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Until relatively recently, the conventional wisdom regarding the comedia held that the vast and remarkable cultural production of Spain’s Golden Age not only mirrored its political dominance but served as imperial propaganda in the effort to project the Hapsburg monarchy, the Castilian language, the Iberian political and economic systems, and the Roman Catholic religion both at home and abroad. More recent scholarship has found the relationship between imperial cultural production, politics, and society to be much more complicated, porous, and nuanced. Baroque art and literature teem with representations of racial and sexual diversity, class distinctions, and national identities, and the comedia is no different. Catherine Swietlicki has written that “Lope is capable of hearing the full presence of authentic alien voices, of tempering them by the oppositional process, and then writing the voices of the otherness with creative understanding” (219-20), and the same can be said for the genre as a whole. This willingness to explore and, at times, embrace, diversity in both political and cultural matters reveals not just an unwillingness to accept the imperial project in toto but an ongoing effort to criticize its aims and methods and expose the fissures, gaps, and inconsistencies in the monolithic imperial edifice. Even scholars who find it implausible that contemporary playwrights should have created openly subversive works performed in the center of empire still acknowledge that so many plays depict monarchs in a less than flattering light. Arsenio Alfaro, while asserting that the comedia served to instill in its audience “un fuerte sentimiento monárquico” (132), nevertheless concedes that the monarch on occasion falls short: “No todas las veces juega el monarca el papel de administrador recto de justicia o de gobernante concienzudo y responsable o de hombre virtuoso y magnánimo” (136). David Román believes that Philip IV viewed the theater “as a locale where the illusion of power could be constructed and maintained” (76) while simultaneously acknowledging the possibility that Calderón should write a play that is not just “a commentary on the events of the period as well as the King’s manner of style and governance” (78) but one that is, in more general terms, “critical of absolute power” (77).


Arizona Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies

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