University of Southern California
Comparisons between Luis de Góngora and Miguel de Cervantes are not frequent in Golden Age literary histories and criticism. Not only do we associate these writers with different genres, but nothing would seem more distant from the ironic «realism» and apparent stylistic transparency of the Quijote than the hyperaesthetic, obscure idiom of the Soledades. While we should not limit these authors to commonplaces about the style manifested in their most famous works, it is difficult to establish many points of contact between the two. Nevertheless, as Elias Rivers has recognized, both Cervantes and Góngora represent the culmination of a process of literary elaboration and perfection (33). More recently, Paul Julian Smith develops the comparison observing that Cervantes and Góngora are both at once moderate and excessive, traditional and innovatory (178). A specific space for comparing these richly contradictory figures is provided by Góngora's little known theater. The present study is an attempt to bring to the surface the Cervantine subtext of Góngora's dramatic practice, specifically the intertextual relationship between Góngora's only completed play, Las firmezas de Isabela, and Cervantes's famous interpolated tale El curioso impertinente.
Góngora clearly announces his debt to Cervantes, thematically and artistically, throughout the play. For one thing, Las —44→ firmezas de Isabela could be considered a response to the famous literary discussion presented in Chapter 48 of the Quixote where the Canon and the priest bemoan the alleged abandonment of dramatic precepts in the comedia nueva. Las firmezas de Isabela, written in 1610 at the height of the comedia's popularity, may be viewed as a direct challenge by Góngora to the drama formulated by his lifelong rival, Lope de Vega. It is a play that would have met with the Canon's (and presumably Cervantes's) approval because there is a clear attempt to «guard[ar] bien los preceptos del arte» (569). As the clearest example of a desire to correct the abuses of the comedia, we have the play's rigid adherence to the unities of time and space. The entire elaborate action takes place in one day in the reduced space of two neighboring houses in Toledo. And, unlike Lope, whose plays had become in the priest's words «mercadería vendible» for the consumption of the unlettered vulgo (571), Góngora's play is clearly meant «para los pocos», those who -like the readers of the Soledades- «tiene[n] la capacidad para quitar la corteza y descubrir lo misterioso que encubren» («Carta en respuesta» 43). The Canon's pessimistic view on the fate of well-written comedias certainly would seem to apply to the critical fortunes of Góngora's plays to the present day: «las que llevan traza y siguen la fábula como el arte pide, no sirven sino para cuatro discretos que las entienden, y todos los demás se quedan ayunos de entender su artificio» (568).52 Furthermore, one of the plays praised by the Canon, El mercader amante by Gaspar de Aguilar, has been identified by Robert Jammes as a probable model for Góngora's play (419-21).
Most significantly, Góngora's play is a dramatization, another reading, of Cervantes's most famous interpolated story. The plot is a comic variation (comic in the double connotation of humorous and dramatic) on the situations presented in El curioso impertinente. Because Góngora's play is not well-known and because its plot is so complicated, it would be useful at this point —45→ to provide a synopsis of the action. The play takes place in two households in Toledo. One is Octavio's, a wealthy merchant who has a daughter named Isabela. Isabela is engaged to be married to Lelio, the son of Galeazo, Octavio's business associate in Seville. Neither Octavio nor Isabela have ever met the groom-to-be or his father. Lelio who has a highly suspicious nature has traveled to Toledo incognito in order to spy on and test his fiancee's virtue and constancy (hence the title of the play). In Toledo, he assumes a new identity and manages to get employment in Octavio's house as a cajero. While installed in Octavio's house, Lelio (now calling himself Camilo) has ample opportunity to spy on Isabela who promptly falls in love with him. Lelio/Camilo, while returning Isabela's love, believes her love for someone socially beneath her (Camilo) represents a betrayal of her betrothed's (Lelio's) honor (although he is one and the same person).53 Because he has heard that Octavio's neighbor, Fabio (another well-to-do merchant), wishes to marry Isabela, Camilo installs his criado, Tadeo, in Fabio's household as a servant to keep an eye on this other possible affront to his honor. Meanwhile, in Fabio's house, we meet Marcelo, the son of another wealthy merchant from Granada. Marcelo is hiding in Fabio's house because of a duel over a woman (Livia) in which his rival was killed. While hiding, he falls in love with Violante, Fabio's sister. Fabio, who wishes to marry Isabela, engages both Marcelo and Camilo's help in an elaborate plot to break Isabela's