From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
18.1 (1998): 46-70.
Copyright © 1998, The Cervantes Society of America
||BARBARA A. SIMERKA|
review of generic approaches to Cervantes's La Numancia over the last quarter-century indicates that this play can be seen as a microcosm of the history of genre theory and the comedia.1 As I will show, the generic categories have been based on the identification of specific formal characteristics, sometimes linked to ethical considerations, in a practice that is the distant offspring of Aristotle's Poetics. Perhaps as a result of this long-standing tradition of linking genre theory and intrinsic methodologies, scholars working in the emerging field of cultural studies have neglected the concept of genre in their examinations of early modern Spanish drama. This article seeks to bridge the gap between cultural studies and genre theory. Through an examination of recent developments in the revision of
1 I would
like to thank Diana De Armas Wilson, Frederick De Armas, and the readers
for Cervantes whose suggestions have greatly strengthened this article.
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marxist aesthetics,2 and of the critical
discourses used by Hispanists to speak about genre, I will develop a theory
and practice of literary history that collapses the two binaries, literature
/ history and form / ideology, that initially appear to be obstacles to the
creation of a practice which studies how genres operate as social formations
and among social formations (Bennett 108). I will then use this materialist
genre theory to study the way the deployment of genre conventions
in La Numancia and in Arauco domado contributes to the discourses
of Christian imperialist ideology in early modern
The quotation in the title refers to Philip Mason's observations concerning the need for an ideology that permits both the colonizer and the colonized to accept imperial power relations as the natural order; the generic indeterminacy that is the result of the combination of tragic, comic, and most importantly, anti-epic discourses in these two plays is an important component in the denaturalization of early modern Spain's imperial power relations. (Pieterse 252). In Literature Among Discourses, Claudio Guillén refers to the early modern picaresque novel as an example of a counter genre, the anti-romance, because the unheroic adventures of a person of low birth function as the negative image of the chivalric hero and his martial achievements. The inversion of heroic values that Guillén identifies is not limited to the picaresque novel, of course. In addition to Don Quijote's deflation of chivalric ideals, there exists a large body of anti-heroic sixteenth and seventeenth century European poetry and drama which deploys the epic as a counter genre. In my studies of the seventeenth century renovatio of Homer and Virgil, I have identified two variants of counter epic: the burlesque epic and the anti-epic. The anti-epic represents martial experiences in a serious tone, but emphasizes the high cost of war and depicts Christian Imperialism as barbaric. The best known anti-epic work is Ercilla's monumental Araucana. It has been well documented, particularly in David
accordance with many critics who utilize a materialist approach to the study
of culture, I do not capitalize adjectives such as marxist, gramscian, etc.
(see Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, preface. and ed. Terry
Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, ix )
3 Tony Bennett (186) uses the term deployment to describe his concept of literature as a field of social practices which is set apart from other practices by the manner in which texts are used in specific historical circumstances, rather than by their aesthetic qualities. I will use this concept to describe comedia genres according to their social uses instead of their formal characteristics.
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Quint's masterful Epic and Empire (1993), that this text is as much
a critique as a hymn of praise to the conquest of Chile. This study will
focus on Lope de Vega's dramatic revision of that poem, Arauco domado,
and the Cervantine play La destrucción de Numancia. I will
argue that, as anti-epic texts, they play a significant role in the cultural
history of the early modern age. These counter generic works provide one
of many forms of discursive mediation concerning the role of the martial
aristocracy in the post-feudal world, serving as an oppositional discourse
through their critique of the deployment of epic values by that class in
order to maintain its dominant position in the hierarchies of power.
In arguing for the potentially oppositional nature of these counter generic texts, I follow Raymond Williams's (1972) practice of epochal analysis, a process which recognizes the complex interactions between movements and tendencies both within and beyond a specific and effective dominance (120). Williams asserts that conventional, monolithic views of history often fail to recognize the significance of competing discourses within a period, and tend to grant signification only to the expression of the dominant voice (121-22). He identifies residual and emergent elements as the two formations which are most often overlooked. In the case of studies of early modern epic, I believe that the importance of the emergent anti-martial discourses has not been adequately examined, resulting in a failure to recognize that the traditional epic is, in Williams's terminology, a residual discourse one which can no longer adequately express the lived experiences of the culture which produces it rather than the product of a securely dominant formation.
In the following sections of this paper, I will examine the ways that the concept of genre has traditionally been used to explain La Numancia and Arauco domado as plays which support the orthodox view of imperialism, and will suggest an alternative procedure, grounded in the practices and perceptions of materialist literary history outlined here.
Ever since Aristotle's Poetics, genre theory has been a prominent tool for the analysis of western literature. Genre theory has also been a central component of classic marxist literary theory. Like marxism's view of literature as a whole, its conception of genres makes an
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important contribution to the field by denying them an immanent, trans-historical
nature. But this vision of genres is also flawed by the positing of changes
in social reality as the base or referent for the superstructure activity
of genre transformation (Bennett 78). I do not mean to imply that there exists
a natural or immanent quality in either literature or theory to explain the
ubiquity of genre studies; rather, it is likely that this emphasis on the
marking of boundaries is a component of the binary structure that, according
to post-structuralists, has been dominant in western epistemology. In this
study, I will emphasize that the polyphony of generic discourses in these
two texts is an indicator of the generic indeterminacy that often marks anti-epic
discourse, which David Quint terms the epic of the losers (46).
