by Barbara Fuchs (University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA)
Published in LA LEYENDA NEGRA EN EL CRISOL DE LA COMEDIA. El teatro del Siglo de Oro frente a los estereotipos antihispánicos (2016)
Yolanda Rodríguez Pérez Antonio Sánchez Jiménez (eds.)
This essay examines how the canon of Hispanic Golden Age theater is constructed outside Spain, to consider, first, how it relates to Black Legend epiphenomena and, second, how it might be profitably expanded and diversified. I am interested not only in how our present-day canon came to be, but also in the critical and performance initiatives that might profitably change what otherwise seems like an unavoidable fait accompli. My premise is that the Black Legend impacts not only the content of specific works, but also the context in which they are received, particularly outside Spain. The discipline of literary criticism is not immune or impermeable to the Black Legend, and it behooves us as critics to identify the ideological contexts that mark the reception of Spanish literature in the longue durée. Just as Spain itself is tarred by the Black Legend, its literary production is understood according to the stereotypes and received wisdom that the legend fosters.
I. Black Legend Canons
«I hate your Spanish honor ever since it spoyl’d our English Playes».
Wildblood, in Dryden, An Evening’s Love (5.1)
«Anyone desirous of throwing light on the old English Drama should read extensively the less known works of the Spaniards».
George Henry Lewes, The Spanish Drama (7)
In my work on the uses of Spain and Spanish literary materials in early modern England, I have identified the persistence and utility of belligerent attitudes towards Spain, even at the moments of greatest English fascination with Spanish sources. Thus for much of the early modern period and well into our own time, literary transmission is imagined in terms of forcible taking or even looting, as appropriation is lionized into national heroism. This is what in The Poetics of Piracy I termed the «Armada paradigm» of Anglo-Spanish literary relations (Fuchs 2013). At least in Anglo-American contexts, this paradigm was alive and well throughout the twentieth century, if not into the twenty-first. A classic example is one of the very influential early Norton anthologies of Elizabethan poetry, from 1942, which was entitled The Golden Hind. In the prologue, the editors explain the symbolism of their title, which refers to the ship on which Francis Drake carried out his circumnavigation of the globe, looting and plundering Spanish possessions along the way: «Our title, taken from the name of Drake’s ship, seems to us an appropriate symbol of the riches the Elizabethans found in a new world and in the English language and of the spirit of freedom and defiance of tyranny which is the greatest link between their age and ours» (Lamson and Smith 1942). This kind of conflation between the riches of poetry, privateering, and a timeless English «defiance of tyranny» marks the Anglo-American stance towards Spanish cultural production across the centuries. The larger question I want to consider here is how this broader climate of an enduring Black Legend shapes the Hispanic theatrical canon, particularly in Anglo-American contexts.1
The long-term engagement of English letters with Spanish culture has been tinged with ambivalence at least since the Reformation. As Alexander Samson and others have shown, the fascination with Spanish letters paradoxically never waned, even at the times of greatest military and religious rivalry between England and Spain (Samson 2006, 2009; Darby and Samson 2009). Yet even as literary studies came into its own as a distinct discipline, it continued to reflect the Black Legend prejudices—and the imperial rivalries—that characterized the Elizabethan moment. While Shakespeare became canonized as a uniquely English author, a free spirit who might not conform to classical rules but who found direct inspiration in English nature, Spanish theater was generally characterized as a much more problematic reflection of the Spanish character. In the case of Shakespeare, nature denoted the untarnished and pure landscape that the poet channeled; conversely, when describing Spanish traditions nature meant a human nature marked by the genealogical taint of otherness. Especially in a comparative framework, Spanish theater was considered an extension of Spanish national traits.
Already in the late seventeenth century, John Dryden, who made extensive use of Spanish materials in his own plays, wrote «the first important English criticism of Spanish drama» (Loftis 1973: 3) in his dialogue Of Dramatick Poesie (1668). The comedia was an uneasy fit for Dryden’s neoclassicist preconceptions, especially when compared to the more recent French drama—one of the interlocutors decries the theater of Calderón for «being hurried from one thing to another» (Dryden 1668: 59). Nonetheless, Dryden favored the tragicomedy, and with it the long English tradition of turning to Spanish plots, from Fletcher until Dryden’s own time. Yet in his own play An Evening’s Love, or, The Mock Astrologer (based on Calderón’s El astrólogo fingido), Dryden has a character voice his reservations about Spanish honor in the drama, which I reproduce in the first epigraph above. John Loftis argues that Wildblood’s complaint is generalizable more broadly to the dramatists of the Restoration, «who treated the pundonor with casualness or contempt» (1973: 252). Loftis’ own account of this dynamic—unsupported except for Wildblood’s line—betrays the critic’s prejudices as much as the writers’: «Few of the better dramatists cared to approximate, without satirical comment, the Spanish gravity of manner and sensitivity to affront. Hence the paradox that the best renderings of Spanish plots, by Dryden and his younger contemporaries, are those most thoroughly anglicized…» (Loftis 1973: 253). Eliding the distance between Spaniards and their texts, Loftis has made up his mind about their character, as well as their characters. Moreover, the many critics who stress the English turn to Spanish sources in the drama, as does Loftis, beg the question of the difference between the corpora: whatever distinctive national characters marked the Spanish and the English, it remained eminently possible for a transnational drama to emerge.
