Beheaded Women: Masculine/feminine Dualities in Garcilaso's "Egloga" III

By McVay, Ted E., Jr. | The Romanic Review, March 1992 | Go to article overview

Beheaded Women: Masculine/feminine Dualities in Garcilaso's "Egloga" III


McVay, Ted E., Jr., The Romanic Review


Much of the criticism that treats Garcilaso de la Vega's Egloga III has been consciously based on dualities and oppositions. Perhaps the best known and best developed article of this type is Ellas L. Rivers's treatment of the poem in terms of an opposition of art/artifice and nature. Damaso Alonso's close reading of excerpts from the poem is based on an assumption of the separability of language into the duad of form and content. Two other dualistic approaches produced Giannina Braschi's reading that deals with the tradition of the ancient-modern controversy and Dario Fernandez-Morera's interpretation of the poem as structured by land and water imagery (Lyre). More recently Enrique Moreno Castillo has written of play between presence and absence/loss in the work, and Epicteto Diaz-Navarro places death and life in opposition. The structure of the narrative itself can also be divided into pairs. There is an "outside" -- the poet's representation of the real world of the dedicatory verses -- and an "inside" -- an imaginary Spanish Arcadia. Furthermore, the action in the latter space divides into two distinct parts: one of nymphs weaving tapestries, the other of singing shepherds. The shepherds' song also displays a bipartite structure with the singers holding forth alternately. In this article, I identify and approach the dualities of the work from a different point of departure: the ground established by pairing concepts of masculinity and femininity.(1) I am not attempting to attribute to Garcilaso any conscious intention of such a basis for the duality, nor do I claim to render a definitive reading. Rather, I seek to describe elements not heretofore noted in Garcilaso criticism.

My approach to the poem employs ideas taken from feminist writers to examine the relationships between paired elements in the text. In "Castration or Decapitation?" Helene Cixous defines two socio-psychological economies. For her, the masculine consciousness has its roots in the Freudian castration crisis, is marked by regimentation (marches to the beat of a drum), and corresponds to Lacan's Symbolic Order.(2) Within this masculine economy, order is based on what Cixous calls the couple:

[E]very theory of culture, every theory of society, the whole conglomeration

of symbolic systems -- everything, that is, that's

spoken, everything that's organized as discourse, art, religion, the

family, language, everything that seizes us, everything that acts on

us -- it is all ordered around hierarchical oppositions that come

back to the man/woman opposition. (44) The feminine economy is more or less disorderly (in masculine terms) because woman has not experienced a castration crisis that would subject her to the law. To correct this deviation from his experience and bring woman under the Symbolic, man imposes on her what Cixous metaphorizes as a decapitation crisis, wherein the woman -- or more accurately, what man sees as her disorderliness -- is killed. To exist, woman must live dominated by the masculine order, losing her own head, her own identity. Deprived of her own language, she is provided with man's, but since her thoughts are not recognized as valid within the masculine system, she is considered as having nothing to say. Her experiences "take place upon another stage" as it were (Irigaray 140). Therefore, the words she does utter "fall almost always upon the deaf male ear, which hears in language only that which speaks in the masculine" (Cixous, "Laugh" 880-881). She is silenced: "Unable to speak of pleasure = no pleasure, no desire: power, desire, speaking, pleasure, none of these is for woman" ("Castration" 45). She is relegated to the outside: "outside the Symbolic, that is outside language,...excluded from any possible relationship with culture and the cultural order" (45-46). The marginalized woman is clearly portrayed in Egloga III as will be shown.

Another point that is also clear in the text, is that marginalization works in both directions. …

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