2011 MLA Special Session: The Spanish Comedia Rewrites the Hebrew Bible

Friday, Jan. 7, 3.30 p.m., Los Angeles Convention Center 301B



“Genesis 31-34 as Comedia: Lope de Vega’s El robo de Dina,” Matthew D. Stroud, Trinity University

In the first presentation of the session, Stroud focuses on the techniques that Lope used to adapt his Biblical source text for a comedia audience. From the amplification of the scope of the story by the inclusion of the story of Laban and Jacob, to the depiction of women as objects to be protected, sold, or stolen, to the focus on one of the more troubling episodes of the Hebrew Bible, this lesser-known play by Lope gives great insight into how seventeenth-century Spain viewed the Bible, the history of the Jewish people, the relationships between men and women, and even the comedia and Baroque ideals. A striking example of the conflictive nature of Baroque art, comedia dramaturgy, and the contradictions prevalent in seventeenth-century Spain, this play offers a mixture of unexpected differences: an act of sexual aggression and sympathy for the perpetrator, the history of the Hebrew people as seen through the poetic and theatrical conventions of the comedia, and reverence for the Jewish protagonists and cultural anti-Semitism.


“Fiery Women and Lightning: Mira de Amescua’s El clavo de Jael,” Gwyn Campbell, Washington and Lee University

Campbell looks at the additional layers that Mira adds to the death of Sísara as told in the book of Judges. His comedia focuses on the fourth judge of Israel, the prophet Deborah (“woman of torches”), as a central character who calls on Barac (“lightning”) to free their people in Canaan. Mira rewrites the narrative of Jael, wife of Heber the Cinite, to introduce the love story between the beautiful exile and Ever Fineo whom she will not marry unless he follows the law of Abraham. In counterpoint, Mira also introduces the marriage of Sísara to Sofonisa, the sister of King Jabín, as a reward for his military prowess. On the eve of the prophetic battle Jabín separates Sísara and his love in order to prevent Venus from weakening Marte. Through these changes, and with the leitmotif of crowning laurels, Fineo’s belief that his Venus has betrayed him when Jael takes Sísara into their tent in his absence, and through the limited emphasis on the literal milk of Jael’s human kindness as she slays Sísara, Mira provides traditional comedia fare while underscoring in a Christian context the virtue of true love based on humility, faith and the Word.


“Family Ties, or Messing Around with David,” William R. Blue, The Pennsylvania State University

William R. Blue’s presentation, “Family Ties, or Messing Around with David,” pursues the imperial identification of Spain with Israel, the nation chosen by God to be his right arm and righteous sword to combat the enemies of the faith, especially in the dramatic representation of King David. Just as all of the Hapsburg kings were at one time or another compared to the Hebrew king, David’s many roles, from shepherd to king, were essentially a compendium of stock character roles found in Spanish drama. From three act comedias to one act autos sacramentales, the plays written about David range in quality and complexity from Moreto’s El arpa de David to Calderón’s La primer flor del Carmelo, from a breathless jumble of nearly every story written about David to a distilled, nearly bloodless, working out of exact correspondences between David and the other allegorical characters and their theological counterpoints. All of these representations, historical and literary, share family ties that produce an extraordinary array of treatments from the rigidly conservative to the unbound and chaotic. This presentation will explore the range and relationship of these plays to their Biblical sources, the dramatists’ use of David, and the works’ historical, literary contexts.