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ArribaAbajo The fabrication of History in Santa Juana de Castilla

Sara E. Schyfter

After Galdós' first dramatic venture, Realidad, in 1892, the Spanish novelist wrote twenty-one additional plays, four of which are historical dramas. In three of these -Gerona (1893), La fiera (1896), and Sor Simona (1915)- the action is set in nineteenth-century Spain, and the protagonists are fictitious figures acting in historical settings. In the last of Galdós' plays, Santa Juana de Castilla (1918)60, the time is 1555 and, in contrast to the other dramas, the central character is a major historical figure, the deposed queen Juana la loca, involved in a fictitious episode -her escape to the village of Villalba del Alcar hours before her death. All four historical works have female protagonists who are believed mad and who act out their «madness» in settings of political and social disruption, as the women challenge Spain's social order and historical direction. At the end of each play, a moment of intense personal revelation allows the women to overcome the breach created by their «madness». In Gerona, La fiera, and Sor Simona, a personal, existential dilemma is positively resolved, with history providing a foil for the play's dramatic action and justifying a final positive closure in which the social and the moral order of Spain are essentially reaffirmed, and Spanish history is revealed as fundamentally a struggle for individual and communal rights.

It is generally accepted that Galdós conceives of Spanish history as a long continuous whole, of which any segment can disclose the fabric of the past and the destiny of the nation. His Episodios nacionales seek to present the great historical and political events of nineteenth-century Spain through the experience of the common man61. Usually the novelist does not focus his attention on the famous figures of political history, but rather on the concrete human situations that bring an age into sharp relief. The Gerona, La fiera and Sor Simona plays, in the tradition of his historical novels, depict actions and characters that reflect the moral and psychological temper of their setting. As in his novels, Galdós hopes to isolate the secret center from which Spanish destiny is lived and into which his characters must return.

The participation of a fictional character in a great historical event generally brings with it an ironic awareness: history is made up of a series of events that, for the participant, are limited to the experience of isolated episodes. In great battles, for example, characters observe and act in an isolated manner; the whole is never understood. It is only later that the events achieve significance, when they are told, relived, and often even re-created by the character himself, by the press, or by the historian. In this context, history becomes very much a fabric of untruth and fantasy that is created and imposed upon the myriad human consciousnesses that have participated in the historical moment. Thus Santiuste, for example, when he returns to Spain   —54→   after the 1859 war against Morocco, is aware of the ironic nature of history62. He has come to a vision that encompasses both the importance and the insignificance of the individual in the national destiny: the historical moment is always elusive -reduced to personal events that are later woven into a fiction of significance and meaning. Still, there is an illusion that history has a destiny, and that with it comes possibility of change and renewal, in which the spirit and independence of the Spanish people is alive and triumphant.

In Santa Juana de Castilla, however, Spanish history, the creation of its national myths and the role of the individual are a major problem, in which no resolution is open to the central character of the play. Juana, more than any other historical or fictional character of Galdós, is aware of the falsity of history upon which society builds its political authority, and of the way in which that authority, as a misinterpretation of history, is imposed upon the citizens.63

As a representative of traditional authority, Juana regards society's legitimacy as deriving from continuity and antiquity. Any valid submission to authority must be grounded on the belief that the social order constitutes a link with the past, particularly since the traditional Spanish social contract had formerly allowed considerable autonomy to the individual and to local and regional interests. In this play, Galdós examines the lost possibility that was still open to the Spanish people in Juana's era -that a democratic Spain might have evolved from the sixteenth-century situation depicted within the play. Indeed, as Rodolfo Cardona has said, Galdós, looking back into history from the perspective of the early twentieth century, felt very intensely that the disintegration of Spain's power and political destiny, to which he was a witness, had been determined at that time. In the words of Cardona: «Galdós, sintiendo muy profundamente la llegada de esta desintegración final, mira nostálgicamente desde su perspectiva de 1918, los albores de este gran imperio... Es como si nos presentara en esta obra una alternativa democrática que Castilla pudo tomar en un momento dado de su historia y que no siguió».64

The personal crisis of Juana in Galdós' play grows out of a desire to establish continuity with the past and to integrate the present with a true national history. Galdós chooses to present a Juana who is not mad, but visionary and saintly; a Juana who is imprisoned by order of her son, Charles V, who wishes to usurp her rightful authority; and lastly, a Juana whose imprisonment is due to her heretical beliefs, her «Erasmism», and not to her madness.65

Juana's «madness» is actually visionary insight. If at first Galdós' conception of the queen seems ambiguous, since all who speak of her refer to her tormented state of mind, by the end of the play Juana is enshrined as a true martyr: Her historical quest for unity with her people highlights a linkage with the past that would threaten the imposed social order of the present; her «heretical» beliefs are heterodox in espousing the value of the individual consciousness.

