sofia uses to comfort her comrades; the threat of force, such as the Christian warrior's forced uncovering of Balan's Jewish head; and reason, as seen in Balan's ability to trap the allegedly omniscient Antichrist in his own lies. Because each of these factors has a satanic double (demonic magic, twisted Scripture, the armies of Gog and Magog, and Antichrist's wily conversational tactics), the task of uncovering theological truth is difficult and prone to produce confusion--the same confusion that Alarcon delights in causing his audience.

Ultimately, however, it is the sword that proves Antichrist a liar: the triumph of Christian soldiers over the armies of Gog and Magog, and an angel's appearance at the very end to smite Antichrist and send him tumbling down to Hell. Divine violence counters satanic violence, just as holy lies--like the trap Balan sets for Antichrist at the play's end--undo wicked ones. By dramatizing the necessity of force and tricks, and by suggesting the difficulty of knowing whether any soul is ever converted, Alarcon suggests that in the struggle against the Antichrists of his era--polytheism, Islam, Protestantism, Judaism--no tool should be ruled unsuitable or unethical. Both Balan and Alima, after all, first convert under the threat of violence but eventually become--or grow more skilled at pretending to become apparently genuine Christians. The implications for New World conversion policy are clear: the Crown should demand external compliance, using the sword as needed, and abandon the dream of complete conversion, Lascasian or otherwise.


The comic hero of these two plays, at first glance, bears little resemblance to the imperial heroes of the others: the idiosyncratic, comfort-obsessed Don Domingo de don Blas can be interpreted as a bourgeois character, a type that seldom appears on the baroque stage in Spain. Such a reading falls in the line of interpretation that sees Alarcon as a modern innovator (see, for instance, Jimenez Rueda's attention to Alarcon's use of bourgeois protagonists and claim that Domingo is "el 'antibarroco' por excelencia" [205; 209]). Luis Fernandez-Guerra y Orbe, in contrast, finds in Domingo a heroic Stoic ideal: Alarcon deserves "toda la gloria de haber creado el original de un valentisimo castellano, discreto como el solo, incapaz de la menor bajeza ni supercheria" (413). Serafin Gonzalez has more recently offered a fusion of these ideas: Domingo is an "encarnacion del espiritu burgues" (53-54), but Alarcon places in him a complex mix of humoristic and heroic elements that "logran fusionarse e integrarse en una vision unificada y ambigua" (54).

The bourgeois reading of this character, while productive, does not tell the whole story. As Gonzalez notes, the play seems to draw a distinction between Domingo's comfortable present and his heroic past. Yet the exact nature of Domingo's past suggests a different class identity: not burgues but criollo. The comic hero has followed a different path to wealth, one with closer connections to Mexico than to the development of the bourgeois class in Spain.

The name "don Domingo de don Blas," a strange name indeed, immediately calls to mind the common cultural criticism of New World parvenus who adopt an excess of titles--which is precisely Quevedo's criticism of Alarcon. (2) In Domingo's case, as we learn quite early in the play, his double "don" comes from conquest. As the play takes place in medieval Spain the war is against Moors in Extremadura, not Aztecs, but the similarities are striking. Years earlier, we learn, a heroic warrior named don Blas brought his nephew don Domingo along with him to battle, where the nephew proved himself "valiente cuanto ninguno" (III: 91). In the sack of Merida Blas happened to loot the house of a rich Moor, and ultimately bequeathed his wealth to Domingo with the condition that he bear his uncle's name to avoid "las injurias del olvido" (III: 91). Domingo does not obtain his wealth, then, in typical bourgeois fashion; rather, he is simultaneously a conquistador and heir to a conquistador, and preoccupied with establishing family ties to a military conquest that is source of his wealth and honor. His comic surname is in fact a kind of permanent relacion de servicios y meritos, the legal document that New World subjects--including Alarcon's own family in Mexico (King 53)--prepared to demonstrate to the Crown that they deserved reward for their contributions to the colonial system. To be sure, Spaniards were just as preoccupied with establishing their links to illustrious ancestors. Yet the source of wealth for the nascent don Blas dynasty--that Moorish house of gold--evokes connections to the land of Alarcon's birth, even if such connections always remain implicit.

