From the Perspective of a Narcissistic Lover: Joan Roís de Corella's «Tragèdia de Caldesa»
Not very often, alas, critics at large, not considered specialists in Hispanic studies, turn their attention to authors who flourished in the Catalan domain at the end of the Middle Ages or at the beginning of the Renaissance. A notable exception is none other than Harold Bloom, who recently delivered a full-fledged lecture on two such authors, worthy of universal acclaim: the Majorcan Ramon Llull, known as doctor illuminatus, and the Valencian Ausiàs March, one of the greatest lyricists of all time. The signal event, a keynote address before a sizeable audience at Poets House (New York, NY), on 11 February 2006, may well come as comfort, albeit small comfort, to scholars mat have had occasion to ponder, as I have pondered, the glaring mismatch evidenced between the unquestionable distinction of some stellar literary figures and their rather undistinguished renown on an international scale. The personages that readily come to mind are, besides the aforementioned Llull and March, countless kindred others, such as the novelist Joanot Martorell and the satirist Jaume Roig, Valencian both, and, last but not least, Francesc Eiximenis, an eminent native of Catalonia proper, writer of encyclopedic interest, vast erudition, and immense output1.
Doubtless, well deserving of our attention is, also, Joan Roís de Corella, the outstanding theologian and humanist from Valencia, who was very active in the literary circles of that cultural center in the second half of the fifteenth century. On this occasion I should like to point out the salient aspects of Corella's extraordinary contribution to the revitalization of theater in the Iberian Peninsula at the dawn of the Renaissance. My discussion focuses on Corella's short composition, entitled Tragèdia de Caldesa, which may well be considered one of the most enigmatic pieces in the entire corpus of Catalan belles-lettres2.
In a seminal essay born of considerable reflection on Corella's masterpiece, the Italian scholar Annamaria Annicchiarico puts the spotlight right on the crux of the enigma as she asks, poignantly, «Perché "tragedia"?» («Wherefore tragedy?») According to Annicchiarico, in Corella's case, «tragèdia» may be construed only in a very loose sense. For Corella, observes Annicchiarico, any reference of the term, as commonly understood in the post-Renaissance era, to an actual on-stage performance is out of the question. Thus, Corella would abide, as he unquestionably did, by the notion of the tragic mode in such traits as famous deeds («gesta memorabili»), noble personages, that is, superior human beings, the usual catastrophic ending («l'epilogo solitamente funesto»), and, last but not least, the lofty style («stile eccelso»), more often than not manifested in resounding language and elevated tone (Annicchiarico 60). In short, Annicchiarico readily recognizes in Tragèdia de Caldesa the commendable qualities inherited from the venerable medieval tradition and especially «l'ambizione squisitamente letteraria dell'esercitazione culta», that is, the author's consummate flair for rhetorical sophistication and refinement (61). What, nevertheless, Annicchiarico denies is any inclination on the part of Corella for the mise en scène (
«la pur minima preoccupazione per l'elemento scenico e per il montaggio drammatico» ).
With all due deference to Annicchiarico's trail-blazing argument, eloquently and elegantly articulated, I should like to propose a new approach to Tragèdia de Caldesa in testimony of precisely the far-reaching contribution I have just alluded to. I submit that, in fashioning his own esthetic of the tragic, Corella looks not to the past but to the future. It is true that, as Annicchiarico (59-61) and Riquer (3: 294-5) cogently show, Corella relied on the principles tersely enunciated by Dante both in De vulgari eloquentia 2.4.5, where we read: «per tragediam superiorem stilum inducimus», and in Epistola XIII to Cangrande della Scala, in which we find: «tragedia in principio est admirabilis et quieta, in fine seu exitu est fetida et horribilis», (qtd., respectively, in Annicchiarico 61, n. 7 and 59, n. 2)3. It is no less true, however, that, as I hope to show presently, Corella capitalizes upon the resources made available to him by the autochthonous tradition primarily through the mediacy of his illustrious predecessor, the fellow Valencian named Ausiàs March.
