- The Comedia of Virginity: Mary and the Politics of Seventeenth-Century Spanish Theatre by Mirzam C. Pérez
The Comedia of Virginity provides a sound, albeit brief, introduction and is divided into five concise chapters, followed by a conclusion, extensive notes, and a comprehensive bibliography. In a style that can be accessed by both the seasoned scholar and the novice student, Mirzam Pérez outlines the critical role played by Marian-themed comedias and how their commission and performance not only served to unite a Church that was becoming increasingly fractured, but also assisted to confront the patriarchal, misogynistic ideals of the Church. Far from the passive and submissive Mary Mother of God associated with the Bible, the plays analyzed by Pérez present a Virgin who “is evoked as a proactive, articulate, and, at times, belligerent female role model who simultaneously inspires, guides, and protects the faithful” (2).
In chapter 1, Pérez delves deeper into the political motivation that drove the writing and performance of these works. She seamlessly blends both theatrical and political history, providing the reader with context and analysis. The author outlines the importance and political pull held by the University of Salamanca, and this background allows her to create a historical and political milieu that identifies the renowned institution as a key player in the eventual adoption of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as Church dogma. The purity of the Mother of God was a source of heated division amongst the religious orders, and Pérez clearly presents the positions held by each. Moreover, the author demonstrates the invaluable resource that the Relación de las fiestas que la Universidad de Salamanca celebró desde el 27 y el 31 de octubre del año de 1618 became in understanding the political positioning of the University, in its campaign to fully endorse the cult of the Immaculate Conception. This historical perspective sets up Pérez’s analysis of Lope’s La limpieza no manchada.
In chapter 2, the author summarizes the plot of Lope’s comedia, making connections to the biblical and political references in the play. Of particular interest are the iconographic details, which allow the reader to envision the performance and the impact that it would have had on the audience. The wealth of information found in the Relación is stressed, and Pérez remarks that, with such “special effects,” Lope “creates a dramatic space where the invisible [End Page 204] becomes visible and the impossible is feasible; he transforms the otherworld into a tangible organism that spectators can see and therefore believe” (36).
Pérez’s third chapter provides a discussion that is intended to frame or contextualize the society for which the plays were being performed. In her summary of the Relación, Pérez alludes to the religious feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and once more points to the divisions that existed amongst the religious orders, ultimately shedding light on the various objectives that the festival book had in determining which areas in Salamanca would be included in the procession. Detailed maps of Salamanca are also provided so that the reader can “walk” the procession and visualize the spectacle. More importantly, Pérez clearly articulates the political impetus that informed the routes chosen for the procession, noting that the priority was to bolster the University’s image and to (mis)communicate the apparent consensus regarding the support of Mary’s exemption from sin. In the last two chapters, the author tackles two different works: a comedia penned by a female playwright, Ángela de Azevedo, and a lesser-known play by Agustín Moreto y Cabaña, which dramatizes the beatification of Santa Rosa de Lima, the first American saint.
Azevedo’s play, likely written with the intention of praising Isabel of Bourbon, explores the impact of moral corruption and ultimately pits the Devil against a victorious Virgin, who materializes on stage, in a tableau that Pérez recognizes as “exceptional because it does not emphasize Christ the King...