Lope de Vega: Punishment without revenge
Lope conceptualized, without any kind of doubt, his play “Punishment without Revenge” as a tragedy 2, both in the dedication as in the prologue, and in the final lines of the play 3. He pointed out that the play is written in Spanish style, not Roman or Greek, and he argued that the tragic rules, as the suits, the taste and the costumes, can change (apud Ynduráin, 1987: 146).
“The punishment without revenge” performs the ideal and tragic vision (from the point of view of the author himself) of some historic facts 4 together with an exemplary and moral aspect. What is intended to transmit by Lope in his play? To answer this question is very useful what it had been said by the author in the pages 282-284 of his work, “The most prudent revenge”, that appears in «the novels to Marcia Leonarda». The objective of the tragedy is clear: Historic facts that have been modified in order to offer an exemplary story. Both tragedies, in prose and in verse, would serve to discredit and undermine the act of revenge in cases of honour, due to the Catholic mentality, in which the way of repentance and salvation of the soul must be kept always open. In other way, the Catholicism prevents the tragedy, the revenge hastens it 5.
The conception of the tragic genre in Lope leads directly to the reassertion, in a negative way, of the catholic thesis about guilt, regret and divine forgiveness: revenge is an interference of the men in the powers and duties of the catholic God 6. And all this discussion is directly related with the Honour Codes that rules in the Spanish Golden Age theatre (I said codes because every author has his own vision of the honour and its rules).
So what we find in Lope’s plays: proper tragic exercises or moralizing and exemplary Catholic dramas? I'm going to bet on the second option 7.
At this point is absolutely necessary to analyze the type of phenomena that we are attending in the play: punishment or revenge? I defend that the fact dramatized by Lope is the performance of a private revenge that will be presented and pretended in public as a political punishment, a fake political punishment 8.
Being truth that the scholars tried to make a definition of Spanish tragedy particular, specific and according to the schemes of the author himself, they pointed out as well other elements that they consider such an evidence of the direct relation between Lope and Greek tragedy (Ynduráin, 1987;) (Alvar, 1987):
1) The topic of the incest.
(2) The high tone which aims to move away from the predictable applause of the uneducated masses and common people.
(3) The characters of
and the Marques as figures akin to the classical choir. Aurora
(4) The decisive intercession of fate, accelerating the fatal outcome: the incident of the carriage.
(5) The tragic irony present, especially, in the character of the Duke.
(6) The classic formal reminiscences: names, et caetera.
(6) The classic formal reminiscences: names, et caetera.
Regarding these tragic features it must be said that there are very questionable and problematic features. The topic of the incest, for a start, is, in Lope’s play, such a diluted topic, for two main reasons: Cassandra is the stepmother of Federico, the bastard son of the Duke, her future husband. It is true that Federico is treated as a proper son by the Duke and his situation in the dynastic line presents not doubt, but he is still a bastard, being such condition the one that prevails at the end of the play. There is incest, of course, but not by blood, only by law, and has nothing to do with the incest reflected by Sophocles or Seneca in his dramatizations of Oedipus. Actually, according to the classical sources, I believe that the relationship between Federico and Cassandra owes more to the “Hipolit” of Euripides or to the Seneca’s Fedra (although Seneca’s play could be based on the eponymous tragedy of Euripides which, unfortunately, we do not conserve), that to any Greek or Latin version of the myth of Oedipus.
Even much more incestuous appears the relation of Federico with
, because the blood and because they have
been raised together as brother and sister (vv. 700-717, Act one: ” Aurora : As well, you gave me Federico, your son,
to be my brother, cousins both, always together throughout our youth”). Aurora
Regarding the figures of
and the Marques, even admitting their
analogy with the figure of the classic choir, this still is a secondary and
merely formal similarity that serves, in Lope’s play, to a completely opposite
objective to the classic theatre. The same could be argued respect the use of
names such as Cassandra or certain literary figures and images that are
intended to evoke the Trojan War. Aurora
For which concerns to the tragic irony, in the sense of the famous sophoclean one, I completely disagree with scholars and critics. The tragic sophoclean irony lays in the fake security of Oedypus and in the kind of his character and curiosity that makes him to go rushing towards his own misfortune. In Lope’s play, the Duke is not this way. He is a cheater husband that has completely abandoned his wife; he couldn’t care less about her. Marriage is not one of the concerns of the Duke until he returns from fighting in the service of the Church. His lack of interest badly can fit in the tragic irony. The scenes of the play by Lope that might acquire an ironic dye (2295 verses et seq.), in fact acquire an humoristic profile derived from the character of the Duke, lustful and unfair man who returns from the war speaking of virtue and love, the love of his wife who, tired of waiting, goes to find it in the arms of her stepson.
