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REVIEWS Blue, William R. Spanish Comedy and Historical Contexts in the 1620s. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State UP, 1996. 255 pp. This study is specific in its intent and range. The twenty plays considered (by Lope, Calderón, Tirso, Alarcón, and Montalván) were produced in the last fifteen months of the reign of Philip III and the first nine years of Philip IVs reign. The author, whose writing is clear and engaging, informs us of his impatience with certain methodologies (vii ni). Deconstruction, speech-act theories, reader response criticism share a common flaw: an ahistorical basis, an evasion of the external conditions governing the production of symbolic products such as drama. Later, Northrop Frye's mythoi model is faulted because it "collapses history or diachrony into sameness, into repetitive synchrony" (23). A radical contextualization of literary works within their socio-historical background is mandated. Comedy's appeal, argues Blue, depends on an audience's ability to identify with characters and situations. A grounding in the specifics oftime and place, by facilitating a viewer's understanding, promotes pleasure. And the lure of Golden-Age comedia was, ifanything, too great, according to critics such as P. Juan de Mariana. Ifthe comedia, as Blue suggests, includes both the ritual ofpageantry and the ribaldry of Carnival, the misrule of Carnival was, in the eyes ofbeholders such as Father Mariana, winning the day. "Comedy and Love" is the subject ofthe first chapter. If marriage is the defining act of comedy, it is a comedie convention that received external support from the political machinery that encouraged the institution of family through the granting of tax exemptions and other privileges. Blue concentrates not on this end—marriage—but on the means by which it is achieved, classifying the plays according to power relations between the sexes. Eight of the twenty plays studied fall into the category designated as "women teach men,"(Calderón's La dama duende, for example). A predominance of the "women-know-and-lead" motif (45) is interesting, as is 375 376BCom, Vol. 49, No. 2 (Winter 1997) the observation that, though uncommon, there is evidence of misalliances (marriage between estates) (43 n5). While arranged marriages were the societal norm, in most plays individual choice rather than parental dictates prevails. To explain this, Frye's generic interpretation of generational conflict (the senex iratus as obstacle to a young couple's union) is deemed insufficient . Blue turns instead to external factors, in particular the reformist enterprise of Philip IV and Olivares as they attempted to establish a new system of advancement, based on merit rather than entitlement. Then follows the analogy that arranged marriages may be equated with the traditional power structures, and marriages for love seen "as a poetic, displaced metaphor for achievement by merit . . ." (85). Textual evidence for such a linkage between poiesis and politics, however, is not offered. In his next chapter on "Comedy and Madrid," Blue counters Wardropper 's assertion that, though located most often in Madrid, the comedia continues to articulate young lovers' Utopian dreams of Arcadia. Instead, Madrid as locus of action as well as imagination is documented, a testament to an ever-expanding population who came to supply the court's needs, both legitimate (artisans and laborers) and illegitimate (prostitutes, gamblers, thieves). According to Blue, the plays are informed by codes accessible to their contemporary audience (readily so to madrileños). The chapter concludes with a nicely wrought phrase: "In the 1620s, Madrid is a theater, literally and figuratively, and the theater, in turn, theatricalizes the city" (135). "Poderoso caballero es don Dinero." Quevedo's cynical verse summarizes the findings of the next two chapters, "Comedy and Economy" and "Comedy and Legal Matters" (litigation and money being inextricably intertwined ). A correspondence between the abysmal state of national finances and economic hardship at a personal level is logical, of course. In the uneasy balancing of romance and reality, the scale tips towards reality when cash needs become acute: the male protagonist in Calderón's Hombrepobre todo es trazas admits that, yes, his lady love is beautiful, but "lo que me parece a mí / mejor, es tener de renta / largamente doce mil / ducados" (qtd. 150). When...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-0928
Print ISSN
0007-5108
Pages
pp. 375-377
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-08
Open Access
No
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