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Given Spain's self-identification with the Roman Catholic Church under the Hapsburgs, what is one to make of the great number of comedias that take as their protagonists figures from the Hebrew Bible, individuals revered by Jews as righteous ancestors, models of behavior, and illustrious examples of the triumphs of the Hebrew people faced with endless persecution and oppression? Most of these plays focus on the actions of men (e.g., King David in Tirso’s La venganza de Tamar, and Joseph and Jacob in Mira’s El más feliz cautiverio), but a number of them focus on righteous Hebrew women such as the title characters in Lope’s La hermosa Ester and El robo de Dina, as well as Ruth in the play that interests us here, Tirso de Molina’s La mejor espigadera. According to John Beusterien (357), the comedia in general demonstrates considerable ambivalence toward the Jews, but ambivalence alone may not be sufficient to explain the appearance of such plots, and the questions that arise are numerous. How did Jewish characters end up as protagonists and models for behavior in so many plays written during a time of overt hostility towards the Jews? This was, after all, the nation that not only forced the Jews to leave Spain or convert in 1492, but tirelessly and brutally persecuted their descendents who were never considered quite as good, quite as deserving of the same consideration accorded other human beings, or quite as legitimately Spanish as other citizens, who were always suspected of continuing to practice their religion in secret, and who were deemed so dangerous their mere presence in the society could not be tolerated. Is there some additional process at work in those plays in which the protagonist is a Jewish woman?

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Auburn University

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Bulletin of the Comediantes