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REVIEWS de Armas, Frederick A. The Return ofAstraea: An Astral-Imperial Myth in Calderón. Lexington: U. Press of Kentucky, 1986. Hardbound. 262 pp. $27.00 Armas sets out to demonstrate the pervasiveness of the myth of Astraea in early Spanish literature and the significance of the same in Calderón's comedias. On the whole the critical framework brings to light many issues formerly ignored or overlooked in La vida es sueño, but when it is applied to other plays in which a character named Astraea appears, the results are more problematic. Critical methods proceed from an initial insight that methodology subsequently seeks to formalize. When a method is applied to a body of material, only those results originally envisioned by the method are possible. This is both the strength and the weakness of critical methodology. Armas employs a critical overlay based on the emblematic, mythological, and astrological traditions, and his perceptive and thorough readings are oftentimes very convincing. The question arises, however, whether dramatic action functions within these traditions or as a product of them. Does cultural and intellectual history "explain" art and literature, controlling thereby their destiny and ultimately their significance? These are some of the fundamental questions that this important study raises. The critical framework applied to Calderón's comedias does not appear to have developed from an encounter with the texts, but from the reading of La vida es sueño. In this regard the masterful reading of Vida becomes an "instrument " for handling the critical approach to other texts. One instance will suffice to demonstrate the sometimes unsatisfactory consequences. In El monstruo de losjardines a name substitution parallels what previously occurred in Vida where Rosaura assumes the name of Astraea. Instead of evoking a golden age of imperial justice, the Achilles/Astraea dichotomy now addresses the mystery of reconciliation of opposites. Armas states that "Aquiles as Astraea-Venus is thus an icon for the reconciliation of the coldness of justice with the warmth of 289 290BCom, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Winter 1987) charity" (p. 205). Achilles passed a crucial test, "that of reconciling opposites within the self" (p. 210) . Though the hero finally marries Deidamia and goes off to Troy, all is not well. First, Achilles' mother Thetis drowned the real Astraea in a storm so that the youth might impersonate her. Second, Achilles' rite of passage to Greek manhood represents the internalization and assumption of the Greek drive for vengeance against their enemies. Rather than reconciliation and integration, Monstruo dramatizes godly injustice and the fateful socialization of a naive and tragic Achilles. I would further argue that the roles an Atraea plays in Ni Amor se libra de amor and El golfo de las Sirenas are so insignificant as not to support Armas' symbolic interpretation of her presence in these works. What this demonstrates in fact is the critical framework's tendency to privilege symbolic over narrative significance. The Astraea of Golfo nanates the arrival of the royal entourage in the mojiganga. One minor character cannot easily bear the burden of being the interpretative key for such complex and problematic works. The major contribution of this suggestive and challenging study is the rich and varied reading of La vida es sueño. Armas reveals for us the mythological connection between Rosaura as fallen virgin and the return of Astraea, the return of justice to Poland. Segismundo and Rosaura are cousins who attempt to achieve wholeness in their lives. Since Rosaura's fall and redemption are linked to Segismundo's ultimate regeneration, Armas unveils how the inner workings of the plot symbolize their being mythic "twins". Both Rosaura and Segismundo fall under the suspicion of an illicit parental relationship. Clorilene's dream casts doubt on Basilio's honor and Segismundo's legitimacy, thus making him a monster in his "father's" eyes. Although Armas wavers between affirming Segismundo's illegitimacy, which the imagery of the play supports (p. 112), and linking Basilio's doubts to Curcio's (La devoción de la Cruz) unfounded suspicions of his wife (p. 113-14), nonetheless he raises an important line of inquiry. This study leads me to ask whether Segismundo and Rosaura are indeed brother...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-0928
Print ISSN
0007-5108
Pages
pp. 289-291
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-08
Open Access
No
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