restricted access Warrior Women, Unmanly Men: Mira de Amescua’s El clavo de Jael

Antonio Mira de Amescua bases his Old Testament play on the brief story (Judg. 4 and 5) of two powerful women—a Judith-like Kenite and a prophetess—who deliver premonarchic Israel from the Canaanite oppression of King Jabín and Sísara. Mira remains faithful to the sexually charged biblical sources, while he supplements the epic with the characters and intrigue to befit a comedia. Mira doubles the couples of Judges (here, Eber Fineo/Jael and the juridical military dyad of Débora/ Barac) with an enamoured gracioso (Simaneo) and maid (Tamar), and with, more importantly, the pairing of Sísara and the emblematic Sofonisa, Jabín’s sister. The dramatist establishes a symmetrical schematic, including the axis of an economy of recompense among other literary mechanisms, which allows for the male characters to reflect one another. Mira juxtaposes the two warrior women with the four male characters who are “disarmed”—literally or symbolically—in one form or another, and who share a fate of shame in varying degrees. Furthermore, in the dramatist’s own paradigmatic supersession of this biblical tale about love, (dis) honour, and Faith, Jael is an Israelite, thus representative of the Christian thematic lessons of the play. Her hapless husband, however, remains a Kenite. In this manner, he represents the “other,” even the Jewish converso, who must suffer the consequences of failing to believe, and/or believing the dishonour that he thought his wife brought upon his name, much to an audience’s delight.