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  • Indios en escena: la representación del amerindio en el teatro del Siglo de Oro
  • Keith Howard
Castillo, Moisés R. Indios en escena: la representación del amerindio en el teatro del Siglo de Oro. Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures 48. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue UP, 2009. 365 pp.

Several critics have noticed that those few indios who appear in Spanish Golden Age plays are portrayed as honorable, according to customary theatrical conventions, but also as barbarians. Some of these critics have suggested that this apparent contradiction in the plays reflects an ambiguity on the part of the playwrights, including Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, and Pedro Calderón de la Barca, who were interested in subtly criticizing or even subverting the established justificatory discourses on the conquest. Of course, this view challenges José Antonio Maravall’s now classic and widely accepted theory that these and other Baroque playwrights were interested in reinforcing the authority of the ruling classes in Spain’s early modern feudal-monarchical society. To be sure, in the last few decades it has been popular among contemporary scholars to find subversive contradictions in their favorite Spanish Golden Age authors, without bothering to look for plausible explanations for them. In this book, Moisés R. Castillo refreshingly examines these plays within the conservative parameters of Maravall’s theory by taking into account the most prevalent theories of conquest at the time. As Castillo reminds us, in the century before these plays were being performed, Francisco de Vitoria and Bartolomé de las Casas had justified the Spanish conquest by considering the Amerindians as intermediate between beasts and men. Like children, they had the capacity to use reason; however, they lacked Christian faith. Castillo argues that this representation of the Amerindians was adopted on stage: while they are capable of using reason, of knowing the difference between right and wrong, of having “honra,” they remain barbarians spiritually and culturally until they are evangelized by their Spanish conquerors. This neatly and reasonably explains the apparent contradiction previous critics had noted before. The indios who appear on stage are in a transitional developmental stage. Like children, their Spanish conquerors must lead them into a spiritual and cultural adulthood and thus incorporate them into Spanish society.

Castillo discusses fourteen plays unevenly distributed in five chapters: chapter 1 is dedicated exclusively to El Nuevo Mundo discubierto por Cristóbal Colón by Lope de Vega; chapter 2 concerns six plays that deal with the conquest of Chile and one with the “reconquest” of Brazil; chapter 3 includes one trilogy [End Page 151] by Tirso de Molina and another play by Luis Vélez de Guevara that take place in Peru; chapter 4 centers on La conquista de México by Fernando de Zárate; and, finally, chapter 5 is devoted to La aurora en Copacabana by Calderón. Castillo had previously published two article versions of chapter 1 and his treatment in chapter 2 of another play by Lope, Arauco domado por el excelentísimo señor D. García Hurtado de Mendoza. Not surprisingly, these sections are well conceived and developed. In his discussion of the remaining plays in chapter 2, however, while Castillo does demonstrate that the Amerindian characters are simultaneously presented as barbaric and honorable, more space could have been used to explain how this evidence supports his thesis (given that each of these plays is dispatched in around ten pages). This problem continues in chapter 3. In fact, Castillo admits that the first play in Tirso de Molina’s trilogy, Todo es dar en una cosa, “se trata de una obra que no merecería incluirse propiamente en el análisis de este estudio, puesto que no es una ‘comedia de indio’: no contiene al indio como personaje y tampoco escenifica la conquista de América” (158), and his justification for including it in his book has little to do with his thesis. I will return to chapter 4 below. Castillo does end on a high note: in chapter 5 and in his conclusion, he shows that by the time he wrote his La aurora en Copacabana, Calderón was not interested, like Lope before...


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pp. 151-152
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