María de Zayas y Sotomayor

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Marcia L. Welles (essay date October 1978)

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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 of Cervantes' creation of the modern novel, and the importance of the development of the picaresque genre have relegated these stories to relative obscurity. They are classified as an outgrowth of the Novelas ejemplares and associated with the extensively circulated and imitated Italian novellieri, especially Boccaccio, Bandello and Cinthio.2 At best they are justified on the basis of their portrayal of contemporary manners,3 or accepted with resignation as representative of the frivolity of the aristocracy of the day.4 The very popularity of this genre in seventeenth-century Spain, which witnessed a proliferation of collections variously entitled ‘Noches’, ‘Fiestas’, ‘Carnestolendas’, or simply ‘Novelas’,5 has encouraged its derogatory classification as stereotyped popular literature of sensationalism and escape.

The negative critical judgment of the novela cortesana has been validated, implicitly if not explicitly, by reference to the normative criteria of the realistic fiction of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which has tended increasingly to be ironic. Yet the novela cortesana can be understood only if examined within the non-representational and idealized conventions of the romance, which as defined by Northrop Frye corresponds to a specific structural principle or mythos, its core being an adventure proceeding in a dialectical pattern from a lower to a higher world, and must be considered a form of prose fiction distinct from that of the novel.6 The same biased critical assumptions have led to greater appreciation of the earlier, ‘realistic’ Novelas ejemplares of Cervantes, such as Rinconete y Cortadillo or El coloquio de los perros, as opposed to his later ‘idealistic’ works, such as El amante liberal or La española inglesa.7 Any comparison of the authors of the novela cortesana to Cervantes would be fruitless, for they lacked his range and depth of utterance. The more rewarding approach, which can afford us new perceptions and alter our evaluation, is a reconsideration of this genre as a specific aesthetic object within the framework of its own literary design and system of values.

That María de Zayas y Sotomayor was unusually successful in her cultivation of this art is attested to by the many editions of her work.8 She was sufficiently recognized in literary circles to be included by Lope de Vega in his Laurel de Apolo9 and to merit prefatory verse eulogies by such well-known contemporary writers as Alonso de Castillo Solórzano and Juan Pérez de Montalbán. She herself proudly asserts of her first volume that ‘que si unos le desestimaron, ciento le aplaudieron, y todos le buscaron y le buscan, y ha gozado de tres impresiones, dos naturales y una hurtada’ (II, 103-04). Although her strongly feminist viewpoint is exceptional,10 in every other aspect the stories in her Novelas amorosas y ejemplares (1637) and Desengaños amorosos or Parte segunda del sarao y entretenimiento honesto (1647) display the typical features of the genre. Of special interest is the fact that interspersed in the collections are statements that reveal the author's self-consciousness about the nature of her...

(This entire section contains 7280 words.)

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literary fiction. These demonstrate that some of the most currently criticized aspects of the novels are the result of a deliberate artistic intention that in no way defies the formulations of the literary theorists of the period.

The success of the collections of María de Zayas was not based on the novelty of the plot, in spite of conventional protestations to the contrary found in such statements as ‘si acaso pareciere que los desengaños aquí referidos, y los que faltan, los habéis oído en otras partes, será haberle contado quien, como yo y las demás desengañadoras, lo supo por mayor, mas no con las circunstancias que aquí van hermoseados, y no sacados de una parte a otra, como hubo algún lego o envidioso que lo dixo de la primera parte de nuestro sarao’ (II, 143), or, ‘Y como se ha propuesto que estos Desengaños han de ser sobre casos verdaderos, fuerza es que algunos los hayan oído en otras partes, mas no como aquí va referido’ (II, 409). Neither did the main themes of Fate, Love, Honour and Death present any innovations. To understand the positive audience response to the novelas it is necessary to go beyond the elements of content and look to the author's artistic craftsmanship, her ability to give meaningful expression to the inherited formulas of stylized plot and characterization.

The popularity of the novelas is intentional on the part of the author, who betrays a concern about her readers' reactions and a desire to impress them favourably. While it is axiomatic that popularity is not the critical standard against which aesthetic value can be judged, equally fallacious is the opposite generalization that commercial success is an indication of mediocrity and banality. As is known, the taste of the public was Lope de Vega's main point of reference in his Arte nuevo de hacer comedias, and in the prologue to his short novel written for Marcia Leonarda, ‘El desdichado por la honra’, he comments, again with some irony, ‘Demás, que yo he pensado que tienen las novelas los mismos preceptos que las comedias, cuyo fin es haber dado su autor contento y gusto al pueblo, aunque se ahorque el arte’.11 María de Zayas in her novela cortesana also manifests the shift in emphasis away from the work itself to the effect of the work upon the audience, thus mirroring the change in aesthetic criterion at the theoretical level from the ‘mimetic’ to the ‘pragmatic’.12

