Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Dying for Love: Eros and Violence in Lopean Drama

Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Dying for Love: Eros and Violence in Lopean Drama

Article excerpt

Lope de Vega's El caballero de Olmedo, El perro del hortelano, and El castigo sin venganza are plays ostensibly concerned with questions of love and honor. All three comedias center upon dilemmas facing individuals in conflictive relationships that often culminate in violence and death. It has been argued that because Lope favors theme over action, his plays generally exhibit little psychological depth and his characterization "can strike one as perfunctory" (Pring-Mill xiv). To be sure, complex issues such as existentialist problems or a character's deep psychology were not the comedia's principal concerns. This theatrical genre was, after all, primarily a popular form of entertainment. Lope aimed to please his audience by giving them plays that were "swift-moving and exciting [...] lithe in plot and both lifelike and witty in dialogue" (Pring-Mill xiv). As such, his drama tends to relegate psychology and other less immediate aspects of human existence to a secondary plane, using them only to the extent that they lend themselves to a lively illustration of theme or action (Pring-Mill xiv-xvi, Gerstinger 55).

Be that as it may, a good number of Lope's works do reveal a metaphysical dimension and owe much of their structure and appeal to the psychological dynamics of complex love triangles. The mechanics of these triangles and the role they play in the three comedias in question constitute a promising avenue of exploration. Concepts such as Denis de Rougemont's notion of passionate love and René Girard's theory of mimetic desire1 can be used productively in a reinterpretation of these plays, thus affording new perspectives into the development of the intrigues so much at the heart of Golden Age comedias.

The plays of Lope de Vega have been studied extensively from various critical perspectives in the recent past. They have especially benefited from poststructuralist critical approaches such as the ones employed by Edward H. Friedman (semiotics), Christopher B. Weimer (Girardian mimetic desire), and Anne M. Pasero (Freudian psychoanalysis), among others. In recent rereadings of Lope's drama, the connection between love (or sex) and death has been examined at length by students of the Spanish Golden Age comedia such as Helmy F. Giacoman, Thomas A. O'Connor, Laura Ana Leo de Belmont, Bert Carduilo, and Antonia Petro, although never in the light of the de RougemontGirard model as it is applied here.

El caballero de Olmedo is the story of Alonso, a knight from Olmedo, who comes to the fair of Medina and falls in love with Inés, the lovely daughter of a widowed nobleman. Unable or unwilling to approach the young woman himself, Alonso enlists the aid of Fabia, an old bawd and sorceress, who agrees to serve as their go-between. Due in part to Fabia's spells and beguiling rhetoric, Inés becomes infatuated with Alonso, even though her father has already agreed to give her hand in marriage to another knight, Rodrigo. At the prospect of having to marry a man whom she does not love, Inés pretends to develop an interest in a religious career and asks her father for permission to enter a convent to become a nun. Surprised but at the same time pleased with the news, the father grants his daughter her request and hires two tutors to prepare Inés for convent life. However, these "tutors" are none other than Fabia and one of Alonso's servants, Tello, who have been instructed to infiltrate Inés's household in order to establish and maintain communication between the two lovers. During a celebration in honor of King Juan II, Alonso has an opportunity to display his courage and bullfighting skills, both of which are greatly admired and celebrated. He has a chance to showcase his expertise in this area especially when he dramatically saves the life of Rodrigo, who deeply resents this embarrassment and dishonor at the hands of his rival. That evening, as Alonso returns home along the solitary road to Olmedo, he is attacked and killed by Rodrigo and his cronies. …

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