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An Apology for the Actorly: Maravall, Sor Juana, and the Economics of Jongleuresque Performance

From: Bulletin of the Comediantes
Volume 65, Number 1, 2013
pp. 131-154 | 10.1353/boc.2013.0011

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

José Antonio Maravall has famously called the baroque “una cultura dirigida” (Cultura 131), by which he means that the dominant political and religious powers of seventeenthcentury Spain were proactively engaged in using the various new means available to them since the Renaissance to further their own political ends. In this regard, Maravall succinctly sums up his theory as follows: “[E]l Barroco no es sino el conjunto de medios culturales de muy variada clase, reunidos y articulados para operar adecuadamente con los hombres, tal como son entendidos ellos y sus grupos en la época cuyos límites hemos acotado, a fin de acertar prácticamente a conducirlos y a mantenerlos integrados en el sistema social” (Cultura 132). And while Maravall certainly notes that the various elements of kitsch that made up this imperial mass culture included “libros, […] pintura a granel, canciones de moda, carteles, programas, libelos, etc.” (Cultura 184), the commercial theater of the corrales holds a special place at the very center of his theory of a “directed” baroque culture: “De ahí los esfuerzos de los grupos dirigentes por imponerse también en ese plano del gusto masivo y que un Lope—rezumando cultura privilegiada—se afane en servir el gusto suelto del vulgo—lo que quiere decir que trate afanosamente de controlarlo” (Cultura 222-23; my emphasis). Indeed, while Maravall’s Cultura del Barroco is perhaps his best-known work (at least in the English speaking world), Teatro y literatura en la sociedad barroca represents the apex of his comedia-focused line of argument, an argument that takes very seriously the notion of the theater as a mirror held up to life: “[E]l teatro español, sobre todo después de la revolución lopesca, aparece como manifestación de una gran campaña de propaganda social, destinada a difundir y fortalecer una sociedad determinada, en su complejo de intereses y valores y en la imagen de los hombres y del mundo que de ella deriva” (Teatro 13; my emphasis).

Critics such as David Castillo and Massimo Lollini have noted Maravall’s affinity with both Walter Benjamin and Antonio Gramsci (Castillo 177; Lollini 187). As Lollini remarks, Maravall “makes use of the concept of ideology as a system of values expressed by a particular class interest” (188). Indeed, Maravall’s notion of a “cultura dirigida” is closely aligned with Gramsci’s theory of hegemony. For Gramsci, “force and consent are simply equivalent” (271); for Maravall, Lope controls the vulgo by giving him precisely what he wants to see (Cultura 223). Other critics, however, have questioned the value of Maravall’s emphasis on propaganda, noting that Maravall’s model is not as nuanced as those of Benjamin and Gramsci. For instance, Julian Weiss—glossing the work of Charlotte Stern, William R. Blue, and Raymond Williams (among others)— argues that “Maravall’s insistence on art as propaganda does not do justice to his almost Gramscian emphasis on the way rule is sustained by civil, not just political organization, by extra-rational consent, not just coercion, and by direction, not just domination” (184). Above all, such critics question the universality of Maravall’s “directed” model by exploring the ways in which the social realities of early modern Spain do not entirely match Maravall’s theoretical descriptions. For his part, William Egginton (whose work is greatly indebted to Maravall) counters the staunchest of the Spanish historians’ critics by invoking what he clearly sees as the chimera of ideological “resistance”:

Anti-Maravallians feel that it is ludicrous to believe that there were members of the ruling class who actually exercised control over the content of plays in order to disseminate their system of values. Equally absurd, they claim, is the idea that the entirety of the theater and its constituents would be successfully imbued with these values; what, they ask, about resistance?

(“Epistemology” 391)

Egginton thus responds to this question by arguing that an epistemological shift has actually occurred in the transition from medieval to modern theatricality, and that this epistemological shift has fundamentally changed the relationship between the spectator and the performance. For Egginton, “[m]odern theatricality is a theatricality of representation, as opposed to a [medieval] spectacle of presence” (“Epistemology...

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