The literary concerns of the author are expressed through the narrators of the ten tales in each collection, each narrator being indistinguishable from the other and functioning as a ‘second self’ of María de Zayas. One of the author's obsessive concerns throughout the two volumes is the issue of the supposed truth or falsehood of the tales. Following the familiar tradition of adtestatio rei visae, the narrator of the tale claims personal contact with one of the characters who witnessed the events, an example of which is Laura's statement in ‘La inocencia castigada’ that ‘Todo este caso es tan verdadero como la misma verdad, que ya digo me lo contó quien se halló presente’ (II, 138). Only in ‘El jardín engañoso’ is the narrator hesitant. In this tale of Decameron descent that involves a pact with the Devil, Laura says that ‘—No quiero, discreto auditorio, venderos por verdades averiguadas los sucesos desta historia; si bien todos son de calidad que lo pudieran ser, … En esto no os obligo a creer más de lo que diere gusto; pues el decirla yo no es más de para dar exemplo y prevenir que se guarden de las ocasiones’ (I, 400). Here the author betrays an awareness of her potentially critical readers and releases them from her narrative authority.

One interpretation of the repetition of this literary topos claiming veracity is that the author is attempting to repudiate any association between her fiction and the patraña, a tradition most clearly represented by Juan de Timoneda's assurance in the preface of his Patrañuelo (1567) that ‘Como la presente obra sea para no más de algún pasatiempo y recreo humano, discreto lector, no te des a entender que lo que en el presente libro se contiene sea todo verdad, …’13 The purpose of the statement introducing ‘El verdugo de su esposa’ that ‘Diferente cosa es novelar sólo con la inventiva un caso que ni fué, ni pudo ser, y ése no sirve de desengaño, sino de entretenimiento, a contar un caso verdadero, que no sólo sirva de entretener, sino de avisar’ (II, 143-44) is evidently to deflect the meaning of the novela away from the sole end of amusement towards the doctrinal objective of the exemplum.14

The phrase ‘ni pudo ser’ contains an allusion to the doctrine of verisimilitude, which had been applied as an aesthetic criterion to the short story by Francisco de Lugo y Dávila in his Teatro popular (1622).15 Its value was twofold, for while it was accepted that in order to be morally effective the narration had to be credible, it was also supposed that credibility would increase the pleasure of the audience. One of the Canon's criticisms of the novel of chivalry in the Quijote is precisely on this account, for ‘Y puesto que el principal intento de semejantes libros sea el deleitar, no sé yo cómo puedan conseguirle, yendo llenos de tantos y tan desaforados disparates; …’16 When María de Zayas comments that ‘Y, como he dicho, ya los nobles, reducidos a no seguir en esto la vulgaridad, se habían engolosinado con los Desengaños, que aunque trágicos, por verdaderos apetecidos’ (II, 334), the opinion that the tales are ‘por verdaderos apetecidos’ reveals the pleasure of the readers as being the prime consideration in the insistence on credibility.

Of equal importance to the creation of pleasure was the need to produce the requisite admiratio, to arouse and suspend the listeners by means of marvellous occurrences. López Pinciano in his Philosophía antigua poética had suggested that the story ‘ha de ser admirable y verisímil. Ha de ser admirable, porque los poemas que no traen admiración, no mueven cosa alguna, y son como sueños fríos algunas vezes’.17 The potential conflict between these two criteria of verisimilitude and the marvellous was suggested in el Pinciano's remark that ‘parece que tienen contradición lo admirable y lo verisímil’,18 and the attempt at their reconciliation has been shown to have been a lifelong concern of Cervantes, whose freedom from literalism in the interpretation of the tenet of verisimilitude reached its height in his final Byzantine novel, the Persiles, rich in its inclusion of the elements of the marvellous.19

The change in the designation of her stories from ‘novelas’ to ‘maravillas’ shows that the cultivation of the surprise and wonder of the audience was of primary concern to María de Zayas. She explains that ‘con este nombre quiso desempalagar al vulgo del de novelas, título tan enfadoso, que ya en todas partes le aborrecen’ (I, 31), alluding to the widespread success of the genre since 1613, when Cervantes had been able to claim boldly that ‘yo soy el primero que he novelado en lengua castellana’.20 With an attitude similar to that of Lope or Quevedo, she eschews novelty in language as a means of creating unexpected effects, favouring instead ‘un estilo llano y una prosa humilde, huyendo la exageración, dexándola a los que quieren granjear con ella la opinión de cultos’ (I, 328). Her intent is to address as wide a public as possible in a clear and natural language, for as Lisis elaborates, ‘ni en lo hablado, ni en lo que hablaré, he buscado razones retóricas, ni cultas; porque, de más de ser un lenguaje que con el extremo posible aborrezco, querría que me entendiesen todos, el culto y el lego’ (II, 412).

