- Celestina and the Human Condition in Early Modern Spain and Italy by Rachel Scott
Considering the wealth of published material on Fernando de Rojas's Celestina, a masterpiece from the canon of Spanish medieval and Renaissance literature, very little scholarship has systematically investigated this work within an ideological framework as well as from the perception of its reception in the sixteenth century. In her analysis, Scott situates Celestina within the scholarship on the history of the book and examines it within a network of texts from sixteenth-century Spain and Italy which were translated and printed concurrently in both peninsulas, focusing on the varying degrees of comprehension as the text circulates throughout time. For Scott, the roots [End Page 205] of Celestina are found in works by Petrarch, Seneca, the Italian humanistic comedies, and the cultural elements common to many other vernacular traditions such as courtly love, dialogues, and exempla. Her study builds upon and contributes to the interdisciplinary, comparative, and materially focused studies of cultural production represented by the works of Baldassare Castiglione's Il Cortegiano, Fernán Pérez de Oliva's Diálogo de la dignidad del hombre, and Pietro Aretino's Vita delle puttane.
Each of the five chapters explore themes common to sixteenth-century debates about the human condition: Self-knowledge, self-fashioning, the formative role of language, the tensions between freedom and constraint, as well as the access to knowledge provided by vernacular fiction in the context of early modern censorship. Celestina, a novel in dialogue situated in the studia humanitatis, is both the product of and a response to a multitude of conventions from the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance whose success corresponded to a desire in early modern society to look more broadly at the world, reinterpret longstanding concepts and traditions, and bring about new perspectives. For Scott, Celestina continued to be meaningful throughout time because it engaged with one of the period's defining preoccupations: The human condition.
In chapter one, "Debating the Human Condition: Celestina's Interlocutors," Scott looks at how the universal idea of studia humanitatis is questioned, critiqued and commented upon by sixteenth-century interlocutors. These interlocutors form part of the cultural exchange that typifies the relationship between Spain and Italy. This chapter situates Celestina against two influential voices in debates about man's misery and dignity: Pope Innocent III's De miseria humanae conditionis and Francesco Petrarch, whose De remediis utriusque fortunae (1366), De vita solitaria and the Secretum (both mid-fourteenth-century) are associated with the contemptus mundi tradition. Elements of the discourse about man's misery in Innocent's De miseria come to Celestina through Petrarch and are evident in the Tragicomedia's marked pessimism. Scott considers how Rojas's text becomes an interlocutor in the debate about human misery and dignity and reads it against the Diálogo by Pérez de Oliva. According to Scott, there has not been a comparative study done between the two works even though both works demonstrate a similar view of man's simultaneous potential for dignity and misery. In this chapter, Scott also reads Calisto and Melibea's "courtly love" affair against discussions [End Page 206] about "il perfetto cortegiano" in Castiglione's Il Cortegiano. These two texts circulated concurrently, and according to Scott, like Rojas, Castiglione is interested in the creation and representation of identities and relationships shown to be intimately connected through language. Calisto and Melibea's dialogue reflect an attempt at courtly self-fashioning and serves as a lens through which to address early modern views about the power of language to fashion durable identities within society. The topic of self-determination is also addressed, which draws upon one's possession of personal agency.
In chapter two, "Self-Knowledge and Solitude: Diálogo de la dignidad del hombre," Scott discusses how the process of acquiring self-knowledge was believed to be a means to truth and the first step in escaping man's miserable condition and returning to the state of wholeness with God. According to Scott...