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Between History and Fiction

The Early Modern Spanish Siege Play


Tracy Crowe Morey

This study explores a number of early modern comedias that deal with historical siege or military episodes in the history of the Iberian peoples. Cervantes’s La Numancia, Lope de Vega’s El asalto de Mastrique and his lesser known La nueva victoria de don Gonzalo de Córdoba, Calderón de la Barca’s El sitio de Bredá, and Vélez de Guevara’s El Hércules de Ocaña are key texts examined here. Taking the distinction between history and fiction in Neo-Aristotelian literary theory as a point of departure, this book considers the intellectual and historical conditions that affect the ways in which early modern dramatists interpret historical events according to their own literary and ideological purposes. The interplay of history and fiction demonstrates uses and discontents of legitimizing fiction in the early modern period. Parallel themes of epic and siege intermingled with romance and carnivalesque humour, provide alternative perspectives to early modern representations of empire and war on the Spanish stage.


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Chapter Three: Romancing the Enemy 105


105 Romancing the Enemy In The Secular Scripture Frye states that ‘romance is the structural core of all fiction’ since ‘it brings us closer than any other aspect of literature to the sense of fiction, considered as a whole, as the epic of the creature, man’s vision of his own life as a quest’ (15).1 If we apply this observation to the fictional episodes of the early modern siege play, we might ask how romance informs the dramatists’ epic matter of siege in the texts under discussion. For early modern writers, the epic/romance dichotomy is a prominent trope of heroic literature. For dramatists of the comedia nueva, the degree to which romance is developed in the fictional episodes depends largely on how much he wishes to either distance or adhere to the predominant literary and ideological representations of epic and warfare. Previous critical approaches of the early modern history play allude to the fictional vignettes of intrigue, comedy, and tragedy in the pauses between the historical battles dramatized on stage. Yet, the thematic context of the fictional episodes also includes features of romance as identified by Frye in The Secular Scripture and in The Anatomy of Criticism. The dramatization of sentimental trials and imperiled conflicts of courtship make up the fictional vignettes of domesticity in these plays. Romance presents idealized situations in which characters become exemplary 1 Riley argues that romance is at the core of Cervantes’s fiction: ‘The principal suggestion I want to make is that we consider...

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