A striking text in the development of a literary history marred by national prejudice is the colorful A Complete History of the English Stage (London, 1800), a survey by the composer, writer, and consummate man of the theater Charles Dibdin. Dibdin was a prolific song-writer and occasional collaborator with the famous theater impresario David Garrick; he composed some of the music for Garrick’s famous Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769. Dibdin’s assessment of Spanish theater in his History sets up a tacit contrast with Shakespeare, whom the era crowned as the epitome of Englishness, magically produced by English soil. At the same time, the critic betrays a certain envy of Spanish prolificness: although he is critical of the Spanish theater’s disregard for classical measure, he reluctantly acknowledges his admiration for the sheer number of Spanish plays. Even this praise, however, undergoes a tortuous rhetorical operation to become a criticism of Spanish facility:
The Spaniards have a great number of rhapsodies under the titles of chronicles, annals, romances, and legends. In these they find some historical anecdote, some entertaining adventure, which they transcribe without choice or exception. All the details they put into dialogue and to this compilation is given the distinction, PLAY: thus one can easily imagine that a man in the habit of copying with facility, could write forty of these plays in less time than an author of real genius and regulated habitude could put out of his hands a single act, for the latter is obliged to design his characters, to prepare, graduate, and develop his intrigue, and to reconcile all this to the rules of decency, taste, probability and, indeed, custom (Dibdin 1800: 1.138).
The comparison with Shakespeare is implicit but no less powerful for that: by implication, the Spanish playwrights do not possess the «regulated habitude» that a more decorous, less excessive corpus signals. Thus is the uncomfortable question of the sheer numerical superiority of the Spanish canon handled—there may be more plays, but they are superficial, mere copies, requiring nothing like what an author of «real genius» would need for a play.
Dibdin is ambivalent about Spanish theater throughout, recognizing the power of the comedia yet qualifying his praise with his account of the Spanish national character. He emphasizes the utility of Spanish materials for other literatures, returning to the long tradition of figuration that makes Spain the source for a second-order English extraction, whether by piracy, looting, or other forms of forcible taking (Fuchs 2013; Jones 1953).2 Spanish theater is the mother lode, providing the ore that other Europeans will mine to mint treasures:
The wit and humour that have so lavishly pervaded [Spanish theater], manifest the most luxuriant fertility in the genius of their dramatic writers; whose works, crude and irregular as they are, have served like a rich mine for the French, and, indeed, the English at second hand to dig in. Their wit, however, like their hard dollars, can never be considered as staple, but a useless mass of no intrinsic value till manufactured into literary merchandize by the ingenuity and labour of other countries (Dibdin 1800: 1.131).
Dibdin further characterizes the French and English use of Spanish sources as «plunder» (Dibdin 1800: 1.139), imagining the exploitation of Spanish theater in terms of European imperial rivalries. Spanish literature thus becomes the mine to be dug, the raw material to be manufactured into a valuable commodity. As the metaphor evolves, the French and the English become «theatrical chymists» who «have ingeniously extracted» from the «very rich materials» of Spanish theater «to ornament their own productions» (Dibdin 1800: 1.145). Dibdin here voices a fantasy of appropriation by which the Spanish New World wealth of minerals is transmuted into a literary lode available for English extraction.
Yet even this recognition of a valuable source is tinged with ambivalence. Most striking in this respect, perhaps, is Dibdin’s move to characterize Spanish literary production in racialized and genealogical terms, as tainted with Moorishness:
Spanish gallantry consists entirely of stratagem; and fancy is perpetually upon the stretch to bring about natural events by extraordinary means. Their manners are derived originally from the Moors, and are tinged with a sort of African taste, too wilde and extravagant for the adoption of other nations, and which cannot accommodate itself to rule or precision.