María de Zayas does make use of such recognized sources of admiratio as peripety and anagnorisis, which abound in these tales of amorous intrigue where plot development is externally motivated by the vicissitudes of fortune. In addition, she does not hesitate to create more extraordinary effects by means of supernatural interventions that function as agents of ‘poetic justice’. In some cases the author attempts to make such interventions more believable. In ‘El jardín engañoso’, which includes the appearance of the Devil, the narrator maintains an ambiguous stance as to the veracity (I, 400); in ‘La inocencia castigada’ the magic is effected, in accordance with popular belief,21 by a necromancer of Moorish descent, a group easily able to perform magic, for ‘como ajenos de nuestra católica fe, no les es dificultoso, con apremios que hacen al demonio, aun en cosas de más calidad’ (II, 123); in ‘La perseguida triunfante’ (II), where the Virgin Mary aids Queen Beatriz, the action is set in the distant land of Hungary. Other instances, however, are related without special preparation of the audience, such as the diabolical rings, the miraculous warning vision, and the witchcraft in ‘El desengaño andando y premio de la virtud’ (I), the wondrous resurrection in ‘El imposible vencido’ (I), or the intervention of the Virgin in ‘El verdugo de su esposa’ (II). Such occurrences beyond the realm of empirical possibility seem discreditable to a modern reader, and their inclusion injurious to the author's reputation. Their acceptability to a seventeenth-century reader must be understood in light of the prevailing theological view of the world of Counter-Reformation Spain, where no divorce between religion and society was admitted, and the manifestations of God's grace and providence were given their due recognition. The conflation of the natural and the supernatural, so vividly represented in El Greco's ‘The Burial of the Count of Orgaz’, is evidenced in the sumptuous theatricality of the autos sacramentales that provided the mystery of the sacrament of the Eucharist with a visual tangibility unequalled in other productions, and is indicative of the reasons why such plays as the comedias de santos or the theological dramas of a Tirso or a Calderón were so well received, for such concerns were indeed not removed from the everyday reality of the theatre-going public. Literary theorists recognized this fact, and recommended the use of religious phenomena. Torquato Tasso in Del poema eroico suggested regarding the ‘Christian marvellous’ that

The poet should ascribe to God, his angels, the devils, or those to whom power is granted by God or the devils—saints, sorcerers, and fairies—actions which far exceed the power of men. If such actions are considered in themselves, they appear marvellous, indeed they are called miracles in common parlance. If the power of him who has performed these same acts is considered, they will be judged verisimilar, because, as people of our time have been nursed in the very cradle on the belief in such powers, and, as it has been confirmed in them by the teachings of the holy faith, … they will not judge implausible what they believe not only to be possible but indeed to have occurred many times and apt to occur again many times in the future. …22

In relation to the Aristotelian concept of catharsis through fear and pity, López Pinciano had written that the plot should be ‘prodigioso y espantoso; porque la cosa nueva deleyta, y la admirable, más, y más la prodigiosa y espantosa’.23 The predominant form of entertainment of the period, the theatre, intoxicated the spectators with sensational cases of vengeance, including, of course, such famous wife-murder plays as those of Calderón, and accustomed them to manifestations of violence. Although the novella form lacked the startling visual impact of a theatrical production, in her tales María de Zayas incorporated grotesque scenes that would cause the reader to react with ‘surprise and horror’, and to experience simultaneously the contradictory emotions of repulsion and pleasure.24 The use of grotesque elements is intensified in the second volume, the ‘Desengaños’ being deemed ‘trágicos’ (II, 334), and focuses on descriptions of bodily disintegration or dismemberment. Macabre decapitations occur in ‘Tarde llega el desengaño’, and in ‘El traidor contra su sangre’, and morbid details of physical putrefaction are at their most horrific in ‘La inocencia castigada’, where, as a result of live interment, the once golden locks of Inés are found to be ‘enredados y llenos de animalejos, que de no peinarlos se crían en tanta cantidad, que por encima hervoreaban’, and her wasted body is ‘descalza de pie y pierna, que de los excrementos de su cuerpo, como no tenía donde echarlos, no sólo se habían consumido, mas la propia carne comida hasta los muslos de llagas y gusanos, de que estaba lleno el hediondo lugar’ (II, 137). The framework structure allows us to witness the audience reaction to the tales, and we find them ‘elevados y absortos’ (I, 120) or ‘absortos y elevados’ (I, 216), ‘tiernos y lastimados’ (II, 65) and ‘lastimados y enternecidos’ (II, 139). While listening the audience falls into a ‘sabroso éxtasis’ (I, 217) or into a state of ‘suspensión’ (II, 292). If at the aesthetic level the intent was the elevation of the spirit through amazement and terror, at the psychological level such chilling details, which prefigure the effects sought in the gothic novel of the late eighteenth century, provided for the description of intense bodily sensations without transgressing the rigid moral code, and can be seen as a form of sublimation for the inherent eroticism of these tales where the search for love and concomitant avoidance of lust are the prime motivations for the action.

