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Maravall and the Self in the Comedia Nueva

From: Bulletin of the Comediantes
Volume 65, Number 1, 2013
pp. 155-173 | 10.1353/boc.2013.0014

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The writings of José Antonio Maravall on the comedia are, in the words of José María Díez Borque, “pequeña en el conjunto de la obra maravalliana, pero de enorme repercusión en la historia de nuestro teatro” (301). I am conscious that it is on a small section of these hugely influential writings on the theatre that I will base my comments in what follows. In the ninth subsection of “El teatro barroco desde la historia social,” the first essay in Teatro y literatura en la sociedad barroca, Maravall comes to consider the formulation “soy quien soy,” which, as he recognizes, abounds in the drama of the period. A consideration of the phrase is nevertheless important to his thesis, as he indicates: “completará la interpretación que venimos desarrollando” (60). He then proceeds to demonstrate how characters’ repeated recourse to the words represents the, at times violent, subjugation of the self to expected social role. The social role is, of course, the one idealized by the monarchical-seigneurial powers that be, to whom the dramatists are in thrall, and the one that will prevent the populace from escaping “los cuadros tradicionales del orden social” (18) in a time where social mobility is a reality. Maravall’s basic explanation of the “soy quien soy” utterance, of the nature of the pressured role-playing of the dramatic characters, seems to me to be well observed and useful: there is clearly a battle between the self (variously characterized by him as “conciencia íntima” or “personal” [60], “propia personalidad” [62], “ser íntimo,” “esencia individual,” or “yo interior” [64]) and the way that society (through the dominant hierarchical, patriarchal, imperialist ideology) expects one to behave “dada su posición” (63). The “ser” is the knowable construct for these characters, not the troubling, potentially chaotic interior world.

Maravall reads the moments when characters appeal to this rigid “ser” as a slightly curious “victoria de sí mismo” (60), curious because it involves not the neo-Stoic domination of “malas inclinaciones” (60) moralists demanded (in order to live a good life before God), but a resistance to urgent personal inclinations, whether they be morally dubious or morally right (resulting, in the latter case, from an “impulso de justicia natural” [60]). This is a resistance to individual desires that “lleva al individuo a asumir por propia voluntad las leyes de un sistema social” (Maravall, Teatro 60), of which, of course, honor is a cornerstone. To summarize then, the historian reveals his consciousness of two sides to the dramatic characters who walk the Golden Age stage, aspects which we can call “self” and “social role,” and he feels that in critical moments of conflict between these sides (“tensión entre el individuo y la sociedad” [Maravall, Teatro 57]), the “social role” can be seen to predominate, to come out on top, evidenced by the characteristic, tautological appeal to ser. The audiences who watched and listened to the battle and admired the result of it were persuaded (however unconsciously) of the need for remaining in static social roles even when tempted to exceed them: “en el dominio que uno alcance de sus sentimientos personales, en el acatamiento a esa moral social, está la grandeza nobiliaria del individuo. Llegar a este dominio es el grado más alto, por más costoso, de participación en los valores aristocráticos” (Maravall, Teatro 59).

Although I shall return to it later, I shall be less concerned here with this last point—Maravall’s view of the theatre’s propagandistic effect—than with the self-role battle as it is fought within Golden Age dramatists’ characters. In the relevant section of Teatro y literatura, Maravall refers to thirteen plays in total, mostly dramas with serious themes rather than comedies, and mostly by Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca, quoting briefly from the majority of them, providing some contextualization, and referring to the “cientos de veces” (61) that the “soy quien soy” formulation is employed in a host of baroque playwrights’ work. I would like to turn to some of these specific examples to reexamine the whole question of the “victoria sobre los sentimientos” (60), my contention being that...

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