- Reality and Illusion in La celosa de sí misma:The Doubling of Identity
Magdalena, the female protagonist in Tirso de Molina’s La celosa de sí misma, suffers from a doubling of identity that is both externally and internally imposed. While her erstwhile suitor and husband-to-be Don Melchor initiates the creation of an unknown “mujer tapada,” it is Magdalena who decides to extend the misunderstanding and who chooses to play the role of the fictional Countess of Chirinola. As she does so, Magdalena must confront Melchor’s idealized image of female beauty, her own insecurities, and the very real danger that her playacting may threaten her own long-term happiness. This article focuses on how Magdalena’s alternate identity is created, the struggle to control that identity, and the challenges faced as she attempts to compete with her own alter ego. Ultimately, Tirso indicates that identity is, to a great degree, the point at which imagination and playacting coincide, and that desire and imagination are as real as the physical form itself.
With the words “Devoto salgo, Ventura, / pero a lo humano. ¡Ay, qué bella / imagen vi, si es imagen / quien a sí se representa!” (289-92), Tirso de Molina begins his scrutiny of the nature of identity and the power of imagination in La celosa de sí misma. In Celosa, Tirso de Molina presents the reader with a woman who is forcibly split into secondary and, later, tertiary identities, with a resulting battle for control of the created self. As we consider the play in depth, it is apparent that the female protagonist, Magdalena, is a victim of disguise and assumes a mostly passive role throughout the play, an occurrence uncommon in similar plays by Tirso. Since her disguise is inadvertently thrust upon her, she is faced with a phantom self, an idealized version that she can neither control nor surpass. Magdalena’s woes are linked to the question of who really creates and controls disguise, and consequently identity, within the play. Ultimately, it becomes clear that identity is an unstable construct that is subject to changes in perception as well as to deliberate manipulation.
Anthony Cascardi, one of the few critics to discuss this play in recent years, briefly addresses this work in the context of his 1984 study on Pedro Calderón de la Barca. When he does so, he dismisses it as lacking the quality of such plays as El burlador de Sevilla or La dama duende. It is not until more than a decade later, in Anita K. Stoll’s article “Do Clothes Make the Man? Gender and Identity Fluidity in Tirso’s Plays,” that the question of identity in the play is addressed. As part of her larger study of gender presentation in Tirso, Stoll focuses on the confusion caused by the cloak that Magdalena wears to mass. Stoll argues that Tirso, through his characters and language “suggests a confusing multiplicity of visual realities and identities” (833). Unfortunately, since hers is a multiwork study, she does not have the space to further develop how this “multiplicity” is constructed, manipulated, and controlled in this particular work. It is Dawn Smith’s article, “La celosa de sí misma: A Comedy in Spite of Itself,” which most closely approximates the focus of this study. Smith elaborates on the [End Page 55] characteristics of Tirso’s comedias de enredo and includes an explanation of the plot. She concludes that the play, in addition to being a comedia de enredo, is full of “pervasive irony” (831) and astute observations about the foibles of humanity. However, none of these efforts specifically concerns itself with the production and use of disguise and identity in this play. I wish to expand upon previous scholarship by illuminating how identity is unwittingly constructed in this play and the consequences of said creation.
The work opens as Don Melchor, a poor young noble who has come to Madrid to marry a family friend’s daughter, comes out of mass proclaiming to his servant, Ventura, his love for and devotion to a woman he glimpsed during the service (289-92). When Melchor admits that all he saw of the...