The central motif of Santa Juana de Castilla is neither religious sainthood, as the title might suggest, nor the psychological madness of Juana la loca, for Galdós does not consider her mad. Rather, the queen's concerns with   —55→   memory, temporality, falsehood, and the sequence of past, present, and future that constitute the thematic richness of the drama, and undermine the notions of community and historical movement that inspired many of Galdós, earlier novels and episodios. The play questions the direction of the Spanish nation since the time of the Catholic kings and sees that course determined by a radical discontinuity with the past, built on the conscious misrepresentation which distorts that past as it becomes transmitted through history. In this context, any disagreement with the imposed political structures must then be viewed as an expression of madness.

The controlling tension of the play is created by the dying Juana's recognition that in order to live in the present, that is, to affect history and participate in it, one must reaffirm the myths and lies of social institutions. Indeed, a radical break with the past, which she represents, has to be imposed. Her collusion in that process at the moment of death, by refusing the crown offered to her by her people and accepting absolution from the Church, is the play's dispairing commentary on the inability of the individual to create history. Juana's «madness», ironically cured at last, has lain in holding fast to the notions that the present keeps the past alive and that the present gains its authority from the past, i. e., from the same source as her own legitimate authority66. Because she persists in these beliefs, those she threatens see her as mad. Indeed, as Michel Foucault has observed, in speaking of the role of madness in modern culture, «Madness deals not so much with truth and the world, as with man and whatever truth about himself he is able to perceive»67. Confronting madness using it ironically, Galdós can only see in Juana a search for true values that threaten the established order. As outsider and deposed queen, Juana serves a symbolic purpose. She is the bridge to a harmonious and powerful national past radically contrasted to a ruptured and dismembered present. In her radical discontinuity with the historical present, she brings the currently established order into confusion and question. Therefore she and the knowledge that she represents must remain confined to the prison fortress that contains her, untranslatable into any dramatic action.68

The central event of the play is Juana's excursion into the pastoral countryside of Tordesillas. Her trip is a revolt against the intolerable situation of detachment and aimless drifting that she experiences in the isolation and exile of her prison. If the people of Spain, the simple laborers in whose existence she seeks to participate, possess the way back, then it would be possible for her and them to reach for a lost unity together. In searching for the people, she hopes to lead them as their queen into a renewed vision of wholeness. Her escapade is an attempt to regain a shattered world and a lost time. Juana conceives of herself as a mediator between the past, to which she provides a link, and the future, which must be bridged by others. At the same time and on a more practical level, she speaks of influencing her son, Charles V, emperador and symbol of the present, to reconstitute the country, to attend to its needs and to halt the European involvement so debilitating to Spain. Unable to effect any of these aims, she dies accepting the same institutions, myths, and national misdirection she has sought to halt.

In Santa Juana de Castilla, the impasse between the present and the past is staged as a contrast between the age of Isabel and that of Charles V. The   —56→   present emperor's portrait hangs alongside that of Queen Isabel in a juxtaposition that manifests Juana's obliteration from history, since her portrait is pointedly missing. Charles V has disrupted forever the ideal and pure unity of a self-contained Spain, a Spain which, though it conquered new worlds, had remained whole and impregnable to the outside during Isabel's reign. The nation at present is overrun by foreigners who exploit and ravage her, draining her resources for wars and causes outside her borders. The king, «desconocedor de las grandes virtudes de este pueblo», neglects the homeland. The Spain of Isabel, in contrast, knew its own value and had no diffusion of purpose or identity. Now, Juana can only compare herself to her mother and to that historical past in images of belatedness and failure: «Hubiera querido yo ser tan grande como mi madre; pero ya es tarde: ya yo no valgo nada» (P. 1336)69. Recollections of cohesion and unity abound when Juana and the people she greets remember that lost era. The present is a time of dispossession and manipulation. Charles V is always far away; when he returns to Spanish soil, it is to cloister himself away from the people and their needs. He comes back to atone for his sins, to await death, and to escape from time and history. For both Charles V and Juana, Spain is a place of isolation, of exhaustion, and of inaction; the country where history has stood still. Thus, to be entrapped within history is to be doomed to repetition and stagnation. Historical time, in this drama, leads away from rather than towards a positive resolution.

