Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Although written in dramatic form, with conventional division into acts, this work is regarded as a novel in dialogue because its excessive length and frequently shifting scenes make performance, without significant editing, impossible on any stage. In the 1499 version, the story consists of sixteen acts, which were increased to twenty-one in 1502, and at a considerably later date, to twenty-two. Some doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of certain of these additions. Although the work was published anonymously, Fernando de Rojas is generally accepted as the author, the chief evidence being an acrostic poem containing his name to which one of his early publishers first called attention, as well as several legal depositions made about 1525. The writer declared that he found the first act and amused himself by completing the story at the rate of an act a day during a two-week vacation at the University of Salamanca. Rojas was the mayor of Talavera as well as an educated lawyer who enjoyed the humanistic learning of the Renaissance.

The book has appeared in many editions and a number of translations. It was the first translation into English (originally translated as The Spanish Bawd, 1631) of any Spanish book, and it has had a tremendous influence upon all succeeding writing in Spain. Modern critics agree that Celestina is among the best novels in Spanish literature. Rojas demonstrates the tendency of Renaissance writers to refer to the texts of the ancient writers and to borrow subjects from ancient writers. The plot stems from an anonymous thirteenth century Latin poem, Pamphilus (the protagonist’s name, which Rojas converted to Calisto), which is not readily available in English translation. The Pamphilus story was also incorporated as an episode in the Libro de buen amor by the “Archpriest of Hita,” Juan Ruiz, in the fourteenth century. Rojas is known to have had access to both the original Pamphilus and the reduction in Juan Ruiz’s Libro de buen amor, but Rojas greatly alters his source material. Classical literature also provides themes and motifs in the work. For example, there is an allusion to Pasiphae toward the beginning of the novel. This reference establishes desire as a principal theme of the work. According to Greek legend, Pasiphae mates with the minotaur because of lust. Pasiphae’s daughter Phaedra is possessed with an illicit love like her mother, but Phaedra’s passion is for her stepson. Rojas’s...

(The entire section is 1025 words.)