Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

The Espiritu De Merlin, Renaissance Magic, and the Limitations of Being Human in la Casa De Los Celos

Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

The Espiritu De Merlin, Renaissance Magic, and the Limitations of Being Human in la Casa De Los Celos

Article excerpt

The Arthurian enchanter appears as the Espiritu de Merlin in Cervantes' La casa de los celos, and a focus on this incorporeal manifestation of Merlin reveals certain philosophical issues that are often overlooked in critical discussion of the play. The human quest for knowledge and the potential for human beings to act on and affect their social environment surface as primary themes associated with this particular adaptation of the medieval wizard. The plot of La casa involves many disparate subplots and characters, and critics have generally characterized the play as weak, underscoring its episodic nature and apparent lack of thematic and dramatic coherence. (1) The present essay seeks to reveal how the role of the Espiritu de Merlin provides a lens through which we can interpret the various episodes of the main plot, revealing thematic unity among the seemingly unrelated elements. Merlin's presentation as a spirit in La casa immediately recalls his status as defunct wizard. In the French Vulgate and Post-Vulgate cycles, the magician is ultimately interred at the hands of a woman. And the Spanish Baladro del sabio Merlin, largely based on the French Post-Vulgate, recounts an especially dark version of the wizard's final entombment. (2) He is buried alive, and from the grave he calls out in a demonic voice to his father to save him. Finally, he releases a loud death shriek heard throughout the land. Thus, the idea of Merlin's continuing to make his presence known from the grave is not altogether new. But what is especially striking about the sage's participation from the afterlife in this comedia is the play's insistence on his active role as a spirit and its apparent incorporation of this being within the larger context of Renaissance magic. (3) Cervantes comes to use the absence of Merlin and his continuing powers to suggest the limits of human power, and he uses Merlin's presence (embodied in the pillar that marks his grave) to serve as a unifying force that visually provides for the spectator a sense of continuity among the primary and secondary plots throughout the entire play.

Instead of diminishing in stature and importance as his discarnate form would suggest, Merlin actually assumes the role of the ultimate Voice of Reason and figures in the comedia in two major ways. First, participating in the main plot, he interacts with the human magician Malgesi, the mortal sorcerer who dedicates himself to curing two crazed knights of their incapacitating and destructive passion. These two paladins, Roldan and Reinaldos, fall madly in love with Angelica upon her arrival at Charlemagne's court in Act I, and the majority of the dramatic action is dedicated to Malgesi's (unsuccessful) efforts to heal the demented suitors. Cervantes alters the relationship, established in earlier traditions, between the Arthurian enchanter and those seeking his wisdom. In French cyclical romance, for example, Merlin, overcome by his weakness for the ladies, does indeed teach his magical arts to two women, Morgan and Vivianne/Niviene. (4) These females seek to learn the occult ways by which they can influence the wizard, diminish his powers, and thereby achieve objectives that are at odds with the sorcerer's. In romance, Merlin's tutelage in magic is inextricably linked to his problematic relations with women and to his ultimate demise. In Cervantes' play, however, the Espiritu de Merlin emerges as a supernatural, superior being who is situated within a new set of circumstances, an extensive world of Renaissance magic, embodied to a certain extent in the male figure of the Renaissance magician, Malgesi. The quest to acquire the Arthurian wizard's magical arts to overcome him and diminish his powers (illustrated in earlier traditions) is replaced by the Renaissance preoccupation with seeking his wisdom and know-how as an end in itself.

In addition to his exchanges with Malgesi, the Espiritu de Merlin plays a significant role in the adventures of a second character, Bernardo del Carpio, a Spanish knight. …

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