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Spanish Literature

Medieval Castilian Drama

Karoline Manny

In 1958 Fernando Lázaro-Carreter published an anthology of medieval literature that is still the most widely used anthology today. It opens saying; "The history of theater during the Spanish Middle Ages is a history of absence.... Nothing fills the void that opens between El auto de los reyes magos written in the second half of the 12th century and the sketches of Gómez Manrique, born at the beginning of the fifteenth."1 This two-century hiatus has led to considerable controversy among medieval scholars as to the nature of Castilian drama prior to Juan del Encina (16th century). Some critics, such as Fernando Lázaro-Carreter, John Lihani,2 and especially Charlotte Stern,3 citing references to lost plays in church records and chronicles, argue that Castile had a rich tradition of drama from which very few texts are preserved. In addition to studying secondary texts, they fill the two-century gap by including dialogues, debates and other texts as examples of dramatic literature. Other critics, especially Humberto López Morales4 are convinced that since no extant texts survive, there is no basis to argue in favor of a lost tradition of Castilian drama. They believe that the dialogues and debates are not dramatic in nature. At the time Lázaro-Carreter wrote his anthology, Richard Donovan's groundbreaking work on liturgical drama had not yet appeared. Nor had Charlotte Stern's 1996 study, which summarizes references to other evidence of medieval theater. Scholars now have a great deal more information regarding Spanish medieval drama, and for this reason Stern calls for a new "poetics" for this drama. Hispanists have proposed many definitions for Spanish medieval drama. In 1933, Karl Young stated that drama must be defined as "a story preserved in action, in which the speakers impersonate the characters concerned." 5 Donovan does little to alter this definition stating that drama refers only to those works which "clearly involve impersonation"6 on the part of the participants. Unfortunately, few extant medieval texts survive that fit these definitions. The allusive definition of medieval Spanish drama is further complicated by the many terms used to refer to medieval spectacle. One sees: Tropes of the various cycles of the liturgical year, references to entremeses, Auto de los Reyes Magos, Representación del Nascimiento de Nuestro Señor, Coplas fechas para la Santísima Semana, Momos de doña Isabel para su hermano don Alfonso, Diálogo entre el Viejo y el Amor, Danza de la muerte, Juegos de escarnio, Farsa o quasicomedia de Prauos, Égloga de Plácida y Victoriano, Paso de los aceitunos, and Comedia de Himenea. What are the differences, if any, between these many classifications? Which of them can be considered drama? Hans Jauss correctly states that during medieval times, "we have newly developing literatures that are not immediately dependent on the preceding Latin literature.... Basic distinctions...were not yet perceived and reflected on...."7 Thus, rather than beginning with a definition of drama born of classic or twentieth century theories, unknown in the Middle Ages, and then looking for Medieval works that fit that definition, let us instead study what Medieval man referred to as dramatic spectacle and thus reach a definition. Religious and secular works, as well as references to non-extant drama and activities not generally considered to be drama can all contribute to this definition.

Classical Drama

Spectacle in Early Medieval Castile

Early European/Castilian Religious Drama

Early Religious Castilian Drama in the Vernacular

The Corpus Christi Celebration

Early Non-Religious Extant Drama

References to Non-extant Drama

A New Poetics For Early Castilian Spectacle

Appendix: List of Extant Vernacular Castilian Drama (1100-1530)




1 Lázaro-Carreter, Fernando. Teatro Medieval. Madrid: Castalia, 1958, p 1.

2 Lihani, John. Lucas Fernández. New York: Twayne, 1973.

3 Charlotte Stern, in The Medieval Theater in Castile. Binghamton, New York: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1996. and in a series of articles such as "Fray Iñigo de Mendoza and the Medieval Dramatic Ritual" (Hispanic Review 33: 197-245), "Some New Thoughts on the Early Spanish Drama" (Bulletin of the Comediantes 33: 47-61), "The Early Spanish Drama: From Medieval Ritual to Renaissance Art" (Renaissance Drama New Series 6: 177-201), "The Coplas de Mingo Revulgo and the Early Spanish Drama" (Hispanic Review 44: 311-32), and "Christmas Performances in Jaén in the 1460's" (Studies in Honor of Bruce W. Wardropper ed. Dian Fox, Harry Sieber and Robert ter Horst, 323-34. Newark: Juan de la Cuesta, 1989) argues her theory.

4 In his work. Tradición y creación en los orígenes del teatro castellano (Madrid: Alcalá, 1968), and in a series of more recent articles such as "Alfonso X y el teatro medieval castellano" (Revista de Filología Española 71: 227-52), "El Auto de los Reyes Magos: un texto para tres siglos" (Insula 527: 20-21), "El concilio de Valladolid de 1228 y el teatro medieval castellano (Boletín de la Academia Puertorriqueña de la Lengua Española 14:61-68) and "Sobre el teatro medieval castellano: Status quaestionis" (Boletín de la Academia Puertorriqueña de la Lengua Española 14: 99-102) Humberto López Morales argues his theory.

5 Young, Karl. The Drama of the Medieval Church. @ vols. Oxford: Claredon, 1933, I:80.

6 Donovan, Richard B. The Liturgical Drama in Medieval Spain. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992, 6.

7 Juass, Hans Robert. Towards an Aesthetic of Reception. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982, 77.

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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