As the works of Cervantes and the Siglo de Oro theatre were acclaimed during the German romantic movement as representing the spirit of the new age, so the term ‘romantic’ has been loosely applied to the novela cortesana as cultivated by María de Zayas, thus relating it to the specific literary period of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.25 The usefulness of such a characterization is limited, of course, because some of the general features of any typical romance, such as its unlikely adventures, its avoidance of the dreary and the ordinary, its focus on the emotional as opposed to the intellectual aspects of living, can be associated with thematic traits of certain aspects of romanticism, particularly as they found expression in the preromantic forms of the gothic and sentimental novels of the eighteenth century. However, particular application of the period term ‘romantic’ to a stylistic device seemingly precursory of a romantic characteristic can be justified. The author's inclusion of such grotesque details in the midst of an otherwise sublime world, and the startling contrast effected by this juxaposition of extremes, points to Victor Hugo's interpretation of the romantic aesthetic as delineated in his Preface to Cromwell (1827), according to which the opposition between the sublime and the grotesque is the structural hallmark of the new art.26

The danger inherent in the typical novela cortesana of fantastic imbroglio veering between the extremes of joy and horror is the alienation of the reader, whose ‘suspension of disbelief’ is assayed. One means of avoiding such estrangement was the inclusion of a concrete temporal and geographic setting and the familar details of dress and manners. In the tales of María de Zayas, such descriptions are found in moderation, for an excess would have created a static pictorial effect, and exaggerated use of the picturesque details of the superficial level of reality would have detracted from the deeper moral and psychological dimensions of the tales. Another means of avoiding excessive distancing was through the presence of an omniscient author. In spite of the epic anonymity favoured by the Renaissance theorists, María de Zayas persuasively links the ‘fictional microcosm’ to the ‘factual macrocosm’27 of the listener or reader, communicating through her narrators whose tone and opinions are unequivocally her own.

The author-narrator draws the reader into a relationship of intimacy, establishing a rapport distinct from that of the fictional characters. The most prevalent means of involving the reader is to make him a participant in the action of the story by means of the use of a verb in the first person plural, such as in ‘Dexémosle dormir, y vamos al casamentero’ (I, 137) or ‘Dexémosla ir hasta su tiempo, y volvamos a doña Beatriz’ (I, 186). Another device is to create a sense of dialogue with the imagined audience by breaking into the narration with an impassioned apostrophe to the ‘tú’ in the public, by making statements which anticipate audience opinion in order to reject it, as in ‘Quien viere a doña Leonor casada hoy con diferente dueño del que sus pasiones prometían parece que podrá culpar la incostancia de las mujeres, … mas desta culpa la absuelve el haber pasado un año más del concierto, …’ (I, 355), or by asking a titillating rhetorical question to heighten plot suspense, as in ‘llegó hasta la cama del príncipe en que dormía ordinariamente, que con ella era por gran milagro, y halló … ¿Qué hallaría?’ (II, 285). To increase the anticipation of the audience and highlight the significance of the events related, the narrator herself comments on the actions or addresses the characters directly in highly wrought exclamations, an illustration of which is ‘¡Oh engañada Aminta, precipitada en un mal tan grande, sin mirar los inconvenientes que atropellas, … ! ¡Oh falsa Flora, en quien el cielo quiso criar la cifra de los engaños, castigo venga sobre ti!’ (I, 98). These examples all correspond to the exterior level of the narration, where the words are a vehicle for action.

On the deeper level of the ethical and psychological dimensions, the omniscient author intrudes moral comments into the narration. In most instances these are generalizations that expand the meaning of the specific, often incredible event, into a statement of universal significance that is relevant to the reader and applicable to his own existence. These generalizations are sententious, often platitudinous, frequently appearing after a colon or semicolon or within a parenthesis, instances of which are ‘todo el aborrecimiento que tenía a don Miguel se volvió en amor, y en él amor aborrecimiento: que los hombres, en estando en posesión, la voluntad se desvanece como humo’ (II, 32) and ‘Menos que esto había ya menester Octavia, porque ya amaba a Carlos más que fuera razón; que en esto se ve cuán flacas son las mujeres, que no saben perseverar en el buen intento’ (II, 76). The generalization may sometimes preface the particular event to which it refers, such as the comment that ‘Es muy propio de los malos, en viendo a uno de caída, ayudarle a que se despeñe más presto, y de los buenos creer luego. Así creyó don Marcos a Marcela, y ella se determinó a engañarle y estafarle lo que pudiese, …’ (I, 159), or the expansion from the particular to the general may occur within the movement of a single exclamation, as in the following lament that begins by referring to a specific false lover, don Manuel, and terminates by including all men: ‘¡Ay, engañoso amante, ay falso caballero, ay, verdugo de mi inocencia! … ¡Ay, desengaño, que visto, no se podrá engañar ninguna! ¡Ay, hombres!, …’ (II, 27).

