It has long been recognized that clothes constitute one of the most important elements of the individual's construction of his or her social identity. What we wear communicates to the observer important information: our gender, economic condition, social status, profession, and a good many other things as well. But if clothes inform, they may also misinform, which is to say that the "facts" that they seem to convey may be based in falsehood as well as in truth. In modern times, clothes that intentionally mislead are sometimes regarded by onlookers as amusing, other times as distracting or puzzling. At worst, perhaps, they are considered an annoyance, except in those egregious cases in which "false" apparel is used to cause serious harm: one thinks, for example, of those who dress in such a way as to impersonate physicians or officers of the law. In the Early Modern period in Europe, however, clothes that did not correspond to one's God-given social role were considered seriously destabilizing of the natural order, and were regularly denounced in sermons and manuals of conduct. Over and over, the moralists of the day insisted that one must dress in "one's own guise." Needless to say, this admonition was not universally observed. Inevitably, the customs of real life were reflected in the life of the stage. One may take as an example the Spanish comedias de capa y espada, where clothes that mask one's true identity—dis-guises, in other words—are routinely employed. When those doing the masquerading are the young lovers of the piece, their transgression of the social order is typically overlooked, and they suffer no negative consequences. Indeed, some deviation from acceptable behavior in order to achieve the happy conclusion of their love appears almost to be expected of them. No such indulgence is accorded the "blocking characters" of the comedies, however, when they too attempt to project a false identity. Typically, the latter are exposed for being deceivers and self-deceivers, and at the end of the work they undergo appropriate punishments. Thus it is in Lope's La discreta enamorada, one of the most amusing pieces of the repertory. The play centers on four characters: the clever Fenisa; the young man whom she loves, the handsome and gallant Lucindo; Belisa, Fenisa's mother; and Captain Bernardo, Lucindo's father. For various complicated reasons, Belisa and the Captain stand as formidable obstacles to the accomplishment of the desires of Fenisa and Lucindo, but in the course of the action the opposition that they present is successfully overcome. The manner in which both the opposition and the overcoming of that opposition take place furnishes the comic interest of the play, and much of it has to do with the use of apparel to construct a false identity or convey a false impression. In the study that follows I focus on a number of the play's "clothes encounters" with a view toward illuminating their contribution, both to the work's meaning and to its comic spirit. (DRL)


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 11-44
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.