After this brief exposition of Domingo's heroic past, the play immediately contrasts past heroism with present comfort: a servant tells us that "despues que se vio rico, / solo a la comodidad, / al gusto del apetito, / al descanso y al regalo / se encaminan sus deseos" (III: 92). If Domingo is a heroic conquistador corrupted by wealth, he is nevertheless eventually able to return to a life of honor. At the end of the second act Domingo wins a duel against a rival, thus proving that his martial prowess has not dissipated. Later, after being placed under house arrest by plotters against the King, Domingo undergoes a kind of transformation away from his life of ocio and teams up with the play's other "tipo antiheroico," the impoverished noble thief don Juan, to save Alfonso III (Castro Leal 19). Domingo's bravery, prudence, and loyalty to the crown--along with his willingness to sacrifice his way of life--allow him to save Spain.

If Agustin Millares Carlo is correct to believe that this play was written near the end of Alarcon's career (Alarcon, Obras II: 81), we find here an almost perfect bookend to the imperial elements in El semejante a si mismo, the play, written some thirteen years earlier, that we examined at the beginning of this chapter. Both plays feature characters implicitly linked to the Indies; both praise members of the power structure; and both position Alarcon himself as a perfect candidate for professional advancement at the Consejo de Indias. (3) If Domingo's love for comfort can be read as expressing Alarcon's inner trepidation at the workload of a bureaucratic job (Fernandez-Guerra y Orbe 416), it also suggests that acomodados, when pulled from their comfortable lives, make for excellent servants to the Crown.

As it happens, this is the plot of the sequel to Don Domingo de don Blas, discovered recently by German Vega Garcia-Luengos: Domingo again drops his life of comfort when the king asks him to serve as his valido. As we watch Domingo carry out bureaucratic work, the king begins his ulterior plot: the seduction of Domingo's beautiful ward. The protagonist remains loyal to the deceitful king, never suspecting him of treachery (or, at least, hiding it well). The play's happy conclusion serves again to underscore Domingo's loyalty to the crown:

REY: Ya yo he cumplido, don Domingo, mi palabra.

DOMINGO: Nunca dello el pecho mio ha dudado. Y la Segunda

DOMINGO: Comedia de don Domingo tenga fin, con suplicaros aplaudais a la Segunda, que animeis a quien la ha escrito para que acierte dichoso en la Tercera a serviros. (III: 199)

We ought not to read too deeply into the play's stock conclusion, but it seems significant that Domingo's last known word as a literary character (Part III has never been uncovered) is "serviros." A character who, at the beginning of each play, seems only to care for his own comfort, Domingo is revealed to be an excellent, discreet, and valiant servant of the monarchy.

I have suggested a reading attuned to the bureaucratic genre of relaciones de servicios y meritos--a genre that Alarcon's family members, as we know, managed to great effect (King 53). Such a reading must grapple with the scene in the second part of the trilogy in which Domingo, now the king's privado, himself judges the merits of a series of pretenders and finds them all wanting. Their mechanistic, transactional expectations (a certain amount of service ought to yield a corresponding amount of kingly largess) are roundly negated by Domingo, who repeats again and again the monarch's lack of obligation: the king uses his vassals for the good of the kingdom, "y no del reino el rey para el vasallo" (167). Is this perhaps Alarcon's true perspective? Have years in the bureaucracy made him lose all sympathy for low- level applicants? I offer instead an explanation drawn from Bourdieu's theory of cultural fields: Domingo's protestations of disinterestedness in fact serve to advance his career. In fact, by denying the Crown's obligacion to pretenders, he only serves to further obligate his superiors. This, too, is servicio, bureaucratic service that mirrors that of viceroy Velasco in the desague section of Semejante, the marques of Canete in Hazanas, and Vanegas in Manganilla: these prudent bureaucrats and warriors are all experts at managing the subjects and enemies of the Crown.