Arguably, what is of great consequence is the manner in which Corella brings into effect a rediscovery of a genre ―that of tragedy― and, as a result, becomes a harbinger of a new age in the history of Western theater ―the age of the Renaissance. What are the leading indicators of Corella's revolutionary esthetic and landmark innovation? For practical reasons I cannot provide on this occasion a full answer to the question posed here in complementation of Annicchiarico's momentous query. Such an answer would require a methodical study of at least two fundamental esthetic functions, which may be identified as mimesis and perspective. For the time being I will attempt a profile of an intertext of alienation. For the purpose of this discussion the term «intertext» designates a literary creation that results from the integration or assimilation of various sources. «Alienation», on the other hand, refers to the mental and psychic state that pertains to the portrait of the lover as a sorrowful young man. Demonstrably, such a lover is embodied eminently in Corella's artistic alter ego and in Calisto, the male protagonist of the famous Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, better known as Celestina. Presently we will see how the intertext in question foreshadows the gestation and development of the tragic mode in not only the demeanor of a narcissistic personage but also the curious inversion of the traditional gender roles.
Such seminal studies as the ones by Patricia Grieve (Desire and Death in the Spanish Sentimental Romance (1440-1550)) and Marina Scordilis Brownlee (The Severed Word: Ovid's Heroides and the Novela Sentimental) have enhanced, appreciably, our understanding of the texts or types of texts that come to a head in the composition of the Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea. Although Brownlee addresses specifically the «intertextual relationship» ―in her terminology― between the novela sentimental and Celestina, it is quite clear that the intertext Brownlee is dealing with involves the cross-fertilization of the genetic traits of said novela with those of the cancionero poetry of the fifteenth century. Both Brownlee and Grieve agree on the paramount role that poetry plays toward the constitution of the intertext in question. Grieve depicts in rather broad strokes a distinctive evolutionary transition from a lyric composition to a novelistic one:
Brownlee, on her part, underscores in cancionero lyricism precisely those traits that come to bear upon the evolution of the text of solitude:
As one would expect, the very vocabulary adopted by Brownlee («aesthetic of discontinuity», «performative inefficacy», «affective failure») indicates that cancionero criticism has come a long way since the days of Arturo Farinelli, Bernardo Sanvisenti, Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, to name but a few representative figures of the pioneering age, which culminates in the monumental two-volume overview (La poésie lyrique espagnole et portugaise à la fin du moyen âge) by Pierre Le Gentil.
The fresh approach and concomitant line of inquiry championed by Brownlee follows in the vein of the intertextual method championed by Lida de Malkiel (La originalidad artística de La Celestina). From the panoramic vantage point afforded by her vast erudition, Lida de Malkiel zeroes in on issues of special relevance for Calisto's characterization. The distinguished Argentinian scholar points to the extraordinary change that the cancionero and the novelas sentimentales brought about upon the age-old Graeco-Roman literary tradition. The change has to do precisely with the portrayal of the male protagonist in the guise of the plaintive lover. Certainly we can do no better than Lida de Malkiel herself in not only describing the memorable phenomenon but also tracing the strange course of the powerful influence exercised by Francesco Boccaccio's Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta. Following is Lida de Malkiel's key passage, worthy to be quoted in full:
|(La originalidad artística de La Celestina 388-9)|
Lida de Malkiel's signal discovery is, then, twofold: first, the relationship between Calisto and Melibea illustrates a striking reversal in the gender role that a well-established tradition of long standing assigns, respectively, to the male and female protagonist; second, such a reversal responds to a strange adaptation that the author of the Tragicomedia works upon the personage of Fiammetta as originally conceived by Boccaccio. Indeed, the personage that ends up resembling Fiammetta is not, as might be expected, Melibea but Calisto. After comparing the Tragicomedia with Boccaccio's masterpiece, Lida de Malkiel concludes that
«la divergencia más original consiste en configurar a semejanza de Fiammetta el carácter de Calisto y no el de Melibea» (388).
In her own perceptive study of the intertext of Celestina, June Hall Martin does not acknowledge Lida de Malkiel's comment on the reversal of the male-female roles. Martin, nevertheless, takes up the all-important motif, for which she finds a notable antecedent in Aucussin et Nicolette, the anonymous chantefable of the thirteenth century. It is useful to take a close look at Martin's review of the salient details, for which, mutatis mutandis, we may identify analogous manifestations in the Tragicomedia. Martin clearly highlights the actions and events that turn out to be symptomatic of fundamental differences in character and state of mind between the two protagonists:
Soon later, Martin adds another key episode to the list:
Nicolette's return to Beaucaire disguised as a jongleur is an unmistakable echo... of a similar disguise of Tristan returning from exile to see Yseut. In each instance it is significant that Nicolette assumes the role of Tristan, not that of Yseut.
