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The thesis of this paper is that Calderón's dramatic problem is to present the stratified social order realistically, in all its arbitrariness and inequality, specifically to call attention to the crisis of agriculture through the character of the labrador, and simultaneously to find a way to endorse the same social order because it is divinely ordained.
Yndurain observes that labrador and pobre are both more problematical than all the rest. I consider labrador more complex and more interesting by far than pobre because his character opens out simultaneously onto socio-economic reality and public policy on the one hand, and onto the constraints of existing theatrical convention on the other.
Díez Borque quotes González de Cellorigo (1600) to the effect that "el labrador castellano se convirtió en una bestia de carga que llevaba sobre sus hombros la pesada estructura de una sociedad aristocrática: Iglesia, Estado, nobles y rentistas: 'pues el campesino que trabaja el campo tiene que sustentarse a sí mismo, a su señor, al clero, al prestamista y a cuantos medran a su costa'" (Sociología 333).
This is the real situation of the labradores represented by the character in Calderón's auto, and these are the issues the play addresses. Calderón's problem as dramatist is to balance or cause to disappear the competing demands of what I call theology and a society defined by the absence of social mobility on the one hand, and on the other those of what I call economics, especially with regard to the unequal distribution of wealth and the unequal burden of taxation and other forms of tribute. In addition, Calderón must deal with issues that arise from the ruling metaphor of life as a form of improvisational theatre and the theatrical tradition of which he forms part.
Attending to the theatrical-ideological horizon of expectations of 1635, we expect the labrador to be the play's hero, the repository of Christian and national virtues and values. But in GTM the labrador subverts all this. All the social and Christian virtues the labrador is supposed to incarnate are turned upside down. Calderón's initial problem as dramatist is to produce a radical change in the character's accommodation to his assigned and expected social role by the play's end. But the character's social role is not the only one that needs fixing. This labrador also subverts theatrical convention. Instead of playing the heroic labrador, our personage casts himself in the role of the gracioso. Theatrical convention excludes him—portrayed in this way—from the positive social role the same theatrical convention assigns him, portrayed another way.
This play is very much of its time and place, supremely concerned with real socio-economic issues. But Calderón does not merely repeat the official line. This little auto offers considerably more than an allegorized endorsement of the official theology and social order.