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  • The Discourse of Courtly Love in Seventeenth Century Spanish Theater
  • Hilaire Kallendorf
Robert Bayliss . The Discourse of Courtly Love in Seventeenth Century Spanish Theater. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2008. Pp. 204. $45.00.

This revised dissertation, the product of Indiana University's traditionally strong Comparative Literature Department, is arguably one of the most important comparative contributions to be made by a young scholar to the field of early modern Spanish drama in recent years. Executed within the framework of discourse analysis, it is both theoretically informed and intellectually engaging. It is well organized to the point of becoming a bit predictable (the formula for each chapter involves a section on non-Spanish courtly love intertexts, then echoes of these intertexts in Spanish nondramatic works, then discussion of a canonical comedia written by a man, and then, finally, discussion of a more "marginal" comedia written by a woman). But this author is admittedly trying to keep quite a few critical balls in the air, and he juggles them nicely. For a comparatist, the most gratifying part of the study is its rich comparative texture on multiple levels—both historical (medieval texts are juxtaposed to seventeenth-century ones) and transnational (Old French, Italian, and Spanish passages are interwoven seamlessly). Bayliss is in complete control of the three languages in question. He has clearly been impeccably trained. Another refreshing aspect of this book is that it is somewhat unusual to find such a sensitive feminist critique written by a man. This is in fact the larger ideological project of the work. I particularly like how he historicizes current scholarly debates (typically performed by male versus female scholars, both playing predictable roles) in terms of the medieval tenso, or elaborately staged courtly love debate between the troubadours and their female counterparts, the trobairitz. I only wish some of my male colleagues would start strolling down the hallway, singing to me with lutes …

The introduction to this study, "Courtly Love and the Comedia as Discourse," sets up the methodology of discourse analysis as applied to these two distinct literary genres. In this section, Bayliss argues convincingly that "the variety of texts and contexts often subsumed by the label 'courtly love' suggests that it is a procrustean term exercised by modern scholars to create a tradition out of disparate texts that have been taken out of their original contexts" (13). While [End Page 521] not so iconoclastic as to deny some validity to the gran récit established by such grand old men as Denis de Rougemont and C. S. Lewis, Bayliss nevertheless makes the case that their formulation is in need of updating and nuance. In his self-described "pluralistic reading of courtly love" (14), he is cautious enough to identify three main hallmarks of this tradition that he declares to be constant: "its performative and self-referential nature, its implicit construction of ideologically determined gender roles, and its dynamic treatment of the relationship between the sexes" (14). Invoking Foucault, he reminds us that once upon a time, courtly love must have seemed revolutionary, and that the role it assumed in Western culture unfortunately became one of power, dominance, and exclusion of the female speaking subject. Now, he rightly points out that this exclusion was not absolute: in fact, he resurrects a little-known feminine tradition within courtly discourse (namely, the performances of female trobairitz) to illustrate the discursive complexity of the original courtly love scenario, not to mention its subsequent instantiations. But this brings us to his book's greatest vulnerability, and to describe it we shall have to take a short detour.

Bayliss himself admits that the "engagement of male courtly discourse in dialogue by the trobairitz has only recently been studied by literary scholars; it is the monologic male troubadour tradition that exercised influence on future generations and schools of lyric poets through the early modern period" (44). Indeed, he finds himself forced to acknowledge that "widespread dissemination of trobairitz poetry … would not occur for seven hundred years" (44). The same problem may be found, likewise, on the other side of Bayliss's critical equation: namely, that extant works by Golden Age Spanish female dramatists are lamentably few and...