Impressed with an idea of that knight errantry which Cervantes so successfully exposed, Spanish lovers seem as if they took a gloomy pleasure in disappointment. They enter the lists of gallantry as if they were more pleased with the dangers of the tournament than the enjoyment of the reward; and, at length, when they arrive at the possession of that object with which they were originally smitten with a glance from a lattice, or a regard in a cloister through a thick veil; disappointment succeeds to admiration, and they grow jealous and outrageous to find that love is the very reverse of caprice, and that happiness cannot be ensured but by a long and intimate acquaintance with the heart.
On the other side, the lady, immured from the sight of men, reads romances, and heroically resolves to consider, as her destined lover, the first who has the address and the courage to rescue her from her giant father, and her monster duenna. Reason, prudence, mutual intelligence, purity of sentiments, and affection; these have nothing to do in the affair (Dibdin 1800: 1.140-41).
Theater, and literature more broadly, are here presumed to reflect national characteristics. Spain’s ‘Moorish’ or ‘African’ manners lie behind its extravagant plots, its histrionic affairs. Already in this account the anxiety about sexual propriety looms large—in the gallant’s outrageous jealousy, or the exaggerated protection of the lady— setting the stage for the characterization of Spanish drama as obsessively concerned with honra.
Although the Romantic triumph of Calderón in Germany at the hands of Schlegel and other critics somewhat countered neo-Classical prejudice, it failed to dislodge stubborn conceptions about the Spanish national character (Sullivan 1983: 4). As literary history became increasingly formalized on both sides of the Atlantic in the nineteenth century, it continued to be conceived as a discipline that shed light on national characteristics. «I have been persuaded that literary history… should be made, like civil history, to give a knowledge of the character of the people to which it relates. I have endeavored, therefore, so to write my account of Spanish literature as to make the literature itself the exponent of the peculiar culture and civilization of the Spanish people», claimed George Ticknor in a letter that accompanied a presentation copy of his signal History of Spanish Literature (1849), the first exclusive treatment of the subject, with six editions over the course of the century (Hillard in Kagan 2002: 106). In discussing Golden Age theater, Ticknor attributes Lope de Vega’s greatness to the way in which «he gave himself up to the leading of the national spirit» (Ticknor 1849: 2.229) in his plays. Yet even though he regards Spain as fanatically religious and characterized by an «over-sensitive honor» (Ticknor 1849: 2.257), he himself looks beyond. Even as he commends a number of other plays for how they channel the national character, Ticknor cannot help but praise a play like El acero de Madrid, which he compares favorably to Molière and in which he praises female agency and the proximity to «the manners of its time» (Ticknor 1849: 2.246-48). Although Ticknor does not reflect on the tension between an immutable national character and the manners of early modern Madrid, for the attentive reader the praise of the fashionable play complicates any claim for an unchanging Spanish character expressed in the national literature.
As Ticknor turns to considering Calderón’s wife-murder plays and the question of honor, he refutes the idea that Spanish sexual morality is «derived from the Arabs» (1849: 2.473), attributing it instead to «ancient Gothic laws» which far predate the Moorish invasion. Strikingly anticipating the recent work of historians who have urged us to reconsider the place of honra in actual social and legal contexts (Taylor 2008), Ticknor argues moreover that only the distance between the reality of early modern Spain and the excesses committed on stage in the name of honor would have protected the comedia from even greater censure than it received. Overall, Ticknor seems attached to his theory of national characters but able to see beyond it to the merits of individual plays, many of which in no way fit his own preconceived notion of a Spanish national character. Recent work on Ticknor’s extensive collaboration with—and dependence on—the Spanish polymath Pascual de Gayangos suggests that this may have influenced the Bostonian’s specific, fine-grained departures from the broad prejudice that he announces at the outset (Heide 2008).
In general, US histories of Spanish literature are less prejudicial than comparative works, even when they do invoke comparisons between Spanish classical theater and other European corpora. Thus Hugo Rennert, in his The Spanish Stage in the Time of Lope de Vega (New York, 1909), argues that «the Spanish comedia, especially as it is represented by three of its greatest writers, Lope de Vega, Alarcon and Calderon [sic], compares very favorably, as regards its moral tone, with the contemporary plays of England, Italy or France» (Rennert 1909: 266). Rennert acknowledges that the same, distinguishing high moral tone may not be found in Tirso de Molina, but notes the censure of the playwright in his own time. Even when Rennert foregrounds the national character of Spanish drama, he does so in order to praise it:
Whatever its subject-matter, whether mythology, history, or legend, all was translated into the Spain of the day; its characters not only spoke Spanish, but they were Spaniards in every vein and fiber. In a word, it was truly national in character, and herein lies one of the chief glories of the Spanish drama, which is shared only by England among the countries of modern Europe (Rennert 1909: 339).
