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ArribaAbajoSanta Juana de Castilla: Galdós' last play

Stanley Finkenthal

Despite the fact that Galdós was concerned with the theater throughout his life, very few scholars or critics have paid serious attention to his dramatic production. The tendency has been to neglect Galdós' plays and to appraise the author solely in terms of his novels or his political career. Yet it is possible to judge Galdós as a political figure from his theater as well. The theater, in fact, may come closer to Galdós than other genres for obvious reasons. Galdós wrote each play with the purpose of having it performed with everything that a theatrical performance implies: contemporary audiences steeped in political problems, the emotionally charged environment of the theater, and the two hour time limit that deprived him of the novel's leisurely exposition and description. Galdós considered all these factors and produced a series of twenty-two problem plays, many of which were political statements with national implications. They were problem plays because theatrical entertainment was diverted to serious ulterior purposes: the examination of specific social problems caused by allegiance to old myths and outdated cultural values.

It is a mistake to lump together all of Galdós' plays and make generalizations from them about the author. In order to approach Galdós as a dramatist and social critic, it is necessary to examine the contemporary events that were impinging on the playwright and his audiences. Recent studies have focused attention on Galdós' ideology and state of mind in 1912, the date of Cánovas, his last Episodio nacional193. But Galdós' literary career did not end in 1912: six years of creativity still remained. The author wrote five plays between the years 1913 and 1918, all of which were performed during his lifetime. This study will analyze in detail only Galdós' final play, Santa Juana de Castilla, performed on May 8, 1918, less than two years before the author's death, in order to focus on key issues involving problem theater and to determine Galdós' position at the twilight of his life.

The year 1918 was particularly significant. Although Spain had chosen to remain neutral, World War I brought inflation, profiteering, higher prices, and serious hardships to the nation. As the war drew to a close in Europe there was an alarming increase in domestic violence in Spain, caused by labor disputes and the eruption of class antagonisms. Cleanup groups, called juntas, were spontaneously formed to «renovate» the army, the Court, and the unions. The Liberal government, which had risen to power with the promise of greater freedom, was giving the army rights over newspapers and was also responsible for repressive political acts. The newly enriched middle class was already erecting boundaries and barriers rivaling those of the old order. Not only had the middle class failed in its promise to promote humanitarian ideals and progressive legislation, but it also seemed that the law itself was being used to betray humanity rather than serve it, as the letter was put above the spirit. Spain   —126→   was facing an identity crisis; the most pressing question became. Where is the real Spain? Some believed that Spain was Castile while others thought that Spain should be identified only in terms of the era of Ferdinand and Isabella. More radical groups looked toward the Russia of 1917 and worked for revolution.

Galdós responded to the question of Spain's identity by writing Santa Juana de Castilla, which opened at the Teatro de la Princesa on May 8, 1918. The play deals with Queen Juana's escape from the close confinement in Tordesillas ordered by her son the Emperor Charles V. Juana's flight to the countryside for one day shortly before her death, gives her the opportunity to speak to the people of Castile for the first time in almost fifty years. Her freedom is short lived, however, for emissaries of the Emperor come to take her back to her place of confinement. Although the action occurs during the last days of her life, in the year 1555, the events of Juana's youth are brought into sharp focus through her lucid recollections and the memories of the peasants that she meets in the second act. Metaphorically, Juana is Castile. Her moment of freedom, nipped in the bud, reflects Castile's short-lived flirtation with democratic government as the Middle Ages drew to a close. This is the moment that marked the end of the independence of the municipalities, which had enjoyed special privileges and a great measure of freedom since Roman times.

As the play opens, Juana is introduced obliquely with a discussion between two servants. We immediately are apprised of two important aspects of the Queen's behavior: (1) she does not realize that time has passed, for a few days earlier she spoke of the presence of the Comuneros in Tordesillas as if they had been there since yesterday and not thirty-three years before; and (2) she may be infected with heresy, for she does not attend church services. These two factors, introduced early in the play, support the main theme and are developed further in the second and third acts.

