Summer 2007

HUMS 651
Classic Spanish Plays

Armstrong Roche,Michael

06/25/2007 - 07/12/2007
Monday-Thursday 06:00 PM - 09:00 PM

Fisk Hall 413

From 1580 to about 1700 Spanish-language playwrights created one of the great dramatic repertories of world literature, comparable for inventiveness, variety, and influence to the Classical Greek and Elizabethan English traditions. In this course we will examine seven of the greatest and most influential of these plays by Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Calderon de la Barca, Tirso de Molina, Maria de Zayas, and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. We begin with the earliest of the plays, Cervantes's tragedy The Siege of Numancia (about the notorious 2nd century BC siege of Celtiberian Numancia by the same Roman consul who destroyed Carthage), and we examine its troubling parallels with 16th-century Spain's own imperial adventures. We will look at two key plays by Lope de Vega, the playwright most responsible for the Spanish theatrical revolution. We will also examine the play that launched the Don Juan legend onto the world stage, Tirso de Molina's The Trickster of Seville, and consider how much more interesting--and challenging--a character Tirso's Don Juan is than the popular myth of the feckless seducer. We then sink our teeth into Calderon's powerful Life is a Dream, often called the Spanish Hamlet and still the comedia most often performed on international stages. And we will conclude with plays by two great women writers, Maria de Zayas of Spain (Friendship Betrayed) and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz of New Spain or Mexico (Pawns of a House), both of whom worked (brilliantly) within the comedia's dramatic strictures and yet challenged some of its conventions regarding women and gender.

In our study of the plays we will consider several factors that gave rise to this phenomenal outpouring of creativity: the fertile blend of classical and popular sources (including history, chronicle, legend, songs, and proverbs made widely accessible through printing), the social and rhetorical mixing of high and low on the stage and in the theaters, the innovative weaving of tragic and comic elements, the revolutionary commitment to pleasing a heterogeneous audience (with results regularly attacked by moralists), the creative tension between art and profit, the presence of women on the stage (in contrast to England) and in the audience, and the establishment of fixed playhouses in Madrid. We will also relate recurring dramatic preoccupations--with how collective political or religious identities are shaped and projected on the stage, for example, or with how conflicts, often violent, between freedom and authority, desire and conformity, are acted out--to the broader context of Spanish and European politics and society. The plays can also be seen, then, as a creative path to understanding key historical aspects of early modern Europe.

All plays will be read in English translation. This course assumes no familiarity with the texts, with Spanish history, or with literary analysis. However, an interest in learning to engage these wonderful plays closely, imaginatively, and in a historically informed manner is essential.

Course requirements include three short papers (3-5pp.) at the end of each of the three weeks of the regular term; one longer final paper (10-15pp.) on a topic chosen by the student, due within 10 days of the end of the term; and one oral presentation. Depending on student numbers and interest, we may do live readings of scenes informally in class to keep the performance dimension of drama alive and to spark discussion.

For the first meeting of the course students should have read Acts 1-3 of Miguel de Cervantes's The Siege of Numancia.

A syllabus for this course is available at:
Course Syllabus

Michael Armstrong-Roche (B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Harvard University) is associate professor of Romance languages and literatures. He is author of Cervantes's Epic Novel: Empire, Religion, and the Dream Life of Heroes in 'Persiles' (forthcoming from the University of Toronto Press) and is now at work on a book devoted to Cervantes's plays. Click here for more information about Michael Armstrong-Roche.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:
Laura Bass & Margaret Greer, APPROACHES TO TEACHING EARLY MODERN SPANISH DRAMA (Modern Language Association of America), Paperback

Roy Campbell & Eric Bentley, LIFE IS A DREAM AND OTHER SPANISH CLASSICS (Applause Books), Paperback

Lope de Vega, THE DOG IN THE MANGER (Absolute Classics), Paperback

Lope de Vega, THREE MAJOR PLAYS (Oxford University Press), Paperback

Maria de Zayas, FRIENDSHIP BETRAYED (Bucknell University Press), Hardcover

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, PAWNS OF A HOUSE (Bilingual Review Press), Paperback


PLEASE NOTE: One copy of each text will also be available on reserve at the Science Library.

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