Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Rattling the Shackles of Convention: Juan Pérez De Montalbán Breaks the Fourth Wall

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Rattling the Shackles of Convention: Juan Pérez De Montalbán Breaks the Fourth Wall

Article excerpt

The dramatic works of Juan Pérez de Montalbán are finally starting to receive the critical attention that they deserve. The collaborative research project 'Un autor madrileño recuperado: Juan Pérez de Montalbán', directed by Claudia Dematté, has assembled an impressive team of scholars to issue critical editions of the plays of Pérez de Montalbán, to publish studies on the author's work and to offer in digital format documents related to his biography, editions of the works, and information on Madrid of the period.1 To date, two volumes of the Obras de Juan Pérez de Montalbán (see Pérez de Montalbán 2013: 2014) have resulted from this collaboration of a total of ten planned by Edition Reichenberger.2

In the introductory address 'Al qve ha de leer' that Juan Pérez de Montalbán penned for his miscellany Para todos, the dramatist confessed that: 'Lo cierto es, que me tenían tan cansado las Comedias, que tomé este medio para no escreuirlas por algunos meses' (Pérez de Montalbán 1632: f. ivr).3 He enumerates five reasons why he needs a respite from his chosen profession (the impossibility of satisfying the tastes of a hybrid audience; the fact that a play's success has less to do with the skill of the poet and more to do with the fame of his Maecenas; the certainty that what was once a pleasurable pursuit has turned into a harsh and distasteful battle;4 the unfair sway of the vulgo, who can question the authenticity of the plays that he is writing, at a great cost to his reputation, and finally, the unjust applause earned by those quack dramatists who know how to please their audience, even in the absence of substance). I believe that the last two reasons reveal a certain resentment against the vast weight of convention that bound Spanish Golden Age dramatists and condemned them to an endless repetition of popular plots, characters, actions, special effects, etc. A hiatus in writing for the stage is a rather drastic measure to take to rebel against the dictates of convention. In this study I would like to examine some of the ways that within his dramatic texts Juan Pérez de Montalbán both succumbed to and rebelled against the often fickle demands imposed by a paying public upon whose whims the success or failure of all plays in the period depended.

Spanish dramatists of the Golden Age who dared to break with convention, or who refused to cater to it altogether, found themselves unable to sell their manuscripts to the autores de compañía. The best they could hope for was the far less lucrative option of publishing their plays as 'nunca representados', as did Cervantes with his Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses (1615). With few realistic opportunities then to overthrow the oppressive yoke of convention, Pérez de Montalbán and other Spanish dramatists of the period had to resort to forms of subterfuge in order to undermine and parody the very same theatrical practices they felt obliged to imitate.

Breaking the fourth wall, in general terms, is itself a dramatic convention 'wherein on-stage actors acknowledge the presence of the audience' (Davis 2015: 87). It is therefore a metatheatrical device that allows the dramatist, by means of his creations, to poke fun at his craft and, at times, at his audience as well, through self-referential allusion. This study explores the many ways utilized by Juan Pérez de Montalbán to engage his audience and make it aware that the product they are consuming is not reality, but rather an artifact that is highly conditioned by the weight of convention, a concession to their demands; an economic necessity forged by their purchasing power. As such, although it is often humorous in nature, there is a bittersweet tinge to the device, which allows the dramatist to vent his frustrations over being at the whim of the uninformed masses almost universally condemned in the Spanish Golden Age as the vulgo.5

The first form of intimate and privileged communication between Juan Perez de Montalbán and his audience that I would like to document are those instances when he acknowledges the special effects that were very much in demand by the audience at the Corral de comedia. …

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