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  • Isabel la Católica en la producción teatral española del siglo XVII
  • Susan M. Smith
Caba, María Y. Isabel la Católica en la producción teatral española del siglo XVII. London: Tamesis, 2008. 199 pp.

Isabel I of Castile has been a fascinating figure through five centuries of Spanish history and still captivates the imagination of Spain and the world. Thousands of books and articles have studied her impact on political and religious history, and a number of scholars has analyzed her portrayal in literary works. In Isabel la Católica en la producción teatral española del siglo XVII, María Y. Caba offers a welcome new study of Isabel as literary figure in eight plays selected from works by Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, and Luis Vélez de Guevara. These three dramatists paint varied images of Queen Isabel, which reflect their own time and circumstances.

In the introduction to this monograph, Caba outlines the underpinnings of her analysis of Isabel's characterization by drawing on political, historical, cultural, and religious sources. The Catholic Queen was a complex and contradictory figure—a female exercising powers of the male domain and builder of an empire while oppressing and finally expelling some of its citizens. Caba also notes that the early image of Isabel is shaped by male authors, both in historical chronicles and in fiction. The difference in sexual gender between created subject and the creators of her image is a fact that must be considered in any analysis.

The first chapter is devoted to Lope de Vega and two of his plays, El mejor mozo de España and El niño inocente de la guardia, plays in which Isabel has a major role. Lope's depiction of the Queen is ambivalent, although heavily weighted toward the image of feminine and religious virtue and Isabel as a model of domesticity. Although she is also a strong defender of the Church, she is less powerful than normally depicted in historical records and other works of fiction. The traditional traits aligned with sexual gender are underscored by Lope as the prominent characteristics guiding Isabel's actions—modesty, religious devotion, and submissiveness to her husband. The rough edges of her role in the Inquisition and in the expulsion of the Jews are softened and justified.

In chapter 2, Caba studies three plays by Tirso de Molina: Antona García, El amor médico, and Doña Beatriz de Silva. Unlike Lope, the Mercedarian monk focuses on Isabel's strength, leadership, and political acumen. She restores the [End Page 141] authority of the monarchy while she and the other female characters rule the action of the plot. At the same time the male characters are depicted as weak or absent. This world-upside-down approach reveals Tirso's intent to expose the problems of the court of Felipe IV and his own displeasure with the heirs of Queen Isabel.

Chapter 3 focuses on Luis Vélez de Guevara and three plays in which Isabel has a prominent role: La luna de la sierra, La serrana de la Vera, and La corte del demonio. These plays create distinct images of Isabel over the lifetime of the playwright. Caba astutely observes that Vélez de Guevara occupied a space in the court but in the end realized that as a converso he was always of second rank. The image of Isabel is more openly negative as Vélez de Guevara ages. The first of the plays begins with the portrayal of Isabel as an exemplary monarch, but ends with her inability to control her son and other men of the court due to the "natural" limitations of a woman. The second depicts Isabel as a feminine paradigm to emulate as she and Fernando, ironically, end the play by punishing the women who have dared to act independently and in a manly way. The third play is the most openly political, harshly criticizing the decadence and injustice of the Hapsburg court, especially as concerns the unfair treatment of the Jews. La corte del demonio clearly is intended to reflect the negative legacy of Isabel's intolerant...


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pp. 141-142
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