As we have seen, several of Alarcon's plays treat colonial and bureaucratic power: he praises colonial Mexican administrators and chilean conquerors, engages with Lascasian debates over the role of force in religious conversion, and dramatizes the career of a skilled warrior-bureaucrat. This essay concludes by arguing that Mexico's presence in Alarcon's biography and in his plays has important implications for today's debates on the hegemonic or subversive nature of Baroque theater. Alarcon and his contemporaries were agents and subjects of imperial power--they were censored and they were censors; they shaped plays and were in turn shaped by them--but in Alarcon this dynamic is starker: no other canonical playwright can match Alarcon's experience as a colonial subject and as a colonial bureaucrat. Yet the subversion/hegemony debates have tended to treat Alarcon as indistinguishable from his Spanish-born contemporaries (as we have seen in the case of Maravall's

The Culture of the Baroque and Egginton's The Theater of Truth). In some cases, as in a 2013 special issue of the Bulletin of the Comediantes on the Maravall controversy, Alarcon is simply absent from the conversation: the word "Alarcon" appears only once in the issue's seven articles, in Bruce R. Birningham's bibliography.

Such omissions are of course quite understandable. Far from censuring those who focus on the big picture of Hispanic baroque culture, or those who specialize in other pieces of the puzzle, I make instead a more modest claim: the unique traits of Juan Ruiz de Alarcon (his New World biography, his approach to colonial issues in his plays, his career in the Consejo de Indias) allow us to approach the Maravallian polemic from a different angle than the familiar Lope-Cervantes, hegemony-subversion axis.

This dichotomy, which Vicente Perez de Leon believes is an addition by Nicholas Spadaccini to Maravall's theory of a conservative guided culture industry ("Nuevos" 76), has been productive. It undergirds Egginton's The Theater of Truth (with its language of "major" and "minor" strategy) and resurfaces in the scholar's 2016 biography of Cervantes, The Man who Invented Fiction, which in one section compares Lope's "blatant pandering to the public's base tastes" to Cervantes's "artistic integrity" (99), a sense of empathy born at least partly out of his experience on the margins of Spanish society (87; 154-55). Alarcon provides a potential counterexample to this reading of Cervantes. For Alarcon is in many ways a figure of similar or greater marginality: his hunchback is more visible than Cervantes's stutter; his Mexican birthplace more distant than Cervantes's North African captivity; his criollo identity, unlike Cervantes's possible Jewish ancestry, impossible to deny. This greater marginality leads Alarcon's plays to celebrate, not subvert, the system. They explore debates around colonialism and conversion, but ultimately conclude by abandoning idealism and suggesting practical, Realpolitik tactics that create tacit obedience (as Alima argues in Manganilla, humans ought to judge external evidence and leave inner realities to God).

Alarcon's plays also offer new perspectives on modern-day updates of Maravall's theory, such as Vicente Perez de Leon's 2015 monograph Histeresis creativa. If Egginton celebrates Baroque subversive intellectuals, Perez de Leon focuses instead on the propagandistic inner workings of the period's culture industry, which, in open-air celebrations and plays, aims to "provocar la suspension de la voluntad del receptor," which is ultimately the "secuestro de su libre albedrio" (85). The power of such manipulation is what Perez de Leon calls "histeresis creativa," which he defines as "manipular politicamente el pasado para que nada cambie" (13). Alar- con certainly participates in histeresis creativa: Manganilla and the first scene of Semejante creatively manipulate the past, while Anticristo manipulates the apocalyptic future. Alarcon's plays and bureaucratic career, however, reveal that this historical manipulation is not simply a conservative defense of the way things are ("para que nada cambie"). Rather, Alarcon's plays simultaneously defend imperial power and seek to transform the colonial bureaucracy (namely, by providing greater literary and bureaucratic opportunities for Alarcon himself, a lower-status criollo). They also enact an ideological transformation: the Counter-Reformation project, in Alarcon's plays, is best defended by abandoning the Counter-Reformation mandate to transform the inner lives of individuals. External compliance--in true Machiavellian style--is good enough.

