Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Diana Galarreta-Aima: "Women Playwrights"

Diana Galarreta-Aima

Book Review

Feliciana Enríquez de Guzmán, Ana Caro Mallén, and Sor Marcela de San Félix, Women Playwrights of Early Modern Spain. Edited by Nieves Romero-Díaz and Lisa Vollendorf. Translated and annotated by Harley Erdman. The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe: The Toronto Series, Vol. 49, ITER Academic Press & Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (Toronto, Canada & Tempe, Arizona, 2016), 272 + xii pp. ISBN: 9780866985567

1> By providing an English translation of the works of three female playwrights of Golden Age Spain who lived and wrote between 1569 and 1687, Women Playwrights of Early Modern Spain seeks to revise the canon of Spanish drama, bringing to light the importance of female writers in seventeenth-century Spain’s changing society and theater. This book is part of a larger project, the “Other Voice” in Early Modern Europe, which has brought to light texts otherwise forgotten or overlooked.  This first-ever English translation will be of great interest to scholars and students of theater, gender, and conventual life in Golden Age Spain.

2> This collection is divided into a succinct introduction to early modern Spanish theater (including a table of known women playwrights in Iberia and Ibero-America from 1500 to 1750); a note on the translations that explains the unique features of the Golden Age Spanish dramatic verse, and the reasons for some translation liberties in word-selection and rhyme scheme; biographical notes, select bibliography, plot summary and short analysis before each play; and a final bibliography that includes editions of the works translated in the volume.

3> Nieves Romero-Diaz and Lisa Vollendorf explain that the playwrights featured in their volume were chosen “for diversity of audience, genre and style they represent” (1). Notably, the plays in this collection have never been translated into English or any other language, which is an important goal of this text. The first work are the four interludes of the best-known two-part play of Feliciana Enríquez de Guzmán, Tragicomedy of the Sheban Gardens and Fields. The decision of selecting a minor genre, the Spanish comedia’s interlude, by the first female playwright to write for the Spanish public stage, is not a coincidence: it introduces readers to a minor but important genre of Spanish theater, and also gives a glimpse into a female writer’s incursion into the more playful side of theater. The second work is Ana Caro Mallén’s Count Partinuplés that features a strong female character, Rosaura, who challenges gender norms, devising a complex scheme to choose her own husband. The last works were written by one of Lope de Vega’s daughter (the most important playwright of Golden Age Spanish theater), Sor Marcela de San Félix. Her work represents the female literary talent found within the convent walls in early modern Spain.

4> One common element of the plays in this collection is their deviation from the traditional comedia as outlined by Lope in El arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo (The New Art of Writing Comedias in These Times). Enríquez de Guzmán’s bawdy comic interludes mirror the main play’s plot and characters in a parodic way. Contemporary audiences often only read and/or see the comedia’s main text, but in the seventeenth century, going to the theater was considered a full-day activity that included loud music, dances, and entremeses (short interludes). The interludes from this collection, therefore, offer readers a glimpse into a more accurate experience of the most popular form of entertainment in early modern Spain. Ana Caro is a well-known female writer, but Count Partinuplés is not her most popular work. However, this comedia represents the improvements in stagecraft that European theater experienced during this time. Finally, the four loas and the coloquio by Sor Marcela gives readers insight into this nun’s great literary skills, and, because of the many specific references to its original context, they shed light into conventual life and drama.

5> This collection’s introduction emphasizes the changing role of women in Spanish theater and society. Despite the uniqueness in styles and themes, all of the female playwrights’ works had to deal with issues of gender and decorum in a Catholic society concerned by the concept of masculinity and sex. The introduction places writing by early modern Spanish women within the broader context of cultural and economic changes in the society. Since the expected audience for this collection is a reader familiar with English Renaissance drama, the introduction draws connections between, for instance, the Spanish public theaters, the corral de comedias, and English public theaters like London’s Globe. In addition to a panoramic view of Golden Age Spanish theater, the introduction highlights the role of women as writers and consumers in a time when Spain was experiencing great changes in its economy and urbanization. The shifting rules that regulated theater was a sign of the anxiety provoked by gender and masculinity’s unstable conventions in the time when the playwrights of this collection lived.

6> The introduction and the footnotes create a good balanced background for, on the one hand, readers who are not familiar with early modern Spanish drama and, on the other hand, readers who are well-versed but might not be familiar with the female writers of this time. For more advanced readers, the footnotes provide information for a deeper independent study in topics such as female friendship, changing roles of women in early modern European societies, gender issues, Spanish conventual life, and Spanish nation-building processes.

7> Harley Erdman’s translation work is outstanding. His translation respects the originality and uniqueness of the Spanish dramatic verse and forms without making the plays sound antiquated or domesticated. The footnotes that accompany the plays make important clarifications about word selection and verse shift, and explanations about jokes or other allusions that get lost in translation.

8> In summary, Women Playwrights of Early Modern Spain enhances substantially our understanding of women’s role in early modern Spanish history and theater, and, therefore, complicates the relationship between the canon and non-canonical writers. The overview of different sites of theater and performance (cape and sword drama at the corrales, auto sacramental performances at the palace, and convent plays) in the introduction contextualize the ten works from this collection that encompasses distinctive styles and themes. This new monograph, although directed to English-speaking audiences, can be used in any introductory class for graduate students interested in broadening the canon to include other voices of Early Modern European literature. My only criticism is the brevity of the biographical notes and play analysis. This short length represents, however, how little we know about these women and their work, and the important work scholars have to do to unearth their literary voices.

Diana Galarreta-Aima, PhD, is Spanish Assistant Professor Coordinator of the minor in Medical Spanish, and Faculty advisor of the JMU MEDLIFE chapter at James Madison University.

Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern
Literature and Culture,
Volume Ten (2017): Artefacts

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