- Conscience on Stage: The Comedia as Casuistry in Early Modern Spain
Conscience on Stage is an insightful study about the correspondences of casuistry, or case morality, and the comedia, the first professional theater of Spain. Solidly researched, clearly organized, and very well written, this book argues, in the apt words of the author, "that casuistry, or the spectacle of a conscience in action, is a fundamental process by means of which the comedia as a genre completes its artistic and social function" (4). The introductory chapter reviews the history of casuistry in Spain and the impact of the Order of Jesus on the education of playwrights and school drama, one of the bastions in the development of the comedia in Spain and the New World. The following four chapters consider, respectively, casuistry as lexicon; the phrase "¿Qué he de hacer?" (What should I do?) as key sign of the casuistic process; class, gender, and the supernatural; constructions of conscience (in action and acted upon, as auxiliary, troubled and clear cases, oppositional pairs, and its bodily manifestations); and theoretical dimensions of casuistry such as genealogies, theatricality, and its contribution to literary theory and practice and to the comedia, philosophy, and twentieth-century theories. This is an ambitious, supple spread of ideas and analyses that the author tackles effectively and with great diction. [End Page 908]
As it always happens with any ambitious study, there is one complex blind spot that I will try to articulate as succinctly as possible. Analyses of any aspect of morality in theater must take into account the central signs of this artistic medium: pretension and impersonation. Actors perform mimetic acts that question essential takes on identity, as they involve stages of metamorphosis visible to audiences by changes in their audiovisual language: gesture, movement, language, costume, proxemics, and props, aptly called "useful" or útiles in Spanish. Kallendorf understands this to the extent that her study speaks of the Spanish Comedia as casuistry, and it certainly takes into account key aspects of theater. The first chapter, for instance, represents the Jesuit contribution to this theater and the education of the poets who wrote the plays and frequently acted in them; the second, fourth, and fifth chapters represent case morality as scenarios of tragedy, dramatic monologue, action, acting, conflict, antagonisms, and poetics, among others.
That being said, students of this artistic medium know that theatrical performances parody the boundaries established by social categories —among them race, class, and gender —not evident in the surprisingly Manichean portrayal of figures such as rulers and subjects, masters and servants, and men and women of the third chapter. These pairs are one elementary component of dramatic literature, and once upon a time they formed the bases of formalist and structuralist readings of these plays. As recent scholarship has amply demonstrated, ideologies of limpieza de sangre lead to relentless public assaults on the comediantes from the part of the moralistas, who opposed their alleged lack of moral standards and sought to close the theaters. As a result, the essential components of what constituted the pair man-woman became rather foreign to the art and craft of the comedia, especially onstage, where the dramatic conflict frequently unfolded into scenarios where the binary foundation of literature, society, and humanity was interrogated and casuistry became a central tool for dramatic conflict development and resolution.
There is a considerable critical bibliography on this matter by scholars such as Frederick de Armas, George Mariscal, Georgina Dopico Black, Jacques Lezra, Mary Gossy, Anne Cruz, Carroll Johnson, Edward Friedman, Harry Vélez Quiñones, José Cartagena Calderón, Sherry Velasco, Peter Thompson, Sidney Donnell, Julio González Ruiz, and John Beusterien, among others. Incorporating them would have added theoretically and historically to this reading of the comedia's terms of engagement for género (sex, sexuality, gender) and estatmento (class), not to mention the supernatural, oftentimes identified with the abjection associated with moriscos and judaizantes.
This notwithstanding, this is a very important study...