In this excellent study, María Cristina Quintero examines an often overlooked representation of monarchy in the personae of powerful queens. While her principal sources are plays by Calderón, she situates the discussion within the context of society in Habsburg Spain—the court of Philip IV in particular— and the expectations spelled out in conduct books. The first chapter contrasts the queenly characters portrayed by actresses with the strictures on feminine conduct articulated by tratadistas. It juxtaposes the Spanish preoccupation with the enclosure of women and its attendant obsession with honor with the anxiety engendered by the public display of the female body and, more problematically, the exercise of power by women rulers. Although examples of ruling queens from Isabel la Católica to Elizabeth I of England existed, playwrights usually chose figures from mythology or ancient history to articulate their underlying theses.
Calderón’s portrayal of Zenobia in La gran Cenobia, along with Tirso’s of Irene, Empress of Byzantium, in La república al revés, looks to classical examples to explore “the workings of gender and its connections to ideologies of power and authority” (51). These warrior queens are positive models of ideal monarchs intent on protecting their realms. In contrast, male characters represent the consequences of allowing passion to dominate reason. Quintero theorizes that both plays intend to instruct the young Felipe IV. Echoing the concerns of the tratadistas, each also emphasizes the dangers of the seductive beauty of women who too easily lead men astray. In the case of female rulers, the “body natural” may endanger the “body politic,” a recognition of the idea of the “king’s two bodies” as it applies to powerful queens.
Calderón’s use of Semiramis in La hija del aire serves as a theatrical De regimine principum to warn Felipe IV against the disruptive nature of feminine beauty as well as the growing power of his privado, the Conde Duque de Olivares. In addition, it articulates a concern over the issue of succession, especially as it involved the future regency of Felipe’s second wife, Mariana de Austria. Semiramis embodies a transgendered tyranny, one which personifies the convergence between femininity, theatricality, and tyranny (107). [End Page 178]
In “English Queens and the Body Politic,” each of the three works considered manipulates history for polemical reasons. Ironically, the figure of Elizabeth I does not appear in Calderón’s La cisma de Inglaterra, although her rule is at the heart of the concerns voiced in his work. Instead, he contrasts the “good” Catherine of Aragon with the “evil” Anne Boleyn, relegating Henry VIII to a role of subordinated masculinity. In the Historia Eclesiástica del Scisma del Reino de Inglaterra, Pedro de Rivadeneira posits Elizabeth as representative of the inversion and perversion of masculine supremacy in her dual roles as head of state and head of the church. Each author manifests the “early modern male anxiety and paranoia toward the female body, sexuality, and feminine power”(147).
Antonio Coello’s El Conde de Sex foregrounds many of the preoccupations and prejudices of the Spanish with the rule of Elizabeth I. Like Semiramis, Isabel first appears masked and half-dressed, a “singularly inappropriate representation of a royal body on stage.” Unlike the extensive portraiture of the ornately dressed historical Elizabeth, her depiction here suggests “a personification of the tripartite link between inauthentic femininity, theatricality, and tyranny” (155). The execution of her suitor, the Earl of Essex, juxtaposes the tension between the private passions of the queen and her responsibility to the state.
In the final chapter, Queen Christina of Sweden is considered in a variety of media. Beginning with an analysis of the equestrian portraits of Margarita of Austria and Isabel of Bourbon in contrast to those of Felipe III, Felipe IV, and the Conde Duque de Olivares, Quintero turns her attention to Sébastien Bourdon’s portrait of Christina, a painting commissioned by Felipe IV. She emphasizes the marked similarities of Christina’s depiction with those of the kings and privado in terms of...