engagement to the unknown Lelio. Camilo eagerly offers his help as it gives him a decisive opportunity to test Isabela's virtue. Their plan (which we never learn) seems convoluted in the extreme, and it involves Marcelo assuming Lelio's identity. Marcelo finds that he is bound by friendship to Fabio to help him in this plot, even though it means betraying Violante by pretending to court Isabela. To make matters worse, Fabio has offered Violante's hand to Camilo in exchange for his help. The climax of the play is precipitated when Marcelo and Camilo's respective fathers arrive in Toledo, resulting in a complex comedy of errors in which virtually every character assumes a different identity or embraces one form or another of dissimulation. Finally, all ends well, and the appropriate couples are married off.—46→
Like El curioso impertinente, the play centers on a character's obsessive desire to test his beloved's constancy. In a clear reference to Cervantes's story, we are told by the gracioso, Tadeo, that Camilo:
|(vv. 262-65, my emphasis).|
In addition, there are external similarities between El curioso and Las firmezas. Although Góngora does not set his play in Italy, where the action of El curioso impertinente takes place, there is decidedly Italian feel to this comedia. For one thing, the names of the characters are primarily Italian: The name of the heroine, Isabela, is an Italianized version of the Spanish Isabel. The name Camilo, a possible allusion to Cervantes's Camila, is more Italian than Spanish. Other characters with Italian sounding names are Octavio, Marcelo, Donato, and Fabio. There is also, in both texts, an emphasis on the considerable wealth of the main characters. Anselmo and Lotario in Cervantes's tale are described as «caballeros ricos y principales» (399). All of the characters in Góngora's play, with the exception of the criados, belong to a decidedly bourgeois/mercantile class. Camilo is described with the following words:
The comings and goings of these merchants from Toledo, Seville, and Granada seem to suggest the vigorous commerce between these cities during the seventeenth century. This aspect of Góngora's play is surprising if we remember that merchants were not typical characters for the comedia in general54. The emphasis on wealth and monetary transactions is extended to the portrayal of the relationship between men and women. Lelio's engagement to Isabela, for example, is presented as a transaction between their fathers who have been business partners for some time. We have the following description:—47→
|(vv. 722-37, 742-46).|
In Cervantes's interpolated tale, Anselmo's marriage to Camila -although ostensibly based on love- is also presented in language that suggests a business transaction, an exchange of property. Lotario is charged with making the matrimonial arrangements: «el que llevó la embajada fue Lotario, y... concluyó el negocio tan a gusto de su amigo, que en breve tiempo se vio puesto en la posesión que deseaba...» (400, my emphasis). Later in the story, money becomes one of the temptations that Anselmo will introduce in order to test Camila.
Las firmezas de Isabela is a comedia de enredo, and Góngora delights in exploiting the ludic possibilities of the genre: convoluted plot complications, frequent entrances and exits by characters, mistaken identities, disguises, hidden letters etc. In keeping with the exuberance proper to the comedia de enredo, Góngora expands playfully on the situations and themes taken from El curioso impertinente, imbuing them with a polyphony and ambiguity not found in the Cervantine model. While in Cervantes's novel, there is one woman, Camila, whose honor is submitted to a series of tests, in Góngora's play there are two damas (the eponymous Isabela and her neighbor Violante) whose honor is challenged in one way or another. Anselmo has only one —48→ direct counterpart in Góngora's play: Lelio; but his role is textured and complicated as the character adopts a second mask or role, that of Camilo, in order to test Isabela's constancy. Lelio's assumed persona, Camilo, therefore, becomes the dramatic counterpart to Cervantes's Lotario, as well. Ultimately this character becomes his own rival, a «celoso de sí mismo». We may find also find a correspondence between Lotario and another character in Góngora's play, Marcelo. Marcelo is in a difficult predicament, forced (like Lotario) by friendship to participate in a drama of deception that threatens to dishonor both Isabela (whom he does not know) and Violante (whom he loves). At the same time, openly courting Violante, Fabio's sister, represents an affront to Fabio's friendship, hospitality, and honor. Critics have stated that in Cervantes we do not find the same kind of rhetorical excess that characterizes Góngora's poetics (Smith 172-73). This observation would seem particularly apt in analyzing the transformation and amplificatio that Cervantes's El curioso undergoes, as novel becomes play in a double movement of imitation and transformation that is typical of Góngora's aesthetics.