Particularly revealing is the following observation with which Martin culminates her description of the relationship between Aucussin and Nicolette:
The relevance of these incisive remarks is to be gauged by their resonance in Martin's own perception of the contrast between Calisto and Melibea. Take, for instance, the following commentary:
We may well take issue with Martin as to the qualities ―naiveté, foolishness, self-abasement― here ascribed to Melibea. We may argue, in unison with Frank and others, that Melibea does, indeed, rise to tragic heights. But, whatever our divergences with respect to Martin's position, the overall implications of Martin's argumentation are hard to deny. Melibea, not unlike her predecessor Nicolette, does assume the masculine role to a considerable degree; and, insofar as she does, Calisto, who is the obverse of Melibea, sounds and acts like «the typical swooning courtly lady of twelfth-century romances».
What with its discordant overtones emanating from the motif of the reversed roles, the text of solitude in Celestina dovetails with the intricate web of the intertext of alienation. Numerous scholars ―here we can only refer to but a few of them― delve into the intertext that attests, directly or indirectly, to the display of Calisto's condition. Bataillon shows a keen interest in the pervasive sense of alienation that affects not only Calisto but also «les amants caslistéens», as he calls them, featured in the various imitations or sequels of the Tragicomedia. Bataillon depicts the estrangement of this unhappy lot in rather bold strokes:
L'intoxication littéraire dont ils sont victimes obnubile en eux le sens du réel ausi bien que le sens des valeurs, la juste perception du monde matériel aussi bien que celle du monde humain que les entoure.
In her study of the novela sentimental Patricia Grieve concentrates on the salient aspects of solitude embodied by the male protagonist in Diego de San Pedro's Arnalte y Lucenda. According to Grieve,
[s]oledad here, is, naturally, being without a lady to serve, but it represents also deprivation, emptiness, not the state of being alone. One can experience soledad, therefore, even in the midst of a crowd.
Few authors, if any, can provide a more stirring expression of the lover's desolation ―«the state of mind, the emptiness caused by reason's desertion», as Grieve puts it (38)― than does Ausiàs March, the stellar bard from Valencia, whose lifespan covers the first half of the fifteenth century. One may be inspired to complement Grieve's rewarding insights with a timely meditation on the first stanza of March's Cant XIII:
|(Ed. Archer 80-81)|
While shunning any association with the festive crowd, the poet's persona dramatizes the paradoxical loneliness attendant upon one who feels lost in the immense company of the gloomy multitude of the damned ―la perduta gente as Dante would call them.
In the late 1400s certain authors in the Catalan domain continued in Ausiàs March's strains of gloom and doom. The Catalan Francesc Moner, for instance, in one of his major works (see L'ànima d'Oliver in Obres catalanes 137-65) conjures up the ghost of Francesc Oliver, a notorious personage driven to suicide by his unfortunate love affair with a woman of high rank4. In referring to the desolation that afflicts him and those like him, the ghost of Oliver (L'ànima d'Oliver) comes up with an epigrammatic phrase ―
«bandeig de consell strany y destruccions de seny, y, en fi, en infern paga eterna y certa» (Obres catalanes 149)― applicable to that state of «reasons's desertion» that Calisto shares with the doleful lot of «amants calistéens». To Moner's name we may add that of Moner's contemporary, the Valencian Francesc Carròs, who in the exordium of his emotive confession, entitled Regoneixença e moral consideració contra les persuasions, vicis e forces d'amor, proffers his own tenebrous statement, emblematic of the infierno in which he has wasted his days:
traspassats los meus dies en tanta pèrdua de temps, ceguetat e desventura, com los animals nocturnes qui en les cavernes habiten, me retraguí en hora ja tenebrosa en lo profunde secret e dolorós centre de les mies cogitacions...
