María de Zayas y Sotomayor Essay - Critical Essays

Zayas y Sotomayor, María de


María de Zayas y Sotomayor 1590(?)-1661(?)

Spanish short story writer, novelist, and dramatist.

María de Zayas y Sotomayor was one of the most prominent writers of the Spanish Golden Age. While Zayas's works were widely read in her own time, critical and popular attention waned during the nineteenth century. Modern critics, however, have come to acknowledge Zayas as one of the foremost feminist writers of Spain. In fact, most recent critiques of Zayas focus heavily on this aspect of her writing, citing her works as prime examples of the use of textual stylization to address issues related to gender. Zayas is particularly noted for her examinations of the role of the woman writer in a patriarchal society, especially in the area of literary expression and authorship. Today, Zayas is seen as a ground-breaking figure, foreshadowing the feminist writers of later centuries.

Biographical Information

Not much is known about Zayas's personal life and the few contemporary accounts that have survived from her time focus almost exclusively on her literary activity. It is believed that she was born in 1590 in Madrid to Doña María de Barasa and Don Fernando de Zayas y Sotomayor. Her father was an infantry captain, and eventually earned a knighthood in the military order of Santiago. There is also evidence that he served under the seventh count of Lemos, so Zayas likely spent time in Italy. She began writing verse and introductory material for other prose writers sometime between 1621 and 1639, and was active in the literary circles of Madrid. Details about Zayas's life after 1639 are few, but some scholars contend that she may have moved to the city of Zaragoza in the late 1630s, based primarily on the fact that both of her short story collections were published there. After the publication of her second novella collection, Zayas seems to have disappeared from public life altogether. Many critics argue that this lack of information suggests that Zayas entered a convent, mimicking the actions of many of her own characters. Others speculate that Zayas, who would have been almost fifty-eight years of age, may have died around this time. Upon her death, contemporary authors eulogized her as the “Tenth Muse” or the “Sybil of Madrid.”

Major Works

While there is no comprehensive list of Zayas's works available, it is known that she composed several verses during her time in Madrid, as well as one drama, La traicíon en la amistad (mid-1600s; The Betrayal of Friendship). The play was not performed during her lifetime, and only became available to readers in the early twentieth century. Zayas's literary reputation rests primarily on her two short story collections, Novelas amorosas y ejemplares (primera parte) (1637) and Desengaños amorosos. Parte Segunda del sarao y entretenimiento honesto (1647). Based partly on the courtly novel tradition of Spain, both works achieved enormous popularity during her lifetime. The novellas are collections of short stories organized by their inclusion in a greater narrative. In the Novelas amorosas, five men and five women meet during Christmas festivities at the home of a convalescent friend. While the frame narrative unfolds—wherein Don Juan courts the recovering Lisis but finds himself increasingly drawn to Lisarda—the friends tell stories about love. As the frame narrative ends, Lisis accepts Don Diego as her suitor, providing a segue into Zayas's second collection of short stories. Desengaños amorosos again features the group of friends gathering, this time to celebrate the impending wedding of Lisis and Diego. Lisis asks that only the women narrate stories, focusing on the “disenchantments” of love and the trickery of men. At the end of the tale, Lisis, based on the tales related by her female friends, decides to renounce marriage and instead retires to a convent. Throughout the collected stories in Novelas amorosas and Desengaños amorosos, Zayas speaks out on behalf of women, who she sees as being maligned. The tales focus on female powerlessness in a patriarchal society—a fact that has led many modern critics to study Zayas's works as primarily feminist in nature.

Critical Reception

Zayas's novellas were widely read in her own time, and retained their popularity well into the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, attention to Zayas declined sharply, and she was consistently disregarded in discussions of the Spanish canon. The twentieth century witnessed a critical reevaluation of Zayas's work, especially its feminist perspective. For example, Sandra M. Foa argues that, although the author's defense of women derives from a tradition that dates back to fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Spanish literature, Zayas is extremely unconventional in her treatment of gender issues—she crafts a response to both the status of women during her time and to literary traditions that stemmed from that treatment. H. Patsy Boyer notes that Zayas often uses the commonly accepted literary forms of her time, but reworks “accepted plots and literary conventions to create a new work.” Zayas's use of literary conventions to highlight socio-political themes is also a subject of interest to Lisa Vollendorf. In her study of the motif of vengeance in Zayas's works, Vollendorf maintains that Zayas focuses on the ways women are endangered by an honor code which sacrifices the feminine to preserve the masculine. She cites instances in Zayas's stories in which assaults on the female person expose the ways in which the system of honor is preserved. Twentieth century critics continue to reassess and reevaluate the power of Zayas's writings and the influence she has had on subsequent generations of Spanish women writers. An intense revival of interest in Zayas has occurred, focusing on her as an important feminist voice.