In the statement that ‘Carlos no alcanzaba, y se desesperaba. Carlos alcanzó, y se arrepiente. Y es lo peor que este Carlos debió de procurar muchos Carlos, que aunque en todos tiempos los ha habido, y hoy lo son todos y todas son Octavias, y ni ellos se arrepienten de serlo, ni ellas tampoco, cayendo cada día en los mismos hoyos que cayeron los pasados’ (II, 82), the specific character portrayed is clearly depersonalized of any individual sense and converted into an abstract ‘Everyman’, acquiring generic significance as ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’. There is an obvious tendency towards allegory in this technique of generalization, not in the strict sense of a conscious continuous structural device of the artist for ‘speaking otherwise than one seems to speak’, as in Gracián's allegorical novel El Criticón or in an auto sacramental, but rather as an unconscious substratum of moral meaning that causes the individual or event to transcend specificity and acquire universal validity, a tendency that Frye considers inherent to a greater or lesser degree in the romance form, as opposed to the novel.28

In allegory the moral consciousness and aesthetic concerns of the author found their natural vehicle for expression. The common core of these tales of improbable and disconnected episodes is an intense conflict between Good and Evil, a psychomachia which occurs too explicitly at the theological level in the tale ‘La perseguida triunfante’, where God, represented by the Virgin Mary, and Satan, in the guise of the wicked doctor, compete for Queen Beatriz, until at the end Good triumphs and the doctor is vanquished: ‘Y desapareció, dexando la silla llena de espeso humo, siendo la sala un asombro, un caos de confusión, porque a la parte que estaba Beatriz con su divina defensora era un resplandeciente paraíso, y a la que el falso doctor y verdadero demonio, una tiniebla y oscuridad’ (II, 407).

The allegorical conception determines the characterization in the tales, which is accomplished without perspective or depth. The characters are without will, acting under the influence of Fate, alluded to in such comments as ‘fatal desdicha y la estrella rigurosa de su nacimiento’ (II, 285) and ‘que soy de parecer que si nacimos sujetos a desdichas, es imposible apartarnos de ellas’ (II, 176). If not born ill-fated, then Love is the force that robs them of self-determination. The Neoplatonic motifs of the power of passion to rob one's free will, even to incapacitate one to the point of illness are suggested in descriptions such as ‘… le traía tan fuera de sí, que no parecía hombre con alma, sino cuerpo o fantasma sin ella. Vínole a poner en tal cuidado su pasión, que del poco comer y mal dormir, vino a perder la salud, de suerte que cayó en la cama, de una profunda melancolía, …’ (I, 87) or ‘Ya vivo sin alma y siento sin sentido: y finalmente, todo cuanto soy he rendido a tu hermosura’ (I, 224).

The fierceness of this sensual passion is such that rational or moral recrimination is powerless, ‘Que, en volviéndola a ver, toda su fortaleza daba en tierra, y rindiendo con ella sus potencias, lo ponía todo a los pies de Roseleta’ (II, 148), and its unconscious, irrational force provides the vital energy that motivates all the intrigue. Because its power is so compulsive, it can be said to act as a ‘daemonic agent’, in the words of Angus Fletcher, who explains that ‘I shall therefore use the word daemon for any person possessed by a daemon, or even acting as if possessed by a daemon, since by definition if a man is possessed by an influence that excludes all other influences while it is operating on him, then he clearly has no life outside an exclusive sphere of action.’29 It obsesses its victims and drives the action forward to a resolution, the primary vehicle of expression for this dynamism being the use of the preterite verb in initial position. Sentences such as ‘Y como llegué a mi cuarto, me entré en mi aposento, y sentándome sobre mi cama, saqué el engañoso papel …’ (II, 24) are ubiquitous, and it is not unusual to find a sequence of paragraphs beginning with a preterite. In contrast to the static moral elements, the major theme of love contributes a dynamic effect of linear propulsion.

The allegorical nature of the content is also reflected in the system of description, which lacks visual impact and is rather of thematic importance.30 The details act as indicators, persuading the reader at a subliminal level to polarize towards virtue and away from vice. For example, when it is written of Beatriz in ‘La perseguida triunfante’ that ‘era de las más perfectísimas damas en hermosura, entendimiento, virtud y santidad que en todos aquellos reinos se hallaba en aquella sazón’ (II, 340), it is obvious that the moral suasion of the reader on her behalf is the intent of the author.

