Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Taking Matters into Their Own Hands: Heroic Women of the Early Reconquest in the Spanish Comedia

Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Taking Matters into Their Own Hands: Heroic Women of the Early Reconquest in the Spanish Comedia

Article excerpt

Few moments in Spanish history are viewed more harshly in the comedia than the uncertain and troubling period at the end of the eighth century' in which the new Christian kingdoms of the north were poorly served by two monarchs: Mauregato, the bastard son of Alfonso I and a manipulative usurper willing to betray his subjects for personal gain, and Alfonso II, a weak and untrustworthy leader whose repeated errors in judgment and statecraft could have resulted in French control of Asturias and León. It is hardly surprising that at least nine different comedias by four different playwrights1 should have focused on the unhappy events of the early Reconquest in order to contrast, in way's both subtle and not so subtle, the incompetence and malfeasance of these kings with the virtue, dignity, and heroism of their subjects, as well as to imply comparisons, flattering or otherwise, with the reigning Habsburgs.2 At least equally noteworthy are the heroic actions of women in three of these plays as they defy' their king, flout cultural norms, take up arms to defend themselves, endure extraordinary pain and suffering, and ultimately change the course of events and ensure the future glory' and independence of Spain.

The action of Las doncellas de Simancas, a play of doubtful authorship but commonly attributed to Lope de Vega (Morley and Bruerton 448-49), takes place in the context of the legendary' exchange in which one hundred Christian maidens are to be sent to Córdoba each y'ear, an arrangement agreed to by the odious Mauregato to further his political ambitions and to keep the Moors at bay CDoncellas 397b).3 Highlighted against this historical backdrop is the plight of the people of Asturias and León who are forced to deal with situations beyond their control that put their allegiances, both personal and national, to the test. Like his fellow countrymen, íñigo López is appalled by' the king's deal with the enemy. Chafing under the obligation to obey the king's commands, he declares his rebellious support for the claims of "mi legítimo Rey, / que es Alfón," that is, Alfonso II, against the "tirano," Mauregato (400a).4 Motivated not just by the immorality and dishonor inherent in the king's pact with the Moors but also by his love for Leonor, he attempts to liberate the women being rounded up for transport, and, in the process, is captured by Abdalá, the Moor sent to collect the maidens. Abdalá is intrigued that íñigo would risk his life for a woman; he releases his prisoner as an act of kindness and also to have a chance to defeat him when he is not weakened by love and grief (40la).

Unaware of íñigo's actions, the women of Simancas discuss love, their fate, and their disappointment in the men who are supposed to protect them. Unaware that her suitor has risked his life in order to save her and the other women, Leonor, íñigo's beloved, and her sister, Elvira, squabble over íñigo's absence. Leonor loves him, but she is horrified that he has been seen with the Moors. She is both terrified by the peril in which the king has placed his subjects and shocked by the unwillingness of her country men to defend their women. Unable to understand how the men could betray their women in such a fashion, she insults him along with all the other men of León who are willing to go along with this exchange: what kind of man, she asks, would aid in such a betrayal? Indeed, she declares that no man who would go along with such an arrangement is worthy' to be called a man and that she would not give her hand to any man who did not put an end to this outrage (402b). Almost immediately, íñigo's servant, Lope, enters to tell her that his master was captured trying to do as she wished and stop the Moors, news that causes her to feel profoundly guilty that she had questioned him (403a-b).

íñigo and Abdalá, the latter now dressed as a Christian, make their way to town. Abdalá brings into sharper focus Leonor's status as an exchange object without will or agency of her own, a unit of currency to purchase something of value, when he reveals to íñigo that he has enticed Homar, the Caliph of Africa, to support his bid to succeed Abderramán with the offer of his choice of the young women brought back to Córdoba from Asturias. …

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