We may go back to Grieve's study for additional details concerning the intertext that interests us here. Grieve touches on certain aspects worthy of consideration in broaching, at the very least, a discussion on the complex subject of the lover's narcissism. One may take into account, for a start, the symptoms of self-absorption in Arnalte's and Calisto's momentary experience of quenched desire. Grieve brings to light a subtle parallelism, which she explains as follows:
His need to pursue her abated, Arnalte behaves somewhat like Calisto, whom we see lost some interest in Melibea once she acquiesced.
At a special juncture in her discussion, as she delves into the phenomenology of the double, Grieve adumbrates characteristics that transcend the Arnalte-Calisto parallelism. Grieve discovers that
[t]he double, a prominent figure in romance, appears in varied forms: twin, mirror image, antithetical character (often referred to as demonic double), or, simply, a character which embodies one or two traits recognizable as characteristic of another.
We cannot address here the vast range of implications stemming from Grieve's declaration. It is highly appropriate to single out, instead, the mirror imagery, which, as Suzanne Conklin Akbari shows by her recent research on the Roman de la rose, proves to be an effective symbol of the lover's derangement. With exemplary acumen Akbari does not lose sight of the fertile analogies engendered by the image of the mirror precisely when employed by Guillaume de Lorris in his portion of the Roman as a symbol in the deepest poetic sense of the term. From the deliberations of such influential medieval thinkers and commentators as William of Conches and Bernardus Silvestris, Akbari develops her own hermeneutics on the salient analogical functions of the mirror ―namely, reflection, refraction, and distortion. Akbari keeps a keen eye especially on the process of refraction and the deleterious consequences it precipitates:
The word for refraction used in William's Timaean glosses, detuitio, is employed in Guillaume's Rose to characterize the deceptive pleasures of the Garden of Deduit. It comes as no surprise that Guillaume explicity associates deduit, the joy caused by love, with changes in vision: when one is in love, «li oil son en deduit» (2717). The eyes are in deduit, in a state of pleasure, but they are also in detuitio, refracted and thus partial, distorted vision.
Akbari's intense probing allows us to catch a glimpse of not only this ambiguous state of detuitio but also other vicious dimensions of the lover's dysfunctional disposition, such as the
«multiplication of the self» (66) and the curious pairing of Amors and Amant as
«one almost a reflection of the other» (68). Throughout, Akbari profiles what a hispanist may well recognize as Guillaume de Lorris's signal antecedent and textual correlative of the infierno de los enamorados. Lorris's text of the Roman unveils, as Akbari cogently demonstrates, within the murky recesses of the lover's psyche, an engrossing allegorical drama: a mind-boggling play and interplay of similarities and opposites. As may be judged from the following passage, Akbari's description of that drama calls for an attentive reading, indeed:
instead of the marvellous palace of love inhabited only by ladies and the God of Love, Guillaume describes the stifling enclosure of love, which both makes the object of desire inaccessible and traps the lover himself. [...] In Guillaume's description of the fortress, Dangiers appears in Amors's position, guarding the eastern gate. [...] While Amors abets the lover's desire, Dangiers begins by being antagonistic and ends by being adamantly opposed. [...] Amors and Dangiers are both reflections of the lover, but at the same time they mirror one another, Dangiers an opposite, inverted image of Amors. As William of Conches writes, «in a flat mirror, the right part is seen to be on the left and vice versa, so that if a man moves his right hand, the reflection moves its left and vice versa».
In the light of pertinent data, one may sympathize with the cautious but far from dismissive position couched in June Hall Martin's following observation:
I do not... insist upon any direct influence of the Roman upon the Celestina; to do so would surely require more evidence than I have presented here. Yet the structural similarity is difficult to escape.
It is fair to say that Akbari's findings invite us to fix our eyes not so much on what Martin calls «structural similarity» as on a primordial paradigm, illustrative of the conflict, as old as original sin, between the control of reason and the proddings of the senses or passions. In order to appreciate the complexity, breadth, and depth of the paradigm we are able to descry, as we have indicated, through Akbari's insightful critique, we can do no better than to quote directly from Akbari's description. Taking her cue from Bernardus Silvestris's commentary on the Aeneid, Akbari proceeds:
In this commentary, the sun allegorically signifies reason, while its image, the rainbow, signifies the senses. Similarly, in Guillaume de Lorris's Rose, the rainbow produced by the crystals represents the sensuous pleasures of courtly love, the pleasures from which Reson unsuccessfully attempts to lure the lover. Guillaume represents Reson as the only force that might be able to persuade Amant from his destructive love, not only because she represents man's rational faculty as opposed to his deceptive senses, but because in twelfth-century allegory she is said to wield a tripartite mirror... The fact that she holds a mirror makes her a counterpart to Oiseuse, who «en sa main tint un miroër»... Just as Amant was let into the garden by Oiseuse, so Reson could potentially let him out. Additionally, the tripartite nature of her mirror makes it possible for her (if she had the lover's cooperation) to counter the three modes of vision concealed in the optical allegory of the Rose.
