Last Updated on October 28, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 481
This fifteenth-century Spanish tale tells of the doomed romance between Calisto and Melibea. Calisto lusts after Melibea when he chances upon her in her garden. For her part, Melibea is deeply suspicious of Calisto's intentions and will have nothing to do with him, and Calisto has little choice but to return home. There, a trusted servant named Sempronio advises him to seek the services of Celestina, a brothel owner. Sempronio is deeply in love with Elicia, one of Celestina's servant girls.
In a betrayal of his employer, Sempronio decides to work with Celestina to get as much gold as possible from Calisto. Meanwhile, Parmeno (another of Calisto's servants) warns Calisto against trusting the evil and untrustworthy Celestina. He advises Calisto to seek Melibea's hand honorably rather than to rely on the notorious madam. The lovesick Calisto refuses to listen and seeks out Celestina anyway. Knowing that Parmeno is against her, Celestina decides to bribe him. She tells him that he can have Areusa (another of her servants), and since Parmeno is already in love with Areusa, he gives in to Celestina. Now, Sempronio and Parmeno are both working with Celestina to cheat their master out of as much gold as they can.
Celestina makes her way to Melibea's home as a vendor of feminine products. She worms her way into the confidence of Melibea's mother, Alisa. Eventually, Alisa leaves Celestina alone with Melibea. The madam immediately engages in a series of manipulations to wear Melibea down. Celestina tells Melibea that Calisto is sick and must have her sacred girdle and a copy of Saint Polonia's prayer in order to heal. Bewildered by what she is hearing, Melibea agrees. Celestina returns the next day to pick up the items, and Melibea agrees to meet with Calisto. The two begin a love affair. Meanwhile, Sempronio and Parmeno engage in sexual liaisons with Elicia and Areusa respectively. After Calisto begins to bed Melibea regularly, both Sempronio and Parmeno decide it's time to get their agreed-upon portion of gold from Celestina, but she refuses to hand over the men's share of Calisto's gold.
The men kill Celestina in anger, but Elicia witnesses their treachery. The authorities catch Sempronio and Parmeno in the act of fleeing and they are beheaded. Both Elicia and Areusa decide to avenge their lovers' deaths. They team up with Sosia (another of Calisto's servants) and Centurio (a ne'er-do-well) to create a distraction while Calisto is engaged in one of his romantic trysts with Melibea.
Centurio's friends and Sosia make such a racket that Calisto's attention is drawn to the noise. He climbs a ladder to determine the source of the commotion outside Melibea's home; in doing so, Calisto loses his balance and falls to his death. After realizing that her lover is dead, Melibea confesses her affair to her parents and leaps to her death from the roof of her home.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1263
One day, while pursuing his stray falcon, Calisto enters a strange garden where he sees and falls in love with a beautiful young woman named Melibea. His eagerness to take advantage of her gentle innocence shocks her, and she angrily drives him away. Calisto goes home desolate and ready to die; his only comfort is the melancholy tunes he plays on his lute. One of his servants, Sempronio, lets him suffer for a time before he suggests that his master seek the aid of Celestina, a procurer, with whose servant, Elicia, Sempronio is in love. At Calisto’s command, the servant hurries to Celestina’s house to summon the old bawd. He and the procurer agree to work together to cheat lovesick Calisto. The young nobleman has another servant, Pármeno, who once worked in Celestina’s house. He tells his master of the bawd’s evil reputation throughout the city and warns him against her.
Ignoring the warning, Calisto welcomes Celestina and offers her gold to act as a go-between in his suit. While he is upstairs getting the money for her, Celestina tries to win Pármeno to her side by assuring him that she is interested in his welfare because of her fondness for his mother. She also promises to help him in winning the affections of Areusa, whom he covets. Pármeno, knowing her tricks, is not entirely convinced.
Unable to control his impatience to make Melibea his own, Calisto sends Sempronio to hurry Celestina in her efforts. Refusing to consider Pármeno’s suggestion that he court Melibea honorably instead of trusting a notorious go-between, he does, however, order his horse so that he can ride past her house. He rides away after further criticism of Pármeno for trying to cross his desires, harsh words that make the servant regret his decision to remain faithful to his young master.