Góngora adopts Cervantine strategies in presenting the action of his play. In Las firmezas de Isabela, we do not find a linear presentation of events that would seem most appropriate for a comedia. Instead of the clear plot development that characterizes Lope's plays, the audience and readers experience Góngora's play in a fragmentary fashion. Just as in the Quijote Cervantes uses interpolated stories, long philosophical disquisitions, and sudden interruptions of the hero's adventures, so does Góngora delay the action through the introduction of long lyric passages, confusing or partial information, and interrupted dialogue. The convoluted plot in Las firmezas is further complicated by the difficult culterano discourse used throughout the play. As in Cervantes, the overall effect is to make readers more aware of the fiction of the action that is being presented. Góngora shares with Cervantes a desire to make the readers/spectators aware of the artifice of literary production. As Marsha Collins states: «Góngora transmutes the audience into performers and mediators of fiction» (9). This is of course a typical strategy in Cervantes who repeatedly displays «the fiction of fiction» and requires a more active involvement on the part of his readers in recognizing literary engaño.55—49→
Beyond the similarities just mentioned, the most important point of comparison between Góngora's play and Cervantes's novella is the presentation of the theme of honor and the question of curiosity. Both texts present a dramatization or theatricalization of honor, intrinsically connected with a woman's virtue and fidelity. In both works, feminine virtue is held up for scrutiny through the dramatization of certain crucibles. Honor becomes a performance enacted before an audience. For one thing, if we take into account the conditions implied for the reception of both texts, we find a clear emphasis on the dimension of performance. El Curioso impertinente is presented as an oral performance, a narrative that is read out loud by the priest in the inn before a specific audience: the innkeeper, the barber, Sancho Panza, Cardenio, and Dorotea. Literature in the Golden Age, as Margit Frenk has admirably demonstrated, was primarily an oral phenomenon, and this scene in the Quijote is the perfect example of the oral/aural reception of all literary genres in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Likewise, Góngora's play was obviously meant for oral dramatization. Given the difficulty of the discourse and the complications of plot, it is unlikely that Góngora's play was ever actually produced before the general public of the corrales. He may have meant the play to be a kind of lesedrama experienced aurally by a select audience. There is no doubt, however, that Góngora was conscious of the dramatic/theatrical dimension for his play. The fact that he chose as his first foray into drama a comedia de enredo, a genre based on movement and gesture, indicates that he had in mind more than just a silent, private reading.
The performative dimension implied in the reception of these two texts is only the external manifestation of their preoccupation with the theatricalization of honor. In the novel, Anselmo becomes the playwright who dramatizes a play whose denouement will be his dishonor. He becomes «el autor» or, as he himself states, «el fabricador de mi deshonra» (445). Anselmo as autor prepares script, plot, props, and the necessary backdrop for his sordid drama of entrapment. There is, for example, the remarkable description of Anselmo as he hides behind the door to witness a play whose script he set in motion but which has been improvised by Camila: «Atentísimo había estado Anselmo a escuchar y a ver representar la tragedia de la muerte de su honra; la cual con tan estraños y eficaces afectos la representaron los personajes della, que pareció que se habían transformado en la misma verdad que fingían» (436). Not only is Anselmo the —50→ playwright and the director, but also the audience who secretly watches actors act out the scenario he has created. As is typical of Cervantes's art, the roles of character, author, and spectator become interchangeable. Lotario and Camila also assume fluid roles, first as characters in Anselmo's deranged script, and later as improvisers and autores of their own dramas of deception.
Góngora follows a similar procedure in his play. Lelio is also the autor of a drama whose plot is his honor. The assumed mask of Camilo makes him the principal actor in the script he has devised. He invents characters for his play such as «Belisa» (an anagram of Isabela's name) and claims to be engaged to her in order to make Isabela jealous. And, like Anselmo, he will also be the spectator of Isabela's improvisations in a series of mises en scène designed to test her faithfulness. His elaborate multifaceted theatrical activity is designed for the sole purpose of judging Isabela's actions and assessing any possible threat to his honor. Again, as in Cervantes, the roles of playwright, actor, and audience become interchangeable. From a thematic perspective, therefore, both the interpolated tale and the play indulge in a rhetoric of display in which women become objectified under a male gaze.