The rather lengthy quotation may be justified ―one would hope― in view of the rich food it provides for thought and meditation. As we meditate on the fine points adduced by Akbari, it becomes clear that Amant's multifarious psychomachia, so deftly diagnosed by Akbari, foreshadows the malaise that affects lovers such as Calisto and Corella's artistic alter ego.
In the final analysis, Akbari's argument rests on a point that differentiates Guiliaume de Lorris's Roman from Jean de Meun's continuation. The image to be borne in mind, Akbari insists, is that of vv. 1663-5:
|(Trans. Robbins 34)6|
On the basis of this image Akbari formulates the following explication:
The rose has been most frequently interpreted as an idealized representation of the lady. But, more recently, critics have viewed Guillaume's description of the rose more literally, as «a sexual metaphor», a «pudental emblem», or, more bluntly, «the lady's genitalia». Yet this more physical metaphor is based on the image of the open, blooming rose featured in Jean's poem, not the upright bud found in Guillaume's poem (1663-5) which can be construed, as [Marta Powell] Harley puts it, as «a phallic image». [Daniel] Poirion views the rose as «le reflet du désir masculin», but the rose is more than generic masculine desire: it is the reflection of the lover's desire for the self, a desire which took shape as he gazed into the mirror of Narcissus.
In her meticulous critique of Lorris's narrative centered on the garden and fountain of Narcissus (vv. 1439-1670), Akbari explores at length the lover's self-engrossed and, at heart, homoerotic fixation (55-77). In effect, Akbari diagnoses the traits of a paradigmatic narcissism, analogues of which emerge time and again in the works of the authors we have been mentioning in the course of the present discussion.
In sum, Martin and Akbari bring up evidence on the basis of which a parallelism may be postulated in a primary paradigm of the conflict that rages in the lover's psyche in both the Roman de la Rose and Celestina. Both Martin and Akbari make significant strides toward the definition of the all-important parallelism. Martin deals squarely and explicitly with it in her comparative study, while Akbari, in her intensive analysis focussed exclusively on the Roman, leaves ample room for the surmising of specific affinities, such as the ones between Amant and Calisto we have been referring to all along. The insightful comments by Martin and Akbari cannot gloss over, nevertheless, the understandable gap between two literary milestones separated by a distance of some three hundred years: the French Roman and the Castilian Tragicomedia. In this context it is appropriate to call attention to some works that contribute to bridge that gap as they illustrate the evolutionary adaptation of the key motifs taken up by Martin and Akbari. Take, for instance, the compact prose work, entitled La noche, authored by the aforementioned Francesc Moner. La noche, which, as I argue elsewhere, constitutes one of the most elaborate specimens of the auto de amores («El Comendador Escrivà's Legacy: The Valencian Auto de Amores of the Fifteenth Century», «Fray Francisco Moner's Auto de Amores: Toward a Reassessment of Spanish Para-Mystical Literature of the Fifteenth Century», «Fray Francisco Moner's Dramatic Text: The Evolution of the Spanish Auto de Amores of the Fifteenth Century», «From Lyricism to Drama: The Evolution of Fernando de Rojas's Egocentric Subtext»), exhibits its own version of the «multiplication of the self», thus designated, as we have seen, by Akbari. In fact, in La noche we witness what may be labeled the splitting or the splintering of the self in the allegorized altercation between the protagonist ―the author's alter ego― and, his passions ―eleven, in all― characterized in strict adherence to Thomas Aquinas's exposition (see Summa Theologiae, Ia IIae, questions 25-48). A likely adaptation of the salient motifs emanating from the Roman de la Rose may be detected in the Regoneixença by the aforementioned Francesc Carròs. As the following speech by Lady Reason (Raó) clearly shows, Carròs recaptures the essential features of the ingenious sunlight symbolism, for which Akbari shows an obvious interest. In her lofty elocution addressed to the author's persona (l'actor), a personification of the lover, Lady Reason describes her role thusly:
si bé en la més alta summitat són los fonaments del meu ésser principal, jo així com los raigs del sol essent en lo cel il·lumenen la terra, tot per semblant sens partir-me del meu primer principi, per donar claror a vosaltres en lo món del començ fui venguda; e no solament ab vós, mas dins vós habite.
