Four of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's eight comedias published in 1615 show significant variations on a common plot: a motherless female protagonist tries to escape imprisonment by her father or his representative in order to achieve a marriage her masculine jailor opposes. In them, female characters become agents of change, reaching their goals through artful role-playing and disguises that subvert theatrical decorum. This study traces the increasing autonomy and originality of Cervantes's dramatic heroines by demonstrating their evolving ability to make themselves heard and respected by fathers and lovers while befriending other women of their station for whom theatrical convention of his time would prescribe rivalry for love of the same galán. The farther the plays' settings move from Christian Spain, the more inventive, artful, and individual the female protagonists become. This article analyzes the failure of love and friendship among Spanish aristocrats in La entretenida; the subversion of the honor code and the winning of the beloved's heart by cross-dressing female friends in the Italy of El laberinto de amor; the recognition of the Christian mujer vestida de hombre in Oran by her father surrogate and her beloved as their peer in valour and intelligence, aided by courtly Muslim opponents in El gallardo español; and, finally, the reconciliation of father and daughter, Muslim and Christian, male and female among Christian captives in the Turkish seraglio of La gran sultana. Cervantes's plays offer an alternative theatrical practice to that of Lope de Vega's comedia nueva: a collaborative, conversational model of dramatic composition and theatrical performance, one typical also of the commedia dell'arte. The essay concludes that Cervantes wrote for an audience in the image of his heroines: individuals capable of enjoying and evaluating the complex play of competing perspectives that gives his theatrical writing its inventiveness, profundity, and startling modernity.


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pp. 1-44
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