There is a book that Juana guards close to her breast: El elogio de la locura by Erasmus. Mogica, one of the Queen's attendants, declares that the book cannot be heretical because Pope Leo X read it and laughed with delight. Juana has very few comforts besides Erasmus' monograph. She lives in confinement, a prisoner of the Marqués de Denia, and is unable to leave the palace. While Denia's wife has been living in great splendor, the Queen is reduced to eating poor food badly served. With the aid of the sympathetic Marqués de Valdenebros, the Queen escapes for a day to the outskirts of the town of Villalba de Alcor. At last she is able to «hold court» and converse with the people of her kingdom, whom she has not seen in over thirty years.

The villagers immediately recall the rising of the Comunidades before Juana can speak. Peronuño, an old man of the village, would like to revive the Comuneros, the men and women who had upheld liberty against the encroachments of Charles V between 1519 and 1521. All are gathered around the Queen as Peronuño recalls his happiest days: «¿Cosas alegres? Pues verá vuesa merced: Ya era yo casado y con hijos cuando entraron en Tordesillas, aquellos arrogantes caballeros que nos traían la buena nueva de las Comunidades. Les vi llegar ante nuestra reina, que está presente, ofreciéndole devolverle el gobierno de aquellos reinos. Traían aparejada la Constitución hecha en Ávila para   —127→   los reinos de Castilla, y tropa muy aguerrida, alzada en Toledo, Salamanca y Zamora... Cerca de aquí empeñaron batallas y más batallas...»194

Galdós calls attention here to the uprisings that began in Toledo in 1520, and later spread to Segovia, Tordesillas, Zamora, Burgos, and the kingdom of Murcia. The immediate cause of the uprising was the taxation by Charles soon after he became king. Charles needed large sums of money with which to bribe the electors so that they would name him Emperor. Underlying the conflict was the rivalry between the great incorporated municipalities of Castile and the Crown. What began as a struggle between defenders of popular versus conservative forms of government, soon assumed the nature of a class war. The «Constitution of Ávila», cited by Peronuño, revealed the social nature of the rebellion: the Castilian peasants demanded equal treatment and representation with the nobles. In an attempt to legitimize their struggle, the rebels brought the constitution to Juana in Tordesillas. The deposed Queen, however, refused to sign it. As the class conflict intensified the middle class began to withdraw its support. The Santa Junta, formed to organize the Comuneros, originally included some noblemen hostile to the king. Many of the nobles went over to the other side, however, when they learned that one of the demands of the Junta was for equal taxation of nobles and peasants. With the defection of the nobles, the revolt was soon put down and its leaders executed. The victory of the Crown and the upper nobility over the Comunidades meant the loss of independent expression and self-rule in Castile195.

The audiences of 1918 could well understand the parallels that existed between the events of Juana's time and their own. Juntas were being formed to redress grievances within institutions, but junteros were also deserting their own groups as the struggle intensified. The seeds of the crises in Spain in the twentieth century were sown early and deeply: the failure at the attempt of self-government in the sixteenth-century Comunidades was to lead to the subsequent decline of Castile. The suppression of the Comunidades was ultimately to cripple Charles' economic policies because of the failure of the middle class to develop viable alternatives.