In the same vein, in the same address to the lover, Reason evokes the chromatic symbolism of the rainbow that Guillaume de Lorris derives mainly from Bernardus Silvestris (Akbari 65-6). Reason describes Cupid's wings as follows:
Les quals ales, d'innumerables colors pintades, descobren que colora la pensa dels trists amadors de vàries e dubtoses opinions, de pensaments temerosos, de miserables sospita, de celosa aflicció, d'on surten la deserta soledat, lo dia clar ésser convertit en tenebra, les nits nunca dormides, los grans sospirs, los greus gemecs, la certa pena de les coses incertes, la il·lusió de veure les invisibles, les contínues clamors, i en elles la defensa, la concòrdia, lo desacordar-se, les injurioses paraules, los penediments, lo comport, l'ésser incorpotable, la poca fe, la massa creença, lo voler i no voler, los ois i enveja mortals, la desmesura dels gests, la torbació, los moviments desenfrenats, l'estar atronat, confús, perdut, aterrat. Les quals passions, així diverses e diformes, porten als ulls malaventurats amargues e abundoses llàgremes; encenen e coloren lo cor de flames d'inremeiable foc; coloren la desventurada vida de negra desventura i de fera e desfigurada mort per airada desesperació.
For a justification of yet another extensive quotation, we will adduce Carròs's consummate artistry in integrating the multicolored motif of Roman-de-la-Rose vintage into the intertextuality of «deserta soledat», «l'ésser incorportable», the «airada desesperació» of it all. Few would call into question the worth of contemplating what Carròs is able to produce: an indelible icon of the intertext of solitary alienation. Generally speaking, we may state that the paradigmatic text of dysfunction and alienation, born within the matrix of Guillaume de Lorris's creative imagination undergoes a late phase of aggiornamento in both Moner's La noche and Carròs's Regoneixença. That phase attests, in turn, to the transition from an allegorical presentation to the de-allegorized version embodied in the composition of Celestina.
In this summary account of the process that in Brownlee's words may be described as
«the subversion of the allegorical system» (7), another author deserves to be mentioned. He is Joan Roís de Corella, one of Carròs's contemporaries and, like Carròs, a Valencian. Within Corrella's multifaceted literary production, one composition, entitled Tragèdia de Caldesa, stands out for the data it contributes toward a comparative analysis with respect to Calisto's condition. Though quite short, Corella's Tragèdia carries an enormous impact. It starts out with a bold conceit, felicitously contrived, on the paradoxical motif of the morbid pleasure the lover derives from compulsive suffering:
A tan alt grau l'extrem de ma dolor ateny, que de present me dolc en algun temps sia ver ma tristor finar puga; en açò passe los infernats, que l'ésser trist me delita, e só content ma dolor eternament coldre.
As a fit complement to this gloomy exordium, reminiscent of Santa Teresa's muero-porque-no-muero conundrum, the denouement of Corella's Tragèdia may well strike the reader as a desgarrón afectivo à la Quevedo avant la lettre7, as it conveys the passionate sway of a confession written in blood:
Ab diversitat de tan impossibles pensaments, me partí de la cambra o sepulcre a on tanta pena sofert havia. Acceptant la ploma, que sovint greus mals descansa, la present ab ma pròpia sang pinte, perquè la color de la tinta ab la dolor que raona se conforme.
What the author in the guise of the protagonist confesses, not without great pain, in the body of the composition makes for a first-person narrative of an incident that proves to be disgraceful, embarrassing, and of dire consequence. Why the disgrace? Why the embarrassment? The narrator confides to his readers or, rather, as he plainly puts it, his hearers ―
«O piadosos oïnts» (27)― that he has witnessed first-hand an amorous tryst between his belle dame (the Caldesa of the title) and another man, a complete stranger to him. Not surprisingly, the author-protagonist-lover-narrator feels deeply injured, aggrieved, and resentful.