Studies of the generic status of La Numancia often demonstrate binary patterns of thought in their attempts to establish both boundaries and similarities in order to justify single-genre labels. Many critics have sought to place La Numancia within the boundaries of tragedy by demonstrating similarities to classical Athenian theater or to sixteenth-century pre-Lopean drama rather than to the comedia nueva. It is important to note that the generic status of the play is seldom the focus of this criticism; it is generally mentioned in passing, as part of the process of situating the play in its literary historical context. Jean Canavaggio, for example, identifies the speeches by the Río Duero and España as the voices of destiny, like the Greek chorus, thus linking the play to Athenian drama by evoking the concept of unavoidable fate (46). J. L. Alborg also categorizes the play as tragic because of its affinities with classical theater, despite the nationalist rather than Greco-Roman setting, because the plot is developed en el cauce de los modelos y teorías greco-latinos (559). Angela Belli compares La Numancia to Euripidean tragedies, such as The Trojan Women and Hecuba, in which there is collective rather than individual suffering (121-23). In these plays, according to Belli, the tragic error of the suffering collective is its misjudgment of the craftiness of the enemy, which is simply a mask for barbarity (126). Raymond MacCurdy also uses the concept of collective tragedy to distinguish Cervantes's Numancia from Rojas Zorrilla's seventeenth-century revision (118). For these critics, the tragic status and the orthodox tone of the Cervantine work is never in doubt; the task they have set for themselves is to identify which of the tragic models available to him Cervantes utilized, often in order to improve the reputation of a
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play which, although revered by the German Romantics, had subsequently been
judged as deficient (Casalduero, 1966, 259; Friedman, 2-3).
Joaquín Casalduero creates a new literary period, el primer Barroco, in order to set off the Cervantine dramatic corpus from both Renaissance drama and the comedia nueva; he identifies Senecan drama as its most significant predecessor (13). Despite the assertion that, because of its belief in free will, Christian drama contains pasión rather than tragedy, he nonetheless continues to refer to La Numancia by the singular label. In his concluding description of the play's sentido y forma, Casalduero insists that el tema muerte-vida acentúa la unicidad del sentido pagano-cristiano de la tragedia en sus dos elementos: caída y levantamiento (282). Despite identifying three sets of contradictions which have the potential to undermine the play's tragic status, and which point to indeterminacy, the critic is unwilling to consider a different generic designation.
Critics who study La Numancia in the context of sixteenth-century Spanish tragedies also undermine their own generic designation, often by referring to the presence of other genres. Francisco Ruiz-Ramón classifies the play as la tragedia de los sitiados, but, of course, that is only one half of the plot (130). He responds to critical accusations that the play's theme is more appropriate to the epic than to drama by asserting that Cervantes has dramatized an epic theme; however, dramatization may take on many forms other than tragedy (131). In a chapter entitled La Numancia within structural patterns of sixteenth-century Spanish tragedy Edward Friedman points to the superiority of Cervantes's tragic dramaturgy over that of his immediate predecessors, because La Numancia is more unified (59). But Friedman also likens Cervantes' superposition of art on history to the chronicle, a decidedly non-tragic genre (35). Angel Valbuena Prat compares the Cervantine play to Lobo Lasso's La destrucción de Constantinopla in order to classify it as a Renaissance tragedy. However, he describes the tragic formula of dolor and heroismo in these plays as una mezcla penetrante (51). The reference is to a mixture of themes, but such a mixture also has generic implications; the critic concedes that the work of Lobo Lasso is often novelesca (53). The novel is, of course, the least determinate of literary genres.
Alfredo Hermenegildo points out that in the Quijote Cervantes refers to La Numancia in the context of the Renaissance tragedies of Argensola (45). Hermenegildo concurs, although with different
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criteria and for different purposes: where Cervantes sought to demonstrate
that his drama, like Argensola's, was free of the disparates
of the comedia nueva, the critic seeks to link the tragic components
of the two authors' works by pointing out a common plot pattern which is
explicitly political. Hermenegildo writes that, through the critique de
algunos reyes y de algunos linajes, these two dramatists created a
form of tragedy in which se intentaban destruir dos de las bases
principales sobre las que se asentaba la sociedad cristiana vieja (46)
(The way in which Hermenegildo tames this apparently subversive
representation of the dominant ideology will be examined in the latter half
of this article).
In more recent approaches to this play, criticism often continues to focus on Aristotelian categories such as unity or the tragic hero. Gwynne Edwards focuses on demonstrating that because there is structural unity in the play, it can be called a tragedy; past generations of Aristotelian critics had posited not unified as the criterion for denying the play the label of tragedy. Edwards emphasizes structural unity as the force which actually creates the work's tragic spirit, in contradiction of Casalduero and Valbuena Prat, who had argued that the unity emerges from that spirit (293, 301). In order to claim the designation of tragedy for the play, Frederick de Armas addresses Arnold Reichenberger, whose not statements are based on the belief that tragedy may not have a happy ending. De Armas seeks to demonstrate that Scipio is the tragic hero, so that the supposed absence a catastrophe is made present (36-37).