Galdós returned to a moment in Spanish history that was pregnant with possibilities. Peronuño, who serves as the main link with the past, remembers when the people of Castile were not heavily taxed by the flamencos: during the reign of Isabella. With great admiration he speaks of the Catholic Queen: «¡Ah! No ha existido ni existirá en el mundo reina como aquella. Cuando se la llevó Dios, estos pueblos quedaron desamparados, y huérfanos. Y luego nos han traído esa caterva de flamencos que andan por acá rebañando maravedises que con tantas fatigas ganamos» (p. 1327). Peronuño expresses the feelings of the people of Castile toward Queen Isabella. Although Charles would one day become accepted and even fairly well liked, he could never supplant Isabella in the hearts and minds of the people. It is interesting to note Galdós' feelings toward Isabella; Peronuño expressed the feelings of the humble castellanos, but these sentiments were not shared by the author. In his «Prólogo» to Vieja España, written in 1907, Galdós assessed Isabella's role in history from his own point of view: «Aquella excelente señora, reina famosa entre todas las reinas, espejo de las mujeres, hizo ciertamente grandes cosas; pero le faltó una,   —128→   la principal y más importante para el porvenir de sus súbditos. No vio, o no la dejaron ver, que si antes de morir hubiera desatado nuestras conciencias, habría hecho más por nosotros que descubriendo cien Américas y conquistando doscientas Granadas»196. Galdós recognized the high points of Isabella's reign, but, in the final analysis, not only was it sadly deficient, it was downright destructive. Galdós' evaluation of Isabella's rule is negative, for she neglected the one factor essential to the future development of her people. Instead of attempting to liberate their minds, she left them tied to superstition, ignorance, and obscurantism. Just as enforced religious unification through thought control resulted in stunted development in the area of creative thought, so too did the expulsion of Jews and Moors further undermine industry. Imperial involvement in wars was to cause domestic economic conditions to decline and to put an almost unbearable strain on national resources. Expansion in America was also to become thwarted because of the preoccupation at home with orthodoxy and religious unity.

The humble Castilian peasants are victims of the myth of Isabella's greatness. But it is not only the lowborn who are deceived; Juana also shares their illusion. Before escaping from the palace, Juana reminisces. She recalls her mother, Queen Isabella, and Castile's prominence under her leadership: «Estas son grandezas de Castilla, grandezas que pasaron y no volverán... Estos hechos están estampados en mi cabeza. Hubiera querido yo ser tan grande como mi madre; pero ya es tarde: yo no valgo nada» (p. 1326). Juana's praise for her mother is joined with a lament for the decline of Spain under Charles V. Galdós, however, traces the beginning of the decline to Isabella, for it was she who set the course for the Spanish monarchy for the next three generations. Under Isabella's rule the obsession with orthodoxy became the Castilian ideal. Her rejection of a pluralistic society had severe political and economic repercussions. In Spain, those who engaged in commerce or industry -practices associated with Jews or Moors- were treated with disdain and often suspected of having «impure blood». The nobility and landed gentry that possessed money preferred to construct churches and monasteries rather than to invest in commerce (considered a Judaic ideal) and run the risk of being called «New Christians»197. As a new society began to emerge in the rest of sixteenth-century Europe, with the rise of industry, the price revolution, the expansion of cities, and the new, developing middle class, Spain sought to resist change, attempting to guard old privileges by imposing absolute doctrinal unity in matters of faith and social policy. Galdós has only censure for this aspect of Isabella's reign. The economic well-being of the more prosperous municipalities was undermined by the purges conducted by the Inquisition during the first years of Isabella's rule. Charles V chose to continue the mission of Castile established by the Catholic Queen. When the municipalities and peasants rose up in protest of the harsh taxation that Charles imposed to finance foreign campaigns and Imperial aspirations, the Emperor stamped out the rebellion with the same vigor that the Holy Office displayed in its treatment of relapsed heretics. Dissent was regarded as a political and social heresy. Ultimately, the Emperor subdued the Cortes as well, and smothered the remnants of freedom in Castile198.


Galdós emphasized the political and religious situations with allusions to Charles V and Erasmus. But the link between Church and State had been forged before Juana's appearance. We must return to Isabella and her zeal for saving souls, not only those of her own time, but also those of Spaniards yet unborn. For Galdós this was more than error; it was a crime committed by Isabella that would retard Spain's development in modern times.

It is quite ironical that Juana should feel unworthy because she cannot match her mother's zeal, for it is apparent throughout the play that Juana possesses the true Christian virtues in spite of the accusations against her. Her actions reveal a character that is considerate and charitable, more charitable than those who accuse her of heretical tendencies because of her neglect of ritual. Francisco Borja, the former Duke of Gandia who will later be enrolled among the saints, makes his entrance at the end of the first act after Juana has fled to the countryside. He calms the ironhanded guardian, Denia, and assures the latter that he knows how to «cumplir siempre como sacerdote y caballero» (p. 1327). Borja's entrance provides a forceful conclusion to the first act and stresses the medieval ideal of the priest and warrior.

