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  • Text, Translation, and Critical Interpretation of Joan de Roís de Corella's Tragèdia de Caldesa, a Fifteenth-Century Spanish Tragedy of Gender Reversal by Cocozzella, Peter
Cocozzella, Peter. Text, Translation, and Critical Interpretation of Joan de Roís de Corella's Tragèdia de Caldesa, a Fifteenth-Century Spanish Tragedy of Gender Reversal. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen P, 2012. xvii + 251 pp. 5 plates. ISBN 978-07-73-42625-2

With his Text, Translation, and Critical Interpretation of Joan de Roís de Corella's Tragèdia de Caldesa, a Fifteenth-Century Spanish Tragedy of Gender Reversal, Peter Cocozzella offers English-speaking non-specialists access to a dramatic monologue written in Catalán from fifteenth-century Valencia. Cocozzella, in his treatment of Roís de Corella's Tragèdia de Caldesa (1458), aims to demonstrate that it possesses theatrical qualities which could have found an outlet in late-medieval performance. Moreover, he proposes that Roís de Corella's Tragèdia, a dramatic monologue that could have been simultaneously acted in pantomime, was informed by Isidoro de Sevilla's definition of tragedy, rather than Aristotle's. This reading of Roís de Corella's tragedy enables Cocozzella to introduce a gender studies approach. With recourse to Stephen Greenblatt's Renaissance Self-Fashioning, Cocozzella provides a reading of the male protagonist as a distraught individual who verbally constructs himself as a victim in contrast to the largely silent female character, Caldesa, whose carefully staged interactions with her lovers allow her to control the action. Most criticism, according to Cocozzella, locates Roís de Corella's aesthetic inspiration in Ausiàs March's moralism. Cocozzella suggests, rather, that what Roís de Corella emulates is March's [End Page 309] development of the protagonist's individual subjectivity. It is this exploration of the self that situates Roís de Corella among early Renaissance writers.

Chapters one and two cast the Tragèdia as one of several Iberian texts that draw upon the prison of love as a trope of the dark chamber in which the protagonist witnesses the scene which so distresses him. Cocozzella draws upon diverse sources that let him situate Roís de Corella in a literary community structured around Ausiàs March and interested in exploring "text[s] of loneliness" that spatially construct solitude as a means of enacting individual subjectivity

(2). Cocozzella suggests that such an exploration of psychological, instead of moralistic, themes indicates the Valencian writer's inventiveness. Cocozzella further observes in chapter three that Roís de Corella mingles the narratives of the infierno and of Narcissus in the Tragèdia. Roís de Corella's adaptation of the egocentric youth, Cocozzella argues, represents another way in which the Tragèdia emulates the "psychological and existential tonalities of March's textuality" (67) and anticipates trends of self-fashioning. Roís de Corella's use of Narcissus permits Cocozzella to vindicate Caldesa from accusations of inconstancy. In this productive analysis, Cocozzella reflects these accusations upon the protagonist, whose self-obsession reveals that his true anxiety pertains to his own changeability. Chapter four comprises a psychological study in which Cocozzella interprets Caldesa as a self-fashioner and considers her as an agent shaping and guiding the plot. While the male narrator's monologue presents its readers or hearers with a capricious Caldesa, Cocozzella argues that an actual staging of the piece—a possible, albeit unproven, premise—would locate Caldesa at center stage. Cocozzella avails himself of another aspect of self-fashioning, the blurring of fiction and reality, to explain Caldesa's seeming meekness in her only speech as a sort of "Ovidian ventriloquism" (110) on the part of Roís de Corella. If fiction and autobiography merge in the Tragèdia, the narrator, perhaps speaking with Roís de Corella's voice, might invent a submissive speech for Caldesa in an effort to shape his own identity as a narcissistic lover.

The focus shifts in chapter five to the Tragèdia's dramatic elements. This chapter explains the symbiotic relationship that Cocozzella sees between the rhetorical and visual dimensions of the piece, signaling the close connection between text and image for medieval hearers and readers. Cocozzella examines other texts that evince the interplay of text and image, ekphrasis and gaze, including the Roman de la rose which, he asserts, would have been known to Roís de Corella and his literary community. In the Tragèdia, the lover's gaze at his object of [End Page 310] desire initiates a process of introspection, self-fashioning, and ekphrasis. Chapter six considers the Tragèdia as a performable piece rather than merely a text to be read or recited. Cocozzella displays his definitive stance on this proposal with the inclusion of a stage diagram, such as those employed by present-day set designers, among the illustrations. Cocozzella contends that the dramatic bewailing of misfortune evokes a Boethian understanding of the tragic, while the monologic and descriptive nature of Roís de Corella's piece aligns with Isidoro's conception of tragedy as a recitation by an individual accompanied by silent actors. Yet, for Cocozzella, Roís de Corella also innovates on the genre in his presentation of a personal, rather than collective, misfortune.