While Isabela and Camilo are at the center of the convoluted plot in Las firmezas, all of the characters in the play get caught up in the fluid boundaries between «reality» and fiction. Even more than Lotario and Camila in Cervantes's tale, the characters in Góngora's play seem particularly conscious of their theatricality. Most of the characters at some point assume a different role or identity in order to act out their individual dramas of honor, love, and self-interest. Like so many of the characters throughout the Quijote, many of the characters in Góngora's play find it difficult, if not impossible, to discern what is theatrical illusion and what is «real». We can take as an example the following words spoken by Octavio:
We are reminded of similar passages in the «Curioso» where the characters' assumed roles threaten to overwhelm them, as in the following description of the lurid drama Camila enacts before the hidden Anselmo:
Y diciendo estas razones, con una increíble fuerza y ligereza arremetió a Lotario con la daga desenvainada, con tales muestras de querer enclavársela en el pecho, que casi él estuvo en duda si aquellas demostraciones eran falsas o verdaderas...
|(434, my emphasis)|
The insistence that we find in both texts on performance and the enactment of honor is, of course, only a reflection of the essential nature of honor as understood during the Golden Age. In his meticulous study of the concept, Claude Chauchadis looks to treatises written by moralists during the time for an explanation of the artistic obsession with this theme. One of the defining characteristics of honor, according to Chauchadis, is that it is «une relation bi-actantielle» in that it always presupposes an audience, the presence of an other who bears witness to the subject's honor:
[Honneur] suppose l'autre, celui qui témoigne, qui honore. Le concept d'honneur tel qu'il est ansi défini suppose un émetteur et un récepteur... Cette relation bi-actantielle est un élément constant...
Chauchadis cites Lope's Los comendadores de Córdoba, where one of the characters succinctly states: «Honra es aquella que consiste en otro. / Ningún hombre es honrado por sí mismo, / que del otro recibe la honra un hombre» (28). Thus, Cervantes's interpolated novel and Góngora's play make this «relation bi-actantielle» an inherent part of their portrayal of honor and curiosity. Neither Camila nor Isabela are initially believed to be intrinsically virtuous, although they have done nothing to arouse suspicions. Their virtue has to be dramatized, theatricalized, witnessed, and approved by an audience, specifically by Anselmo and Camilo.
Beyond the implicit criticism by both Góngora and Cervantes of the tyranny of honor and jealousy, there is an even more —52→ profound and scathing denunciation of those who measure truth exclusively through curiosidad and experiencia. As studied by several critics, the problem of curiositas is the desire to substitute knowledge for faith. In El curioso impertinente, Lotario, at one point, exclaims:
Paréceme, ¡oh Anselmo!, que tienes tú ahora el ingenio como el que siempre tienen los moros, a los cuales no se les puede dar a entender el error de su secta con las acotaciones de la Santa Escritura, ni con razones que consistan en especulación del entendimiento, ni que vayan fundadas en artículos de fe, sino que les han de traer ejemplos palpables, fáciles, intelegibles, demonstrativos, indubitables, con demostraciones matemáticas que no se pueden negar...
As Juergen Hahn has suggested, El curioso impertinente can be seen at one level as a cautionary tale, a literary version of Man's fall from grace, Adam and Eve's impertinent desire to taste from the tree of Knowledge (134-35). So too in Góngora do we find an emphasis on unmasking the excessive dependence on evidence collected by the senses, rather than faith, trust, and true entendimiento.56 In Camilo's obsessive mind, as in Anselmo's, curiosidad can be satisfied only with direct experiencia. Camilo's position is summed up by the refrain «que al oro examina el fuego, y la experiencia al amor». There is similar imagery in Cervantes's novella. Anselmo explains his obsession to Lotario in the following words:
el deseo que me fatiga es pensar si Camila, mi esposa, es tan buena y tan perfeta como yo pienso, y no puedo enterarme en esta verdad, si no es probándola de manera que la prueba manifieste los quilates de su bondad, como el fuego muestra los del oro... De modo que por estas razones, y por otras muchas que te pudiera decir para acreditar y fortalecer la opinión que tengo, deseo que Camila, mi esposa, pase por estas dificultades, y se acrisole y quilate en el fuego de verse requerida y solicitada...