Rennert in no way challenges the idea that Hispanic drama encapsulates and reflects a national identity; he simply valorizes that identity rather than condemning it.
Less nuanced is the treatment of Spain in a comparative early twentieth-century history such as Sheldon Cheney’s The Theater: Three Thousand Years of Drama, Acting, and Stagecraft (1929). Cheney’s chapter on Spain betrays his preconceptions from its very title— «The Chivalrous Theater of Spain». The figure he chooses to move his discussion from Italy to Spain— the vainglorious Capitano of commedia dell’arte, whom he rightly associates with Italian resentment of Spanish invaders (Cheney 1929: 242)—further underscores the chapter’s reliance on hallmarks of the Black Legend. Cheney depicts Spain as having essentially missed out on the Renaissance: it was «too fiercely Catholic to welcome that new freedom of thought», «an organized religion and an artificial code of honor ruling all men’s actions, drama and literature failed to take on that warm glow of humanism so notable elsewhere» (Cheney 1929: 244). Lope, for his part, «purveying to a mass public that demanded sensation, and asked constantly for racial flattery… failed to write any drama that has lived through the years with the best out of the Greek, English, French, and German theatres» (Cheney 1929: 250). If Lope’s plays are not serene or deep enough, Cheney argues, it is because Spain itself was too violent for such reflection (Cheney 1929: 251-252)—life was cheap, murder common. In discussing Calderón, whom he deems deeper and «the greater poet» than Lope (Cheney 1929: 256), Cheney focuses on El médico de su honra, as an illustration of the «over-punctiliousness that excuses even murder, which is so favorite a theme in Spanish drama and romance» (Cheney 1929: 256), and offers the soliloquy of Isabel in the last act of El alcalde de Zalamea to drive home his points about an excessive concern for honor (Cheney 1929: 258).
Even a text focused on Spain, such as Ernest Mérimée’s History of Spanish Literature, translated from the French and expanded by the Berkeley scholar S. Griswold Morley (1930), describes Calderón’s concern for honor as «so Castilian, so castizo» (Mérimée and Morley 1930: 376). Moreover, therein lies his greatness: «His most lasting claim to glory», the authors argue, «is that he was in his time the most perfect representative of the race as the centuries had molded it, the preeminently Spanish poet» (Mérimée and Morley 1930: 382). The authors include a direct citation of Menéndez y Pelayo to support their claim, although no source is given: «Calderón is ancient Spain with all its crossings of light and shadow, of grandeur and defects» (Mérimée and Morley 1930: 382). As this claim attributed to the eminent Spanish philologist suggests, the construction of an exceptional Spain, for better or for worse, was not solely the work of foreigners or Black Legend propagandists: Spaniards themselves manipulated Spanish difference to their advantage.
Unlike Ticknor, who expressed his skepticism about whether the place of honor on the Spanish stage matched historical reality, Mérimée and Morley claim that «nowhere more than at this point did the theater draw directly from contemporary manners, and it is probably because he gave more faithful and energetic expression than anyone else to essentially national passions that Calderón has remained so popular» (Mérimée and Morley 1930: 377). Yet the authors soon reveal their debt to a textual tradition of Spanish stereotypes that has little to do with any specific historical moment, but instead reiterates what is always already known about Spain. Stressing the purported historical precision of Calderón, they claim: «Psychologically his characters scarcely exist; historically they are very exact, so exact that one could compose a commentary on much of his theater with nothing else than the travel notes of Mme. D’Aulnoy» (Mérimée and Morley 1930: 379). Though critics disagree on whether D’Aulnoy, the popular late seventeenth-century author of fairy tales, ever actually visited Spain, they concur that she provides a highly fanciful, literary account of the place. Yet her influential and hugely popular sketches, published in 1690 as Mémoires de la Cour d’Espagne and in 1691 as Relation du voyage d’Espagne align perfectly with a stereotypical conception of Spain that is also privileged in accounts of Spanish theater. Thus R. Foulché-Delbosc, in his introduction to D’Aulnoy, completes a perfect tautological circuit with Mérimée and Morley: «But whatever misstatements and alterations we may observe in Madame D’Aulnoy, the whole air of the Travels is that of the Spanish drama of the seventeenth century and more particularly of the drama of Calderón» (D’Aulnoy 1930: lxx).3
The Calderón-D’Aulnoy circularity reminds us that canonicity privileges and promotes plays that tell us what we have always known, or thought we knew, about Spain. In this sense, the hypercanonicity of Fuenteovejuna, El alcalde de Zalamea, and Calderon’s wife-murder plays, to take some of the most salient examples, confirms the stereotypical conception of a Spain consumed by pundonor, while occluding other versions of Spain that are abundantly present in the corpus, as even Ticknor, malgré lui, recognized. The question then becomes how one might dislodge that canonicity and complicate long-standing prejudices about Spain by promoting plays that present a very different set of concerns. I turn now to a contemporary initiative at UCLA that addresses precisely these goals.