Although at times an inert and artificial instrument, allegory provided the author with an indirect means of expression. Lacking as the tales are in any form of external realism, they nevertheless reveal an internal realism corresponding to the mythic level of universal truth. The principle of coherence in the work of María de Zayas is the central vision of a fundamental dualism between this world and an ideal world, and the tales depict the quest out of the chaos of evil in the actual world towards an idealized state where opposing forces are united. The final harmony is represented by the institution of the Christian marriage (or ‘marriage’ to God in the convent), which by uniting the individual with the community maintains the status quo and insures social stability. Individuals who do not submit to this law in the tales are doomed to isolation and death.

Beyond the textually explicit intent of the author to depict the basic Hero-Villain struggle between Man and Woman is the implicit, yet crucial opposition between antithetical feminine archetypes. As analysed by Erich Neumann, the archetypal Feminine comprises both a static ‘elementary’ character and a dynamic ‘transformative’ character (also identified as the ‘anima’), both having positive as well as negative attributes. The antithetical aspects of the elementary character are the Good Mother, associated with fruitfulness and birth, and the Terrible Mother, whose attributes include ‘holding fast’, ‘fixating’, ‘ensnaring’, ‘devouring’; the antithetical aspects of the transformative character correspond to stages of spiritual transformation, the negative pole being represented by the enchantress or young witch, the positive pole being exemplified by inspirational figures, including the Virgin Mary.31 Characteristically in the tales of María de Zayas the negative Feminine is manifested in the figure of a sorceress, a seductress, or a wicked older woman; the positive Feminine is represented by a virginal figure who eventually consummates her holy matrimony, or, instead, enters a convent to devote herself to the Church. This polarization corresponds to the opposition established in Christian mythology between the temptress Eve and the chaste Mary.

The constancy of this binary opposition in the tales establishes it as an essential structural pattern as well as a thematic core of the spiritual reality of their significance. Among the clearly defined rivals are Aminta/Flora in ‘La burlada Aminta y venganza del honor’, Laura/Nise in ‘La fuerza del amor’, Juana, then Clara/Lucrecia in ‘El desengaño andando y premio de la virtud’, Estela/Claudia in ‘El juez de su causa’, Isabel/Alejandra in ‘La esclava de su amante’, Roseleta/Angeliana in ‘El verdugo de su esposa’, Elena/treacherous female slave in ‘Tarde llega el desengaño’.

There is a pattern of ‘demonic’ and ‘apocalyptic’ imagery that corresponds to this archetypal dualism.32 The positive figures are associated with light and innocence, and, for example, Laura is described as ‘celestial extremo’ (I, 221), Beatriz as an ‘inocente y mansa corderilla cercada de carniceros lobos’ (II, 392), Blanca as the ‘lucero entre las demás estrellas’ (II, 261), and ‘inocente palomilla fuera de todo punto de su nido’ (II, 273). Their concept of love is pure, its intent being marriage and procreation. Aminta is at the end ‘la más querida y contenta de su esposo don Martín, que sólo le falta a esta buena señora tener hijos’ (I, 119), and Estela marries ‘dando a la ciudad nuevo contento; a su Estado hermosos herederos, y a los historiadores motivos para escribir esta maravilla’ (I, 399). In many cases their disillusionment with worldly love is so great that they enter a convent, seeking in God the ‘Ideal Lover’, described as the ‘amante más agradecido’ (I, 246), ‘Amante que no me olvidará, y Esposo que no me despreciará’ (II, 65), ‘el verdadero Esposo’ (II, 98).

In contrast to the purity and spirituality of the positive figures, the negative archetypes are libidinous and diabolical. Flora, for instance, is described as ‘una dama libre y más desenfadada que es menester que sean las mujeres’ (I, 86), a ‘sirena’ (I, 90), and associated with her namesake, though ‘más traidora y engañosa que la pasada, por quien en Roma tienen en tan poco las de tu nombre’ (I, 105); Nise is a ‘taimada hechicera’ (I, 240); Lucrecia is a ‘Circe’ and a practitioner of ‘endiabladas artes’ (I, 272). In addition to using witchcraft, they are capable of renouncing their Christian faith, as does Claudia, who ‘cerrando los ojos a Dios, renegó de su santísima Fe y se casó con Zayde’ (I, 383), or indulging in homosexual tendencies, as is the case of Flora, who warns her lover that ‘ya sabes que tengo el gusto y deseos más de galán que de dama, y donde las veo y más tan bellas, como esta hermosa señora, se me van los ojos tras ellas, y se me enternece el corazón’ (I, 94). The negative connotations of homosexuality are made explicit in ‘Mal presagio casar lejos’. Blanca finds her husband and Arnesto engaged in ‘deleites tan torpes y abominables, que es baxeza, no sólo decirlo, mas pensarlo’ (II, 286), and later describes their activities as ‘torpes y abominables pecados, que aun el demonio se avergüenza de verlos’ (II, 287). The archetypal significance of some of the types depicted, such as the pitiless sister-in-law in ‘La inocencia castigada’, is delineated in a judgement of the aunt appearing in ‘Amar sólo por vencer’: ‘Cruel mujer, por cierto, que ya que su marido y hermano eran cómplices en la muerte de la triste dama, ella, que la pudiera librar, llevándola a un convento, no lo hizo; mas era tía, que es lo mismo que suegra, cuñada o madrastra; con esto lo he dicho todo’ (II, 251). In other words, these figures are all facets of the ‘Terrible Mother’ image.