Remarkable, indeed, are two distinctive if not unique qualities ―namely the factual residue and autobiographical tenor― of Corella's masterpiece. From these qualities exudes a realistic mood of the type that one would associate instinctively with the poetry of the renowned François Villon. Villonesque is, in fact, the scene which unfolds at the center of Corella's Tragèdia and turns out to be the focal point of the composition. The scene is perceived through the lover's eyes (
«los meus plorosos ulls» ), riveted upon the maiden's shocking act of transgression. Especially relevant is the following sample of the protagonist's narrative:
la tan estimada donzella, que partint-se d'una cambra, gest, paraules, abraçar, ab altres mostres d'amor extrema, d'honestat enemigues, a un enamorat presentà la figura, pràtica, manera, gràcia e gentil continença de la qual d'escriure deixe, perquè la fi de la present sol esguarda en fer palès quant la granea de ma desaventura les altres totes avança.
In this passage the vivacity of the description prevails despite the mannerisms of the oblique rhetoric, not surprising, after all, to the reader's familiar with Corella's «valenciana prosa»8. Here convoluted expression, employed to subtle effect, mirrors the vicissitudes of a heart and mind in a state of constant turmoil.
By the route of implication, the startling confession couched in the words of Corella's protagonist takes us right back to the world of Calisto ―the palpable ambiance of desolation, that is― in which Calisto or any «amant calistéen» ekes out a life of exemplary misfit. Some points of affinity and comparison readily come to light, no doubt, even at first reading of Tragèdia de Caldesa. There is, for instance, the spatiality of the confined lover. Both Calisto and Corella's persona dwell in the enclosure of the cárcel de amor, which for them and lovers like them becomes an infierno, virtually inescapable. In the Tragèdia de Caldesa we are captivated by the image of a prisoner in a dark chamber, whose only contact with the outside world is a visual, tenuous, and limited one through the opening of a small window. Both physical and psychological constraints impede this denizen of the dark to get in touch with the significant other, whose presence in the outside world is merely surmised or barely perceptible. In much the same fashion a dim household chamber becomes, in Celestina, a metonym of Calisto's somber psychic space9. Another area of coincidence resides in the myopic perspective of the lover hopelessly wrapped up in himself, who, nevertheless, is enticed by a scene taking place outside the pit of his solitude. What we learn from Tragèdia de Caldesa and Celestina is that, no matter how engrossing that scene, the individual typified by Caldesa's and Melibea's respective lover invariably reverts to the asphyxiating precincts of his own narcissism.
Aside from this clever outside/inside interplay of placement and viewpoint, we notice in the Tragèdia de Caldesa traces of the inversion of male-female roles ―a phenomenon of the type we have seen analyzed by Lida de Malkiel and June Hall Martin. Thus, it is Caldesa who, with great resolve, takes the initiative in highly subversive acts as much as does Melibea in analogous circumstances. Conversely, Calisto and Corella's persona ―though each finds himself in a situation vastly different from that of the other― remain equally passive and, as such, become feminized as they mimic the manner of the morose Madonna Fiammetta. Some details discernible in Corella's elaborate narrative attest to primordial traits, which, on momentous occasions reflected in the text of Celestina, become manifest with dramatic distinction in Calisto's aberrant eroticism. In the following passage Corella manages to compress details particularly pregnant with signification within the span of but a few lines:
E, per cas, de més adversa fortuna mia, lo darrer comiat al terme de ma oïda arribà, en estil de semblants paraules: «Adéu sies, manyeta!», tancant la darrera síl·laba un deshonest besar, lo so del qual les mies orelles ofené, no de menor ofensa de la que sentran en la trista vall los de la part sinestra, dient-los nostre Redemptor; «Anau, maleïts al foc eternal!», quan, ab justa sentència en aquest món formarà les sues darreres paraules.