Principal Works

La traición en la amistad [The Betrayal of Friendship, 1903] (drama) mid-1600s

Novelas amorosas y ejemplares (primera parte) [The Enchantments of Love: Amorous and Exemplary Novels, edited and translated by H. Patsy Boyer, 1990] (short stories) 1637

Desengaños amorosos. Parte Segunda del sarao y entretenimiento honesto [The Disenchantments of Love, edited and translated by H. Patsy Boyer, 1997] (novellas) 1647

Parte segunda del sarao y entretenimiento amoroso (short stories) 1649

Novelas completas [edited by María Martínez del Portal] (novellas) 1973


Marcia L. Welles (essay date October 1978)

SOURCE: Welles, Marcia L. “María de Zayas y Sotomayor and Her novella cortesana: A Re-evaluation.” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 55, no. 4 (October 1978): 301-10.

[In the following essay, Welles offers an evaluation of Zayas's short stories, contending that her writing was popular not just because of its content, but also because of its superb craftsmanship, including the use of formulaic elements in innovative ways.]

The short story, or novela cortesana,1 had a wide and rapid diffusion after the initial impetus of the publication of the Novelas ejemplares of Cervantes in 1613. Yet the splendour of the Golden-Age drama, the grandeur...

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Kenneth A. Stackhouse (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: Stackhouse, Kenneth A. “Verisimilitude, Magic, and the Supernatural in the Novelas of María de Zayas y Sotomayor.” Hispanofila 62 (1978): 65-75.

[In this essay, Stackhouse argues that Zayas used magic and the supernatural in order to circumvent the difficulties she faced as a female writer whose ideals differed from those of her society.]

María de Zayas y Sotomayor (1590-1661?) was a popular seventeenth-century post-Cervantine novelist whom many remember principally for her violent opposition to the misogyny entailed by the Spanish literary convention of pundonor.1 The purpose of this paper is to illuminate Zayas' resolution of a...

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Lucía Fox-Lockert (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: Fox-Lockert, Lucía. “María de Zayas.” In Women Novelists in Spain and Spanish America, pp. 25-35. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1979.

[In the following essay, Fox-Lockert presents an overview of Zayas's life and works from a sociological and feminist viewpoint.]

One of the most important figures among feminine writers, and the first woman novelist, is a Spanish woman of whom relatively little is known. Her identity remains somewhat a mystery, although the critics1 have chosen from several women one who best fits the chronology of her two novels. María de Zayas was born in Madrid in 1590, belonged to the upper class socially and participated...

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William H. Clamurro (essay date summer 1988)

SOURCE: Clamurro, William H. “Ideological Contradiction and Imperial Decline: Toward a Reading of Zayas's Desengaños amorosos.South Central Review 5, no. 2 (summer 1988): 43-50.

[In the essay below, Clamurro regards de Zayas's Desengaños as an example of a text that reflects the ideological crises of her times.]

The fiction of María de Zayas y Sotomayor has attracted increased critical attention in recent years, in no small part as a result of the general recuperation of certain writers previously relegated to obscurity by the essentially patriarchal discourse of literary criticism. In addition, although the vagaries of literary history and its...

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H. Patsy Boyer (essay date spring 1990)

SOURCE: Boyer, H. Patsy. “The ‘Other’ Woman in Cervantes's Persiles and Zayas's Novelas.” Cervantes 10, no. 1 (spring 1990): 59-68.

[In the essay which follows, Boyer studies the frame narrative of Zayas's Disenchantments as a means of re-creating the notion of the “other” woman as represented in texts such as Cervantes's The Trials of Persiles and Sigismunda.]

Struck by the impressive array of “other” women in The Trials of Persiles and Sigismunda and in Zayas's double collection of framed novelas,1 I decided to study Zayas's frame narrative as a re-vision of the Sousa Coutinho episode in Persiles (I, 10) because...

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H. Patsy Boyer (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: Boyer, H. Patsy. Introduction to The Enchantments of Love: Amorous and Exemplary Novels, translated by H. Patsy Boyer, pp. xi-xxxi. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1990.

[In the following essay, Boyer provides an overview of Zayas's life and works.]

The life of Maria de Zayas y Sotomayor remains largely a mystery. The only facts known about her are that she lived in Madrid during the first half of the seventeenth century and was a recognized literary figure. She wrote much occasional poetry, at least one play, The Betrayal of Friendship, and two best-selling collections of framed novellas, The Enchantments of Love: Amorous and...

