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  • Psyche und Allegorie: Studien zum spanischen auto sacramental von den Anfängen bis zu Calderón
  • Henry W. Sullivan
Poppenberg, Gerhard. Psyche und Allegorie: Studien zum spanischen auto sacramental von den Anfängen bis zu Calderón. Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2003. 381 pp.

The first German critic ever to address the peculiarities of the auto sacramental (and comment on three specific texts by Calderón) was the Enlightenment literary historian, Carl Friedrich Flögel, in his significantly entitled Geschichte des Grotesk-Komischen (1788). Like many first-time critics, Flögel was blind to their allegory, and he struggled with their generic exceptionalism. His notion of “grotesque-comic” finally linked the autos to defunct medieval mystery plays and portrayed them as deviant, outlandish, and profane caricatures of Christianity. The first German to translate a complete auto of Calderón (1829) was Cardinal Melchior von Diepenbrock (with ulterior confessional motives) in his La vida es sueño (second version, 1673). The metrically strangled, complete set of Calderón’s autos by Father Franz Lorinser (1856–1857–1861–1872) made excruciating reading, while the dozen autos translated by the “Last Paladin of Romanticism” Joseph Eichendorff (1846–1853; rpt. 1864) were the finest literary versions of Calderón ever done into German. Nearly 150 years later, however, despite these and other enormous efforts by German scholars, the Austrian Leo-Gesellschaft (1892–1938), or the defunct Calderón Societies of Munich (1906–1919) and Berlin (1912–1914) on behalf of this idiosyncratic form of drama, the allegorical autos still raise stubborn problems regarding their historical-literary genesis, their in abstracto portrayal of spiritual conflict (i.e., a psychomachia or “psychic shattering”), their propagandistic intent (if any?), or, indeed, any possible formal-aesthetic definition of the genre within the taxonomy of Golden-Age dramatic poetry. It is against this backdrop of German Hispanism’s strikingly protracted labor of love, therefore, that we applaud the appearance of Poppenberg’s major reappraisal, Psyche und Allegorie (2003).

In my own view, none of the problems just enumerated above was laid to rest at all by the Hamburg School of Hans Flasche with his busy “micro-philological” approach to editing the autos. The same applied to the Anglo-Catholicizing, British Hispanist tradition, best represented by A. A. Parker, Edward M. Wilson, Bruce Wardropper, and R. D. F. Pring-Mill. Both the German and the British schools tended inter alia to sweep under the rug—for the present reviewer—the autos’ self-evident Spanish exaltation of the Eucharist [End Page 147] vis-à-vis Protestant attacks. I refer to the intense quarrels of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation concerning (1) the elusive meanings of the “Body of Christ” (Corpus Christi) and (2) Christ’s equally contentious words of institution Hoc est enim corpus meum. In Poppenberg’s study, we possess the first heads-on grappling with what had become critical “taboos” and many other deftly avoided theological issues. His Psyche und Allegorie is arguably the most revisionist, comprehensive, and insightful analysis to date of poems by Jáuregui and autos by Valdivielso, Lope de Vega, Calderón, as well as the anonymous El castillo de la fe. The thirty-five works are viewed within their broader political, philosophical, and theological European context, and, we may say, no stone is here left unturned.

A frankly polemical introduction (11–26) precedes the book’s four main sections, to which I shall return in detail below. In four major subsections (more like divisions in a French Doctorat d’État than conventional “chapters”), Poppenberg places the auto sacramental firstly in the context of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Spanish spirituality (29–112); he then engages the dramas in the context of controversies on the Eucharist during the same period (115–99); third, he offers an excursus on the autos’ liturgical dimensions seen as sacrifice, rite, and drama (203–57); and, finally, he re-examines the autos in the context of “poetological” debates of the Golden Age (261–348). In the course of the book, Poppenberg’s prevailing tone underlines what he sees as the genre’s conflictive nature. In other words, his study is not the philological or purely Formalist autopsy of a poetic...


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