Several critics emphasize the epic component in this play. Carroll Johnson and Jean Canavaggio have pointed out the parallels to Virgil's Aeneid, because both works narrate the phoenix-like birth of a new civilization out of the ashes of a ruined city (Johnson 311 , Canavaggio 43). In addition, Emilie Bergmann writes that the timeless nature of the work, which combines projections of the future and reflections on the past through the use of allegorical figures and prophecies, is more suited to a narrative genre like the epic than to drama (88). And, in a reconsideration of his earlier article which focused on Scipio as a tragic hero, Frederick de Armas has recently demonstrated the similarities between La Numancia and Lucan's epic, the Pharsalia, which also features scenes of necromancy and prophecy. However, all of these critics except De Armas conceive of the play's epic dimensions as an element of its affirmation of the status quo, because they have in mind what Quint calls the epic of the winners rather than a more problematic text like the Pharsalia. Indeed, it is De Armas's choice of this unconventional epic as a point
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of comparison that enables him to identify the oppositional elements of La
One issue that must be explored is critical reluctance to use the concept of generic mixture as a way to illuminate difficult texts. Nancy Klein Maguire writes that one possible explanation is that a mixed genre, such as tragicomedy, escapes the binary compulsion that dominates western approaches to knowledge (6). To privilege indeterminacy, an even more radical form of generic experimentation, is to perform an act of deconstruction on this particular example of binary thought in order to allow this generic phenomenon to escape from its marginal position in seventeenth-century drama study. Another relevant factor is that the mixing of genres was discouraged by the two most influential classic authorities, Aristotle and Horace. In the period this article addresses, the two ancient authorities are often mentioned by those who would condemn a text that incorporates more than one genre as a mongrel (Sydney) a minotaur (Lope de Vega, El arte nuevo de estudiar comedias l. 176) or a bastard in need of legitimization (Yoch, in Maguire 115). This peculiar vocabulary highlights the fact that violating or worse, eliminating generic boundaries is perceived as an act whose consequences have implications outside the realm of literature; it is a transgression related to inappropriate reproductive behavior, which therefore poses a threat to social hierarchies. As we have seen, modern criticism often follows the lead of these classical and early modern theoreticians.
Paul Lewis Smith and Frederick de Armas move beyond this pattern of binary thought, and specifically point out the multi-generic dimension of La Numancia. In his rejection of de Armas's identification of Scipio as a tragic hero, Smith asserts that Scipio's fall is just; therefore the play is not wholly tragic, but also tragicomic (18-19). Still, the designation tragicomedy is not entirely sufficient, in part because it does not take into account the anti-epic features of the play. The linkage of comedy and comfort provides an additional complication, because some classical Greek tragedies did have happy endings, a practice which Aristotle approved, although it was not his preferred mode of narration. Frederick De Armas' recent article, cited previously, offers a model for genre study because it demonstrates convincingly the many similarities between the Cervantine work and Lucan's epic poem, but does not seek to reduce the drama to a single genre. Instead, De Armas reaffirms the parallels between La Numancia and classical tragedy that he had demonstrated in an earlier article, and concludes that the
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work is both epic and tragic. I would argue that the generic hallmark
of La Numancia, and to a lesser extent of Arauco domado, is
precisely the lack of any identifiable generic dominant, for
the anti-epic features constitute the breakdown of one generic system without
offering another to replace it. James Parr has argued that for
comedias whose generic designations provide a critical quandary because
of the juxtaposition in the final scenes of death and marriage
the hallmarks of tragedy and comedy the search for a generic
dominant should be abandoned; the juxtaposition should
be the focus of generic analysis (159). In La Numancia and Arauco
domado, the combination of several genres results in the even
more complex phenomenon which I have termed generic indeterminacy.
This claim of indeterminacy is similar to that which post-structuralist criticism
asserts for textual meaning as a whole, in that it validates the significance
of a lack of closure. In these two plays, and particularly in the final scenes,
events are described in terms which demonstrate ideological faultlines through
the deployment of conflicting generic terms which remain unresolved. I will
show that in these two texts the lack of a generic dominant, and the presence
of generic indeterminacy, makes a significant contribution to the polyphonic
scrutiny of Imperialism.
Although some of the studies cited here include
references to other social formations, and to their interaction with the
drama of the period (usually in order to argue that Cervantes was an ardent
supporter of Spanish imperialism), the emphasis is on an intertextuality
that is limited to literary texts: Paul Lewis Smith compares La Numancia
to Cinthio's tragicomedies, de Armas shows the parallels to Aeschylus'
Persians and Lucan's Pharsalia, Belli highlights the similarities
to Euripides' The Trojan Women, and Reichenberger attempts to narrow
the field even further by arguing for the uniqueness of the
comedia among discourses. I would like to suggest that materialist
versions of genre theory, grounded in the conviction that literary studies
are most valuable when literary texts cease to be considered a privileged
and unique discourse, can provide a useful supplement.
In Outside Literature, Tony Bennett argues that the task of genre study is not to define genres, but rather to examine the composition and functioning of generic systems in order to define the boundaries which separate these systems in terms of particular, socially
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circumscribed fields of textual uses and effects (112, 105). Bennett
also emphasizes the importance of studying literary texts in the context
of other types of writing, and of other social processes, citing Leonard
Tennenhouse's Shakespearean study, Power on Display, as a model. Bennett
highlights the power of Tennenhouse's diachronic practice, in which dramatic
representations of the monarchy are studied in the context of royal
speeches or proclamations, [of] ledger reports and parliamentary reports,
rather than [of] earlier or later moments in the evolution of drama,
so that the organization of the system of generic differences
conceived as a differentiated field of social uses may be achieved
(110-11). The social uses that Bennett lists include nation-formation,
class-formation and guides for rulers. It is my contention that a superior
practice of comedia study includes both forms of discourse, dramatic
and synchronic as well as political and diachronic, in order to examine a
play's interactions with the other social practices of its time. Bennett's
emphasis on non-dramatic texts runs the risk of privileging history
over literature, a practice he had condemned in a previous chapter
(41-43). Thus, my examination of La Numancia will place the work not
only in the context of the political and theological debates of the period
concerning the treatment of native Americans and the definitions of just
causes for wars, but will also examine the theatrical context in which the
play appears. I have found that a comparison to Lope de Vega's self-defined
tragicomedy, Arauco domado, is most useful for the study of dramatic
representations of imperialist ideology. In this examination, the terms
anti-epic, tragedy and comedy will often appear to signify genre in the
pigeon-holing manner that this has paper has criticized. That is because
I will examine the way the texts themselves, under the influence of the period's
conception of genres, assign generic meaning to specific textual events in
a manner that resembles formalism. However, my use of generic designations,
to describe the ways these texts themselves combine genres, will not duplicate
this pattern, but instead will provide an analysis of the way that the absence
of generic closure is a potentially subversive response to, and an influence
upon, Christian expansionist discourse.
