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Some New Thoughts on the Early Spanish Drama* Charlotte Stern, Lynchburg College Almost forty-five years of study and research have passed since Bonilla y San Martín published his Bacantes o del origen del teatro español and thirty years since Crawford revised his Spanish Drama before Lope de Vega. Consequently , a general re-examination of the early Spanish drama seems appropriate . Furthermore, this task should directly concern specialists in the Golden Age comedia since early dramatic tradition in a traditionally-minded country like Spain undoubtedly had some bearing on the direction given later to the drama by Lope and his contemporaries. I wish, therefore, to discuss the nature of the early theater, focusing my attention specifically on five major aspects : (1) the sixteenth-century drama as a re-working of medieval ritual and games, (2) the shepherd's prominence in the early theater, (3) the preponderantly lyrical quality of plays by Encina and his followers, (4) Torres Naharro's emphasis on dramatic fiction , and (5) the lack of literary acceptance accorded the early drama. It is a literary truism to speak of the rebirth of European drama in the late Middle Ages. Drama scholars, Grace Frank perhaps most recently, have repeatedly emphasized the break in continuity between the Greek and Roman theater and the drama of modern Europe .1 If then, modern literary drama does not derive directly from Classical sources, but must evolve slowly and painfully from indigenous dramatic elements within the country itself, should we not attempt to trace its development from medieval folk ritual and games just as Francis Cornford traced the stereotyped features of Attic comedy as survivals of Greek religious rites?2 In this regard, a cursory survey of early Spanish plays reveals that they were almost exclusively festival or seasonal pieces, evolving out of medieval games which in earlier centuries had a decidedly magic and ritualistic function . In the sixteenth century, in addition to numerous plays commemorating Christ's birth and resurrection, whch retain many features of earlier medieval performances, there are Encina 's two Églogas de antruejo, inspired by folk Carnival celebrations, the anonymous Auto del repelón, suggestive of the annual clash between students and villagers, Vicente's Auto de los cuatro tiempos and his Triunfo do inverno, both reminiscent of the medieval battle between summer and winter. Furthermore , Sánchez de Badajoz's Recopilaci ón en metro contains various plays that recall other medieval performances , among them the Farsa que se representa un juego de cañas with a mimic tourney performed by the choir, and the Farsa de la muerte and the Dança de los pecados, descendants of the medieval dance-songs Ad mortem festinamus and the Dança general de la muerte.3 In the Rouanet collection, there is a curious Auto de la resurreción de Nuestro Señor that ends with a juego al toro, of course vertido a lo divino , with the devil playing the toro. The wedding plays by Fernández, Torres Naharro, Diego de Avila, Sánchez de Badajoz and later Lope de 14 Vega were also festival pieces composed "para representar en bodas," and were indeed performed at the marriage ceremonies of socially or politically prominent persons. Many of them include an interminable list of wedding gifts, reminiscent of the primitive potlatch and designed to assure prosperity in the marriage, while others, particularly Torres Naharro's introitos, contain salacious comments for the express purpose of promoting fertility.4 The content, then, of the sixteenth-century drama reveals its indebtedness to medieval folk festivals. Even a century later, the comedia, with its canonical formula, shows that drama in Spain is still close to its ritual origins. The shepherd's preeminent role in secular as well as religious plays further suggests medieval sources for the early literary drama. In the plays by Encina and Fernández and in the introitos by Torres Naharro, the shepherd 's comic, burlesque personality, his boasting cowardice, his gluttony, his sluggishness, his inordinate pride in his rustic wealth, his musical virtuosity, his excellence in the dance, and his persistent but frequently unsuccessful courtship of a country wench identify him with the rustic clown in medieval song, dance...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-0928
Print ISSN
0007-5108
Pages
pp. 14-19
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-08
Open Access
No
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