Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

"La Justicia Más Rara / del Mundo": Violated Daughter, Inviolable Law in Calderón's El Alcalde De Zalamea

Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

"La Justicia Más Rara / del Mundo": Violated Daughter, Inviolable Law in Calderón's El Alcalde De Zalamea

Article excerpt

Public revenges are for the most part fortunate: as that for the death of Caesar ... and many more; but in private revenges it is not so; nay, rather, vindictive persons live the life of witches; who as they are mischievous, so end they unfortunate.

-Francis Bacon, "Of Revenge"

Derecho es muchas veces lo que tienes concebido y pensado, pues tira al blanco del bien público, pero no es lo que pronuncias por la boca, pues tuerce y divierte del camino real para tu casa propia, o porque quieres vengarte de tu enemigo, o porque quieres hacer las cosas públicas privadas y tuyas.

-Jerónimo de Merola, República original sacada del cuerpo

In Adulterous Alliances, Richard Helgerson traces a phenomenon that developed in both seventeenth-century Dutch genre painting and Spanish peasant drama: a pronounced focus on scenes of tension in nonaristocratic homes. Specifically, Dutch painters and Spanish dramatists alike created works in which a nonaristocratic household was disrupted by an intruder of superior social rank who lusts after a woman in the home (3-5). The interloper and male householder subsequently enter into a power struggle mediated by the woman's yielding or defense of her sexual purity' (5, 85). Helgerson proposes that the home stands in for the state in these works, and the precarious position in which the peasant woman finds herself is equally symbolic of a threat to private (home) and public (state) spheres alike (4). The home's symbolic function suggests that just as a father must protect his daughter as "king" of his home, so too must a monarch protect the honor of his subjects as "father" of the kingdom.

Helgerson details a notable example of the parallels and tensions between home and state in his analysis of a painting by the seventeenth-century Dutch artist Gerard ter Borch. The painting is set in an unidentified domestic space and shows a man talking to a woman standing with her back to the observer while a second woman watches. The work is commonly referred to as Paternal Admonition because it has traditionally been interpreted as a scene of a father castigating his daughter while the mother (or some other older woman) silently looks on. Contrary to this view, Helgerson holds that the scene actually depicts a man, in all likelihood a soldier, propositioning a prostitute (81). The critic blames the erroneous interpretation of the work on the disappearance of a coin in the man's right hand that was probably visible in an earlier version of the painting (85). Though the man in the painting is likely a soldier and not the standing woman's father, he could nonetheless be an intruder in a private residence soliciting an unseen man's daughter. The fact that the soldier could be so easily considered the woman's father reveals a porous boundary between private and public spheres, as the male figure is a just a coin shy of being an intruder rather than a concerned head of household. Adding to the scene's tension is the viewer's inability to see the standing woman's reaction to the soldier's indecorous proposal. Will she accept? Will her father arrive in time to protect his daughter and reaffirm authority over the home? Whatever the outcome, one constant remains: the daughter's body is the principal source of contention, a veritable battleground upon which the home (father) and state (soldier) vie for supremacy.

The father-daughter relationship is the domestic dynamic most prominently featured not just in Paternal Admonition but in a number of the paintings and plays Helgerson analyzes. The presence of fathers and daughters in works that depict conflict between the personal and the civic can be explained from an anthropological perspective. Structural anthropologists such as Claude Lévi-Strauss define exogamy in patriarchal societies as the practice of intergroup marriage whereby males exchange women from their respective kinship groups in order to forge alliances and minimize intergroup rivalry (481). …

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