Jan Nederveen Pieterse points out that an examination of the parallels between nation building (the Reconquista) and empire building (the Conquest) is relevant to the study of Spanish imperialism (132). The new world encomienda system of labor recruitment conforms to the pattern set during the peninsular Reconquista, where land grants to military leaders included rights over the inhabitants of the land (Pieterse 133). In both campaigns, military victory was
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followed by the development of an explanation for the subsequent power relations. Pieterse cites Stanley and Barbara Stein and Julio Caro Baroja to assert that the Renaissance preoccupation with purity of blood the absence of Islamic or Jewish ancestors and a focus on Spain's Gothic origins, as seen in La Numancia, were the ideological precursors to the discourses concerning European superiority over Amerindians represented in Arauco domado. These developments are, according to Pieterse, a carry-over from the civilization / barbarism binary which dates back to antiquity (240-43). And, in all of these cases, we can see that this binary produces race, which is essentially a social category, an expression of social relations . . . namely, unequal social relations (227). These discourses are part of the process through which, according to Pieterse,
a temporary virtue has been obtained by virtue of uneven development, whether of a military nature or a combination of political and economic circumstances, and these differentials of development are masked and mystified as differences of descent. (252)
Pieterse concludes that the determining factor in the production of racial
or ethnic categories is struggle (228). It is significant that La
Numancia contributes to the mystification of the status quo through
its elegiac representation of the heroic godos, but also
problematizes the arrogancia of the Roman imperialists. It is
also relevant that Arauco domado, which according to Glen Dille is
one of less than a dozen early modern plays dealing with the Conquest (out
of a corpus of hundreds), represents a native civilization which had
not yet been domado, which was still a site of struggle
at the moment of the play's production (1).
Carroll Johnson, Willard King, Francisco Ruiz-Ramón and Frederick de Armas are among the Hispanists who have begun, in the last twenty years, to recover the subversive possibilities in these two works, which had long been viewed as enthusiastic affirmations of imperial ambition. 4
However, these studies are only a beginning, their potential impact muted by the contexts in which subversion is
for example: Ruiz-Ramón, p. 129; Belli, p. 128; Correa p. 283; Shivers,
p. 14. Casalduero has even criticized 19th and 20th century theatrical revivals
which deformed the original by using it in the explicitly political
context of the Napoleonic siege and the Civil War (p. 86). The critical tendency
to find affirmation of the status quo in comedias is not limited
to La Numancia; see also David Lanoue on the hegemonic representation
of Imperial mythology in Calderón's Roman plays, p. 92, and José
Maravall's overview of theater and society in the Golden Age.
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placed. King writes that the play is not a simple exaltation
of empire, instead, in the compassion, understanding and respect with
which it views both colony and empire . . . this early play already
shows the unmistakable stamp of the Cervantine mind (217). Here, King
contains the power of the questioning of imperial policy in two different
fashions; first by pairing subversion and affirmation as an essential,
inseparable pair and later by placing this already weakened form of subversion
in the controlling context of authorial intention. The result is a glorification
of a Romantic vision of genius and creativity, in which the power of the
oppressed voice is reduced to paying homage to the mind which
Carroll Johnson also emphasizes the ambiguity in Cervantes's representation it even appears in his title. Johnson repeats King's other containing movement, in his assertion that, because of this ambiguity,
Una lectura correcta, en el sentido de establecer definitivamente la superioridad de una interpretación sobre la otra, queda así imposibilitada. Precisamente, creo yo, como quiso Cervantes. (316)
Similarly, Bruce Wardropper remarks that Cervantes
scrupulously presents both sides of any question (218). Alfredo
Hermenegildo's observations concerning the apparent political criticism in
La Numancia, cited earlier, are not granted subversive power because
they are reduced to manifestations of Cervantes's psychological make-up.
