In the exaltation of reason, clarity, and decorum that dominated the eighteenth century, there was a strong reaction against the Baroque, and indeed Baroque literature fell into virtual oblivion. Toward the beginning of the twentieth century, however, interest in the Baroque began to stir, and it is thus that not only the literature of the Baroque Spanish masters but also Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s contribution to the field have again been brought to light and appreciated.
All of Sor Juana’s drama is written in verse. She used a multiplicity of verse forms, exploiting them in order to set an effective tone for a particular character or scene. Relative to content, it is important to note that at the end of the seventeenth century, the Catholic Church and Sor Juana, especially through her theater, tried to make the dogma of the Eucharist dynamic. Sor Juana sought to unveil the Mysteries of Christ; obviously the most difficult part was how to make the invisible visible. She attempted to achieve this through allegory, myth, and metaphor; her intent was didacticism through entertainment, and even her secular plays reveal the influence of religious drama. Like Calderón, she used carts to represent different scenes, and her dramas include music and singing, as well as one or more choruses—which, as in Greek literature, serve to emphasize ideas presented through the plays.
Sor Juana used the dramatic props of her time for her writings. For the reader who can enter imaginatively into that distant period, her plays will come alive. Further, her variation in verse form not only displays her skill in handling many types but also provides interest and dispels monotony. Finally, one must marvel at her knowledge of both biblical and historical events as she weaves these into her plots. The combination of history, mythology, and religion must have produced a wonderfully exhilarating effect on audiences in her day, and it is still capable of engaging readers centuries later.
The collected dramatic output of Sor Juana consists of two comedies of intrigue, A Household Plagued by Love and Amor es más laberinto (love is a greater labyrinth); three autos sacramentales, The Divine Narcissus, El mártir del Sacramento, San Hermenegildo (the martyr of the Sacrament, Saint Hermenegildo), and El cetro de José (Joseph’s scepter); two sainetes; and eighteen loas.
An auto sacramental is a one-act play concerning the Sacrament; a loa is a one-act play, usually quite short, which is generally allegorical and supports the Eucharist. A loa preceded each of Sor Juana’s autos. Her sacramental plays and comedias are similar in form and style to those of the Calderón school. In fact, one of Calderón’s plays is entitled “Los empeños de un acaso” (wr. 1639), and a few lines are identical to those that Sor Juana penned in her A Household Plagued by Love. This does not mean that Sor Juana was a plagiarist. Her independent attitude and thirst for knowledge caused her to read voraciously, and she synthesized what she learned into her own expression. Religion was the basis for what she wrote; her prime topics throughout her works were love and the Eucharist.
A Household Plagued by Love and Amor es más laberinto
The } longer plays of Sor Juana can be divided into two types: the secular and religious. Her two secular plays, A Household Plagued by Love and Amor es más laberinto, are probably the most appealing to present-day audiences. Each of these three-act plays formed the greater part of a festejo, an evening of entertainment. A festejo usually honored one or more noted individuals.
The festejo of A Household Plagued by Love consisted of the three-act play, preceded by a loa. Intercalated between the acts were two sainetes and three songs praising the honored guests. The play concluded with a sarao, a brief play praising the viceroy and his family in music and dancing. The sainetes, or farces in this festejo, end in song, or song and hisses. The first of these poked fun at women; the second made jest of the play being staged. The entire festejo of A Household Plagued by Love required more than two hours to be performed.
Amor es más laberinto was also a three-act play; act 2, however, was written by Juan de Guevara, a well-known figure who had come from the Royal Court of Madrid to Mexico City and may have been Sor Juana’s cousin. This play is also preceded by a loa.
These two plays have similar themes: noble people in love, disguised characters who appear or hide in inhospitable surroundings, mistaken identity, and...
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