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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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Conclusion 155


155 Conclusion The intention of this study has been to identify how and why early modern Spanish dramatists change historical details by restructuring the order of events and interpolating fictional characters and subject matter into the historical action of siege and warfare. Moving beyond the analyses of whether or not these plays adhere to their historical sources, this study takes into account the juxtaposition of history and fiction on the early modern stage. Underlying these changes is the ideological question of Spain’s imperial destiny and the martial values indoctrinated on the early modern stage. The dramatization of Spain’s war machine is representative of a society living under the aegis of a burgeoning empire. Yet, the imperial culture of this period did not lead to one-sided nor purely propagandistic support of the state’s policies. The most ambiguous and open-ended history play is Cervantes’s La Numancia. This early comedia anticipates the failures of the Hapsburg empire. Given that Philip II’s imperial ambitions had led to the annexation of the kingdom of Portugal in 1581, La Numancia can be read as an ill omen of things to come, as they are later played out in Cervantes’s most ironic work when Don Quixote sets out from La Mancha in a failed attempt to reap the rewards of imperial glory and conquest. Scholars today for the most part agree that La Numancia is not the overtly patriotic play it was claimed to be in earlier years, and they are continuing to discover that Cervantes offered...

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