When Sempronio arrives at Celestina’s house, he finds her making a love charm. While she is busy, he and Elicia make love. Then Celestina, who weighed the threat to her life from Melibea’s father against the gold that a grateful Calisto will pay her, goes to talk to Melibea. Lucrecia, a servant in the household, sees the go-between coming and warns Melibea’s mother against Celestina, but Alisa thinks the woman no more than a vendor of sewing materials, hair nets, and feminine makeup. Trustingly, she asks Celestina to stay with Melibea while she herself goes to visit a sick sister.
Celestina first tells Melibea that she comes on behalf of a sick man. After purposely confusing Melibea, she finally explains that all Calisto wants is a rope belt that was taken on pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem and a copy of a prayer by Saint Polonia, supposed to cure toothaches. Ashamed of what she thinks are unjust suspicions of the old bawd, Melibea gives her the rope girdle and promises to copy the charm so that it will be ready by the next day. Before she leaves the house, Celestina wins Lucrecia to her side by promising to sweeten the maid’s breath and to make her a blond. Going to Calisto’s house, the procurer boasts of her success, and the grateful lover promises her a new cloak. By that time, Pármeno decides to accept Celestina’s offer and help her in her scheme. He suggests that he accompany her home. On the way he demands that she make arrangements to have him spend the night with Areusa. Celestina takes him to her house, where Areusa is in bed, and persuades the woman that Pármeno will comfort her during her sweetheart’s absence.
The next day, while the servants are dining at Celestina’s house, Lucrecia arrives with word that her mistress is ill and wishes to see the procurer. The bawd goes at once to Pleberio’s house, where she discovers that Melibea’s disease is lovesickness for Calisto. Celestina promises to cure the malady by having Calisto call at Melibea’s door at midnight.
When she reports this latest development to Calisto, her news wins his regard so completely that he gives her a gold chain. Having no intention of dividing it with her partners, she refuses to agree when Sempronio and Pármeno demand their share. While they quarrel, she screams for the police. The servants silence her forever, but her screams are heard. Sempronio and Pármeno try to escape through a window but are injured in the fall. The authorities behead them on the spot.
In the meantime, Calisto goes to Pleberio’s house, where he finds Melibea eagerly awaiting him. While the lovers talk through the door, his cowardly attendants, who are supposed to be guarding him, run away from imaginary enemies. The confusion awakens her parents, but Melibea explains that Lucrecia made the noise while she was getting a drink for her mistress.
The next morning, Calisto awakens happy, only to be saddened by news of Sempronio’s and Pármeno’s fate. The thought of seeing Melibea in her garden that night is enough to make him forget what happened, however, except for a fleeting thought that Celestina’s bawdry is now punished. With another servant to carry a ladder, he goes that night to the garden and climbs over the wall. Melibea is waiting for him. When the time for parting comes, hours later, she laments the loss of her maidenhood. Calisto mourns only the shortness of their time together.
Grieved by the loss of their servant sweethearts, Elicia and Areusa are determined to avenge their deaths. By pretending to be in love with Sosia, another of Calisto’s servants, Areusa learns that the lovers are meeting secretly each night in Pleberio’s garden. Eager for her favors, Sosia is willing to join in the plot. Neither he nor the women are prepared for violence, however, and so they play up to a scoundrelly soldier and murderer named Centurio. Elicia, who takes over Celestina’s house after the old bawd’s death, has Areusa offer herself to Centurio if he will go into the garden and kill, or at least beat up, Calisto. At first the bully agrees, but prudent reconsideration convinces him that it will be unwise to meddle in the affair. Instead, he arranges to have several friends go to the garden and make a noisy but harmless commotion.
Meanwhile, Pleberio and Alisa talk over plans to marry off their daughter. Overhearing their conversation and conscience-stricken because she has spent every night of the past month with Calisto, Melibea almost confesses her wrongdoing to her unsuspecting parents. Once more Calisto goes to the garden with his servant and ladder and makes his way over the wall. A short time later, Centurio’s friends arrive and pretend to get into a fight with Sosia in the street outside. Calisto is aroused by the disturbance. Despite Melibea’s fears, he starts hastily over the wall to go to the aid of his servant.
He falls from the wall and is killed. Lucrecia, frightened by the vehemence of her mistress’s sorrow, awakens Pleberio and Alisa. Meanwhile, Melibea climbs to the roof of the house. There she reflects upon the effect her actions will have on her parents. Her resolve to die unweakened by their pleadings, she compares herself to many parricides of antiquity, confesses her misdeeds, and bids them farewell. Then she leaps to her death. Pleberio carries her shattered body into the house, where he and Alisa sit alone in their grief.