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Spanish Literature

References to Non-extant Early Spanish Drama

Karoline Manny

Many critics, faced with what they call a "paucity" of extant dramas, resign themselves to the belief that there was no tradition of medieval drama in Spain. Nevertheless, even research limited to extant works may still tell us more about medieval drama. The number of extant tropes has more than doubled with Donovan's study. Works in the vernacular are becoming more accessible. Scholars are increasingly aware that there is a great deal more work to be done with regards to finding more examples of medieval drama. For example, Donovan only consulted 5 customaries from Castile in his study and four of them contained tropes. More research is necessary to exhume further examples of medieval liturgical drama.

In the meantime, cathedral libraries are not our only source of information. The number of chronicles, church decrees, traveler's accounts and other non-literary documents that contain references to medieval drama is impressive. More importantly, in many cases the quality of the descriptions of liturgical and court drama is so great that we actually learn as much reading a description as we would reading the play itself.

Not all documents that mention plays or spectacle can be considered to be proof that drama existed in Medieval Spain. The controversy surrounding Law 34, Title 6 of Part I of Alfonso el Sabio's Siete Partidas (1256-76) is proof of that. This famous section prohibits the clergy from participating in plays during the Mass that distract from the service, but permits such plays that inspire devotion. Scholars such as López Morales convincingly argue that this reference does not indicate the presence of liturgical drama since Siete Partidas is so heavily indebted to Espéculo. He states Law 34 is merely copied from this work. Stern argues, equally convincingly that Law 34 is not the only reference in the Siete Partidas, nor in the chronicles in general, to drama. Whether or not Siete Partidas is evidence that liturgical drama was performed in Spain in the 13th century, it is proof that the literate in Spain were aware of such drama--if not before, than certainly after reading Law 34. The specific permission to perform plays that inspire devotion certainly constitutes an invitation and encouragement to do so. Later references to spectacle during the Mass seem to indicate the invitation was accepted.

In Medieval Castilian Drama, Charlotte Stern summarizes a variety of references to non-extant spectacle and drama. With regards to church drama, the Concilio de Valladolid (1228-1229) refers to and condemns "joglares et trashechadores"(minstrels and performers) in the church. Libro de los estados (Juan Manuel, 13thC) states:" ...allí [durante vigilias] se dicen cantares et se tañen estrumentos et se fablan palabras et se ponen posturas que son todas al contrario de aquello para que las vigilias fueran ordenadas"(there [during vigils] they sing, and play instruments, and say words, and put themselves in postures that are contrary to that for which the vigils were ordained). In Libro de confesiones (Martín Pérez, 1312/1317) chapter 137 attacks actors who disguise themselves as devils and animals and take off their clothes and blacken themselves "e fazen torpes saltos e torpes gestos" (and make irreverent jumps and gestures). Chapter 140 accepts those actors who sing, play instruments, relate the deeds of kings and princes, and perform in reputable places. It condemns those who sing dirty songs and jump and dance and convort and distort their bodies. The Concilio de Valladolid (1322) condemns the invitation of Jews and Moors into the churches to perform on Saints Days. The Concilio Provincial de Toledo (1324) criticizes soldaderas who dance to entertain bishops. The Sínodo de Cuéller (1325) says, "Otrosí, en las iglesias non se deuen fazer juegos si non sean juegos de las fiestas así como de las Marías e del monumentos pero an de catar los clérigos que por tales juegos non distrayan el divinal oficio" (In churches they ought not do plays if they are not plays about the festival days such as that of the Marys and the monuments but the clergy ought to sing those plays that do not distract from the Divine Office). The Concilio de Aranda (1473) again forbids lewd spectacles in the church but encourages honest religious works. Finally, and most interestingly, the Libro de cuentos y de Cabildo (Toledo, second half of the 15thC) records the names of 31 plays used during the Corpus Christi celebration in Toledo. It describes the materials purchased to perform them, the route the pageant followed and where it stopped to enact the plays, and the carts' decorations. It also contains 2 fragments of the autos.

