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  • Enemies in the Plaza: Urban Spectacle and the End of Spanish Frontier Culture, 1460–1492 by Thomas Devaney
  • Rosa Vidal Doval
Enemies in the Plaza: Urban Spectacle and the End of Spanish Frontier Culture, 1460–1492. By Thomas Devaney (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015) 246 pp. $59.95

In this meticulous study, Devaney uses public spectacles to trace changes in the toleration of religious minorities on the Castilian frontier during the late fifteenth century. Although his overall conclusions do not differ significantly from those of other scholars working in the field, this monograph provides a major methodological contribution to the study of public spectacle, the frontier, and the end of convivencia. The greatest strength of this work is its multidisciplinary approach. Devaney blends insights from various types of sources—royal, local, and private chronicles; archival materials; law codes; town plans; and popular literature among others—to produce a study that illuminates the life and values of the frontier and the deterioration of religious co-existence that went hand in hand with the conquest of the Kingdom of Granada.

In Part I, Devaney reflects on the possibilities and limitations of interpreting medieval spectacles, arguing that an examination of their contexts yields a richer reading of the sources. Thus, the analysis of contemporary discourses about public performance can help to unearth those responses by spectators that went unrecorded by the sources. Like-wise, an investigation of public space and its meaning to local residents helps to understand how a spectacle was both defined by its organizers and perceived by its audience.

In Part II, Devaney relies on three well-known and well-documented episodes—public entertainments arranged by Miguel Lucas de Iranzo in 1460s Jaén, the religious procession that sparked an anti-converso pogrom in Córdoba in 1473, and Corpus Christi processions in Murcia of the 1480s and 1490s—to construct a narrative of the progressive erosion of a specific frontier arrangement of “amiable enmity” toward religious minorities. He uses these public events to ascertain the thoughts and values not just of the ruling elites but also of the lower classes, the intended audience for these spectacles. He advances a dynamic model in which spectacles, harnessing popular feeling and validating already held ideas, served to strengthen and extend the marginality of religious minorities.

Devaney is particularly successful in his use of urban history and discussions of the social functions of theater. He considers the urban layout and demographics of the various quarters of Córdoba to highlight the socioreligious background to the pogrom of 1473, extending previous, and more general, scholarly explanations of tensions between Old Christians and conversos in the city. He is able to identify processions, such as the one that sparked the riot, as one of the means through which the Cofradía de la Caridad (Fraternity of Charity) strove to maintain the traditional Old Christian character of a neighborhood that had received a significant influx of New Christians.

In the example of Murcia, Devaney analyzes the processions of Corpus Christi as public spectacle but also as theater, since the parades [End Page 236] included a series of representations of sacred plays along the way. Regrettably, none of the plays have survived; the texts would have provided further richness to an already engaging case study. Nonetheless, through insight drawn from Corpus plays elsewhere in Spain and in England, Devaney is able to show how these festivities figured into the formation of a communal identity that reinforced the dominant role of Christianity.

This exemplary study will be read with profit not only by scholars of the Iberian frontier but by those interested in public spectacle, religious minorities, and urban culture in the later Middle Ages.

Rosa Vidal Doval
Queen Mary University of London


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pp. 236-237
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