- Hercules and the King of Spain: Icons of Masculinity and Nation in Calderón's Spain by Dian Fox
Dian Fox, Lucas Marchante-Aragon, Hercules, King Sebastian Of Portugal, Phillip Ii Of Spain, Masculinity, Nation, Drama, Calderon De La Barca
Dian Fox's book is a decidedly welcome addition to the growing corpus of studies about masculinity in early modern Spain. A very intriguing question explored in this volume is the connection between performances of masculinity on stage and the formation of a Spanish national identity during this period. One of the arguments is that the ubiquity of theatrical performances throughout the Iberian Peninsula, and the social transversality of the audiences that enjoyed them, played a role in the promotion of a national identity built on notions of appropriate masculine performance. The study contains excellent analyses of the different representations of masculinity, both ideal and unacceptable, that can be found in plays built around the figures of the classical demigod Hercules and King Sebastian of Portugal.
After an introduction and a framing chapter, the first part of the book is devoted to the figure of Hercules in early modern Spanish theater (chapters 2–4). The classical hero is connected both to the ruling dynasty by genealogical traditions and to the mythical foundational narratives of many Spanish locales. Representations of a virtuous Hercules who can control his passions served as a local example to combat the perceived crisis of masculinity in seventeenth-century Spain. However, the plays analyzed by Fox show an uncharacteristically feminized Hercules. This representation responds to the genealogical anxieties inherent to the discourse of honor that pervaded the post-1492 period in the Iberian Peninsula and that was central to the dramatic conflict of early modern Spanish drama. As she notes, paraphrasing Américo Castro, "Whereas historically the Spanish male suffered a crisis if his membership in the pure cast was questioned, dramatically the crisis occurred when the Spanish male's honor was doubted" (43). [End Page 124]
When discussing Calderón's Los tres mayores prodigios and El pintor de su deshonra, the author superbly analyzes how the theme of honor/lineage is adapted into the classical myths reenacted onstage. In her study of Manos blancas no ofenden and Fieras afemina amor, which deals with an episode in which the hero will be made to dress in female attire (89), Fox sees the hero as an example of the hombre esquivo. This is a man that avoids/abhors women and marriage and seeks honor through deeds. Such a man is, according to the author, more transgressive of social order than the mujer esquiva that Melveena McKendrick had described (95). Fox explains how in both of these plays, "transvestism allows Calderon to expound with some depth not merely on masculinity and effeminacy, but also on reproductivity and succession" (109). The author clearly shows how these examples are very pertinent for the consideration of the figure of King Sebastian in the following chapters; however, the question of their implications for nation formation are not fully answered. This very interesting issue is dealt with briefly in the last two pages of the section.
The second part of the book (chapters 5 to 7) deals with the figure of King Sebastian of Portugal and his context. The opening chapter is devoted to the poetry of Francisco de Aldana, who was sent to the court of Lisbon by Sebastian's uncle, Phillip II of Spain. His mission was to dissuade the young king from his plans to invade Morocco and persuade him to stay in Portugal, get married, and ensure dynastic continuation. Aldana not only failed in his mission, but was eventually seduced by the young king's project, and would ultimately die with him at the battle of Alcazarquivir. Fox analyzes here the tensions in Aldana's poetry with regard to the manly exercise of war and the desire for retirement in peace with his friend Benito Arias Montano. In these tensions, the author sees an expression of...