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Patricia E. Grieve (essay date spring 1991)

SOURCE: Grieve, Patricia E. “Embroidering with Saintly Threads: María de Zayas Challenges Cervantes and the Church.” Renaissance Quarterly 44, no. 1 (spring 1991): 86-106.

[In this essay, Grieve maintains that Zayas used her writing to challenge both the secular and religious authorities of her time.]

When the Spanish novella-writer, María de Zayas y Sotomayor, challenged seventeenth-century male authorities, her challenge embraced both sacred and profane canons. Zayas invests her novellas with the formal properties of hagiography while subverting the ideology of that Church-sanctioned genre. At the same time, Zayas shows herself to be a subtle reader and...

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Ruth El Saffar (essay date fall 1993)

SOURCE: El Saffar, Ruth. “Ana/Lysis/Zayas: Reflections on Courtship and Literary Women in Maria de Zayas's Enchantments of Love.Indiana Journal of Hispanic Literatures 2, no. 1 (fall 1993): 7-28.

[In the following essay, El Saffar offers a detailed explanation of Zayas's Enchantments, reflecting on how the narrative's multiple levels represent the problems faced by a female author living and working in a patriarchal society.]

Maria de Zayas's 1637 collection of Novelas amorosas y ejemplares, The Enchantments of Love,1 is, at the most obvious level, a multi-layered artifact in the tradition of Boccaccio. A group of well-born...

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Valerie Hegstrom (essay date summer 1994)

SOURCE: Hegstrom, Valerie. “The Fallacy of False Dichotomy in María de Zayas's La traction en la amistad.Bulletin of the Comediantes 46, no. 1 (summer 1994): 59-70.

[In the following essay, Oakey regards Zayas's drama as a subversion of Golden Age conventions, where the reimposition of male dominance signals the end of the play and a return to normality. This essay was originally published under the name Valerie Hegstrom Oakey.]

The works of María de Zayas have gained more importance recently in studies of Spanish Golden Age literature. While several books and articles have appeared on her narrative works, only a few scholars have studied her theater....

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Catherine Larson (essay date fall-spring 1994-95)

SOURCE: Larson, Catherine. “Gender, Reading, and Intertextuality: Don Juan's Legacy in Maria de Zaya's La Traición en la amistad.INTI: Revista de Literatura Hispanica, no. 40-41 (fall-spring 1994-95): 129-38.

[In the essay that follows, Larson compares the treatment of the relationship between men and women in Zayas's La tración with Tirso do Molina's El burlador de Sevilla.]

María de Zayas's comedy, La traición en la amistad, could not, in many ways, be more distant and removed from Tirso de Molina's eschatological, moralizing El burlador de Sevilla. The comedy, written by a woman, deals with the amorous problems of the idle,...

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Teresa S. Soufas (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: Soufas, Teresa S. “María de Zayas's (Un)Conventional Play, La traición en la amistad.” In The Golden Age Comedia: Text, Theory, and Performance, edited by Charles Ganelin and Howard Mancing, pp. 148-64. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1994.

[In the following essay, Soufas appraises Zayas's La traición from a feminist viewpoint, arguing that literature itself is representative of the social institution from which it stems. She further argues that Zayas is aware of this interdependency, using her writing to critique both the literary and social models of her own society.]

… the plots of women's literature...

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Laura J. Gorfkle (essay date September 1995)

SOURCE: Gorfkle, Laura J. “Seduction and Hysteria in María de Zayas's Desengaños Amorosos.Hispanofila 115 (September 1995): 11-28.

[In the following essay, Gorfkle explores Zayas's attitude toward female sexuality and gender as it is expressed in her Desengaños amorosos.]

The woman novelist must be an hysteric. Hysteria … is simultaneously what a woman can do both to be feminine and to refuse femininity, within patriarchal discourse.

Juliet Mitchell, Women: The Longest Revolution.

María de Zayas's collection of short fiction, Desengaños amorosos, first published...

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Susan Paun de Garcia (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: de Garcia, Susan Paun. “Zayas as Writer: Hell Hath No Fury.” In María de Zayas: The Dynamics of Discourse, edited by Amy R. Williamsen and Judith A. Whitenack, pp. 40-51. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995.

[In the essay below, de Garcia contends that the frame narratives of Zayas's two collections reflect her evolving relationship with the literary academies of her time.]

María de Zayas was an enormously popular writer. Though her comedia went unpublished and, as far as we know, unperformed, her poetry was very successful in her own time, and her prose works are still being edited and read today. In addition, we know that...

