Public Theatre in Golden Age Madrid and Tudor-Stuart London: Class, Gender, and Festive Community

By Valbuena, Olga | Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Public Theatre in Golden Age Madrid and Tudor-Stuart London: Class, Gender, and Festive Community


Valbuena, Olga, Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England


Public Theatre in Golden Age Madrid and Tudor-Stuart London: Class, Gender, and Festive Community, by Ivan Cañadas. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005. Pp. xiii + 233. Cloth $94.95.

Reviewer: OLGA VALBUENA

Hispanists and Anglicists working in both areas of early modern studies look forward to new offerings in the relatively under-explored field of comparative Anglo-Hispanic literature. A careful perusal of Ivan Cañadas's useful bibliography (twenty-four pages in length) draws attention to the need for further inquiry in this field and goes partway to explain why Cañadas's contribution falls short of its stated goal (more on this below). In his own words, Cañadas proposes to extend "recent critical revisions of the comedia, and to demonstrate the hybrid relationship between different discourses, such as gender, race, and rank, in dramatic appeals to the audience, in addressing the theatrical cultures of both Madrid and London in the period" (18). He argues that certain plays in England such as Thomas Dekker's city comedy The Shoemaker's Holiday and a selection of Lope de Vega's Spanish peasant dramas challenge or even supersede traditional aristocratic (or gender or racial) privilege through collective action and appeals to the audience's own hybrid interests in a festive and communal celebration of class identity.

Cañadas's book evinces the fatigue of the dissertation writer. There is a template-like quality to the argument as carried from the brief introduction to the fifth chapter: in his hands, most texts under inspection are "hybrid" in their ideological tendencies, and, indeed, "subversive." Those not openly subversive prove "ambiguous." By the time Cañadas finishes his discussion of any given drama, as in chapter 4 with Lope de Vega's El villano en su rincón (The Peasant in His Corner), the reader is likely to recognize that for Cañadas the terms ambiguity, hybridity, and polyphony are synonymous with subversion. Similarly, in his discussion of Peribañez y el Comendador de Ocaña, the eponymous peasant who slays the comendador or overlord is eventually "honored as a noble" (110, my emphasis). This conclusion seems incongruous with the celebration of the lower class that the author claims for this play, for in both instances, the monarch not the peasant gives closure to events surrounding the comendador' s actions and the peasant retribution. Doing so, he consolidates his power in his own royal person. Similarly, Cañadas argues in chapter 5 that the peasant uprising culminating in the murder of Fernán Gómez, due to that comendador' s and other knights' and nobles' widespread rapine in Lope's Fuente Ovejuna, effects "a revision of traditional aristocratic notions of heroism" based on the collective retributive action of the united peasantry. Arguably, however, when King Fernando' s inquest fails to produce a guilty creature because members of the entire collectivity endure the state's coercive measures (principally torture), the peasants have paid a high price for "the claims of the community as a whole to an ideal of common dignity" (139).

This heady "no end of subversion," then, is purchased at considerable cost, not only to the actual complexity of Lope's plays but also to the work of Dian Fox and various other Hispanists whom Cañadas labels "neo-conservative" (108). He expends so much energy refuting other critics that the reader becomes distracted by that and the author's recourse to the fixed set of talking points regarding hybridity and subversion found in each successive chapter. Cañadas's discussion of "theatrical transvestism," for example, contains all the reflexes of what he associates with queer, cultural, and gender-inflected historicism but makes no new observation, breaks no new ground in either English or Hispanic studies. He asserts, to no one's surprise, that a complex of subject positions could well have resided in the individual (and in the plurality) of character types and audience members that the theater might bring together in the flux of the performative moment:

The subversion of patriarchal notions of gender suggests the specific influence of both female actors and female spectators in the theatrical culture. …

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