- Violent Conversions and Warrior-Bureaucrats:Colonial Mexico in the Plays of Juan Ruiz de Alarcón
Mexico is surprisingly absent from the work of her most prolific comediante, Juan Ruiz de Alarcón y Mendoza. The playwright has stronger ties to the New World than any of his competitors: it was in Mexico that Alarcón was born, received his bachillerato, unsuccessfully pursued an academic career after studying law in Spain, and worked as a lawyer fighting the illegal trade in pulque. When he left Mexico for good, it was to follow a family friend named Luis de Velasco the Younger, an ex-viceroy who had recently been appointed to the Consejo de Indias. In Madrid Alarcón began a prolonged and ultimately fruitful search for a position in the colonial bureaucracy, and near the end of his life made a last unsuccessful attempt to obtain a post in a New World audiencia (King 62-86).
Alarcón's familial, educational, and vocational bonds to Spain's overseas kingdoms far outweigh Tirso de Molina's three years as a professor in Santo Domingo, while Lope de Vega never even sets foot on New World soil. Yet Lope, not Alarcón, writes a pair of plays about the conquest of the New World, and Tirso pens an entire trilogy about the Pizarros. Alarcón's only participation in the conquest-play genre is a single scene in the multi-authored play Algunas hazañas de las muchas de don García Hurtado de Mendoza, marqués de Cañete, a brief treatment of the conquest of Chile that only underscores Mexico's general absence from Alarcón's work.
We might interpret such absence as part of a self-fashioning strategy, a kind of passing by which Alarcón erases his origins and assimilates into castilian culture. While Serge Denis has made such a claim regarding the playwright's use of language (355-56), Alarcón's production as a whole tells a different story. As this essay will demonstrate, Alarcón does engage, explicitly and implicitly, with the urban [End Page 41] reality of Mexico, his criollo origins, and the theme of New World evangelization — where Alarcón attacks the pro-indigenous theology of Bartolomé de las Casas. These issues do not merely serve as a biographical backdrop to Alarcón's production, but instead insinuate themselves into the heart of many of his plays.
The following four sections of this essay demonstrate the presence of Mexico in Alarcón's corpus. The essay's final section shows the unique relevance of a Mexican Alarcón to the continuing polemic over the hegemonic or subversive nature of the Hispanic-Atlantic Baroque. Participants in this debate have tended to treat Alarcón as just another Spanish playwright. Maravall, in Culture of the Baroque, refers to Alarcón only twice, in each case sandwiching an Alarconian quotation into a list of similar lines by Spanish-born authors (98; 116). Alarcón's words help build Maravall's wider argument about the "guided" and "mass" nature of the Baroque, but only in the sense that two bricks – indistinguishable from all the others – help build a wall. William Egginton treats Alarcón in a similar way in The Theater of Truth, which works to deconstruct Maravall's portrayal of the Baroque by splitting the hegemonic "major" discourse of Lope de Vega from the subversive "minor strategy" of Cervantes (5-6). In his third chapter, Egginton analyzes three plays, two by Spanish-born playwrights and one by Alarcón, that each reveal the subterranean workings of the "minor strategy." Absent from the seven-page section on Alarcón, and absent from the book as a whole, is a single reference to Alarcón's New World origins (40-46). Alarcón functions, in Egginton's monograph as in Maravall's, as simply one of any number of indistinguishable Spanish playwrights.
While the omission of Alarcón's unique biography from these big-picture monographs is of course understandable, this essay will conclude by arguing that the narrow question of Alarcón's ties to Mexico in fact has important...