Chronicles document court drama as well. In 1116 social strife between Cluniac monks and tanner, cobblers and minstrels leads to their expulsion from Sahagún. In 1126-1157 the Chronica Aldefonsi Imperatoris describes the wedding of Alfonso's daughter with minstrels and juglarescas singing and playing instruments. In 1202, the Fuero de Madrid sets payment for entertainers who enter the city on horseback to prohibit overpayment in order to attract more entertainers. Campesinos vasallos del Obispo Suero de Zamora (1254-1286) refers to performance of the Representación de Nuestro Señor. In 1258 the Cortes de Valladolid mandates that joglares and soldaderas should be rewarded by the king once a year and that "non anden en su casa sino aquéllos que él tovier por bien" (they should not go into the court except those that were invited). The Chronicle of R. Muntaner describes several court celebrations. In 1238, Jaime I was honored in Zaragosa with "baylls e jochs e solaces diuerses" (dances, minstrels, and diverse activities). In 1269, Alfonso el Sabio was welcomed in Valencia with tournaments, wild men, and mock battles with oranges and galley ships on wheels in the streets. In 1286 the coronation of Alfonso III was celebrated with mock battles between two ships on wheels. In 1327, the coronation of Alfonso IV was celebrated in the Aljafería with hundreds of minstrels, knights, wildmen and other entertainers. In 1399 the coronation of Martín I was celebrated with a procession that included floats with a castle and singers pretending to be sirens and angels. The court was decorated with a Canopy of Heaven and the courtyard had a dragon that the knights fought in mock battles. The Chronicle of Alvar García de Santa María describes the 1414 coronation of Fernando de Antequera with pageant wagons with allegorical floats (a wheel of fortune that toppled pretenders to the throne and a wooden city under siege) and jousts. The Aljafería was decorated with a fire-breathing griffin and a Canopy of Heaven with a scene of heaven that included people impersonating angels and the prophets while playing instruments. Between banquet courses they staged political allegories, the allegory of the vices and virtues, and a Dance of Death. The Crónica de don Álvaro de Luna (1423) describes don Álvaro's tastes in entertainment "...ordenó alli en Otordesillas muchas fiestas e muy ricas justas e otros entremeses en los cuales el rey e toda su corte ovieron mucho placer e alegría....todos los caballeros, escuderos e pajes procuraron de salir muy nueva e apuestamente en todos los otros entremeses....don Álvaro fue muy inventivo e mucho dado a fallar invenciones e sacar entremeses en fiestas o en justas o en guerra en las cuales invenciones muy agudamente significaba lo que quería...." (he ordered in Ortordesillas many parties and rich jousts and entremeses in which the king and all his court took much pleasure and happiness....all the knights, squires, and pages appeared in all the entremeses....don Álvaro was very creative and given to innovation and putting on entremeses in parties or jousts or mock-battles in which his inventions sharply represented what he meant....) In 1428 we see King Fernando welcomed into Valladolid with a staging of the Passo de la Fuerte Ventura (a mock battle), an entremés with 8 women on horseback followed by a pageant wagon with a goddess and 12 singers, and a performance where the king and his men appeared as God and the disciples. In 1431 a mock deposition of the Maestro of Santiago is staged. In 1465 the Farsa de Ávila was staged, in which an effigy of Enrique IV was deposed. Finally, most valuable is Hechos del Condestable Don Miguel Lucas de Iranzo (throughout second half of 15thC). It records various court celebrations including performances of Representación de los Reyes Magos and Estoria de Nascimiento de Nuestro Señor; mock battles with dragons, jousting, dance and songs, and allegorical performances.

To summarize, the early references are primarily to activities that are strictly literary, such as minstrels who recited epic poetry, or activities that have very little literary value, such as mimes, contortionists, jousts, and mock-battles. Despite their lack of theatricality, this spectacle is important because it demonstrates early interest in the peninsula in performance. Some activities, especially mock-battles, are interesting since the participants employed items that closely resemble stages and props (ex. ships on wheels and oranges). Many later references, especially in court documents, are even more valuable. Performances of the Dance of Death under the Canopy of Heaven and of entremeses and representaciones are evidence of scripted dramatic performances.


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Copyright (C) 1998, Karoline Manny. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents,including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

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