The passage, it is safe to say, invites a double take of sorts as it involves two complementary semiotic intentions: one of debasement, the other of desecration. The debasement is patent enough. The farewell («Adéus sies, manyeta» [«Goodbye, my clever little hussy!»]), crass in word and deed, uttered by the anonymous non-gentleman caller, not only bespeaks a character of dubious gallantry, but also, in its strident dissonance, deflowers the lofty rethoric of the «valenciana prosa» that prevails throughout the composition. For a fit counterpart to this flagrant breach of decorum we need search no farther than Calisto's own defilement of courtly speech in Act XIX of the Tragicomedia. At the most intense moment of his amorous encounter with Melibea, no less, Calisto manages to convert bliss into lust as he gives free reigns to the reeking carnality of his passion by a reference to a predator's defeathering of the fowl:
«Señora, el que quiere comer el ave quita primero las plumas» (ed. Russell 571). The vitriolic power of this remark and, we may add, of its equivalent in Corella's episode, is not lost on Peter E. Russell, who proffers the following commentary:
Con este grosero dicho popular comenta Calisto de modo cómico pero brutal las toscas realidades sexuales que se ocultan tanto detrás del amor cortés como de la efusión de pasión románticas que el lector acaba de presenciar.
|(Ed. Russell 571, n. 46)|
As for the desecration mentioned above, Corella regales us with a condensed version of what Lida de Malkiel labels «hipérbole sagrada» («La hipérbole sagrada en la poesía castellana del siglo XV»). The trope consists in a more or less ingenious interlacing of the religious and the profane as when Corella's narrator links, ever so subtly, the coarse language of his rival and the latter's unseemly deed («un deshonest besar») with the redoubtable curse that Christ («nostre Redemptor») will level at the damned on the Apocalyptic dies irae. Critics may disagree as to how seriously one must take an hipérbole sagrada of Corella's brand. Few will doubt, nevertheless, the blasphemous portent of Calisto's rendition, when he unscrupulously exclaims:
«Yo melibeo soy y a Melibea adoro y en Melibea creo y a Melibea amo» (ed. Russell 220).
The intertext of alienation under discussion here signals a vast field of creativity, in which we recognize the salient trends of an autochthonous tradition. A comprehensive study would reveal, mainly in France and in Italy, the fountainheads or the primary sources of varied but closely related types of love-centered literature that prevailed in the Iberian Peninsula throughout the fifteenth century. In more specific terms, from French and Italian masters ―the likes of Baudouin de Condé, Eustache Deschamps, Guillaume de Lorris, Alain Chartier, Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio― many authors particularly in the domains of Castilian and Catalan found inspiration for the numerous infiernos de los enamorados, novelas sentimentales, and auto de amores. Among the Hispanic writers of the quattrocento, the Valencian Ausiàs March clearly stands out for his gigantic undertakings in the refurbishment of the poetic language, the restoration of the truth of the signifier, and the affirmation of the authenticity of the lover's experience. To put it succinctly, to the extent that a succinct statement may do justice to a lifelong dedication to esthetic pursuits, Ausiàs March single-handedly converted the psychologic dimension of lovelorn solitude into the existential expressionism of an unprecedented text of subjectivity. In the wake of March's landmark not to say revolutionary innovations, a number of Catalan and Valencian authors of the second half of the fifteenth century ―writers such as Pere Torroella, Francesc Alegre, Francesc Carròs, besides the aforementioned Moner and Corella― distinguished themselves in adapting March's mimetic techniques to a dramatic display with potential if not actual theatrical consequence10.
I submit that Corella's Tragèdia de Caldesa should be envisaged at the last stage of the autochthonous tradition I have attempted to outline here. In a preliminary profile of Corella's tragic vision, we detect the dynamics of a newly-discovered dialectic informed by a variety of contrasting terms. These may be described in sets of mutually antagonistic factors: inner and outer world, morose narcissism and energetic aggression, the plight of intense suffering and the comfort of liberating escapism, the smart from a disgraceful incident and the soothing fantasy of a decorous resolution. In the long run Corella confronts us with the clash between logocentric discourse and sheer instinctive action. It is fair to say that, above all, Corella intuits a sinister synergy in the inversion of the traditional gender roles. In short, in terms of Corella's notion of the tragic condition, it may be argued that Corella's artistic surrogate ―the characterization of the lover as the exemplary sufferer or the mártir de amor― is in charge of the script, but it is Caldesa that is ultimately in control of the entire plot.
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