Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

"Burlas En Tiempo De Tantas Veras": Violence and Humor in Lope De Vega's Los Melindres De Belisa

Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

"Burlas En Tiempo De Tantas Veras": Violence and Humor in Lope De Vega's Los Melindres De Belisa

Article excerpt

What are the implications of staging slavery and other forms of human torture within a comic framework? This is one of the questions at the heart of Lope de Vega's Los melindres de Belisa, and it poses considerable challenges to critics and directors who, for the most part, have neglected this work or downplayed its physical and verbal violence.1 Far more aggressive than the conventional comedia de enredo, Los melindres de Belisa includes scenes of extreme physical degradation such as the branding and shackling of Muslim slaves. While this work preserves its status as a comedy by faking the violence (i.e., a sign is painted rather than branded on the slave's face), the threat of physical harm remains constant over the course of the action, constituting its primary source of suspense. Just as importantly, its cast of characters features Christian nobles parading as Muslim slaves, a striking choice on Lope's part if we consider that this work was published on the eve of the final expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain in 16092 This discussion examines the startling juxtaposition of comedy and violence in Los melindres de Belisa by considering how these elements draw the spectator to the action and in turn bring attention to the ambivalent attitudes Christian Spaniards held towards their Muslim counterparts.

The plot of Los melindres de Belisa bears mention, given that the play is one of Lope's lesser-known comedies and retains many of the defining elements of the comedia de enredo (Arellano, "Convenciones" 48). Felisardo, a young nobleman, wounds another nobleman, narrowly escapes justice, and together with his paramour, Celia, finds refuge in the home of his friend Eliso. Thinking they are still in danger of being caught, the lovers assume the disguise of Muslim slaves. However, their friend Eliso also comes into conflict with the law, as he owes a substantial amount of money to a young widow, Lisarda. When a constable arrives at Eliso's home to collect the debt, Eliso offers the "slaves" as payment and delivers them to the widow, who happens to be the mother of two children: Belisa and Juan. Belisa, from whom the play takes its title, is defined by her extreme fussiness or melindres, particularly as concerns numerous suitors eager to win her hand, and more importantly, her substantial dowry'. In line with her capricious nature, Belisa rejects each and every' one of her suitors on the flimsiest of excuses; however, when the slaves enter the picture, she suddenly reverses this pattern and enters into competition with her mother and maid for Felisardo's attention, while her brother pursues Celia. The plot intensifies until the conclusion of the play reveals the slaves' true identity' whereupon they are united in marriage. Belisa subsequently loses the object of her desire and is obliged to contract a less desirable marriage to Eliso.

Given the central role of the slaves in Los melindres, the discourse of conquest and subjugation informs the plot as a whole. Terms such "bárbaro," "esclavo," "cautivo," "mora," "turca," and "Indias," are used interchangeably and do more than lend a degree of exoticism to the play's more familiar setting in Madrid. At the onset of the action, the slaves' stories regarding their supposed origins contribute to recreating Spain's recent past or at least an exaggerated version of it. For example, when Felisardo describes these origins to his new mistress, he claims his mother would have been queen of the Alpujarras had Donjuán de Austria, son of Charles V, not taken her captive: "[...] hubiera sido / reina, a no ser desdichada" (636-37).3 For her part, Celia claims she is from Oran and is eager to convert to Catholicism (646-50). However false the slaves' accounts of their illustrious genealogies, their references to Spain's history' would have likely resonated with Lope's public in the light of the Muslim's long presence on the Iberian Peninsula, particularly in the Alpujarras, the site of some of the most violent battles between Christians and Moriscos. …

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