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  • Portrait of a Lady: Marriage, Postponement, and Representation in Ana Caro’s El Conde Partinuplés*
  • María M. Carrión

Boys around the table mapping out their strategies Kings all of mountains one day dust A lesson learned a loving God and things in their own time

Indigo Girls, “Everything in Its Own Time”

Interests, particularly religious ones, are not what vitiate sixteenth-century history writing but precisely what motivate it

David S. Kastan,
“Opening Gates and Stopping Hedges”

The opening lines of the dramatic text El Conde Partinuplés present Empress Rosaura of Constantinople, the protagonist, with a categorical demand: “Sucesor pide el Imperio / dénosle luego, que importa” (1–2). 1 The empress follows the advice of Aldora, her cousin and [End Page 241] closest political ally, who suggests that she respond amorously, “que un año te den de plazo, / y que si al fin de él no tomas / estado, les das licencia, / para que el Reino dispongan / a su elección” (109–13). Rosaura’s contract with her people to postpone marriage yields ample textual space for her and Aldora to lead sophisticated dramatic lives in which they fundamentally subvert the concept that courtship and matrimony are male-centered universes. The deferral also signals a self-referential dimension, that of a will to write something other than a marital tragedy which usually translated into a drama de honor in the frame of the Comedia. In doing so, Ana Caro erases the dividing line between comedy, where the development of the characters conventionally revolved around the performance of marriage at the end, and the tragic dramas de honor, normally focused on issues of jealousy, suspicion, surveillance, mistrust, and on occasion the punishment and execution of the wife. 2 El Conde begins on a doomed note, with a petition that eventually brings the empress to an impossible crossroads: “a morirme o a casarme” (216).

But instead of reproducing a dramatized fantasy of murder, Caro rewrites the compulsory tragic frame of marriage and ends her story on an apparent comic resolution. The play, shrewdly emblematized in the portrait of a lady that constitutes the first artistic adventure of Rosaura and Aldora, is populated by references to female unmarried characters who plot their lives. This textual economy represents women as subjects who actively read and write marriage as an institution designed to frame them as silent and submissive wives, a common characterization of women that limits their literary and political representation. By concentrating these women’s dramatic endeavors in mapping the postponement of marriage, the otherwise conventional resolution of El Conde in a closing multiple wedding scene constitutes an alternative to the dead-end route that matrimony represented for women in the cultural and literary map of seventeenth-century Spain, even for those in positions of power. 3 The [End Page 242] present study concerns itself with the strategies deployed by Ana Caro in writing marriage otherwise, postponing the contractual moment in order to articulate a critical commentary on the art and politics of female representation.

Shortly after they declare the marriage deferral as the Empress’s official response to the petition from the people, and having mapped further strategies for the imperial courtship, Rosaura and Aldora vanish from the stage. Readers move from Constantinople to France, where they witness Caro’s first step in the journey to rewriting female representation: the exhibit of a lady’s portrait before a public audience. The third scene of the play opens with the king of France and his entourage who, lost in the pleasures of a hunting trip, cross paths with two fishermen who argue about a mysterious box they have just found in a shipwreck. Presenting the box and its unknown contents to the king and then, at his command, opening it, the two men find an anonymous portrait of a lady. They show the painting to their audience, turning the scene into a tableau vivant. The king admires the “pincel gallardo,” Lisbella acknowledges the nobility of the “dama hermosa,” and the Count Partinuplés is seduced by the “beldad peregrina.” Gaulín, unswayed by the exoticism of the artifact, resists its enchantment and suspects what might hide behind: “Extra...