II. Diversifying the classics, or, What Lies beyond Shakespeare?
Although it behooves us as critics to understand where our canons come from and how they are constructed, the transformation of a purely scholarly or textual canon would only get us so far in challenging anti-Spanish prejudices, in that these texts are not part of a broader, public conversation in an Anglo-American context. Conversely, performance might help to dislodge these by now venerable prejudices, and the canon of plays that ensues from them if, instead of rehearsing age-old stereotypes, it could present a more varied—if not completely alternative—vision of Spain.
My own thinking about performance was radically marked by my tenure from 2011 to 2016 as director of the Center for 17/18th-Century Studies and the Clark Memorial Library at UCLA. Located in West Adams, some twelve miles from the main campus, the Clark offers a valuable alternative location for reaching diverse audiences, and its multiple lawns, amphitheater, and marble outdoor reading room provide a wealth of spaces for performance. It became one of my first goals as Director to expand our performance offerings, through an initiative I called ‘Arts on the Grounds.’ This included ‘L.A. Escena,’ a series designed to introduce Los Angeles audiences to the Hispanic theatrical tradition.
The creation of L.A. Escena was inspired by a number of factors: one, Out of the Wings, the British online database of Spanish-language theater for scholars and practitioners that takes seriously the proposition that in order to change literary canons we need to change the canon in repertory; two, the general lack of Hispanic classical theater in LA, a city of over 4 million speakers of Spanish (the main festival of Hispanic classical theater in the US takes place on the US/Mexico border, at Chamizal, Texas, while LA has nothing of the sort), and, three, the trend by well-meaning theatrical companies in Los Angeles, specializing in educational outreach to disadvantaged communities, to hispanicize Shakespeare, with titles such as Romeo and Juliet—A Zoot Suit Musical, or Much Ado about Nothing—Mariachi Style, rather than exposing schoolchildren to the very rich traditions of Hispanic classical theater. As is the case across the U.S., cultural capital is so profoundly bound up in Shakespeare that the most proximate and arguably most appropriate texts through which to give students in Los Angeles, or indeed broader audiences, an appreciation for the arts are neglected. The project gradually matured into what we call ‘Diversifying the Classics,’ an initiative to introduce and promote Hispanic classical theater—in the original, in translation, or in adaptations—in the Los Angeles theater scene and beyond.
Diversifying the Classics is a broad and long-term project, which encompasses five initiatives:
1) the L.A. Escena Performance Series of Hispanic classical theater and adaptations for Los Angeles audiences;
2) a Library of Translated Hispanic Classical Plays, envisioned as a digital resource for theater practitioners;
3) 90 Monologues from Classical Spanish Theater, a bilingual anthology of monologues for actors;
4) Classics in the Classroom, a program to introduce Hispanic classical theater to students via adaptations, the compilation of supporting materials, and connections with K–12 arts educators; and
5) a future Performance Studies Database, listing scholars in the field prepared to guide theater professionals approaching new and underrepresented texts. All materials produced by Diversifying the Classics are open-access, made available on the project website, as they are completed.
At the heart of the project is the translation initiative, which hopes not only to broaden the set of texts available to theatrical practitioners but also productively to complexify the canon of Golden Age plays that we have inherited in an Anglo-American context. As was evident at the 2013 Association for Hispanic Classical Theater conference on «The Comedia in Translation and Performance» held in conjunction with Laurence Boswell’s season of Golden Age plays at the Theatre Royal in Bath, translation continues to play a crucial role in the dissemination of this theatrical tradition beyond Spain itself. At the conference, directors and translators complained about the paucity of available plays, with a few plays translated over and over again while others languish untranslated. The actors’ constant reference to their Shakespearean training as they discussed their experience of working on Lope de Vega or Tirso de Molina, moreover, underscored how deep and wide the familiarity with Shakespeare runs, from school through university through professional training, so that any effort to expand the theatrical canon beyond Shakespeare would have to consider these multiple arenas. In recent years, Spanish companies such as Rakatá, too, have recognized the essential role of contemporary, vernacular translations in promoting Hispanic classical theater in Anglo-American contexts.
