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Reviewed by:
  • Sins of the Fathers: Moral Economies in Early Modern Spain by Hilaire Kallendorf
  • Leah Middlebrook

Hilaire Kallendorf, Golden Age, Theater, Drama, Spain, Seventeenth Century, Early Modern, Renaissance, Comparative Literature, Calderon de la Barca, Lope de Vega, Digital Humanities, Religious Studies, John Bossy, Raymond Williams, Seven Deadly Sins, Ten Commandments, Leah Middlebrook

Kallendorf, Hilaire. Sins of the Fathers: Moral Economies in Early Modern Spain. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2013. xiii + 446 pp.

This engaging study is related to earlier work by Hilaire Kallendorf on Golden Age literature and drama. Arguably, it forms a set with Exorcism and Its Texts: Subjectivity in Early Modern Literature of England and Spain (U of Toronto P, 2003) and Conscience on Stage: The Comedia as Casuistry in Early Modern Spain (U of Toronto P, 2007). Like those volumes, Sins of the Fathers is the product of significant research, and like those volumes, it is shaped by Professor Kallendorf’s interests in critical theory, comparative literature, and religious studies. The book’s central premise is that contemporary scholars and critics have lost sight of the cultural force once wielded by the idea of sin, which was a major structuring category for sixteenth- and seventeenth-century thought. Indeed, as Kallendorf observes wittily in the Introduction, “I sin, therefore I am” is a better motto for [End Page 238] early moderns than the “Cogito, ergo sum” privileged in the secular age. Sin therefore makes sense as a concept through which to embark on a new exploration of Golden Age comedias and autos sacramentales. According to Kallendorf, such an endeavor is made both possible and necessary by new tools furnished to scholars by the digital age: databases such as TESO (Teatro Español del Siglo de Oro) and sophisticated and powerful search engines with which to mine them for references to (in this case) Pride, Greed, Lust, Gluttony, Sloth, Anger, and Envy.

Hispanists, as well as readers with interest and expertise in early modern English, and to some extent French, Dutch, and Central European cultures, have much to gain from this illuminating rereading of seventeenth-century Spanish drama, which gives ample space to plays that do not usually figure in anthologies or the established canon of Golden Age greats. The book’s organization—one chapter for each of the seven deadly sins, an eighth dedicated to the theme of the ten commandments, all framed by a Foreword, an Introduction, a Conclusion, an Epilogue, a bibliography, and a substantial and informative index—are organized in a way that should make the volume extremely useful to those preparing a syllabus on nearly any aspect of early modern culture. Given Kallendorf’s comparatist bent, it is a shame that translations are not provided for the book’s numerous thought-provoking examples, but most are brief and can be deciphered with a minimum of effort.

Kallendorf’s preferred reader, though, is the nonspecialist. Throughout the book, she frames her wide-ranging knowledge in a colloquial tone, and she makes a special effort to welcome the “postmodern reader” to a body of work which might at first appear unfamiliar and perhaps alienating, but which she reveals to be vibrant and accessible. Furthermore, she maintains that seventeenth-century drama is potentially relevant to a twenty-first century individual who finds secular modernity short on answers for the problems that beset our age. An immersion in the “vast living repertoire of moral knowledge that was being enacted both on and off the comedia stage”—a knowledge that is found not in the “canned dialogue and far-fetched and preposterous plots” of Golden Age plays, but in the “pithy moral sayings uttered off the cuff in asides or dramatic soliloquies” (10), utterances that foreground sin and the concept of moral inheritance—may, she suggests, provide new perspective.

A third agenda in this book is more conventionally scholarly. Kallendorf seeks to challenge a long-held and, in her estimation, reductionist view within religious studies: namely, that in the early modern period, the seven deadly sins were displaced by a new notion of sin that was anchored in the ten commandments and informed by the consolidating sense of individualism that marked the late Renaissance. Kallendorf...


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pp. 238-241
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