The theme of the warrior-priest is reinforced with another example, on a lower key, in the second act. During her brief day with the people of Castile, the Queen speaks to a boy who is studying Latin with a friar. The young student Sanchico describes his teacher: «Este señor, que antes que fraile fue soldado, no me enseña latín, sino el arte de la guerra, y sabe más de batallas, de saltos, de tercios, marchas y contramarchas que el Gran Capitán» (p. 1329). Here Galdós reminds us of the survival of feudalism in Castile after the Middle Ages. The feudal system was dominated by priests and warriors, and values were absolute and eternal. At the matrix of the system were mythological and theological modes of thought. Economic, political, and social thought were all dependent on medieval notions of chivalry and metaphysical preoccupations. As long as the feudal-theological order remained intact, the rule of man over man would be based on force. Man could not be free until he realized that he did not need the protection of superiors in power to guide him because he was lowborn, or ignorant, or tainted by original sin.

Galdós reminds his twentieth-century audiences, many of whom still looked toward the Church or State or strong rulers for salvation, that society must be based on reason and that social relationships should be derived from objective necessities. The poignant secondary characters in Galdós' play force the audience to speculate on what it might have meant for Castile had the Comuneros been successful in wresting power from their leaders and letting the necessities of industrial effort shape their lives and institutions. Juana does not place herself above the peasants; she tells them that she is neither the first nor the last among them, and that «vosotros y yo somos lo mismo» (p. 1327). Her identification with the peasants gives them the courage to articulate their complaints against the Crown. Peronuño, the most outspoken of the villagers, is ready for political reform through revolt. When Juana states that she prefers the simplicity of life on a par with the people, Peronuño declares that «el pueblo debe gobernarse a sí mismo en conformidad con la soberana» (p. 1330). He still is dependent on the highborn Queen for legitimation.   —130→   Thirty-three years before, in 1520, the Comuneros had also come to Juana for her signature on the «Constitution of Avila», but she refused to sign the document. Peronuño has not understood Juana's words regarding her position in society -on a par with the peasants. Juana does not want to return to power, nor does she wish to be the rallying point for another insurrection. The people must become aware of their own power and nobility from within and through education. The Queen is physically and emotionally exhausted as the second act draws to a close with the appearance on stage of Borja, who has come to take her back to Tordesillas and ease her final hours. Borja bids her attendants to treat the Queen gently as they carry her to the waiting carriage. Before leaving the village, Juana arranges to have her few possessions divided among the needy, with funds especially earmarked for the schooling of the young Sanchico.

The final act is set in the palace at Tordesillas. As Juana lies close to death, the Marqués de Denia continues his attempts to prove that she is a heretic. When the Queen's physician tells Denia that it is time for her to receive the final sacraments, the Marqués observes that there will probably be no need for her to receive them: «Hoy puedo asegurar, por averiguaciones recientes de buen origen, que esta señora sigue aferrada a la herejía, y para ella no hay más creencias que las insensatas doctrinas de ese maldito filósofo holandés que llaman Erasmo» (p. 1332). Although Denia has just learned that the Queen is still attracted to Erasmus' doctrines, the audience was earlier made aware of Juana's reading habits through the discussions of servants that observe her behavior. Dramatically, the third act neatly balances the first, in theme and setting. Denia's charges of heresy echo the intimations that emerged during a dialogue between Mogica and Marisancha, the Queen's attendants. Mogica is particularly loyal to Juana and observes that he sees evidence of her Christiantity in the way she reacts to adversity. As the play opens, the two servants discuss Juana:

MOGICA:  El Rey Católico y Cisneros asignaron a doña Juana una suma crecida para el sostén decoroso de esta señora, cuando la inhabilitaron para el gobierno de Castilla.

MARISANCHA:   Pero este marqués de Denia avariento y desvergonzado, aprovecha para su fachendosa mujer los coches, los palafranes...