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Judith A. Whitenack (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Whitenack, Judith A. “‘Lo que ha menester’: Erotic Enchantment in ‘La inocencia castigada.’” In María de Zayas: The Dynamics of Discourse, edited by Amy R. Williamsen and Judith A. Whitenack, pp. 170-91. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995.

[In the following essay, Whitenack offers an overview of “La inocencia castigada,” one of the tales in Zayas's Desengaños, focusing on the use of enchantment in the story.]

The unspeakable horrors of Doña Inés's six-year “castigo” [punishment] have been the focus of most commentaries on María de Zayas's “La inocencia castigada” [Innocence punished]. This tale of a...

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Lisa Vollendorf (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Vollendorf, Lisa. “Our Bodies, Our Selves: Vengeance in the Novellas of María de Zayas.” Cincinnati Romance Review XVI (1997): 93-100.

[In this essay, Vollendorf studies the two novellas by Zayas for their exploration of the dynamics of vengeance, especially as it relates to the sexuality and sexual powerlessness facing female characters.]

Is Justice …
Governed by greed and lust?
Just the strong doing what they can
And the weak suffering what they must?
.....And sex sells everything,
And sex kills …
Sex kills …

—Joni Mitchell

In the above quote from a song that hinges on the refrain “sex kills,” Joni Mitchell...

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Marina S. Brownlee (essay date 2000)

SOURCE: Brownlee, Marina S. “Baroque Subjects: Changing Perspectives in Zayas's Novelas.” In The Cultural Labyrinth of María de Zayas, pp. 26-73. Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.

[In the essay that follows, Brownlee draws a parallel between the postmodern theories of cultural historians of the early twentieth century and the cultural climate in which Zayas produced her work, noting that there are several instances where the two share fundamental similarities.]

When the Novel becomes the dominant genre, epistemology becomes the dominant discipline.

Mikhail Bakhtin,...

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Yolanda Gamboa (essay date 2000)

SOURCE: Gamboa, Yolanda. “Gender Coding in the Narratives of Maria de Zayas.” In Women, Society and Constraints: A Collection of Contemporary South African Gender Studies, edited by Jeanette Malherbe, Marc Kleijwegt, and Elize Koen, pp. 197-209. Pretoria, South Africa: Institute for Gender Studies, Unisa Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, Gamboa focuses on Zayas's works, recounting the strains and restrictions placed on women in the patriarchal system of early modern Spain.]


In this paper, I look at the constraints on women in the patriarchy of early modern Spain, as reflected in the novels of the popular woman writer of the...

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Yvonne Jehenson and Marcia L. Welles (essay date 2000)

SOURCE: Jehenson, Yvonne, and Marcia L. Welles. “María de Zayas's Wounded Women: A Semiotics of Violence.” In Gender, Identity, and Representation in Spain's Golden Age, edited by Anita K. Stoll and Dawn L. Smith, pp. 178-202. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2000.

[In this essay, Jehenson and Welles evaluate the Zayas's positioning of women as related to contemporary debates about women, pornography, and the sadomasochistic dynamic.]

The Desengaños amorosos (1647) [The Disenchantments of Love] are set in a period preceding “los alegres días de las carnestolendas” (118) [“the festive days of Mardi Gras” (37)].1 Situated...

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Yolanda Gamboa (essay date spring 2003)

SOURCE: Gamboa, Yolanda. “Architectural Cartography: Social and Gender Mapping in María de Zayas's Seventeenth-Century Spain.” Hispanic Review 71, no. 2 (spring 2003): 189-203.

[In the following essay, Gamboa proposes that the image of the house in Zayas's works is representative of the merging space occupied by the modern family, and reflects, in a microcosm, the individual's placement within the larger social arena.]

María de Zayas's popular framed novels have been the object of significant attention in the last few decades. Critics have highlighted the crucial difference in tone between her two collections, namely, Novelas amorosas y ejemplares...

(The entire section is 5327 words.)

Further Reading


Boyer, H. Patsy. Introduction to María de Zayas: The Disenchantments of Love, translated by H. Patsy Boyle, pp. 1-26. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.

Introduction to Boyle's translation of the Desengaños amorosos, with an overview of the work.

Brownlee, Marina Scordilis. “Genealogies in Crisis: María de Zayas in Seventeenth-Century Spain.” In Generation and Degeneration: Tropes of Reproduction in Literature and History from Antiquity through Early Modern Europe, edited by Valeria Finucci and Kevin Brownlee, pp. 189-208. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001.


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