Academic journal article Romance Notes

Constructing Authority in Lope De Vega's Egloga a Claudio: Self-Referentiality, Literary Judgment, and Ethics

Academic journal article Romance Notes

Constructing Authority in Lope De Vega's Egloga a Claudio: Self-Referentiality, Literary Judgment, and Ethics

Article excerpt

THE poetry of Lope de Vega has most often been analyzed for its treatment of themes such as love, religious devotion, or autobiographical introspection. However, one other key aspect of his poetry, especially of his longer poetical works (such as his epistolas and eglogas), is the engagement of literature and ethical concerns often related to the art of writing poetry. The purpose of this study is to examine one such work, the Egloga a Claudio (1631), (1) a lengthy poem which normally should be classified as an epistola, for its role as a literary vehicle for passing judgment on different issues.

In the Egloga, a number of key issues will emerge. First, Lope expresses a generally critical attitude with respect to the linguistic excesses of culteranismo and in defending what he perceived as a "pure" form of Castilian poetry writing, untouched by the esthetic begun by Luis de Gongora and continued by his many imitators, in spite of the fact that culteranismo had by then become established. In engaging the topic of poetry within this poem, Lope evinces a sense of linguistic nationalism while displaying his own literary pride in avoiding such trends and in having had a highly prolific literary career. In addition, Lope uses this Egloga as a means of self-promotion and ethical speculation on a problem he faced at the time from other poets, that of plagiarism and the question of originality. Finally, the poem is an exploration of other related topics, such as understanding the roots of poetic inspiration, and the distinction between natural talent and the formal study of poetry writing. In sum, the Egloga is at once a tool for literary criticism and self-validation, a weapon specifically targeting culteranismo and any poetry (and poets) Lope considers inferior, and a method of setting standards in both discursive and general human behavior.

The Egloga a Claudio (Obras sueltas I: 1-12), written to a friend, Claudio Conde, contains numerous autobiographical and literary data and is narrated from the perspective de senectute. Lope begins with a sarcastic reference to himself--"oye sin instrumento/las ideas de un loco" (3, 4)--and then discusses certain events of his life. His tone appears resigned, as he no longer fears death: "Voy por la senda del morir mas clara,/y de toda esperanza me retiro" (103, 104). Juan Manuel Rozas observes that this poem's dialectic is multifaceted: "la epistola, en lo esencial, esta planteada desde una dialectica juventud/ senectud, que se desarrolla por tres caminos, que adelanto: Lope joven/Lope viejo; escritores jovenes/Lope creador de la comedia nueva; vida y obra de Lope al servicio de su nacion y de la Corona/menosprecio de el, viejo, por parte de la corte" (174). Lope's allusions to age and life experience set the stage for the literary and ethical judgments that he will soon pass, as he progressively constructs a self-image of maturity and authority as much as one of weariness.

Lope's first treatment of poets and poetry occurs in several strophes dedicated to armas and letras and the role of the human ingenio. He implies that the proverbial pen is mightier than the sword, as the mind guides discourse while brute force only guides the body: "que no es espada de la pluma el genio/que la gobierna el brazo, y no el ingenio" (137, 138). His observation of young poets, paradoxically described as "ingenios," is significant: "y ahora ingenios mozos (cosa rara)/se meten versos por la misma cara" (143, 144). The poet is no longer concerned with approval--a logical notion, given the late stage in Lope's life in which this was written--and admires only men of knowledge:

   Mas yo que aun de esta ley mi nombre excluyo,
   ni estimo aplausos, ni lamento agravios,
   adoro en hombres sabios,
   y de inorantes huyo.

Of note is Lope's intentional use of nameless "inorantes," an element connoting a clearly authoritative stance. Very early in the epistle, thusly, Lope begins to establish his literary identity as a skilled and intelligent poet, scornful of unnamed ignorant people "beneath him"--and, implicitly, as a sabio himself. …

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