MOGICA:  Y toda la servidumbre de a pie y de a caballos, guardias..., monteros, y demás, que debían ser para la soberana. Habrás visto, Marisancha, que la reina, nuestra señora no le disputa al marqués estas grandezas, y permanece solitaria y oscura, mal alimentada y peor servida, como si aquí viviera de limosna.

MARISANCHA:   Así, así; como de limosna.

MOGICA:   Y ahora te pregunto yo: ¿No es esto virtud? ¿No es humildad? ¿No es cristianismo? ¿No es esto desprecio de las vanidades terrenas para elevar el espíritu a lo divino, a lo eterno?

MARISANCHA:  Sí; doña Juana es una señora ejemplar, y lo sería más si asistiera a las cirimonias [sic] de nuestra religión.

(p. 1322)                

With remarkable dramatic skill and economy of words, Galdós paints the immediate situation of the Queen: the background of her confinement, the people   —131→   responsible for her loss of power, the abuse of her funds by Denia, her true Christian practices, and the attitude toward Juana of those who feel that ritual is of paramount importance. Moreover, Galdós will return to each of these points in the final act and bring the action full round. All of the knots tied in the first act are neatly undone in the final act, which is short and succinct. Denia's wife, who has been living on the funds intended for Juana, is called by the dying Queen to her bedside. She makes her only appearance in the last act, and it is an obligatory scene -a confrontation expected by the audience and eagerly anticipated. The Marquesa is astonished to learn that the Queen asks for her forgiveness. In her astonishment she blurts out that it is she who should beg the Queen's pardon.

Juana's actions give the lie to Denia's denunciations of her as a heretic, for the Queen also seeks pardon from God for her sins. Nevertheless, lack of attendance to the rites of the Church renders Juana suspect not only to her servants but to her son the Emperor as well. Borja has been sent by Charles to comfort her in the final hours; he has a second purpose: to determine the extent of her heresy. Shortly before she dies, Juana asks for a drink of water, free from impurities. She explains to Borja the importance that water has for her with these revealing words: «Quiero el agua pura y limpia, como la que cae del cielo cuando lloran las nubes para fertilizar y purificar todas las cosas; quiero el agua traída por la divina esencia, licor no contaminado aún por las turbulencias de los ríos, que arrastran en su corriente todas las malicias, todas las miserias humanas. En esta idea se funda mi criterio religioso» (p. 1333). The influence of Erasmus is quite clear in the metaphor used by the Queen. Galdós situates his protagonist squarely with her reference to pure water. The symbol of an uncorrupted primitive Christianity is also an element necessary for life. Juana is in the camp of the Dutch humanist who believed in separating the exterior rituals from the essence of religion. Erasmus' dream, reflected in Juana's behavior, was to replace the superficial trappings of theology with what he called «the philosophy of Christ». In his attempt at reform he sought to have the Church reduce the essential dogma and have «as few as possible, leaving opinion free on the rest»199. Galdós' strongest criticism of Isabella's reign was reserved for her interference with the free conscience of her subjects. In his censure of Isabella and his praise for Juana, Galdós follows in the tradition of Erasmus. The love of Man and the redistribution of worldly wealth, which Galdós preached in the plays preceding Santa Juana de Castilla, also recall the behavior and life style of the early Christian communities. Erasmus was also fond of pointing out the differences between early and contemporary Christian societies. There are additional parallels between Erasmus and Juana. Although Erasmus never left the Church, he died without receiving its sacraments, and in his will, he left no legacy for religious use. Like Galdós' Queen, Erasmus assigned moneys for the care of the aged and for the education of young people that showed promise.