Hermenegildo links the author to the moriscos and todos aquellos
que no forman parte del nucleo sagrado constitutivo; Cervantes is
otro Numantino (50, 123). For Hermenengildo, as for the others
cited here, the political elements are ambiguous; son las claves
interpretativas de la intencionalidad del autor (52). The valuable
insights of these critics are thus rendered unusable for progressive historical
criticism by the privileging of closure and unity through the structural
device of authorial intention, and by the implication that these texts constitute
isolated cases of social critique from the pens of uniquely visionary writers,
rather than one component of a debate that was carried out in many different
In his study of Arauco domado, Ruiz Ramón, like Johnson and King, argues against the earlier generation of critics who interpreted the New World plays as crude propaganda for imperialist policies (230). Unlike King and Johnson, his study does not include non-literary texts; it is purely formalist. His approach is similar to that of the other two critics in that he emphasizes the ambiguity of the
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representation of empire in a play donde resonaba el orgullo de la
empresa acometida y, al mismo tiempo, una insobornable conciencia de culpa
(246). In addition, this observation is made in the context of a universalizing
view of el gran oximorón esencial al teatro en la sociedad
occidental . . . desenmascarar enmascarando y vice versa
(247, emphasis mine ). Here, the eternal nature of the theater is the force
which tames subversion through its double role as the celebrator of the dominant
ideology and as la función catártico-conjuradora
All of the critics cited here take for granted a conception of Art, in the form of the genius author or the unchanging theater, which neutralizes the potentially radical implications of granting meaning to the questioning of the imperial project. It is important to note that the King and Johnson articles appeared in the late 1970s, just prior to the emergence of the new forms of historical study, which problematized the study of literature / history. Ruiz-Ramón's article, written ten years later, must exclude history entirely in order to read subversion without entering into the territory where new historicists and materialists now wage a war of words concerning the relative power of subversion and containment. Frederick de Armas's thought-provoking comparison of anti-Imperialist discourses in Cervantes and Lucan is the most promising of these studies, in that he does not seek to neutralize the oppositional discourses identified. However, because representations of ideology are not the focus of the article, these ideas are not developed.
Arauco domado has not received much critical attention, but the work that has been done to date is similarly limited. In Glen Dille's study of Arauco domado, delivered at an MLA session entitled New Historicism and the Comedia, Dille begins by noting that Lope's play does offer many passages that seem to question Spanish motives and advocate Amerindian liberty (4, emphasis added). He attributes all critical attention to this topic to a wish to dissociate [Lope] from his nation's perceived colonial sins (6). Dille utilizes the concept of textual unity as another building block in his argument against the significance of the subversive elements of Arauco domado. He rejects Francisco Ruiz-Ramón's assertion that the desire for freedom expressed by the Amerindians is meaningful with the contention that a careful reading of the entire text reveals that the ubiquitous metaphor of the Spanish yoke appears just as often as Araucan vows to escape the yoke (6). Dille also cites the final scene, in which the the text gives no sign that such yoking is anything but
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reasonable (7). However, the assumption that valid interpretations should produce a unified text has been rendered questionable by much recent theory (Easthope 15-18). Dollimore states that to see the final argument as a cancellation of earlier transgression requires
inappropriate notions of authorial intention, character utterance, and textual unity, (all three notions privileging what is finally said as more truthful than what went before) (1986, 70).
Thus, in seeking textual unity Dille violates a tenet of the new historicism
he claims to practice. In the very same introduction to Political
Shakespeare that Dille uses to support his contention regarding the
comedia as a voice for the status quo, Dollimore writes that
revised historical criticisms of the drama of this period focus on three
aspects of culture: consolidation, subversion and containment,
and observes that within materialist criticisms, of which new historicism
is one branch, there exist important differences . . . between
those who emphasize the process of containment and those who seek to discover
resistances to it (1985, 11). Dille cites only those parts of the
introduction that support his view, in effect censoring the debate among
new historicisms, and weakening his own position by failing to address the
debate in which his work is situated.
Dille goes against another convention of new historicism in dismissing the importance of the large body of non-literary writings during the period that questioned the compatibility of Christianity and imperialism. Dille does not dispute this idea; instead he ignores it in order to claim that, although
influential Spanish intellectuals . . . may have had doubts about the legitimacy of the methods and practices of imperial expansionism, there were few Spaniards . . . who totally rejected the propriety of European presence there and the benefits accruing to the Other. (8)
It is not necessary that a populace totally reject the dominant ideology in order for alternate belief systems to have an impact on a society; once again I refer to Dollimore citing Raymond Williams: the representations of opposition and struggle are important not only in themselves, but as indicative of what the hegemonic process has in practice to work to control (1985, 14). Thus, even the representation of subversions that are subsequently subdued in the text is meaningful for the culture which views them and for scholars studying those cultures. In his paper, Dille uses the theories of those new historicists who argue that subversion within texts is always already contained in conjunction with new critical ideas concerning
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the textual unity and the primacy of the literary text in order to produce
a reading which refuses meaning both to the period's debates concerning the
legitimacy of Imperialism and to dramatic representation of that debate.
An examination of the intellectuals Dille dismisses is an important
component of a materialist reading of these two plays, and is central to
identification of the anti epic component of the plays.
Politicians and theologians alike debated the validity of Spain's imperial policies. The faction of advisors to Philip II headed by the Duke of Alba was strongly Castillian and nationalist in its view, favoring an aggressive military both abroad and in Castilla's relations with the other Spanish provinces. The other group, led by the Prince of Eboli, preferred the more moderate approach developed by Furió Ceriol, which advocated negotiations with the Netherlands and the preservation of the rights of the individual provinces. Philip II allowed Alba six years in which to try to subdue the rebellious Protestant lands by force before sending in a member of the Eboli group to seek reconciliation in 1573. Unfortunately, this diplomatic effort was undermined by the inability of the King to control his troops, who were not being paid regularly, resulting in the sack of the city of Antwerp and a total breakdown in negotiations. Tensions between Spain and the Netherlands, and among royal advisors, persisted for the rest of the century (Elliott 1970, 261-64). There followed a period of relative calm under Philip III and Lerma, who sought to alleviate Spain's financial problems through truces with the Dutch, French, and English. However, the reign of Philip IV and Olivares witnessed a return of relatively unsuccessful Iberian militarism in the 1620s, whose eventual consequences included not only a decline of Spain's much-valued reputación, but also the permanent loss of Portugal, and twelve years of independence for Catalonia (Elliott 1989, 116-123). The resultant doubts about the validity of Imperialism extended to a questioning of involvement in the Indies; by 1631 the decrease in silver imported and the costs of defending Spanish interests against the encroachments of the British and Dutch caused even Olivares to describe the New World territories as more of a liability than a benefit (Elliott 1989, 25-26). These plays thus represent the tension between competing visions of Spain's foreign policy in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and also contribute to that debate. The dramatic representation of military activity as unjust, barbaric, and unchristian thus constitutes both participation in socio-political debates and also an anti-epic literary discourse.
