Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Performing Recognition: El Castigo Sin Venganza and the Politics of the "Literal" Translation

Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Performing Recognition: El Castigo Sin Venganza and the Politics of the "Literal" Translation

Article excerpt

Cielos, / hoy se ha de ver en mi casa / no más de vuestro castigo.

- El castigo sin venganza

In the opening scene of El castigo sin venganza, the Duke of Ferrara is in disguise. So soon before his wedding to Casandra, and despite the rumours of his debauchery', it is imperative that his hunt for female entertainment goes unnoticed. His position requires him to take a wife; in so doing, he ensures justice for the people by avoiding civil war. Yet by deny ing his freedomloving nature, he must do injustice to himself. When he learns of Casandra's affair with his son Federico, rather than make their adultery' public, he contrives her death at Federico's own hand. What the people see, however, is the righteous execution of the man who murdered Casandra out of jealousy for his lost inheritance. Through lies and subterfuge, the Duke ensures that in public his honour is protected, while in private he enacts their punishment.

This is a play' that deals in disguise. It locates itself in the slippery' distinctions between duty and desire, private sentiment and public action, moral justice and its public fulfilment. Unlike today', where transparent democracy demands that every' stage of the criminal justice process is available to public scrutiny, in Ferrara, where honour is directly proportional to public standing, due process is a function of public perception. This situation places the Duke in an invidious position. Fie has been harmed on two fronts-by his wife's adultery' and his son's treachery'-but to seek justice would be to make their betray'al public, damaging his reputation and thereby creating a third, even greater harm: the loss of support for the legitimacy of his rule. By ordering Federico's execution as punishment for the supposed murder of Casandra, he delivers justice for the people and for himself, retaining his honour while taking revenge, and at the same time avoiding further harm in the court of public opinion. These ideas find expression in a seminal essay by political philosopher Charles Taylor, in which he writes of the causal link between personal justice and public perception and the damage that results when others misrecognize the fundamental precepts upon which our identity is built. In this "politics of recognition," Taylor argues that, because we depend upon positive reinforcement from those around us, our identity "is shaped by recognition or its absence" (25). In this Hegelian view, identity is bound so intimately with how we are perceived by others that people "can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves." "Misrecognition" can therefore be "a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being" (25). Just as the Duke's public standing depends upon how well his subjects view him, the health of our identity depends upon the quality of its public recognition. The Duke secures justice precisely by ensuring that his reputation remains intact, despite the revenge he takes, avoiding the risk of further harm. "Justice" is thus a fluid concept, for it is served only when that which is reflected back to us from the outside matches that which we believe to be true on the inside. But recognition is a trick)' business, for if justice is about seeing others as they see themselves, then it follows that we must first make a judgement about that which we see. Before we can "reflect" something back to someone we must identify what that "something" is. Recognition is precisely "political" because, as with all understanding, it requires critical positions to be taken and defended about what is understood. This article argues that the interrelated problematics of justice, honour, harm, and revenge in El castigo sin venganza can best be understood as a "politics of recognition" in which private identity and public recognition are not only inextricably linked but also direct contributors to an ultimately mobile conceptualization of justice. …

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