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  • “El secreto oficio de la abeja”A Sociopolitical Metaphor in the Celestina
  • Cristina Guardiola (bio)

Rojas returns again and again in La Celestina to the theme of the disruption of human relationships.

Stephen Gilman, The Spain of Fernando de Rojas

Enabled by the old bawd Celestina, the loco amor felt by the clandestine lovers Calisto and Melibea exposes a society living in disorder and conflict. Calisto and Melibea’s transgressive desire, and those who make it possible, may be seen as directly contradicting moral and social laws upon which the tragicomedy claims to be predicated. Most of the characters in the work live their lives as transgression; their disorderly conduct leads inevitably to their death and destruction [Baranda 9]. The negative example offered by this work was, according to Maravall, what led early readers such as Quevedo to understand how the work: “debaxo del nombre de Comedia, enseña a vivir bien, moral y políticamente, acreditanto las virtudes y disfamando los vicios [under the title of Comedy, teaches one to live well, both moral and politically, accrediting virtues and discrediting vices]” [qtd. in Maravall 19].1 The Celestina lays bare its social and moralistic message by exposing the corruption of social and moral values prevalent in this late fifteenth-century work. Bringing together the aristocratic world of courtly love (already brought low through the Calisto’s crass treatment of waspish Melibea) and the bawdy world of the whorehouse, Rojas debases the people and passions therein. Connecting both worlds through her comings and goings is Celestina. Characterized as abeja, a political animal used in the Middle Ages and early modern period that informs the ideal structure of society, Celestina exposes a satire of society and its corruption of moral values.

As the Síguese and prologue indicate, the tragicomedy was written with a dual and moral intent. The author wrote to disabuse the many “galanes y enamorados mancebos [handsome young men and enamored youth]” of his country from the cruel and evil fires of love, but also to expose “engaños de las alcahuetas y malos y lisonjeros siruientes [the deceptions of procuresses and evil sycophantic servants].” In the Celestina, the deceits of the bawd and servants Sempronio and (later) Pármeno complicate the narrative and move it to its tragic conclusion. As Celestina and Sempronio set out to profit by Calisto’s lovesickness, they are met with opposition from Pármeno. The initial resistance Pármeno puts up to defend himself and his master from the economic lust felt by Celestina and Sempronio serves to expose a conflict in social class. The heedless attainment of wealth demonstrated by the servants contradicts a more aristocratic principle that was perceived to guide economic thought in the Middle Ages [Maravall 60]. Celestina’s spoken adage, “[a] tuerto o a derecho, nuestra casa hasta el techo [by hook or by crook, our house [End Page 147] through the roof],” exposes her unmitigated greed and contrasts sharply with Calisto’s more courtly (if yet parodic) examples of largesse. The alcahueta’s greed is not merely opportunistic, it belies a certain Schadenfreude felt for Calisto’s woes. Like “cirurjanos [ante] los descalabrados [surgeons before patients with head trauma],” Celestina pursues Calisto in search of money, which at this particular moment in history was slipping through the hands of her real-life counterparts and into those of state-appointed brothel keepers. As Lacarra notes, the granting of royal mercedes for the incomes derived from prostitution to royal towns or notable persons became prevalent during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabel [40]. One must imagine women such as Celestina doubly feeling the pinch from this seemingly “catholic” imposition. Income from the alcahueta livelihood from all of Castile certainly must have been dwindling. At the same time, the alcahueta’s dishonest way of living was being usurped by speciously honorable citizens who no doubt maligned the prostitutes on whom their wealth was gained. Despite the growing danger of her increasingly clandestine profession, Celestina shows little shame or fear. Indeed, her sense of “honor” for the putería is so brightly and enthusiastically expressed in the work bearing her name that one wonders if it might not stem from...