At the thematic level the binary opposition is between sensual and intellectual love. It is explained, for example, that ‘el verdadero amor en el alma está, que no en el cuerpo; y el que amare el cuerpo con el cuerpo, no puede decir que es amor, sino apetito’ (II, 235), and in the analysis of the ‘colours’ of love, the conclusion is that ‘Solas dos le competen, que es el blanco puro, cándido y casto, y el dorado, por la firmeza que en esto ha de tener. Éste es el verdadero amor: el que no es delito tenerle ni merece castigo’ (II, 256). The deliverance from this typical Neoplatonic conflict between body and soul is found, in many instances in the tales, in a negation of the corruptible and changeable nature of human love through adherence to Christian asceticism. The rejection of corporeality and adherence to spirituality can be interpreted as a form of protest, in keeping with the author's feminist persuasion. In a society where woman is essentially a sexual being whose rôle is delimited to that of wife and mother and who is judged solely on the basis of her honour and chastity, only as a ‘disembodied’ asexual being can she attain independence. This socially acceptable flight to the convent is thus a nonaggressive, less sensational version of other literary manifestations of rebellion, such as the bandolera or other facets of the mujer varonil prevalent on the Spanish stage.33

In addition to its expression through archetypal imagery, the underlying Adamic myth of purity is revealed in the nostalgia expressed for the innocent joys of the Golden Age. A romance on this topos is included in ‘Amar sólo por vencer’, where the degeneration of the present ‘Age of Iron’ is described as ‘Son tantos los males, / tantas las desgracias, / que se teme el mundo / de que ya se acaba’ (II, 220), and it is again alluded to at the end of Desengaños, where the effeminate and frivolous men of the present are contrasted to the virile and principled men of yore, especially during the reign of Ferdinand the Catholic (II, 455).

An appreciation of the novela cortesana requires that it be approached in terms of the genre to which it properly belongs, the romance, with its combination of fantastic and allegorical elements, instead of being judged pejoratively according to our own modern critical bias in favour of novelistic conventions. While at the manifest level these melodramatic tales appear superficial and escapist, an awareness of their latent content explains the intensity of their appeal. The conflicts described are essentially produced by sexual passion and the ensuing strife between physical earthly love and the strictly codified Christian morality of the society. Their anagogic meaning from which they derive their significance, the core of dynamic opposition between love and lust, will and reason, sense and intellect and the nostalgia for the simplicity of the prelapsarian state, places them within the mainstream of the baroque literature of Spain.


  1. This term was first used by Agustín González de Amezúa y Mayo in his discourse, Formación y elementos de la novela cortesana (Madrid 1929), 11-12.

  2. For a study of sources see Caroline Bourland, ‘Boccaccio and the Decameron in Castilian and Catalan literature’, RHi, XII (1905), 1-232 and E. B. Place, ‘María de Zayas, an Outstanding Woman Short Story Writer of Seventeenth-Century Spain’, University of Colorado Studies, 13 (1923), 1-56.

  3. This aspect is stressed by Caroline Bourland in her studies ‘Aspectos de la vida del hogar en el s. XVII según las novelas de Doña Mariana de Carabajal y Saavedra’, in Homenaje a Menéndez Pidal (Madrid 1925), II, 331-68 and The Short Story in Spain (Northampton 1927), especially pp. 23-44, ‘The Novela as a picture of the times’.

  4. This is the attitude of Peter Dunn, Castillo Solórzano and the Decline of the Spanish Novel (Oxford 1952). See his ‘Conclusion’, 128-31.

  5. For a listing of authors and works see Joaquín del Val, ‘La novela española en el Siglo XVII’, in Historia general de las literaturas hispánicas, ed. Guillermo Díaz-Plaja (Barcelona 1953), III, xlv-lxxx.

  6. In Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (1957; rpt. New York 1969) in the third essay ‘Archetypal criticism: theory of myths’, where romance is discussed as ‘The mythos of summer’, 186-206, and the fourth essay, ‘Rhetorical criticism: theory of genres,’ 303-07. Frye's theoretical consideration of romance is further elaborated in The Secular Scripture. A Study of the Romance (Cambridge, Mass. 1976).