In January 2014, stimulated by the great discussions in Bath, I decided to convene graduate students and theater professionals in a translation workshop. The result was the «Working Group on the Comedia in Translation and Performance», which has met since then on a regular schedule during the academic year. It has included up to a dozen people, primarily graduate students from the UCLA department of Spanish and Portuguese, but also actors, writers, directors, and colleagues from other institutions. The initial goal was for the workshop to translate plays that had no published translation, with an eye to engaging theater groups in material that was fresh to them and deliberately crafted for performance. What does this mean, in practice? We decided early on that we would translate every line, every mythological reference, providing annotations as necessary and leaving it up to directors to decide where and what to cut. We aim for a language that is as accessible as possible, while avoiding anachronism. A great advantage of translation in this sense, of course, is that it makes the texts historical proximate, unless one is deliberately translating into ‘Shakespearese.’ (The translated corpus thus bypasses the problems of linguistic distance that seem to vex Shakespeare productions, leading one distinguished US venue, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, to commission translations and adaptations of Shakespeare plays into contemporary English [see link, consulted Oct. 30, 2015]).
Some plays are translated by the working group as a whole, with heavy doses of subsequent editing. Others are translated by individual members of the working group, or by members working in collaboration, and then workshopped by the larger group. When we need to translate an untranslatable pun, or render something that makes no sense in translation, we make a point of preserving the imagery that an actor would be able to work with, such as any clues to physical humor, or sexual innuendo. We decided early on against translating into verse, because while there are certainly some very successful examples, it seemed to us that it would be more difficult for actors in Los Angeles, and even across the US, to work with verse than with prose. It is also the case that the comedia’s highly flexible versification, with different forms for different registers, has no real equivalent in English.
More importantly, we decided early on that we would translate plays that challenged stereotypical understandings of Spain and its theatrical canon. Guided by these principles, the entire group has translated Guillén de Castro’s La fuerza de la costumbre (The Force of Habit) and Lope de Vega’s La noche toledana (A Wild Night in Toledo). I workshopped my translation of Lope’s Mujeres y criados (Women and Servants, Juan de la Cuesta, 2016), while Laura Muñoz and Veronica Wilson workshopped their version of Guillén de Castro’s Los malcasados de Valencia (Unhappily Married in Valencia). We anticipate that we will continue to translate at least one play a year.
We began with La fuerza de la costumbre, which one of the students in the group, Kathryn Renton, had attempted to translate for an earlier research paper (I should note that Dr. Kathleen Jeffs of Gonzaga University has also recently translated and produced the play, although it has not been published). The rudiments of the play have long been known to English-speaking audiences, through Beaumont, Fletcher, and Massinger’s Love’s Cure (published 1647), which bases its plot on Guillén de Castro, yet is far from an actual translation. The fascination of this text for modern audiences, as, arguably, for its first audiences, lies in its incredibly self-aware presentation of the constructedness of gender. The question it poses most insistently is whether gender can be learned and unlearned. Thus Félix and Hipólita, two siblings born of a secret marriage and separated at birth, are brought up in the habits of the opposite gender. Kept close by his mother’s side, Félix is timid and sensitive. Hipólita, trained by her father on the battlefield in Flanders, is fiercely attached to her sword. This is no mere occasional cross-dressing, but a long-term experience of living as the «other» gender. When the family is reunited after twenty years, the father, Don Pedro, insists on making the siblings conform to traditional gender roles. Helped along the way by their respective love interests, the two gradually assume traditional positions, but their journeys expose the limitations of the gender system. One key scene shows the siblings’ discomfort with their newly imposed gender identities, as Hipólita enters teetering precariously on her chapines:
Hip. I swear I cannot manage
a single step.
She trips on her platform shoes and hurls them away.
Hip. How can one be even-headed
when teetering on something so flimsy?
How can a woman,
standing on this cork,
on the verge of falling at every moment,
keep herself from tumbling in the end?
I refuse to wear these shoes,
this dress and this hairpiece—
and to such dubious ends.
D. Pedro. What is it, Hipólita? What’s wrong?
You look very nice.
Hip. I appeal to you, sir.
Rid me of this dress,
of this hairpiece
that smothers my head.