In the Juana play, an unbridgeable space separates the historical present from a time in which man, history, and God were in harmonious unity. It was the childhood of the race, when opposites were reconciled («Tanto monta, monta tanto, Isabel como Fernando» [p. 1344]) and the individual was integrated into a whole. Spain possessed a national destiny, a true self which it has since lost. Juana's enclosure within her prison is a metaphor for the loss of authentic community, for the impossibility of action in the present, and for the denial of a shared past.

In Santa Juana de Castilla there is no faculty with which to interpret time. Memory serves to keep the past alive, but not to recapture it or give it meaning. Juana has tried to cheat time by living in the atemporal presence of the past. The specific nature of her madness, according to her jailors, is that she cannot tell «lo antaño de lo hogaño» and «Su único desconcierto consiste en no darse cuenta y razón del paso del tiempo» (p. 1331). Her memory is but an aggregate of isolated moments -spots of time that recall points of societal or historical fragmentation. She vividly recollects the imprisonment of the Pope, the failed revolt of the Comuneros, and the resulting death of the rebellious soldiers. She particularly remembers the execution of Padilla, the rebel commander, whose dying declaration affirmed a community and a teleology no longer possible: «Amigos, ayer fue día de pelear como caballeros; hoy es día de morir como cristianos» (p. 1338). Juana's recollections, in which personal memory has merged with a national past, serve only to bring back the pain of events lived through long ago.

In this manner, history has become a static confluence lacking inner force to mold events into a unity. There remains only a process of slackening and of diffusion, personified by Juana's memory, which is a collection of dates,   —57→   pages of a book that have been blown away: «...mi cabeza es un libro en el cual no falta ninguna página, sólo que la numeración está borrada y las fechas son para mí letra muerta» (p. 1333). It is hopeless to seek for a sustaining whole; there is no harmonizing power in the people, in memory, nor in time. Each human being must seek to escape history and, like the peasants, imitate nature in mute acceptance. Joy comes, not from action, as it did in the golden past of Isabel's reign, but through participation in the events of everyday life, in the «intrahistoria» of a peasant's existence.

Juana hopes to find a place for herself as one of her people:

[...] he querido visitar una aldea de las más humildes de esta tierra, y por eso estoy aquí respirando con vosotros el aire campesino; no soy la primera castellana, ni tampoco la última: vosotros y yo somos lo mismo.

(p. 1337)                

She hopes to integrate her destiny with theirs, and to reconstitute her life in time. Away from the prisonhouse of timelessness, Juana rediscovers temporality. Whereas previously she has lived in an eternal present, symbol of her «madness», in the countryside she discovers that time both sustains and limits. Her encounter with the people frees her from the ambiguity and ineffectiveness of the atemporal, but thrusts her irrevocably into death.

Juana's emergence from prison and her engagement with the peasants represent her reentry into history. She had been living in a fiction of the past, holding to a vision in which Spain was central, the origin and the source of all human history. Spain and its people, however, have fallen from the center. Thus, when the servant Mogica tells her, «en la persona de Vuestra Alteza vive medio siglo de la historia del mundo», she replies, «Para mí no hay más historia que la de Castilla. De esta tierra ha salido todo lo grande que existe en la Humanidad» (p. 1332). Juana's vision reduces all history to that of Castilla, all action to events in the past, and all time to an eternal present. Not surprisingly, she is unable to reintegrate herself into her nation, into history, and into temporality.

As the excursion into the countryside reveals, the queen's time is almost spent. Though a few old men still remember the Tordesillas' rebellion and speak of that time, the young do not belong to the past; they have already been claimed by the established order. Antolín, a young peasant, is fated to be a simple laborer, one of those who are content: «esos del yo me lo guiso y yo me lo como» (p. 1339), one for whom history has no reality. His alter ego Sanchico is being trained by a priest, who teaches the boy not Latin but the art of war, preparing him for political participation. Only those who align themselves with the established order can engage in a historical event, it appears. Consequently, Juana's attempt, after fifty years, to reach her lost self in history -but outside of the established order- ends in failure. There is no possibility of reintegration into time without affirming the authority of the present. Juana had believed a dream -a dream that history and national destiny are grounded in the past. Offered the crown, she lays it aside, thus validating the son who had originally dispossessed her.

The link with the past that Juana embodies is now completely severed, leaving a kingdom established on the deceptions of Charles V's imperial   —58→   European ambitions. The power of royal authority is thereby affirmed, abandoning the people to the vicissitudes of an uncertain national future.