The character of Oedipus, which remains constant up to break at the end of the tragedy, has little to do with the character of the Duke. The tragedy of Oedipus is concern about a city harassed by a plague and by a criminal stain that has not been cleaned. And he is guilty without knowing it: the irony lies in his own efforts to be threatened and to be hunted by himself. In Lope’s play, the Duke has never care about his wife, not even to give birth to a new and proper son, because he always accepts as heir his bastard son. His wife has not had any kind of contact with him. Is not that He does not trust about his wife loyalty, he simply doesn’t care about it (see the recitative of Cassandra in the lines 998-1043, Act two 2 and f. “Cassandra: The Duke is of the school that thinks a wife is something to adorn his house […] a woman wants to be a wife and mother, not another stick of furniture”). Only on its return, the desire of resuming their married life will be born, and that's when he will be advised of the betrayal that it going on, betrayal that he didn’t realized before by his absolute lack of interest. It is true that the myth of Oedipus also attended the blindness of the hero, but it's blindness due to the erroneous information managed by the protagonist. There is not a hidden force that maintains the Duke away from the truth. It’s no the fate the responsible of the relationship between Cassandra and Federico. They would have met equally although the carriage wouldn’t have the accident (this fact was useful as, at most, an accelerant or precipitant occurrence). Regarding the love between them, it’s very important to remind that there are important human reasons that can explain these feelings: Cassandra has more connection with Federico than with her own husband. She is not running from a prophecy or trying to avoid the incest as the most evil thing that could happen to her, she is simply married to a man that couldn’t care lees about her and she is going to find love and support in another. Anyway, and although I don't have the chance in this paper to prove it, I want to highlight that in the Greek tragedy we never attend to the simply statement of Fate as a mere chain of events that lead purely to an inevitably denouement (outcome). The strengthening of Fate, if any, is always problematic and Fate is dialectically developed against freedom.
I consider, therefore, that even Lope himself named his play “tragedy”, many data should make us questioning, at least, such a denomination. Lope’s play responds to drama, a terrible drama, more than to tragedy. The love between Cassandra and Federico will cause the wrath of the Duke, husband and father, respectively, of the lovers, and he plans the murder of both, pretending that the crime is due to political motivations and its corresponding punishment (the sovereignty of Federico, as a bastard son, is threatened by the birth of a legitimate son of Cassandra and the Duke) but, in fact, the murder is a revenge for the matrimonial betrayal which is even more worse for the circumstance of being his own son the protagonist of the love affair. What underlies Duke’s terrible conduct is the anger for the personal betrayal of his son and wife, and the collapse of the new life which he had decided to begin after his return of the battle. Even his revenge fits perfectly within the codes of honour, he prefers to justify with lies the murders. Lope restricts the political motives to a mere appearance, appearance that will support his actions, which means that Lope doesn’t consider the codes of honour, whom mechanisms will be clearly exposed in the play of Calderon which we'll discuss below, strong enough as justifying the deaths. The Duke could have justified his actions relying on the affront that his honour had suffered, so, if Lope avoided that source, the message turns clear: Lope does not consider the rules of honour as solid enough to justify a terrible crime, which is obviously related to his thoughts about revenge. It supposes, morally and politically, a very critical and innovative point of view. The political reasons appear to be, in Lope’s play, over the honourable reasons. The Duke had make up his mind to revere and please his wife and to change his attitude in the marriage (vv. 2322-2327, Act three 267 “Duke: And you, my lady, are most worthy of a love that is at least its rival”, talking about his love for Federico and Cassandra both). But everything changes when he realizes, through an anonymous letter - 2484 v. et seq., Act three 455 - and the accidental hearing of a private conversation between Federico and Cassandra - 2707 v. et seq., Act three 695-, that his wife is in love with his son. In Lope’s plays are passions, and not the fate or the destiny, which delineate the storyline: the love that arises between Federico and Cassandra; the possessive attitude of Cassandra, that makes him to desist of trying to conceal or dissimulate the facts through the convenient marriage with Aurora (vv. 2714-2737, Act three 687-693); the spite of Aurora that made herself to reject Federico, true object of her love (Act three 670). The truth becomes clear in the face of the Duke.
There is no trace of the dialectic conflict between moral and politics, family and power. Moreover, political motives are completely displaced by love issues 9. Federico forgets any kind of political concerns, about the possible birth of a new and lawful son of the Duke, when he meets Cassandra. In fact, these concerns existed before falling in love (I am using Gwynne Edwards translation):
Act one, v. 252 et f. “If I could but escape or find
Some refuge from the hideous prospect of
My father’s marriage! I am his son and heir,
And now on this account must bear
The consequences of this deed.
I must pretend to those I know that I
Am pleased, when in reality my heart
Is heavy with disgust and bleeds
For everything I now consider lost.
My father bids me go to
Where I shall meet my future stepmother,
And every step I take is one more reason
Why I should regard her as a fatal poison”
Act one, v. 317 and f. “But should I care
That my own father, having strayed
So far, should now regret the error of
His ways and by his change of heart ensure
That only sons who are legitimate
Can, as from now, lay claim to his state?