Ultimately, Alarcon reminds us that the Baroque culture industry, even at its most propagandistic, is anything but static. As Maravall himself notes, the Baroque "didn't lose its confidence in the transforming force of human activity" but instead "sought to keep the transforming force in hand, to study and perfect it, and to forestall its disruptive (today we would say revolutionary) use. Instead of taking a more conservative attitude, it accentuated (if possible) the desire to guide the multiple aspects of human coexistence" (58). For Maravall the Baroque perceived the "plasticity or moldability of the human being" in the world (169) and "made this world enter into a whirlwind of changes" (179). Maravall's Baroque is built on the chaotic mutability of Fortune, the individual, and the cosmos. While the goal of Baroque propaganda is "containing the inexorable period of decline" (181), this attempt at containment introduces new transformations into society: "The task of preservation cannot be accomplished without contaminating the tradition to a great extent" (138). The financial cost of propaganda and armies requires the inclusion of newcomers--men, we might add, like Vanegas, don Domingo de don Blas, and Alarcon himself--into "traditional society's order of privileges and values" (138).

Juan Ruiz de Alarcon propagates certain messages that aid the work of social control (regardless of what his motives may have been). Yet the work of this hunchbacked Mexican criollo within Spain's culture industry and colonial bureaucracy signals the transformations and self-transformations at work in the midst of the counter-Reformation, transformations already prefigured in Alarcon's own plays. The tight linkage between Alarcon's avatars and viceregal figures like Velasco works to create more space for criollos to work in the colonial administration, in Mexico and Spain; the social rise of Vanegas, captain of Melilla, mirrors the self- fashioning aspirations of men from the frontier of empire, like Alarcon himself; the instant transformation of the rich sloth don Domingo into a swashbuckling royalist matches a criollo's willingness to show or feign loyalty to the crown; and Balan's multiple religious transformations suggest, again, the mutability of all identities.

In Alarcon's work, then, Mexico is indeed present: not as a subversive resistant Other, but, in a fashion already prefigured by the desague scene of the early play Semejante, as a space that seeks fuller integration into Spain's empire and into that empire's bureaucracy. The tools of such integration, as we have seen, are violent, deceptive, and incomplete conversion tactics. And the fruit of Alarcon's work is an integration--personal and regional--that simultaneously sustains and reconfigures Spanish imperial power.


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Ben Post

Murray State University


(1) Pedro Henriquez Urena claims that Alarcon possesses allegedly essential Mexican character traits: discretion (88), powers of observation (90), and courtesy (93). Octavio Paz writes in El laberinto de la soledad that Alarcon enacts the same "negacion" that "Mexi co ha opuesto siempre a Espana": "la dignidad, la cortesia, un estoicismo melancolico, un pudor sonriente" (169). Ellen Qaydon, in contrast, considers it "impossible to speak of 'Mexican' nationality only fifty years after the conquest of Mexico; Mexico was simply another province of Spain, politically as well as culturally" (11). Margarita Pena's more nuanced interpretation gives weight to Alarcon's formation in Mexico but considers it "innegable, tambien, que Alarcon deseaba integrarse al mundo espanol, 'hispanizarse'" (76).

(2) Quevedo compares Alarcon's profusion of titles to grotesque proliferating mushrooms (Fernandez-Guerra y Orbe 508). This image seems to evoke Alarcon's physical deformity, which Quevedo would mock elsewhere: " Quien para Indias cargo / espaldas, no mercancias, / y de alla trujo almofias / que por jubon se vistio, / que cangrejo navego / para volverse ranilla? / Corcovilla" (King 251-52).

(3) Alarcon was employed by the Consejo when he likely wrote Don Domingo, but we know that he sought (and failed to obtain) appointment at an overseas audiencia. King provides details and speculates that Alarcon's physical deformity was to blame (205-6).
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