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Disguises and Masquerades in Tirso's El vergonzoso en palacio Richard F. Glenn, Duke University Of the many commonplaces in the Spanish theatre, one that had extensive success during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is the use of disguise and masquerade.1 The history of the theatre of this period provides plentiful examples of plays in which characters exchange their customary attire for that of another person, either of a different social standing or even of the opposite sex. Thus disguised, the individual pursues his goal—perhaps forbidden love, escape from persecution , or political power—which would have been less easily attainable had he persisted in his true identity. The disguise, derived from Italian plays and novels of the Renaissance, entered the Spanish theatre as early as the sixteenth century in the works of Lope de Rueda and Juan de Timoneda. Successive generations of playwrights, recognizing even greater dramatic possibilities for the disguise, carried it to its fullest effectiveness.2 By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the device had become so popular among both expert and second-rate writers, and had attained such multiple and versatile uses, that certain playwrights were noted particularly for just this aspect of their drama. One such writer is Tirso de Molina, whose theatre is greatly enhanced by his frequent recourse to disguise. His plays in which changes of identity occur are outstanding examples of drama in which there prevails an atmosphere of engaño and desengaño; he is, indeed, at his best when disguises provoke scenes of unrestrained complication, confusion, and mistaken identities—so characteristic of the seventeenth-century drama.3 Recent attempts to determine the role of Tirso in the development of the disguise in theatre confirm his position of supremacy in the handling of the device. Exaggerating somewhat, Carmen Bravo-Villasante goes so far as to say: "En Tirso el tema llega a una perfecci ón tal, la comedia está tan saturada de protagonista disfrazada, que toda otra cosa se olvida."4 Among other plays by Tirso, this critic cites as especially commendable El vergonzoso en palacio, because of the highly captivating scenes in which Doña Serafina appears dressed as a man: "Las escenas donde esta dama sale disfrazada son de las más logradas de Tirso."5 Miss Bravo-Villasante concludes , however, that this masquerading is a mere acte gratuit, with no more significance than the fact that Serafina "viste así por placer, por gusto." But this is not tie only instance of masquerade in the play. In fact, numerous men change their identity and hide behind disguises. Because of the limited scope of her study, Miss Bravo-Villasante had no occasion to examine these cases of disguise. Yet, for a more perfect comprehension of the skill of the playwright, it is necessary to view all of the cases collectively . The initial situation of the drama presents a conflict of honor on a lofty social plane between two nobles, the Duke of Avero and the Count of Estremoz. The grievance is satisfactorily settled, and the action then shifts 16 to a parallel lower level—a conflict between shepherds. One of these is Mireno, of whom it is rumored that his rough clothing conceals noble blood. Although it is not a specific, personal affront to his honor, the conflict facing Mireno is serious. Ambition prompts him to question the validity of his humble social status. He prefers to believe that he is more than a shepherd. Aspiring to be noble, he seeks a change of self, a new identity with which to rise above his lowly caste. His ambition is based primarily on shame: . . . con tal bajeza me acobardo y avergüenzo, puedo poco, pues no venzo mi misma naturaleza.6 Consequently, the process of creating a new identity for Mireno must involve the elimination of shame or embarrassment . Since these feelings cannot be quickly or easily cast off, the process is lengthy.7 First, Mireno voluntarily exiles himself from the humble life that heretofore is all that he has known. Taking with him his friend Tarso, who has always been considered to be his foster brother, he sets out for the court. On the way he encounters a...


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pp. 16-22
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