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  • Treacherous Foundations: Betrayal and Collective Identity in Early Spanish Epic, Chronicle, and Drama
  • Bruce R. Burningham
Coates, Geraldine. Treacherous Foundations: Betrayal and Collective Identity in Early Spanish Epic, Chronicle, and Drama. Woodbridge (UK): Tamesis, 2009. 237 pp.

In Treacherous Foundations, Geraldine Coates skillfully examines three overlapping issues related to the history of medieval Iberia and its transformation into the modern Spanish state. At base, this book is a study of the ongoing imaginative construction of the collective identity of the Spanish people as a principally Castilian nation. In this regard, Coates’s book is in good company not just with David Quint’s Epic and Empire and Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities (both of which she cites on multiple occasions), but also with Doris Sommer’s Foundational Fictions (which she does not mention, but which serves as a backdrop to her own analysis, if only for readers familiar with Sommer’s influential book). Along the way, Coates also examines the role of the Spanish monarchy in the coalescence of Spanish collective identity. In this regard, Treacherous Foundations is as much a study of the theory of kingship as anything else. And here, Coates’s book is part of a recent scholarly trend that includes Melveena McKendrick’s Playing the King, Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies, and Jodi Campbell’s Monarchy, Political Culture, and Drama in Seventeenth-Century Madrid. Finally, as Coates’s title clearly states, this book—like Rebecca Lemon’s Treason by Words: Literature, Law, and Rebellion in Shakespeare’s England, which Coates glosses at length—is mostly a study of the representation of treachery, treason, and betrayal in the medieval and early modern Iberian political imaginary.

Treacherous Foundations is divided into six chapters, including an introduction and an elegantly summative conclusion. Like most scholarly introductions, Coates’s first chapter sets the theoretical stage on which the rest of her book will unfold. Engaging the work of scholars ranging from Paul Ricoeur to José Antonio Maravall, Coates traces medieval and early modern notions of identity, monarchy, and treachery in order to expose what she calls the “internal fault-lines” and “fissures” that “develop in the celebration of an heroic past” (37). In chapter 2, “Trauma and Triumph in the Poema de Fernán González,” Coates builds on the work of Sigmund Freud and Joseph Campbell [End Page 139] (among several others) in order to argue for an “economy of salvation” (46) within which treachery may be seen as “the necessary friction caused by a higher act of obedience” (60), such that “it is possible to read the hero’s entire public life and campaign to liberate Castile as a form of pilgrimage” (65). Chapter 3, “‘Et si desto menguas’: Imperial Decline in the Estoria de España,” examines the waxing and waning fortunes of empire (as represented in Alfonso X’s pioneering chronicle) from ancient Rome to thirteenth-century Spain. In this chapter, Coates examines the way in which the “fulcrum” of treachery operates “as an explanatory category and conceptual bridge, developing, justifying, and legitimizing the tenets of unity promoted by Alfonso in a way which makes it vital to the successful operation of foundation myth” (111–12). In chapter 4, “¿Traición tan provada? Treachery Refashioned in Juan de la Cueva,” Coates turns her attention to Golden Age drama in order to argue that Juan de la Cueva not only sought to “establish an ego for Castile” (149), but also to explore “where to draw the line between tyranny and absolutism, and where to find a space for freedom within a system in which the monarch is supposed to have a panoptic vision over his entire domain and his subjects” (116). In the final chapter, “The Historical Vision of Lope de Vega: Castile and Castidad,” Coates examines four comedias (El casamiento en la muerte, Las mocedades de Bernardo del Carpio, El conde Fernán González, and Las almenas de Toro) in order to explore the function of chastity, virility, and genealogy (particularly as this relates to pureza de sangre) in the construction of what she calls a “neo-Gothic” identity tied to notions of reconquest and restoration (190–91). In this...


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pp. 139-141
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