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Furió Ceriol's writings were part of
a dialogue conducted through political treatises that were called
guides, dials, or mirrors for princes.
Angelo Di Salvo writes that these pamphlets, in reaction to Machiavelli's
political theories, advocate virtue and justice rather than ragion di
stato for Christian rulers (43-46). Thus, discussions of imperial policy
were conducted within the framework of ethical as well as strategic
considerations. In addition, the positive portrayal of native Americans in
the writings of Bartolomé de las Casas and in Guevara was a factor
in this discourse. The validity of imperialism was only one portion of a
larger issue debated in these guides and by the theologians of the period:
how to justify the initiation of war by a Christian nation. Fox Morcillo
sanctioned war to secure peace, or to enlarge the republic, while
Antonio de Guevara's Dial inveighs against all wars of conquest
(Di Salvo 51, 57). Vitoria, Molina, and Suárez are prominent among
the theologians addressing this question. All three were in agreement that
barbarism, differences of religion, extension of empire and personal
profit were not sufficient justifications for waging war (Hamilton 142).
The entire range of viewpoints can be heard in Arauco domado. There is support for Furió Ceriol and Fox Morcillo's definition of morally defensible conquest in Rebolledo's joyous announcement in the opening scene that Don García is coming a domar a Chile y a la gente bárbara que en Arauco se derrama. ( The double meaning of derrama: geographically located or spilling blood is particularly significant.) García's confirmation that his twin goals are ensanchar la fe de Dios and reducir y sujetar / . . . esta tierra y este mar / para que Filipe tenga / vasallos a mandar . . . also follows their line of reasoning. (Act I).
In these two plays, war is represented in connection with two genres: as epic in the sense that the play celebrates the heroism attained in battle, and as tragedy, in its haunting evocation of the price of conquest. It is this combination which is the hallmark of the anti epic genre. Showing the human face of war has been a popular technique in anti epic films of the post Viet Nam era; it is equally effective for Lope and Cervantes. A positive representation of the besieged nation is also a necessary element, so that its defeat conveys a tragic tone. Ruiz Ramón indicates two key scenes which humanize the Amerinidians in Arauco domado by allowing them to use European discourses. Early in Act I, the Araucanian ruler and his wife are shown bathing together in a lake. Ruiz Ramón observes that the amorous dialogue is reminiscent of the poetic space of Garcilaso's eclogues; thus this scene not only humanizes the enemy
|18.1 (1998)||That the rulers should sleep without bad dreams||61|
forces, but also contributes to the generic polyphony of the text (232). It is the emphasis on the native people's love for liberty, expressed in several scenes, that is the cornerstone of their nobility, and thus of the critique of imperialism (233). In Act III, the Araucanian leaders meet to decide how to respond to the Spanish victories which are decimating their population. Although Caupolicán, the king, urges a negotiated settlement, Galvarino carries the day with his argument
|¿cuánto mejor es morir
con las armas peleando
que vivir sirviendo un noble
como bestia y como esclavo?
This same argument leads to the mass suicide
which closes La Numancia, whose protagonists are described as the
distant ancestors of Cervantes' Spain, thus establishing a link between
civilization and the worship of liberty over life itself. Pieterse observes
that challenging the empire in terms of its own stated ideals play[s]
a major part in all anti-imperialist movements ; in these plays it
is the representation of conquered peoples who embrace the empire's ideal
of freedom which accomplishes this goal (361). In addition, the fallen indigenous
leader last appears on the scene not as a dangerous warrior, but as a man
who leaves behind a widow and an orphaned son. The granting of a voice, of
a significant presence, to the losers is also a key element for
the anti epic dimension of this text, for it allows forces the
spectator or reader to see the consequences of imperialist practices.
