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  • Inaudible Resistance:How La Cava Found Her Voice
  • Jared S. White

A las voces de la Cava se tapa el rey los oídos

—1679 Romance "Culpa de La Cava y de Rodrigo"

Are those who act and struggle mute, as opposed to those who act and speak?

—Spivak, "Can the Subaltern Speak?" (28)

I. Subaltern Silence

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's 1988 essay, "Can the Subaltern Speak?" stands as a groundbreaking work that acknowledges the plight of the historically repressed and silenced subaltern, a figure consistently identified as female. Indeed, the first line of her essay recognizes the subjects of her study as "[w]omen outside of the mode of production narrative" (21). Rosalind C. Morris adds that "the crucial marker, and the orienting question, of Spivak's particular intervention within the theorization of subalternity revolves around the question of gender" (10). Essentially, Spivak's theory of the subaltern draws attention to the inexpressible situation of individuals, specifically women, who have [End Page 255] been traditionally ignored by history. For innumerable reasons—ranging from societal stereotypes to mere misogyny—, their vital stories have no way of coming to light; their voices, as rhetorically implied by the title of Spivak's essay, reverberate with unequivocal silence.

A type of inaudible resistance rises from the pages of the medieval depictions of La Cava, a repressed character reduced to a subaltern-like silence. Although these accounts solely describe a stifled version of La Cava, her identity is not integrally "subaltern." In her essay, Spivak couples gender inequality with class subjugation; therefore a truly subaltern figure must have a gender orientation delimited by society at large and belong to the lowest, most suppressed class of that society. Even Spivak recognizes that Bhubaneswari Bhaduri, her example of a woman who, so restricted by the confines of her community, commits suicide and "turn[s] her body into a text of woman/writing, […] was not a 'true' subaltern [since] she was a woman of the middle class" (64). Given her noble inheritance as the daughter of a count, La Cava can only account for the first, gender-based categorization of the subaltern. Notwithstanding, her voiceless appearances found in medieval chronicles obstinately acknowledge her inability to speak.

Patricia E. Grieve recognizes La Cava's early muteness in her book, The Eve of Spain, and directly parallels the gradual emergence of her voice with her literary development as a historical seducer. She writes:

Although it has always been part of the legend of La Cava that she informed her father of Rodrigo's deed, an example of direct speech has been rare. It is ironic, but not coincidental, that the increased examples of La Cava speaking—pleading, lamenting, informing, reasoning—all coincide with her emergence as central to the legend, and culpably so. The voice of agency she acquires in Corral's Crónica del Rey don Rodrigo becomes the very complex, morally suspect, and then completely unchaste voice of the sixteenth-century ballads.


Indeed, it is not until 1430, when Pedro de Corral recites the legend of Rodrigo, the fallen Visigoth king, that La Cava's cries become perceptible. As James D. Fogelquist recognizes, La Cava "is a subaltern who is subjected by coercion to Rodrigo's authority" (35). Between the medieval age and the Siglo de Oro, an intriguing transformation occurs in La Cava's depiction: she evolves into a character that resists, speaks out, and aggressively retaliates against Rodrigo's actions. From the silent shadows of subalterneity, she begins to speak.

It is possible to attribute the literary evolution of La Cava to the generic expectations of her exposition, i.e., the dynamic between characters varies greatly between a chronicle and a comedia or entremés. [End Page 256] The historical chronicle, a well-recognized genre of the medieval era, traditionally develops its narrative via a single, third-person expository narrator. Rarely does such a narrator include dialogue or interaction between its characters. Rather, the chronicler systematically presents its content in such a way as to push the story forward historically, explaining events instead of focusing on their intrigue—a plot device more suited towards the novel and theater. "It was at the end of...


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