The thinnest strand of it
is a noose around my neck…
(The Force of Habit: 22-23).
For the working group, this play was a revelation for its wry humor, its irony, its strong argument for the force of nurture over nature. It launched extensive discussions about how we came to have a canon of Hispanic classical theater that is earnestly concerned with honor, full of wife-murder and revenge. Clearly, within the enormous archive that is the comedia there are also plenty of plays that cast a skeptical eye on such pieties. Many of the questions that animate the first part of this essay thus emerged from our practice as translators, as we confronted the profound challenge that La fuerza de la costumbre (The Force of Habit) posed to our own habits of thought about the Hispanic classical canon.
Yet, from the moment we sent our translation into the world, via a staged reading at UCLA by our frequent collaborators, Chalk Repertory Theatre, we began to see how complex it might be to assume that the contestatory reading of such a finely balanced play would prevail with audiences. To begin with, Ruth McKee, who directed the staged reading, decided that the character of the father, Don Pedro, sounded bombastic, redundant, and rebarbative, so she decided to cut many of his lines. This intervention, plus the casting of a very appealing actor in the role, immediately made Don Pedro into a far less objectionable character. This threatened to make the play a story about the characters finding their gender destiny—a conservative, reactionary reading that always lurks in the wings, particularly for readers or audiences all too ready to take hetero-happy endings as the last word. For this play this kind of reading is particularly problematic, as it is some sexual business behind a tree between Hipólita and her suitor that finally brings about her transformation. As Hipólita describes it afterwards to her mother:
We wrestled for a while, both of us determined to win, but dew on grass is as slippery as soap… I slipped, stumbled, and fell down at my enemy’s feet. And that was nothing, but after I fell he—oh mother—he did what I could never have imagined. He shook my soul, transformed my entire being, and he said: «So that you can see that you’re a woman, for you are». Well can I believe it! And now all I can do is cry because he’s gone and I love him, and so, dear mother, I am indeed a woman (The Force of Habit: 130-131).
Is this a rape, or a first, consensual sexual experience narrated through the generic parameters of decorum? It is very difficult to say. But it makes the adaptation and broader circulation of this text especially challenging, particularly as we envision it reaching school audiences in future stages of the Diversifying the Classics project.
Most tellingly, the complexities of La fuerza de la costumbre underscore the intricacy of the larger project: it is not a simple matter of recuperating Spain, or of a white legend to replace a black one. Instead, the texts we are translating are complex and multivalent—they deserve their status as classics precisely because they offer themselves up for multiple and at times contradictory readings. As we expand our corpus of translations, the texts themselves refute any simplistic or stereotypical understandings of Spain, offering instead a vibrant and complex vision of gender and class relations and of the performativity of identity in urban spaces, as well as a generalized skepticism towards social pieties of all sorts. Making canons is no easy matter, of course, but our hope is at least to promote these texts as an alternative vision of Spain, one that may well appeal to modern theater practitioners given its degree of female agency and its remarkably self-aware sophistication.
Diversifying the Classics breaks down for all the scholars involved the lines between arts outreach, performance, and research, encouraging us to expand the theatrical canon that we study, teach, and continue to canonize. In addition to the patriotic Lope of the plays discussed elsewhere in the volume LA LEYENDA NEGRA EN EL CRISOL DE LA COMEDIA. El teatro del Siglo de Oro frente a los estereotipos antihispánicos (2016), we find the irreverent and wry Lope of Mujeres y criados or La noche toledana. The move beyond Lope to study, translate, and produce playwrights such as Guillén de Castro or even Tirso de Molina (so problematic for Rennert), who are relatively neglected, also promises do much to right our sense of the comedia’s true range and possibilities. As the project evolves, so does our critical sense of the transformation of texts through performance, and, crucially, of the limitations of established canons, theatrical and otherwise.
I am grateful to Laura Muñoz for her research assistance with this essay.
Aulnoy, Marie Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville d’, Travels into Spain, ed. R. Foulché-Delbosc, London, Routledge, 1930.
— Relation Du Voyage D’Espagne, ed. Maria S. Seguin, Paris, Desjonquères, 2005.
Castro, Guillén de, The Force of Habit, in <http://diversifyingtheclassics.humanities.ucla.edu>.
Cheney, Sheldon, The Theatre: Three Thousand Years of Drama, Acting and Stagecraft, New York, Longmans, Green and Co, 1929.
Darby, Trudi L. and Alexander Samson, «Cervantes on the Jacobean Stage», in The Cervantean Heritage: Reception and Influence of Cervantes in Britain, ed. by J. A. G. Ardila, London, Legenda, 2009, pp. 206-22.