The legitimacy of wars of imperialism is, of course, a central theme in La Numancia. Rome's appetite for new lands is decried as esa arrogancia which prevents Scipio from being willing to negotiate a settlement with the proto-Spaniards of the town Numancia (I. 279). Like the Spaniards in Arauco domado, the Romans also use the imagery of taming beasts to describe their goals. In the opening scene of Act III, Scipio chooses the verb domo to describe his plans for the town of Numancia (l. 1115). Later, he rejects the challenge to resolve the conflict through a Homeric contest of individual heroes by describing the besieged Numantines as la fiera que en la jaula está cerrada / por su selvatiquez . . . and concluding, bestias sois, y por tales encerradas / os tengo donde habéis de ser domados (l. 1185-86, 1190-91). There are some passages in the play that express support for Imperial adventures; for example, in the beginning of Act I, when Scipio condemns the Roman soldiers for their laxity, the general compares their pampered hands and complexions to
|62||BARBARA A. SIMERKA||Cervantes|
those born in England or Flanders the primary enemies in the European
theater of Spain's imperialist expansion (l. 72-73). In addition, the monarch
whose vision drives this venture is referred to by the allegorical figure,
the Duero River, as el segundo Felipo sin segundo, and the leader
of the king's bellicose faction is praised as el grande Albano
(l. 512, 493). And in Act IV, the allegorical figure War calls the imperializing
reigns of Ferdinand, Charles and Philip la dulce ocasión
(l. 1999). However, Scipio emphasizes the tremendous cost of war, in terms
of human lives lost, in his very first speech, which expresses reluctance
to pursue again guerra y curso tan extraña y larga / y que tantos
romanos ha costado (l. 5-6). Here, the drive to conquer new territories
can be linked both to epic glory the successes of Philip and Alba
as well as to the tragedy of the many Spaniards and others who continued
to die in this pursuit. The negative representation of the Roman soldiers
is also relevant; as both the failed and successful sacks of Antwerp in 1574
and '76 by the unruly Spanish army demonstrate, el vicio sólo
puede hacernos guerra / más que los enemigos de esta tierra
The pro-epic sentiments are substantially diluted by the elegiac context in which they appear, for the Numantines' response to the rejection of their peace offers reflects a view of war that is clearly anachronistic in its emphasis on individual heroism through breve y singular batalla (III. 1160). Caravino condemns the Romans as cobardes and canalla, before launching into a tirade of fifteen pejorative adjectives in sequence, because estáis acostumbrados / a vencer con ventajas y mañas rather than through the methods conventionally associated with war and glory (III. 1206-1226). Scipio, on the other hand, asserts that he has created a new definition of these terms:
|¿Qué gloria puede haber más levantada,
en las cosas de guerra que aquí digo,
que, sin quitar de su lugar la espada,
vencer y sujetar al enemigo? (III. 1129-32)
This double-voiced representation of the practice of the siege, one of the most effective weapons in Spain's imperial arsenal both in the Americas and in Europe, serves to highlight the negative similarities between Counter-Reformation Spain and Imperial Rome. Willard King is one of many critics who have pointed out that the Spain of Cervantes resembles Scipio's Rome just as much as the town of Numancia. She cites the River Duero's prophecy, which depicts
|18.1 (1998)||That the rulers should sleep without bad dreams||63|
a victorious Spain, feared and envied by a thousand foreign nations, embroiled in constant war in sum, a Spain which mirrors the militant, aggressive, Rome of Scipio (215).
In this representation, Spain itself is indeterminate, the sign which refers
simultaneously to the morally victorious Numantines and to the decadent Roman
Empire, its achievements in the early modern period shown to be both epic
victories and tragic slaughters. The Cervantine
play is able to suggest medieval heroic combat as a viable option because
of its historical setting. In her examination of La Araucana, Adrienne
Laskier Martín notes that Ercilla can plausibly create such an encounter
in a work of contemporary history only in the Americas, because the indigenous
peoples are the only enemies of Europe who do not possess the weapons and
techniques of guerra a sangre y fuego [total war] (101).
In order to scrutinize the effects of war on individuals, the mixture of genres in La Numancia also juxtaposes tragedy with comedy optimism related to hope for the future expressed through a pair of young lovers. In Act II we learn that the marriage of Lira and Marandro has been delayed by the war, because no está nuestra tierra / para fiestas y contento (l. 755-56). By the final act, Lira's hunger has driven her fiancé to brave the Roman camp, to bring back bread stained by the blood he shed to obtain her triste y amarga comida (l. 1847). These dying words are followed up by Lira's soliloquy to the corpse in her arms, in which she bemoans that, por excusar mi muerte, / me habéis quitado la vida, and mi esposo feneció por darme vida (1878-79, 1966 ). Her declaration that, primero daré a mi pecho / una daga que este pan reinforces the contradictory imagery of life, bread, and death (l. 1928-29). The sufferings not only of couples, but also of families are represented with extreme pathos. The ironic link between food and death is again foregrounded when a starving mother laments that her infant also suffers because, instead of milk, it suckles blood. In another family, a mother who cannot give the food her child requests replies, te daré la muerte por comida (IV. 2115) One of the companions of War, Hunger, describes the tragic role reversals that result when the townspeople decide to commit mass suicide rather than submit:
|contra el hijo, el padre, con rabiosa
clemencia levantado el brazo crudo,
rompe aquellas entrañas que ha engendrado,
quedando satisfecho y lastimado. (IV. 2045-48)
|64||BARBARA A. SIMERKA||Cervantes|
The effects of this war on lovers, parents, and children constitute an unnatural
collision of the elements of life and death, conveyed through terms such
as lastimado that have specific generic (tragic) connotations.
