Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Peasants in the Palace: Moreto and Cáncer's la Fuerza del Natural and the Mockery of Courtly Practices

Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Peasants in the Palace: Moreto and Cáncer's la Fuerza del Natural and the Mockery of Courtly Practices

Article excerpt

he dramaturgy that we have come to know as the comedia nueva is based on continuity and change: it is a theatrical system whose core traits evolved slightly over time since its inception, and at the same time it presents numerous themes and plots that were reused and adapted for new audiences by each generation of poets. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the playwrights' tendency to rewrite previous theatrical texts had become much more predominant compared to the generation of Lope de Vega, and critics have considered this rehashing of plays as a main feature of playwriting from the 1650s onwards. One of the most significant examples of this practice can be found in Agustín Moreto since more or less half of his plays derive in some measure from works by other playwrights (Kennedy, Dramatic 36), a fact that has situated his works "entre el plagio y el canon" in the eyes of modem criticism (Sáez Raposo 195). From this perspective of remaking previous plays, "Moreto sería ... y no Calderón-de técnica muy diferente-, el poeta dramático más representativo de la segunda mitad del siglo en el marco de la evolución teatral hacia el XVIII" (Arellano 525). As much as our modem sense of originality conflicts with this practice of textual recycling, rewriting plays was above all a technique that allowed playwrights to expand on their inquiries on common cultural and social anxieties, to offer new answers to similar theatrical situations, and to develop, in short, the vast plurality of worlds that defines the comedia nueva.

In this article, I wish to focus on one of these plays traditionally associated with Agustín Moreto, La fuerza del natural, which has received little attention until now in spite of Ruth L. Kennedy's assessment of it as "one of the more attractive plays of Moreto" (Sources 369) and of critics' renewed interest in this playwright during recent years.1 This play draws from Antonio Mira de Amescua's Examinarse de rey, and it is therefore an example of this rehashing process. However, it cannot be seen as just a mere revisiting of Mira's text. As I will show, La fuerza del natural expands the comic element present in Examinarse de rey in an original way, relating it with a rich tradition of comedia nueva texts through a double process: on the one hand, it takes the central idea of Mira's original play in a whole new direction by connecting it to the motif of the peasant in the palace; on the other hand, it reconfigures one of its main characters by linking him to the contemporary tradition of the figurón. What is more, the humor is reshaped in quite a specific manner, as it is used to comically present several courtly rituals related to social behavior and amorous courtship. If one takes these perspectives into consideration, La fuerza del natural emerges as an attractive and fresh play.

Peasants in the Palace

La fuerza del natural is actually a collaborative play by Agustín Moreto and Jerónimo de Cáncer (and maybe also Juan de Matos Fragoso),2 although it seems possible that Moreto had a larger role in this play and revised the sections not penned by him, as Femández-Guerra suggested based on the cohesive stmcture of language and themes (Moreto, Comedias xxxiv).3 In this sense, La fuerza del natural is an example of the type of successful collaborative playwriting that characterizes Spanish theater from the 1630s onwards (Alviti 15). Having multiple authors does not presuppose a lack of coherence in the play's stmcture, quite common in other collaborative texts (MacKenzie, Escuela 39), or-as we will have a chance to see-in the portrayal of its main characters. We do not know the exact date in which La fuerza del natural was written, as no dated autograph manuscript or news of its premiere has reached us, but it was composed sometime before 1655, the year Cáncer died.4 It is therefore situated in the first period of Moreto's theatrical production, which comprises the decade of 1644-1654 (Lobato, "Moreto" 34-35), and at the end of Cáncer's career. …

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