Before her death, Juana legitimizes not only the monarchy that had been wrested from her, but also the very church which would destroy the individual conscience exalted by Erasmus. Borja, the confessor sent by her son, pronounces her Erasmist doctrine not in conflict with the Church. As Juana intones a final credo, the death scene frames a fiction designed to quiet her followers and to obliterate any memory of her royal dispossession and heretical stance. She is declared a saint as the people lovingly bear her dying body on their shoulders:

¡Mujeres castellanas: llevad con cuidado el cuerpo de esta Reina, que ha padecido durante luengos años sin consuelo de nadie, sin exhalar una queja, sin protestar contra sus opresores! ¡Es una santa!... seguid sosteniendo esa cabeza augusta, que archiva más de medio siglo de la Historia del mundo.

(p. 1341)                

Juana dies just as the matracas of Good Friday ring out the death of Christ -a symbol of political and spiritual apotheosis, a powerful theatrical statement.

The queen's dying reconciliation with the Church represents her ultimate capitulation. The ensuing canonization is a way of isolating her from time and history. Her death symbolically seals off the possibility of historical wholeness and communal autonomy. As a saint, Juana no longer poses a threat. The wholeness and origins that she can provide are now transmuted into myth and legend; that is, they are outside of history and hence pose no danger to the present.

Juana's sainthood is the lie upon which the present builds its authority. Civilization, as Nietzsche proclaims, is based on forgetting and falsehood70. Juana survives through a lie proclaimed by the very institutions, the Church and the Throne, which she had sought to undermine. In an ultimate irony, her death affirms the authorities she had struggled to dispossess.

With Juana's death, the traditional and charismatic principle of authority which would guide Spain back to a moment when national destiny was chosen and determined is now forever closed. The authority of Charles V and the Church is restored and Juana's time is finished. The law is fulfilled by an outlaw; the traditional past will now forever be closed and canonized in Juana. She represents a view of history from a perspective prior to history, a belonging to an agrarian, undispersed society unmediated by history -a view of Spain now totally beyond the nation's grasp. Society has re-established itself, and its institutions have been dramatically affirmed. By transforming Juana la loca into Santa Juana, Galdós effects a metasthesis that must end in a new exile for the queen -that of death and sainthood. With Juana's death, Spain is much further from its origins, origins that even in isolation and exile the queen had once affirmed.

Can we extrapolate from this play Galdós' final view of history? If such a leap be appropriate, we may say that the novelist, the great interpreter of Spanish history, dictates in his old age a drama that undermines the value and the very possibility of knowing history. In the Juana play, events are ordered into a fabric of collusion and deception that is foisted upon the   —59→   population by the established order. The manipulation of the peasants in the present drama indicates the falsehood upon which the authority of the modern state is predicated. Galdós sees in the reign of Charles V the first emergence of a national policy that disrupts a vital and authentic social contract. The age of Ferdinand and Isabel represented a moment of national unity and vision that is subsequently lost. The modern national state emerges from the ashes of the old, destroying the natural connection between the people and their leaders.

Galdós longs for the interaction between the ruled and ruling that is lost in the emerging empire of Charles V. The dying Juana provides a last link with the true Spain. The myths by which national policy is justified from then on are based on the lies that Juana herself finally accepts. Though she is the last true monarch of Spain, in her death she capitulates and supports the new order. After fifty years of exile and courageous opposition, her willing sacrifice to the present taints her saintliness. If Juana proves unable to sustain her vision to the end, can Galdós at this point be questioning his own position regarding history?

At the end of the Juana play, there is a sense of hopelessness and withdrawal. The search for the «intrahistoria», represented by the values of the loyal, democracy-loving peasants, ends in oppression and tyranny. Here Church and State join in creating new martyrs and saints calculated to glorify submission rather than rebellion, centralization of power rather than its diffusion, passivity rather than courageous action. Juana's canonization is a final betrayal of the people. Perhaps Juana as la loca would have been true and steadfast to the end. As santa she is a sorry symbol and model to her beloved nation.

Consequently, it would seem erroneous to see Juana's position as giving history a meaning and purpose. Indeed, her inability to tell the present from the past, her disregard for time, the unreliability of her memory, her insistence on the centrality of Castilla -all point to an inability to structure events and perceptions into a meaningful whole. In this context, the uses of history are truly problematic and participation in history virtually doomed to failure. The established order perpetuates itself through lies that it creates out of events no longer accessible to the present. History is simply another fiction invented for and exploiting precisely those driven to search for meaning and direction. The Juana play ultimately questions whether history can ever yield a direction for the future. The individual is inevitably absorbed into the social fabric -imprisoned, like Juana, in fictions he himself helps to create.

State University of New York at Albany

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