|(402-403, my emphasis).|
In Góngora's play Camilo's obsession with experiencia is countered by the gracioso's repeated warnings about the dangers of —53→ experimenting with honor. We can take as an example the following exchange. Tadeo asks him why Camilo persists in torturing Isabela:
|(vv. 934-41, 946-65).|
In what becomes an antiphonal exchange of estribillos that will be repeated throughout the act, Camilo's obsession is countered by Tadeo's advice. I will cite only another passage:
|(vv. 1380-87, 1394-95).|
According to Collins, Camilo represents «the overweening skeptic who creates artificial adversity to prove the human spirit». As such he «usurps the province of genuine adversity, God's crucible» (22). The dialectic between faith (represented by Isabela) and destructive curiosity is dramatized throughout the play.
There are of course differences in the portrayal of these themes. In «El curioso», there is a movement from the harmony of married life and friendship to the disharmony of jealousy, entrapment, lies, and ultimately, death. Góngora's Las firmezas inverts this progression.57 Although the action threatens to unfold in a similarly tragic manner, as indicated by the somber note at the very beginning and the dire warnings by Tadeo throughout, the play ends in harmony in keeping with the comedia convention of order restored. The difference, however, lies not in differences of genre but rather in Góngora's approach to the problem of artifice, theatricality, and, significantly, in the way the women in the play manipulate these strategies. In Cervantes' novella, Camila seems to outdo Anselmo in theatrical perspicaciousness. Once she has fallen in love with Lotario and finds herself in the position of having to deceive her husband, her theatrical/histrionic instincts take over. Although Anselmo is ultimately the one —55→ responsible for unleashing the chain of deception than will end in their destruction, Camila takes to her role with unsuspected theatrical talent. She carefully prepares the dramatic space, including where the audience (Anselmo) will be situated, arranges the perspective, directs the actors (Leonela and Lotario), and provides the necessary lines and props (the dagger) in order to deceive her husband. Her skillful embrace of artifice and theatricality, however, precipitates the tragic ending, producing what Hahn has called a state of «spiritual anarchy» (136).
In Góngora's play, both Isabela and Violante in the last scenes abandon the passive roles manipulated by Camilo and Marcelo. Isabela herself becomes a formidable playwright and actress, assuming a mask in order to both prove her constancy and force Camilo to admit the error of his ways. She has learned her lesson from Camilo, and she readily adopts similar strategies:
|(vv. 3126-29 my emphasis).|
The role she chooses is that of «Belisa», the character invented by Camilo to make her jealous. Her bold acting which involves repelling an attack by her future father-in-law helps bring about harmony at the end. What Cervantes presents as deceit on Camila's part, Góngora presents as salutary, liberating free play for his exemplary heroine. The trait that sets Isabela apart from Cervantes's tragic Camila is precisely her firmezas, her constancy, her unwavering faith. Earlier in the play, she had stated:
Thus, the strategies of theatricality and play are tempered by her strength and faith. Her virtues are presented in sharp contrast with Camilo's destructive curiosidad and are triumphant in maintaining intact her honor and Camilo's.
Góngora's dramatic texts have been unjustly relegated to relative obscurity in Golden Age criticism. In addition to providing new insights into Don Luis's poetics, Las firmezas de Isabela represents a unique example of Cervantes's influence on the theater —56→ and of the dynamic interdependence of genres during the Golden Age.58 In spite of the obvious differences between the play and El curioso impertinente -notably the happy ending, the emphasis on play, and a greater tolerance of artifice- Las firmezas de Isabela remains an eloquent reading of Cervantes's text. Like his model, Góngora goes beyond the ostentatious display of artifice in order to raise suggestive questions concerning the nature of honor, appearances, and truth.—57→
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_____. Las firmezas de Isabela. Ed. Robert Jammes. Madrid: Clásicos Castalia, 1984.
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Rivers, Elias L. «Cervantes and the Question of Language». Cervantes and the Renaissance: Papers of the Pomona College Cervantes Symposium. Ed. Michael D. McGaha. Easton, Pa: 1980. 23-33.
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