I am a mere messenger,
My task to bring to him a lion bent
On my destruction”.
“Federico- […] de mí mismo quisiera retirarme, / que me cansa el hablarme /
casamiento de mi padre, cuando / pensé heredarle, que si voy mostrando del
/ a nuestra gente gusto, como es justo, / el alma llena de mortal disgusto, / camino a Mantua, de sentido ajeno, / que voy por mí veneno / en ir por mi madrastra, aunque es forzoso. […] Mas ¿qué me importa a mí que se sosiegue
/ mi padre y que se niegue a los vicios pasados, / si han de heredar sus hijos sus estados, / y yo, escudero vil, traer en brazos / Algún león que me ha de hacer pedazos? (vv. 247-312).
By the way, the attraction is reciprocal (see the dialogue between Federico and Batin, v. 623-651, Act one 622, and the dialogue between Cassandra and Lucrecia, v. 582-606, Act one 583). Their love which is not due to any mysterious force (Ynduráin, 1987: 156), it is a physical attraction that will be supported and increased by the lack of desire from Cassandra to marriage a man as the Duke (the facts will demonstrate that Cassandra fears were true): “Cassandra: I shall go on to where the Duke awaits me in Ferrara; though if the stories I have heard about his wayward life are true, they are for any wife-to-be a source of some anxiety” Act one, 601).
Otherwise, The Duke doesn't care any time about the fact that his only son is a bastard, and he never doubts that Federico is his lawful heir, feeling even guilty (vv. 658-666) by his marriage with Cassandra («y fue casarme traicion», v. 667).
Act one, v. 666: “But now I am
Embarked upon this marriage, he
Believes I do it of my own accord
And thinks it is some treachery
That I deliberately do
To him, when, if the truth be known,
My subjects are the ones to blame
For forcing me to marry and,
In consequence, offending him”.
Aurora pretends that she wants to marry Federico to claim and assure his power and his right to govern, just in case the new marriage threatens his position, but, in fact, she wants to marry the man she loves since her childhood (vv. 730-733, Act one 720 “Aurora: I love him just as truly and as honestly as he loved me, our life together one: one law, one love, one will that joined us both in such true harmony as now our marriage would make permanent by giving him to me and me to him, thereby ensuring that only death can ever break a bond tied so securely”).
The political reasons are restricted to the level of appearances, being absolutely false and, actually, vanishing as the causes of the actions. In the “punishment without revenge” the only political conflict is false, is concocted ad hoc by the characters to conceal or hide the true motives of the action: the Duke hatches a fake conflict and a fake story that imply succession problems. Federico killed Cassandra (lie) after knowing that she was pregnant (another lie), murder that leads to his own death by his father hands.
Publicly, he pretends a conflict that involves matters of legitimacy, the right to govern, the succession fight and the political ambition. Privately, we have a plot of jealousy, dishonour and furtive passions (Act three 722). Let's see how the Duke refers it in the verses below:
Act three, v. 819: “I swear the punishment that I
Intend to take is sent from Heaven above.
The justice I now seek comes not
From any sense of private hurt
But from God’s love. For this is His
Revenge, not mine, and I am but
The instrument of punishment divine.
I act not as a husband wronged,
But as a father called upon to thus
Avenge a hideous sin and so demand
A punishment without revenge.
It is in any case what each
Of us by honour’s law is clearly told:
Avenge the insult secretly,
Or else dishonour is twofold.
The man is doubly shamed who gives
The punishment publicity;
For having lost his honour once,
The world then knows his infamy”.
“Cielos, / hoy se ha de ver en mi casa / no más de vuestro castigo. / Alzad la divina vara. / No es venganza de mi agravio; / que yo no quiero tomarla / en vuestra ofensa, y de un hijo / ya fuera bárbara hazaña. / Éste ha de ser un castigo / vuestro no más, porque valga / para que perdone el cielo / el rigor por la templanza. Seré padre y no marido, / dando la justicia santa / a un pecado sin vergüenza / un castigo sin venganza. / Esto disponen las leyes /
honor, y que no haya / publicidad en mi afrenta/ con que se doble mi infamia. del
/ Quien en público castiga / dos veces su honor infama, / pues después que le ha perdido, / por el mundo le dilata. (vv. 2834 - 2857).
In Lope’s play, the core and the heart of the tragic genre has completely disappeared becoming a brilliant and magnificent drama that shows a superb game between appearance and reality, between truth and falsehood, between the tragedy and the politics as a pretext, against the drama and the passions as a text.
There is no politics in Lope’s play, it’s true, but, however, his play is very useful to work his convictions out: the honour can’t justify such a criminal actions and the murder of Federico can only be explained as a punishment and a reaction to a previous assassination (the death of Cassandra due to the political ambition). Only a political charade can be worthwhile in itself. Calderon is another story.
To be continued...
To be continued...