Dibdin, Charles. A Complete History of the English Stage: Introduced by a … Review of the Asiatic, the Grecian, the Roman, the Spanish, the Italian, the Portuguese, the German, the French, and Other Theatres and … Biographical Tracts and Anecdotes, vol. I, London, 1800, Digital text: <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001011978>.
Dryden, John, An Evening’s Love, Or, the Mock-Astrologer: Acted at the Theatre-Royal by His Majesties Servants, London, 1671, Digital text: <http://gateway.proquest.com/openurlctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&res_id=xri:eebo&rft_id=xri:eebo:image:51131:3>.
— Of Dramatic Poesie: An Essay, London, 1668.
Fuchs, Barbara, The Poetics of Piracy: Emulating Spain in English Literature, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.
Hart, Thomas R. Jr., «George Ticknor’s History of Spanish Literature», in Richard Kagan, ed., Spain in America: The Origins of Hispanism in the United States, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 2002, pp. 106-121.
Heide, Claudia, «Más ven cuatro ojos que dos: Gayangos and Anglo-
American Hispanism», in Pascual de Gayangos: A Nineteenth-Century Spanish Arabist, ed. by Cristina Alvarez Millán, Claudia Heide, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2008, 132-158.
Hillard, George S., Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor, 2 vols., Boston, James R. Osgood, 1876, pp. 2.253-54.
Jones, Richard Foster, The Triumph of the English Language: A Survey of Opinions Concerning the Vernacular from the Introduction of Printing to the Restoration, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1953.
Lamson, Roy, and Hallett Smith, The Golden Hind: An Anthology of Elizabethan Prose and Poetry, New York, Norton, 1942.
Lewes, George Henry, The Spanish Drama: Lope de Vega and Calderón, London, C. Knight & Co., 1846, in <https://archive.org/ stream/spanishdramalope00leweuoft#page/n11/mode/2up>.
Loftis, John, The Spanish Plays of Neoclassical England, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1973.
Mérimée, Ernest, and S. G. Morley, A History of Spanish Literature, New York, H. Holt and Co., 1930.
Rennert, Hugo, The Spanish Stage in the Time of Lope de Vega, New York, 1909.
Samson, Alexander, «1623 and the Politics of Translation», in The Spanish Match: Prince Charles’s Journey to Madrid, 1623, ed. Alexander Samson, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2006, pp. 91-106.
— «“Last Thought upon a Windmill”?: Cervantes and Fletcher», in The Cervantean Heritage: Reception and Influence of Cervantes
in Britain, London, Legenda, 2009, pp. 223-33.
Smith, Dawn L, «El teatro clásico español en Inglaterra», La puesta
en escena del teatro clásico, ed. José María Ruano de la Haza, Madrid, Compañía Nacional de Teatro Clásico, 1992, Cuadernos de Teatro Clásico 8, pp. 299-309.
Sullivan, Henry W., Calderón in the German Lands and Low Countries: His Reception and Influence, 1654-1980, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983.
Taylor, Scott K., Honor and Violence in Golden Age Spain, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2008.
Ticknor, George, History of Spanish Literature, London, John Murray, 1849.
1. The effects of the Black Legend are felt in performance as well as in scholarly contexts. Although she does not elaborate, Dawn L. Smith claims, in a survey of the very recent turn to productions of the comedia in England, «La comedia del Siglo de Oro fue una víctima más de la tristemente famosa Leyenda Negra nacida en el siglo xvi, que tanto deformó el punto de vista británico sobre España» (1992: 300).↩
2. Even a broadly sympathetic critic such as George Henry Lewes recurs to the metaphor: «It is not enough to say that our own writers pillaged [Spanish sources] without scruple. To express the obligation truly, we must say that the European drama is saturated with Spanish influence» (Lewes 1846: 6).↩
3. In her edition, María Susana Seguin cites a similar circularity in Hyppolite Taine’s reception of D’Aulnoy: «d’ordinaire, on ne connaît l’Espagne que par son drame, ses romans picaresques et sa peinture. Quand sur de tels documents, on essaie de se figurer la vie réelle, on hésite et on n’ose conclure, des pareilles moeurs semblent fabuleuses. Après avoir lu cet ouvrage, on les voit, on les touche […]; ni les livres ni les tableaux n’avaient menti; les personnages de Lope, de Calderón, de Murillo et de Zurbaran couraient les rues» (D’Aulnoy 2005: 8).↩