- La profetiza Casandra y el leño de Meleagro by Pablo Polop y Valdés
Arturo Echavarren’s edition of Pablo Polop y Valdés’s La profetiza Casandra y el leño de Meleagro (1685) provides scholars with a thorough introductory study, of nearly 150 pages, of this play written by one of the lesser-known playwrights of seventeenth-century Spain. Until now, the work had been found in only two manuscript versions, and no substantial critical attention had been given to it. Echavarren’s introduction begins with a discussion of La profetiza’s categorization as a mythological zarzuela. As a zarzuela, the play holds its historical place amongst those early experimental works in which playwrights began blending theater, song, and dance to create an innovative form of musical drama; as a mythological play, it boasts all the special effects and spectacle that gained this genre its popularity during the late seventeenth century in Spain. Furthermore, the play shows Polop’s ability to combine two distinct myths into one story, a technique made popular by Calderón.
Indeed, as the title reveals, La profetiza weaves the myths of Cassandra and Meleager. In the section titled “Fiesta para una reina francesa en tiempos aciagos,” Echavarren engages the reader’s attention with his meticulous description of the difficult political relations between Spain and France during the second half of the seventeenth century to explain the Valencian playwright’s choice of connecting the tales of these two characters. Of particular interest is his analysis of the hostile anti-French reactions that came forth at the Spanish court when King Carlos II married the French María Luisa de Orleans. Such sentiments fueled scandals, controversies, and even assassination plots in which the new queen was accused of taking part. It is here within this suspicious and Francophobic context that Echavarren understands Polop’s decision to bring the myths of Cassandra and Meleager together. By incorporating Meleager, a character virtually unknown in Spain but popular in France, Echavarren believes that Polop wanted to appeal to María Luisa’s artistic sensibilities and to honor her cultural tradition. Regarding the mythical prophetess, however, he believes Polop goes much further than simple flattery. In effect, by making the crux of the play Cassandra’s defense of her innocence against Apollo’s amorous [End Page 209] advances, Echavarren believes Polop conscientiously draws a parallel between Cassandra’s heroic story and María Luisa’s struggle against false claims while at the Spanish court. He concludes, then, that Polop wrote La profetiza not only to comfort the queen during this tumultuous phase in her life but also to improve her image in the public eye.
The section that follows then recalls the most significant moments in Polop’s biography that led to María Luisa de Orleans becoming an admirer of his work. Echavarren explains that Polop was born to parents who worked in the theater, which gave him a love for the business as well as the opportunity to travel and to live in Paris. Despite being well respected by the general public, Polop spent much of his theatrical career unappreciated by the intellectual community in Spain, which criticized and mocked his theater for being simple, superficial, lacking in philosophical depth, and disengaged from the political realities of the time. Though a few of the copious details of this biography may be tangential, none is out of place or uncommon in an introduction of this sort. Indeed, Echavarren seems to make a concerted effort to include only the information that readers will find useful to understand the author, his time, and his work in general.
Transitioning to an analysis of the formal aspects of La profetiza, Echavarren begins with a helpful and succinct synopsis of the three-act play. He analyzes the plot and characters vis-à-vis the mythological sources from which Polop draws, thus presenting an interesting study of the mythemes that enabled the playwright to blend the two myths into a coherent whole. Directed toward...