- Esther in Early Modern Iberia and the Sephardic Diaspora: Queen of the Conversas by Emily Colbert Cairns
in this study, colbert cairns provides us with an interesting and suggestive portrait of the figure of Queen Esther as a heroine of Iberian and American crypto-Jews in whom the values of crypto-Jewish communities are embodied and whose narrative, manifested in artistic and literary adaptations of the biblical book of Esther, serves as an allegory for the experience of Iberian and American crypto-Jews. Her close readings of the texts are original and insightful, and she brings together in this volume a range of sources that have not been studied together before. Colbert Cairns paints us a picture of the Ibero-American crypto-Jewish Esther expressed in sources ranging from the Ladino Ferrara Bible to the tapestries in the Cathedral of Zaragoza (known as the Palacio de la Seo).
In the introduction (1–20), Colbert Cairns sets the stage for Esther, giving an overview of the emergence of crypto-Judaism against the background of the massive conversions of Iberian Jews to Christianity in the wake of the 1391 pogroms and leading up to their 1492 expulsion from Spain and subsequent expulsion from Portugal in 1497. She calls Esther a "patron-saint for crypto-Jews and conversos" (1) and describes her as a figure in which "ideals of nationhood, empire, and self-fashioning were projected, inscribed, and reinscribed" (3).
In chapter 2, entitled "Esther in Iberia and Constructing a Catholic Nation upon the Judeo-Christian Model" (21–59), Colbert Cairns turns to the evidence from Catholic iconography and biblical drama, focusing on the tapestries hung in Zaragoza's Palacio de la Seo (1490) and on two autos, or dramatizations, of the book of Esther (1501). She argues that these sources demonstrate the ways that the Catholic majority learned about the story of the biblical queen (21). According to her, the tapestries, traditionally displayed during Holy Week, "use the Esther story primarily to promote obedience to the regime of the Catholic Kings" (sic, 25), and, together with the autos (Auto del Rey Asuero quando desconpuso a Bashti and Auto del Rey Asuero quando ahorco [End Page 129] a Aman), show us "how the Esther story is presented and performed for the majority Catholic populace" (21), establishing a baseline for the normative, orthodox interpretation of the book of Esther against which to read the Jewish and crypto-Jewish sources that follow. These representations "focus on the wrongdoings of non-gender compliant women" (19) in order to "craft a new reality that celebrates obedience, the ideal of a strong empire and ruler, and the use of violence and punishment to maintain order" (47).
In chapter 3, "A Jewish Heroine in Early Modern Spain" (61–118), Colbert Cairns turns her sights on the works of two seventeenth-century authors: the iconic Lope de Vega's La hermosa Ester (1610) and two works by the converso author Felipe Godínez, whose La Reyna Ester (1613) drew the attention of the Inquisition but who "corrected" his unorthodox reading of the Esther story in his censor-approved, compliant, updated version, Amán y Mardoqueo (1628). Colbert Cairns argues that these plays, read in juxtaposition, demonstrate "one of the major contradictions of early modern Iberia; they simultaneously celebrate a Jewish foundational biblical heroine while telling another story about the creation of loyal subjects of an empire that officially excludes the Jews" (62). Colbert Cairns reads Godínez's La Reyna Ester as a crypto-Jewish drama that "passes" for Christian while presenting the protagonist as crypto-Jewish heroine; in contrast, his Amán y Mardoqueo "uses the biblical story of Esther to legitimize the early modern Spanish Empire and show that it was a fundamental part of the divine order" (115).
Chapter 4, "Esther in the Portuguese Nation" (119–46), is a study of Jõao Pinto Delgado's Poema de la Reyna Ester (1627). Pinto Delgado was a Portuguese Jew who "reverted" to Judaism in Amsterdam, where he published the play. Focusing on Delgado...