The parallel scenes of prophecy in the two plays also play a role in generating multiple generic tones. After the elaborate sacrifice to Jupiter, and the priest's gloomy interpretation, one Numantine observer advises, lloremos, pues es fin tan lamentable, / nuestra desdicha (II. 900-01). Leonicio rejects the prediction, declaring that for a good soldier, el ánimo esforzado is more powerful than any agüero, and that
|esas vanas apariencias
nunca le turban el tino:
su brazo es su estrella o sino;
su valor, sus influencias. (916-22)
In a similar fashion, Tucapel, an Araucanian warrior, dismisses the prophecy
of Pillán, the god summoned by their priest, Pillalonco. He boasts
that he will kill his more credulous companion, to be sent to the underworld
dwelling of ese loco in order to demonstrate the power del
brazo riguroso del soberbio Tucapel. Asserting his doubt even more
strongly Tucapel concludes, no hay Pillán; yo basto y sobro
/ contra el mundo (Act I, p. 243). Thus, the meaning of the future
tragic defeat or epic victory depends upon the prophet chosen,
priest or soldier. However, both Leonicio and his companion agree that the
forthcoming necromantic rites of Marquino are more meaningful than the sacrifices
of the priests. Nevertheless, Leonicio still finds a way to denounce the
tristes signos; this time using the explanation that the practices
are diabólicas invenciones of poca ciencia,
and the additional rationale that poco cuidan los muertos / de lo que
a los vivos toca (II. 1085, 1100-04). In these passages Leonicio and
Tucapel give voice to the early modern period's growing confidence in the
power of the rational individual subject to affect its destiny, rejecting
pagan notions of destiny. In this light, the ending may be viewed as a
confirmation of the power of prophecy, but it may also serve as an affirmation
of the efficacy of Scipio's (and the Spaniards') innovative method of waging
I will now examine more fully the way that the indeterminate juxtaposition of tragedy, comedy and the epic in the final scenes of La Numancia and Arauco domado constitutes a generic deployment that
|18.1 (1998)||That the rulers should sleep without bad dreams||65|
is a meaningful element of imperial discourse. Paul Lewis Smith argues that
La Numancia is both a tragedy and a tragicomedy; this identification
of at least two competing genres is an important step towards recognition
of generic indeterminacy in the play (23). Smith also argues that Cervantes
himself was ambiguous concerning the appropriate generic designation, pointing
out that Fame refers to the play as neither comedia nor
tragedia, but rather as an historia. The historia and
its close relative, the novel, are the two most significant examples of early
modern generic innovation; they are also genres which incarnate
indeterminacy in their combination of elements from many other forms, including
the epic, tragedy, and comedy, and medieval chronicles and morality plays.
In addition, historic and novelistic discourses are often manifested in the
dramas, anatomies, and political treatises of the period. I place the word
genre in quotation marks in this situation precisely because of the inclusiveness
and variability of early modern texts which sought to represent national
history, and because of the lack of either a stable group of features to
which formalist criticism could refer, or a consistent social function upon
which a materialist analysis could focus. The two plays under consideration
here share the generic instability of other works of the period that were
assigned the label historia, such as Burton's Anatomy
of Melancholy, Sir Walter Raleigh's History of the World, and
Shakespeare's Henriad (Colie, chapter 3). However, the term
historia does not necessarily imply the collision of genres that is
so striking in the Cervantine and Lopean dramas, particularly in the final
scenes, where the characters' diction specifically evokes differing genres.
In the last scenes of the Cervantine drama, the Romans describe their fates in terms that resonate generically. Mario declares that the valor of the Numantine deed will earn the town eternal fame, so that sacado han de su pérdida ganancia (2267). Upon witnessing the suicide of Bariato, and with it the last hope for any sort of meaningful victory, Scipio laments, tú, con esta caída levantaste / tu fama y mis victorias derribaste (2407-08) Scipio's final self-description also juxtaposes tragic and epic fates, victory and defeat: he is [e]l que, subiendo, queda más caído (2415-16). However, the generic fate of the future Spaniards is also equivocal, for although the hijos de tales padres herederos refers to the link between Numantines and Castillians, there have been many indications that the House of Austria is also the descendant of Scipio.
The final scene of Lope's play also combines genres in an ultimately indeterminate manner, as it interrupts the celebration of the
|66||BARBARA A. SIMERKA||Cervantes|
Spanish victory over the Araucanians to give a voice to Engol, son of the
slain Indian leader, as he vows, padre, yo te vengaré
and also to Caupolicán's wife Fresia, who echoes that threat. Historical
record bears witness to the validity of those words: the Araucanians's resistance
continued successfully throughout the colonial period. During the reign of
Philip III, the battle against this group was considered a major drain on
the Castillian treasury (Elliott 1989, 24-25). The apotheosizing tones of
the closing adulation for the newly crowned Philip II are likely to have
rung hollow for the audiences of the seventeenth century for another reason:
this moment of epic victory was soon to be followed by a series of bankruptcies
and other setbacks in the imperial project, culminating in the tragedy of
the defeated Armada.
In these two plays, the deployment of multiple genres functions to collapse the boundaries between the genres; and the ascription of conflicting genres to the events and ideologies represented, without closure, further problematizes the identification of a generic dominant or of a definitive political statement. The potential for subversive ramifications outside of the theater is implicit in this open-ended staging of the controversies concerning imperialism that engaged the period. In emphasizing the oppositional nature of this discourse, I hope to contribute to the refutation of both traditional and some new historicist approaches to early modern drama, which either find no subversion at all, or which describe subversion as always already contained, and which perpetuate what Judith Newton and Deborah Rosenfelt describe as the conservative view of history:
the essentially tragic story of individual suffering, a suffering often universalized and guaranteed permanency as part of the human condition. This is a view, of course, which permits us to see literature and history in relation but which nullifies what is potentially radicalized in such a vision by denying the possibility of meaningful social change. (xvi)
Materialism offers a view of a more powerful literary history : in its elaboration of rules and procedures for the disciplined interrogation of evidences which allow new knowledges to emerge and transform the face of the past, this de-aestheticized literary history does indeed make a material difference to and within the present (Bennett, 77). In their refusal to ascribe a fixed genre, a fixed signified to national policy, and in their deployment of anti-epic discourses, La Numancia and Arauco domado participated in and helped to produce the conflicting discourses concerning Christian Imperialism. A materialist
|18.1 (1998)||That the rulers should sleep without bad dreams||67|
theory of genre, which examines the wider field of discourses in which the comedia was deployed, makes it possible to acknowledge genre's role in the subversions of dominant ideology which materialist criticism seeks to identify as part of its quest for progressive social change.
|UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS, SAN ANTONIO|
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|Fred Jehle email@example.com||Publications of the CSA||HCervantes|