Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Juan De Grajales's El Bastardo De Ceuta: A Wife-Murder Comedia Gone Wrong?

Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Juan De Grajales's El Bastardo De Ceuta: A Wife-Murder Comedia Gone Wrong?

Article excerpt

A former suitor, a jealous husband, and an allegedly unfaithful wife, often in an arranged marriage to an older husband, constitute the inexorable amorous triangle that taints the caballero's honor to the degree that only the stain of blood- his wife's, if not her alleged lover's as well-will purify the offense.1 The sources of the wife-murder plot-"moral exempta, Italian novelle, romances (ballads), and early-sixteenth-century drama'' (Stroud 34)-are perhaps as documented as have been scrutinized the four canonical plays of this comedia subgenre: Pedro Calderón de la Barca's trilogy El médico de su honra (1635), A secreto agravio, secreto venganza (c. 1637), and El pintor de su deshonra (c. 1640), together with Lope de Vegas earlier El castigo sin venganza (1631). While Lope's lascivious Casandra is a rare example of a wife who pays the brutal price because her tryst is witnessed, Calderon's three wife-murder plays sensationalize the tragic spectacle of the innocent wife who becomes the victim of a violent murder. What then to make of a comedia with all the trappings of a wife-murder play-not one, but two wives who are also the sacrosanct figure of the mother and each technically guilty of adultery-where she is ultimately spared the fate of death at her husband's hand or decree?

Admittedly, upon initial consideration, any examination through the filter of a wife-murder play of a comedia in which no uxoricide occurs would seem to have little purpose. Thematically, of course, the wife-murder play properly belongs to those plays dealing with conjugal honour in particular, to be distinguished from the multitudinous comedias de capa y espada and de enredos of a far less fatal tenor, in which the amorous galán suffers some form of affront to his fama and that "con[cern] themselves primarily about love," not honour (Larson 2). The visibly darker tone occurs, of course, when the husband perceives the threat to his honour-his social esteem with respect to the power he exercises over his domain, his spouse, and the legitimacy of his progeny-as real; the caballero's emotional fear, the passion of his irascible appetite, or "a movement away from an imminent evil" (Hildner 20), takes precedence over a more fully rational intellect. For this reason, dating from the closing decades of the sixteenth century,2 with few exceptions,3 even the chaste wife suspected of dishonouring her husband with another man must fall victim to cold-blooded murder, methodically calculated to preserve the secrecy of the threatening affront itself.

But considered in another light, the murder of the wife suspected of adultery', guilty of the intent, or guilty of actual infidelity, is but an outcome of the conjugal honour play'. Needless to say', the scales of justice (or vengeance) all but topple over on the side of uxoricide as the benchmark outcome of this category' of comedia, hence the wife-murder moniker, regardless of the fact that it is a punishment frequently' undeserved in the binary' paradigm of adulteress/faithful wife. But this does not mean that no additional consequences or possible punishments exist for the alleged adulteress.4 Indeed, one can plot two axes of range of punishment befitting the real crime, although admittedly' efforts to classify7 the offense lend themselves to questionably gray areas. Along the one axis stands the actual adulteress whose retribution for the dishonour she brings can range from her "justified" death at the one end, to forgiveness and the sparing of her life at the other end; along the second axis is the innocent wife, the victim of homicide on the one end of the scale, to fully' exonerated at the other. Despite the overwhelmingly' prevalent dénouement, this additional consideration nonetheless allows us to expand the traditional horizons of the wife-murder play's, "a disparate and often contradictory group of play's" (Stroud 141), including Juan Grajales's thought-provoking comedia, El bastardo de Ceuta, a wife-murder play "gone wrong" from the standpoint of the commonplace moral honour code of conduct in the comedia of similar gravity' and circumstances. …

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