- La Rosa de Alejandría by Luis Vélez de Guevara
the story of saint catherine of alexandria, the "Rosa de Alejandría" of the play by Vélez de Guevara, was immensely popular in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and lived on into the nineteenth century in Spain. Her story is included in many Latin flores sanctorum and their vernacular progeny. She has been widely celebrated by Spanish writers, in anonymous manuscripts and early printed editions, in prose and verse, by a diverse array of authors over the centuries that includes Álvaro de Luna, Saint Teresa of Ávila, Lope de Vega, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and Emilia Pardo Bazán. Several Jesuit colegio plays, most of them anonymous and unpublished, feature the Saint, and she is the subject of two plays with firm attributions by Pedro Rosete Niño and Luis Vélez de Guevara, the latter of which was previously accessible only in seventeenth-century collections of dramatic works. Now, thanks to the late William R. Manson and C. George Peale and to Juan de la Cuesta Hispanic Monographs, the Vélez comedia has been published in a beautifully presented edition.
Saint Catherine is a legendary Saint whose story is set in Alexandria in the fourth century AD. In an early version of her passio, the young, beautiful, royal, and learned convert to Christianity hears of the emperor's order to sacrifice animals to the pagan gods. She confronts him, declares his religion to be false, and entreats him to accept her Christianity. Stunned by her beauty and amazed by her eloquence, he attempts but fails to refute her arguments and summons fifty sages from all over his realm to defeat her in public debate. She triumphs over them all, whereupon the emperor orders them burned alive and Catherine imprisoned. The empress and the emperor's chief adviser visit her in prison, where angels tend to her, and both are converted. Given a chance to renounce her religion and become empress, Catherine refuses. A wheel of torture is constructed and she is placed thereon, but when it turns, it is destroyed by lightening, killing many bystanders. The empress and chief [End Page 209] adviser announce their conversion and are killed. Catherine rejects a further offer from the emperor and is beheaded. Milk, rather than blood, flows from the wound, and angels deposit her body on mount sinai.
The many versions of the saint Catherine narrative vary in multiple ways. The publication of the Vélez comedia is significant, as it presents the only printed text of a play on the subject and, while following the basics of the traditional story, it has very interesting differences. The editors have, again, produced a meticulous and readable edition, another in a long list of plays by Vélez de Guevara (thirty-eight at last count, with sixteen in preparation). The cover features one of the most beautiful of the many artistic representations of the Saint, a painting by Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina. The edition begins with a nota preliminar in which the editors thank the impressive list of entities and persons who contributed to the publication of the edition. The table of contents and a list of abbreviations follow. The introductory study, by Elisa Domínguez de Paz, is divided into five parts: an introduction, a treatment of the plot, a consideration of genre, structures, and performances of La Rosa de Alejandría, a discussion of a Jesuit source for the play, and an examinanation of its dramatis personae. The next section, by C. George Peale, describes the sole witness, in a seventeenth-century collection of Comedias escogidas, the complete title of which he reproduces. A copy held in the Biblioteca Nacional de España and that of the Vatican Library have different frontispieces, but the contents are identical. The text is marred by errors, for which he offers corrections in footnotes. He describes the editorial criteria, discusses...