Academic journal article Romance Notes

Cervantine Curiosity and Impertinence in Leonor De la Cueva's la Firmeza En la Ausencia

Academic journal article Romance Notes

Cervantine Curiosity and Impertinence in Leonor De la Cueva's la Firmeza En la Ausencia

Article excerpt

At the end of the interpolated story El curioso impertinente that forms part of the Quixote, Cervantes included an odd passage in which the Cura, who has been reading the story to an audience, offers his judgment on the quality of the piece, declaring "algo tiene del imposible" (630) because it involves a man and wife. He suggests that the story would have been better had it dealt with "un galan y una dama," lovers, rather than a married couple. (1) Not only does this comment provide a critique by Cervantes as to the verisimilitude of his own story, it also directly suggests the possibility of reworking certain elements of the story in order to present in a different manner this type of plot dealing with this type of love triangle. Gongora did just that in his Las firmezas de Isabela, (2) as did Guillen de Castro in his own El curioso impertinente, (3) in which he preserved the title and character names of the Cervantine original, but made substantial changes in the plot, adapted for comedia audiences. Given the precedence for this type of heuristic imitation, as well as the tremendous popularity of the Quixote, it is not surprising that the story would also capture the imagination of one of the female comedia authors of the period. In La firmeza en la ausencia, Leonor de la Cueva reworks important elements of the Cervantes tale in order to invert the negative moral examples of the original and highlight the firmeza of her protagonist, Armesinda, providing a stark contrast to the inconstancy of Cervantes' Camila. This inversion can also be seen in Cueva's treatment of masculine friendship, creating a distinctive, positive, vision of this type of tale.

On the surface, La firmeza en la ausencia appears to be another of the virtue under siege plots that were common enough in the Golden Age. (4) The king of Naples, Filiberto, burns with desire for Armesinda, a lady of his court, but she is already in love with another man, Juan. So the king must remove Juan from the scene, and does so by sending him off to war (hence the ausencia of the title), (5) and then he must somehow persuade Armesinda to betray her vows of eternal love for Juan, be unfaithful to him, dishonor herself, and respond to the king's advances. In order to achieve this goal, the king enlists the aid of Juan's friend Carlos, and orders him to break down her defenses with lies of Juan's infidelity to her and marriage to another during his absence. The absence is a necessary part of the plot just as Anselmo, in El curioso impertinente, contrived a number of reasons to be absent from his home for extended periods of time so that Lotario could test the fidelity of Camila. However, when comparing the two stories, the important change introduced by Leonor de la Cueva is immediately apparent in that she has added the character of the king. With the king as the rival, rather than the close friend, this will allow for a happy ending to this play. (6)

The fact that it is the king, not Juan, who puts Carlos in the position of trying to undermine Armesinda's fidelity is important, because it creates at least an initial perception that there is no curioso impertinente in this work, that there is no foolish character who decides to test the fidelity of his wife or betrothed as does Anselmo in the Cervantine tale. However, before reaching such a conclusion, some note must necessarily be taken of the structure of Leonor de la Cueva's play. In a work that is supposed to be primarily about the predicament of Armesinda and how she stands firm against the trials she must face because of the king's desire, considerable stage time is actually given to Juan. Both before he leaves, and later in scenes on the battlefield, he expresses anguished doubts and fears over the possibility that Armesinda will prove weak and surrender to the king's advances. He seems particularly worried that she will be persuaded by the king's great wealth and power. Teresa Scott Soufas refers to this as the "patriarchal discourse of triumph, booty, recompense," and she observes that "Juan attributes more power to Armesinda's materialistic greed than to her love for him" ("Regarding" 619). …

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