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  • Isabel la Católica en la producción teatral española del siglo XVII
  • Raymond Conlon
María Yaquelin Caba . Isabel la Católica en la producción teatral española del siglo XVII. Colección Támesis. Serie A: Monografías, 256. Rochester: Tamesis Books, 2008. viii + 200 pp. index. bibl. $95. ISBN: 978-1-85566-163-9.

Perhaps the most surprising revelation in Professor Caba's book is that no such book as hers has been published before. Given the importance of Isabel and her husband Ferdinand, the Catholic Kings, and other Spanish monarchs in Golden Age drama this is an oversight, and we owe Caba a debt of gratitude for this overdo study. Spanish kings and queens appear over and over again in plays of this period and often have a didactic function: they provide moral exempla and pronounce thematic messages. To reveal contemporary attitudes towards the queen, feminine power, and attitudes toward women in general, Caba analyzes seven plays and "certain aspects" (133) of an eighth by three seventeenth-century dramatists, Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, and Vélez de Guevara.

The image of Isabella in the Golden Age, Caba observes, includes of course the traditional one: a model of feminine comportment and religiosity, a figure possessing a "messianic aura" (13). She is often presented as subservient to Ferdinand and thus to the patriarchal order. There are other images associated with Isabella, however, at variance with this interpretation, notably Isabella the warrior and Isabella the ruler —images less supportive of patriarchy.

Presenting Isabella in a conservative light, as one who upholds the political-sexual order, is Lope de Vega (1562-1635). Lope crowns her with a "halo of holiness and femininity," presenting "a divinized image" of the queen (173). To make her case, Caba selects two plays of Lope, El mejor mozo de España and El niño inocente de La Guardia. In them Lope, according to the author, "creates an Isabel . . . who is the feminine ideal in the patriarchal system, that is a woman who recognizes masculine authority and submits to it gladly" (32). Although she does explain why these two works are ripe for her analysis, Caba's omission of Lope's most famous play, Fuente Ovejuna, in which Isabella and Ferdinand play important roles, is puzzling.

The other two dramatists Caba examines, Tirso de Molina (1579-1648) and Vélez de Guevara (1579-1644) are literary disciples of Lope, members of the "School of Lope": authors whose plays are fast moving, entertainment oriented, employing popular themes. Tirso is certainly an appropriate author to study in any [End Page 1284] discussion of Golden Age dramatic attitudes toward women. He is generally regarded as the most subtle student of female psychology in Golden Age drama. The female protagonists in his comedias de enredo, like Doña Juana in Don Gil de las calzas verdes or Doña Violante in La villana de las Vallecas, bring to mind Shakespearean comic heroines, evincing Portia's ingenuity, Helena's tenacity, and Kate's spirit. But according to Caba, the psychological complexity of Tirsian women does not apply to his treatment of Isabella. "Tirso can not avoid showing his conception of [Isabella] as a secondary being and perpetually divided between the only models of female comportment possible, that is, the Virgin Mary and Eve" (26). Nonetheless, Tirso creates in Isabella "a figure that emanates authority, and neutralizes the existing chaos . . . [in] an upside down world" (174).

Vélez de Guevara (1579-1644), the last dramatist Caba studies, is not a surprising choice in a book focusing on female characters, given his sympathetic, even feminist, portrayals of women. Caba suggests that Vélez's anomalous personal situation —in the court, but a converso —gave him a singular vantage point from which to analyze the sexual-political structure. One play, La luna de la sierra, Caba demonstrates, offers us an ambivalent portrait of the queen, one in which there is a tension between Isabella's role as ideal monarch and her gender (genero sexual). In her discussion of La serrana de la Vera, Caba makes the provocative suggestion that details in Vélez de Guevara's portrait...


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