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THE NEW-CHRISTIAN DILEMMA IN TWO PLAYS BY LOPE DE VEGA DAVID M. GITLITZ University of Nebraska Americo Castro advanced the thesis that the comedia, and in particular the comedia of Lope de Vega, was the «portavoz de los problemas de la casta triunfante,» so that it portrayed almost exclusively the world of the old-Christian majority.' Although Jewish characters were occasionally shown in sympathetic light, particularly in plays set in pre-Christian times/ as a rule Jews were negatively stereotyped. And as far as conversos were concerned, it is abundantly clear that in the comedia conflicts between new and old-Christians were almost always focused from the point of view of the latter. For example, in the género chico, especially in the entremeses of Quiñones, newChristian characters were comically vilified by labeling them with traditional anti-Semitic social and physical traits/ And in various plays of Lope, most conspicuously in Fuenteovejuna and Peribáñez (although also in San Nicolás Tolentino, and others), one can observe in moments of tension between villanos and nobles an underlying state of conflict which is exacerbated by the nobles' lack of purity of lineage/ But critics seem to agree that it was impossible to bring to the stage the emotional traumas of Spanish new-Christians who were persecuted by the old-Christian majority. Castro affirmed categorically that «este drama sordo y oprimente no fue llevado a la escena, no era posible ... No era pensable . . . sacar a escena un personaje para que, retorcido de dolor, se lamentara de ser privado de un beneficio eclesiástico, de un cargo de gobierno o del respeto de sus convecinos 63 64Bulletin ofthe Comediantes porque su abuelo o bisabuelo habían sido judíos o moros.»5 Albert Sicroff, in his definitive study of the purity of blood laws, agrees totally with Castro's thesis: «En ce qui concerne le théâtre, il est fort int éressant de remarquer qu'aucun dramaturge n'a jamais écrit une pièce sur le thème de la limpieza de sangre en dépit du fait que la vie quotidienne lui aurait fourni une ample provision de matériaux à ce propos. Evidemment l'abstention des dramaturges peut s'expliquer par la brûlante actualité de ce thème.» This, he goes on, is why we do not find converso protagonists in the comedia: «Il aurait été difficile, et même dangereux, pour un auteur de créer le lien de sympathie nécessaire entre le spectateur et un héros victime du sentiment anticonverso .»"More recently José Antonio Maravall, 7 José Maria Diez Borque* and Joseph H. Silverman have all concurred in the conclusion that, as Silverman states, «the tragic existence of the converso was not dramatizable.»' I do not wholly agree. My purpose in this essay is to demonstrate how Lope de Vega, in at least two plays, El galán de Ia Membrillo and La pobreza estimada, created new-Christian characters who, even though they cannot be considered the heroes of the plays, nevertheless engage our sympathy in a way which invites us, at least in certain moments, to share the anguish of their circumstances. Even though, as Maravall convincingly argues, the vast bulk of Lope's theater advances the interests and formulizes the concerns of the old-Christian majority, in these two plays Lope at least articulates the concern of the new-Christian minority. As we shall see, in these two plays Lope appears to identify so closely with the concerns and feelings of his characters, that the anguish which moves them to act moves us to empathize with them. Lope was almost certainly an anti-Semite -there is too much evidence to argue to the contrary -, but, as Maria Rosa Lida argued, «antes que, todo es dramaturgo. Sus criaturas no son portavoces suyos, hablan y viven por sí.»'" Lope probably chose a converso to be Felix's love rival in El galán de la Membrillo because as a new-Christian suitor Ramiro represents a double threat: to Leonor's future bliss with Félix and to her father Tello's family honor. The threat is never realized, of course, but from the opening moments...


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pp. 63-81
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