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Reviewed by:
  • Women Playwrights of Early Modern Spain: Feliciana Enríquez de Guzmán, Ana Caro Mallén and Sor Marcela de San Félix ed. by Nieves Romero-Díaz and Lisa Vollendorf
  • Alexander Samson
Nieves Romero-Díaz and Lisa Vollendorf, editors.
Women Playwrights of Early Modern Spain: Feliciana Enríquez de Guzmán, Ana Caro Mallén and Sor Marcela de San Félix.
Translated by Harley Erdman.
Iter Press / Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2016. 272 Pp.

THE ENTREMESES (COMIC INTERLUDES) that open this edition of Spanish female dramatists’ work are a revelation: comic masterpieces that depend as much on obscure Spanish wordplay as recondite classical references and transposed Latinate terms. They underscore the learning and intelligence of Feliciana Enríquez de Guzmán, a writer from Seville whose life has been fascinatingly reconstructed in a recent biography by Piedad Bolaños Donoso (Doña Feliciana Enríquez de Guzmán, U de Sevilla, 2012). The two-part work that bookends these entremeses, the Tragicomedia de los jardines y campos sabeos (circa 1619), is an erudite reworking of classical mythology and rightly omitted from this edition. It cannot hold a candle to the hilarious, scurrilous comic inversion in the light relief. Erdman’s translation and notes underscore key jokes and ironies with admirable economy, making their witty, sophisticated parody of classical sources accessible and enjoyable for modern audiences. Whether or not the works were ever performed publicly at the time of their composition, these relatively unknown interludes are crying out for contemporary stagings to add to the theater-going public’s growing knowledge of the unparalleled genius of the comedia.

Better known than Enríquez de Guzmán’s entremeses are the comedias of Ana Caro Mallén, which, according to the introduction, were probably performed publicly in their day, as some of her other works were; a number made their way into print. The Conde de Partinuplés was considered notable enough to appear in a 1654 collection of plays entitled the Laurel de comedias, alongside pieces by Calderón de la Barca and Vélez de Guevara. This play, [End Page 193] based on the medieval romance Partonopeus de Blois, dramatizes the problem of regnant queens and foreign matches, exploring the paradox between female submissiveness and the injunction of obedience, dynastic illustriousness, and loyalty. Much is made of magical and chivalric aspects in the plot—flight, wild animals, and so on—necessitating the ample use of the stage machinery and visual trickery for which Seville was renowned in this period. Voyeurism and the gaze are exploited to full effect in order to destabilize gender norms and sharpen the critique of contemporary misogyny.

The volume also draws attention to Lope de Vega’s daughter, Sor Marcela de San Félix. She eventually became the mother superior of her convent of the Discalced Trinitarians in Madrid and was visited daily by her father from her profession in 1621 until his death in 1635. She also produced a considerable body of dramatic work for performance within the cloister. Only a fifth survives, including six plays (coloquios espirituales), eight loas, and thirty miscellaneous poetic compositions. The rest of her dramatic works were burned in a demonstration of piety and obedience similar to that famously enjoined upon Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz later in the seventeenth century. Sor Marcela performed in her own pieces, which are full of sly references to the immediate context of the convent. In particular, they allude metatheatrically to the author herself, insulting her phlegmatic, uncharitable disposition, especially in her role as provisora (provisioner) for the convent. These self-referential vignettes lamenting the lack of food and the insalubrious parasites who sought the charity of the sisters are witty and lively. In addition to the four loas, the edition also includes one of the coloquios, originally untitled but dubbed El celo indiscreto by its modern editors and translated by Erdman as “Mindless Zeal.” The dramatized allegorical confrontation—between the Soul, Peace, Sincerity, and the figure of misguided religious fervor—has moments of wit but is dependent on its context; one long section sees Zeal berating characters who are not on stage...


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