The final act of Santa Juana de Castilla answers the questions raised earlier regarding heresy. The book that Juana carries with her in place of a devocionario, Erasmus' Elogio de la locura, is approved by the kindly Borja, who at the same time dismisses the notion that the Queen is guilty of heresy. Moments   —132→   before she dies, Borja tells her: «No sois hereje señora. En el libro de Erasmo nada se lee contrario al dogma. Lo que hay es una sátira mordaz contra los teólogos enrevesados, los canonistas insustanciales, las beatas histéricas y los predicadores truculentos que han desvirtuado la divina sencillez con artilugios retóricos...» (p. 1334). This passage, describing Erasmus' work, might well be taken as a description of some of the characters who appear in Galdós' own literary creations, such as Doña Perfecta, Don Inocencio, and María Remedios -all from the novel Doña Perfecta. They reappear on stage in Casandra, Electra, and other plays. The names of the characters change, but their intolerant attitudes identify them as reincarnations of the original characters. In his non-fiction prose Galdós discusses the problems raised by the real life counterparts of these characters; the «Prologue» to Alma y vida deals with clerical abuses and the effects of the beatas on the presentation of his plays. Such a problem existed for Galdós because Spain rejected Erasmianism. The Inquisition scrutinized the Dutch scholar's books in an attempt to have him condemned as a heretic. The Church through its Inquisitional arm was to become a powerful weapon for absolutism and political orthodoxy. Juana's «heresy» was religious, but in the context of sixteenth-century Spain it also became political; both freedom of conscience and the international tolerance preached by Erasmus were ideas that bordered on heresy.

Galdós pointed to a crucial moment in Spanish history, and through Juana he showed the tactics used against free thought. The attempt to express individual conscience was put down in such a manner by the easily hurled catchall charge of heresy, that intellectual life was dealt a shattering blow. The power of the Inquisition was used as an ally of absolutism and as an arm of the Crown200. In Spain, Catholicism and patriotism coalesced into an absolute political-religious orthodoxy. Aided by the Inquisition's power to strangle dissent, this new absolutism was to stifle the free communication of ideas by the end of the century. Galdós' final play reminds us that with the official rejection of Erasmian thought, Spain shut out the forces that would shape modern Europe.

Although the action of Santa Juana de Castilla takes place in the sixteenth century, the play was relevant to the contemporary situation in Spain. The descendants of the Comuneros and illiterate peasants, portrayed in Santa Juana, had been transformed by 1918 into a mechanized urban proletariat, dissatisfied with their working conditions and angry with the Church that they felt represented only the interests of the ruling classes. Lacking a coherent philosophy, the people were looking to others above them for leadership, just as their ancestors had in the times of Queen Juana and Charles V. Santa Juana de Castilla, a problem play written in response to the question, What is Spain?, shows us Galdós' idea of what Spain is not and should not be. The true Spain is not to be found by turning backward toward the spiritually and economically bankrupt policies of Isabella and Charles V. Nor should Spain be a nation where one must pay lip service to a religion in order to «get on».

With the examples of Erasmus and Juana we see the positive side of Galdós' vision at the end of his literary career: Spain, like the rest of the world, should be the common country of us all with a return to individual freedom and mutual tolerance. Galdós' final play advises Spaniards that they must retain   —133→   their freedom of conscience and not submit to external pressures. The authorities stripped Juana of everything she had, but they could not break her spirit. Galdós reaffirms his faith in himself with Juana's example, justifying his beliefs despite hostile criticism; he also reaffirms his belief in the future of the Spanish people.

There is one constant that appears throughout Galdós' dramatic production and is particularly evident in Santa Juana: the sense of social context and social obligation. Galdós launched the modern problem drama in Spain because he expressed the life of the individual not only in perennial human terms but also in his experience of being a Spaniard in contemporary society. The traditional clash of personalities, present in all of Galdós' theater, reaches its climax in Santa Juana and becomes an integral part of the struggle of Spaniards with Spanish tradition and Spanish realities. Galdós' final play, dealing with the problematic legacy of Spanish history, is one more vivid example of the author's brilliant talent. He combines the dramatist's intensity of insight with an unusually wide appreciation and knowledge of the innumerable economic, political, social, and sentimental factors that affect life in Spain. These qualities deployed in the vast imaginary world of the characters of the theater, combine to make his achievement remarkable in range and depth. The picture of Spanish society colored by Galdós' mighty imagination -just as mighty in the plays as in the novels- expresses both Galdós' exceptional personality as an artist and his admirable commitment to the real problems of Spain.

Salem State College

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