The final portion of this chapter comprises a description of how the Tragèdia could have been staged. It conjures, significantly, a single, interior stage, rather than multiple outdoor wagons. While much of the proposed staging is based on Roís de Corella's text, elements such as "adjustable lighting" (171) seem more applicable to a post-fifteenth-century performance. Initially, it appears that Cocozzella intends to outline a period representation of the Tragèdia. Yet as the description of the action progresses, the parameters become less precise and rather resemble contemporary stagecraft. Most notably, Cocozzella invents a character and adds him to the dramatis personae: a meneur de jeu, or stage manager, who supervises a metatheatrical "rehearsal"—also Cocozzella's creation—of Caldesa's encounter with the rival prior to the monologue's beginning. In Cocozzella's hypothetical version, the meneur shares and occasionally supplants Caldesa in the role of originator and manipulator of the plot, a move which somewhat undermines Cocozzella's earlier reading of Caldesa's agency.

Throughout his book, Cocozzella characterizes Caldesa as silent, yet when readers examine the Catalán transcription and English translation, they find that Roís de Corella assigns her a sonnet in first person in which she repents of her actions and submits herself to the protagonist. To preserve his interpretation of the Tragèdia comprising a single dramatic monologue, Cocozzella has his meneur intervene to silence Caldesa before she can speak the verses and attributes them instead to "the invisible narrator of the voice-over" (181). The early chapters, in particular, exhibit an interest in examining Roís de Corella's construction not only of the feminine, but also the masculine subject. This analysis is a strong contribution of Cocozzella's book. It even suggests an avenue for further study, that of applying his approach to the agency and the masculinity of the rival lover. However, chapters five and, particularly, six turn from this intention. In the [End Page 311] book's later focus on the Tragèdia as performance-ready, some of the vindication of Caldesa as an independent, self-fashioning individual is set aside.

An appendix with the text and translation of the Tragèdia follows the critical study. It begins with a transcription of the Tragèdia in its entirety in Catalán, followed by a complete English translation. The bracketed numbers preceding each paragraph in chapter six's description are keyed to corresponding sections of the transcription and translation so readers can easily refer to Roís de Corella's piece. It would be helpful to know on which of the two extant manuscripts (MS 151, Barcelona, Universitat Central and MS 728, Biblioteca Universitària de València) he primarily bases his transcription, along with other differences that may exist between them. Cocozzella mentions, for example, that the manuscripts give different titular information, but both titles are presented sequentially and uncritically in his transcription and translation. Additionally, some readers may miss a more extensive discussion of the strategies and methodology that informed Cocozzella's English translation. Cocozzella briefly notes that he aims to "transform, as much as possible, the original Valencian-Catalan into current American idiom" (9), although some diction may feel dated to a twenty-first century reader. In contrast, Curt Wittlin, in his 1993 translation of the Tragèdia, not cited in Cocozzella's book, explains that he (Wittlin) seeks to give contemporary English readers an experience similar to that of Roís de Corella's fifteenth-century readers. Cocozzella's translation could be read in conjunction with Wittlin's for a more comprehensive idea of the original Catalán.

Five illustrations in grayscale follow the Appendix: the title pages of the two extant Tragèdia manuscipts, whose differences are notable and merit further examination; two miniatures from manuscripts of the Roman de la Rose, included to demonstrate how medieval texts depended on the interplay of text and image; and a scenic design for an imagined production of the Tragèdia. Whether this last is intended to show how a contemporary company might present Roís de Corella's text or to suggest how it might have been staged in the fifteenth century remains unstated, though the former seems more likely. An index points readers to primary or secondary sources and authors mentioned as well as key concepts.

Cocozzella's book usefully redirects attention to Roís de Corella's text among a group of readers that might not otherwise have had access to it, although typographical imperfections occasionally distract and the style sometimes resorts to overly ornate or outmoded language. The book does fruitfully situate [End Page 312] the Tragèdia within classical and medieval writings as well as more contemporary theories and analyses. At a time when new interest is directed toward Catalán and Valencian studies, Cocozzella's book, while not fully convincing in all its premises, invites scholars to reassess Roís de Corella's fifteenth-century piece in terms of current critical tools and theories.

Christina E. Ivers
University of Kansas

Works Cited

Wittlin, Curt. "'The Pen that Eases Pain': A First Translation of Joan Roís de Corella's Tragèdia de Caldesa." Antípodas 5 (1993): 47–59.

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