The Wife-Murder Plays

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Few subgenres of the Spanish comedia have garnered as much critical attention as those plays in which a husband kills, or conspires to kill, his wife. As a group, these plays are intensely interesting, not only because of their common focus on violence at the heart of the marital relationship but also because they serve as splendid examples of Baroque theatrical art: they embody the principle of imitation with the purpose of surpassing the original, they combine fast action with sketchy characterization, and they frequently challenge the reader on a number of levels by pressing the credulity of the reader or spectator, by offering some morally repugnant or intensely ambiguous scenarios, and by wrapping the entire edifice in a thick layer of historical and mythological reference, dense and often impenetrable poetry, an epistemological haze that frequently prevents us from knowing exactly who is to blame for the tragedy, and a tone intended to produce a visceral reaction rather than rational clarity. Despite the rigorous application of a variety of critical approaches over the decades, three stereotypes about these plays still persist: that they are somehow unique to Spanish theater, that they accurately reflect the reality of Spanish marital law and history, and that there is one paradigm for all the wife-murder plays, that is, that they are all "honor plays" with similar characters, plot structures, motivations, actions, and moral lessons. As is the case with most stereotypes, there is some truth to these assertions, but it is the purpose of this study to dispel their general validity and to place the plays where they belong, at the heart of Baroque stagecraft.


Hilaire Kallendorf







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A Companion to Early Modern Hispanic Theater

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