Bartolomé de Torres Naharro by Bartoloméde Torres Naharro

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Bartolomé de Torres Naharro Analysis

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Unconventional in his theater, philosophical if not truly lyrical in his nondramatic verse, universal in spirit and expression, Bartolomé de Torres Naharro is one of those rare individuals who advances art to a new level of awareness and social consciousness.


Hymen is divided according to Torres Naharro’s simplistic pre-Aristotelian formula for composition: introit and plot. Following a pattern that Torres Naharro establishes for the majority of his introits—or dramatic prologues—a rustic enters speaking in Sayagués (a dialect of northwestern Spain), greets his public, and—although it is Christmas Eve—proceeds to boast of his erotic exploits with various country wenches.

The rustic in Hymen recounts his only marriage; his only child resembled the village priest, who obviously frequented their home with more than purely religious intentions. His most ardent extramarital affair was with Juana the Washerwoman, a soapmaker. The rustic describes their lovemaking in graphic and playful detail, then realizes that perhaps he is straying too far from his proposed intentions; he asks pardon for his rude and gross speech, and announces the play to be performed. The play will be divided into five acts, a comedia, though not a hilarious comedy (comedia de risadas). It will be subtle, something unexplainable, something completely novel. What Hymen is, indeed, is a tragicomedy, in which plot predominates over character, in which ethics and morality predominate over fortune or fate. It is the prototype of what was to be known as the Spanish comedia in the seventeenth century.

The introit completed, the plot begins. Act 1 opens on a night scene, possibly the first in Castilian theater. Ymeneo, a young aristocrat, approaches Phebea’s window in order to woo her. It is love at first sight for Ymeneo. He pines, laments, and suffers the severe pangs of lovesickness, for his “lady” does not answer his calls. His two manservants, Eliso and Boreas, advise him to return home, while they stand vigil over the home of the beloved. Ymeneo leaves in a crazed state, but his men are more fearful of the Marquis, Phebea’s brother, who carefully guards his sister’s reputation. The two servants then talk of love; Boreas, the selfish and astute servant, is deeply in love with Doresta, Phebea’s handmaiden. Both men depart, as the Marquis and his manservant, Turpedio, enter. Though it is still night, the presumably decent Marquis, on the alert for the suspected Ymeneo, retires to a girlfriend’s house for breakfast; obviously, he maintains a double standard for sexual behavior, prohibiting his sister from practicing precisely what he does.

Act 2 evolves later that same night. Ymeneo has returned to serenade Phebea. His love song, well suited for the occasion, tells of the glory in suffering for his belle dame sans merci. Phebea now approaches her jalousied window. She shows some compassion for Ymeneo, whose sadness would soften even the hardest of hearts. He entreats her to give him entry to her boudoir. She, in turn, attempts to protect her public reputation, rejecting such advances as scandalous and lascivious, but more swooning by Ymeneo breaks her hold, and she finally capitulates: Ymeneo can come the following evening. Content, Ymeneo offers his belongings to his men. Eliso, however, denies the favor, for he believes in loyalty to master and not in self-interest. His master appreciates the gesture and will offer brotherly love in its place. Ymeneo’s departure is immediately followed by the entrance of the Marquis and Turpedio: The Marquis vows that Ymeneo and Phebea must be killed in order to preserve the family’s “unblemished” honor.

It is late afternoon when act 3 commences. Eliso and Boreas are arguing about Eliso’s refusal to accept gifts from Ymeneo. Boreas’s philosophy is to take whatever one can whenever possible. Eliso accedes to Boreas’s line of reasoning because he knows that the worthy are often left unrewarded. Doresta...

(The entire section is 2,824 words.)