  7. For the chronological trajectory from the ‘realistic’ to the ‘idealistic’ tales of Cervantes and an interpretation of this development see Ruth S. El Saffar, Novel to Romance: A Study of Cervantes's ‘Novelas ejemplares’ (Baltimore 1974).

  8. See the ‘Apéndice bibliográfico’ of Agustín G. de Amezúa's edition of the Novelas amorosas y ejemplares (Madrid 1948), xlvii-l. Reference to the Novelas amorosas y ejemplares is indicated by the Roman numeral I, and reference to the Desengaños amorosos (Madrid 1950) is indicated by the Roman numeral II.

  9. In Colección de las obras sueltas (Madrid 1776), I, 165.

  10. For this facet of her work consult Lena E. V. Sylvania, Doña María de Zayas y Sotomayor: A Contribution to the Study of Her Works (New York 1922), 7-17 and Irma V. Vasileski, María de Zayas y Sotomayor: Su época y su obra (New York 1972), 52-55.

  11. In Colección escogida de obras no dramáticas de frey Lope Félix de Vega Carpio, BAE. XXXVIII (Madrid 1872), 14.

  12. These critical terms are used by M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (New York 1953), and discussed on pp. 8-21. For the transformation of the system of Aristotle from a ‘poetic’ to a ‘rhetorical’ one see the articles of Bernard Weinberg, ‘Robortello on the Poetics’ and ‘Castelvetro's theory of poetics’, in Critics and Criticism, ed. R. S. Crane (Chicago 1952), 319-48 and 349-71 respectively.

  13. El Patrañuelo, ed. Rafael Ferreres (Madrid 1971), 41.

  14. For a discussion of ‘exemplariness’ as a literary topos and a study of the antinomy between literary theory and practice consult Walter Pabst, La novela corta en la teoría y en la creación literaria, trans. Rafael de la Vega (Madrid 1972). The short novels of Cervantes and of Lope de Vega are analysed in the section on Spain and Portugal, 184-295.

  15. Teatro popular (novelas), ed. E. Cotarelo y Mori (Madrid 1906), 23.

  16. El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, ed. Francisco Rodríguez Marin, Clásicos castellanos (Madrid 1912), IV, 229-30.

  17. Philosophía antigua poética, ed. Alfredo Carballo Picazo (Madrid 1953), II, 56.

  18. Ibid., 61.

  19. Cervantes' engagement with neo-Aristotelian literary theory has been studied by William C. Atkinson, ‘Cervantes, El Pinciano, and the Novelas ejemplares’, HR, XVI (1948), 189-208, by E. C. Riley, Cervantes's Theory of the Novel (Oxford 1962), and by Alban Forcione, Cervantes, Aristotle, and the ‘Persiles’ (Princeton 1970).

  20. ‘Prólogo al lector’, Novelas ejemplares.

  21. For the association made between Mohammedanism and witchcraft and other diabolical arts see M. Herrero García, Ideas de los españoles del Siglo XVII (Madrid 1928), 598.

  22. See Forcione, Cervantes, Aristotle, and the ‘Persiles’, 41, as quoted from Discorsi dell'arte poetica e del poema eroico, ed. L. Poma (Bari 1964), 96-97. In connexion with this topic of the ‘Christian marvellous’, Edwin S. Morby, in ‘The Difunta pleiteada theme in María de Zayas’, HR, XVI (1948), 238-42, points out that in addition to using the Bandello novella (the forty-first of Part II) as a source for ‘El imposible vencido’, María de Zayas draws upon extant romance versions as well, and instead of following the possibility of an apparent death in the Italian tale, chooses to adhere to the ‘Spanish tradition of a true miracle’ (241).

  23. Philosophía antigua poética, 58.

  24. Wolfgang Kayser in The Grotesque in Art and Literature, trans. Ulrich Weisstein (Bloomington 1963), attempting to define the concept of the grotesque, here presents the interpretation of Christoph Martin Wieland in his Unterredungen mit dem Pfarrer von*** (1775), important because it stressed the psychological effect of the grotesque upon the spectator (31). It is to be understood that María de Zayas uses grotesque elements as a stylistic device; they are not symptomatic of her view of the world and do not have the overtones of cynicism or absurdity that Kayser ascribes to the grotesque as an aesthetic category.

  25. Ludwig Pfandl, Historia de la literatura nacional española en la edad de oro, trans. Jorge Rubió Balaguer (Barcelona 1933), in his analysis of the development of the short novel after Cervantes, includes María de Zayas within the classification of the ‘romantic novel’, 368-70, but condemns the tales with grotesque details as ‘lascivas, sucias, de inspiración sádica y moralmente corrompidas’ (370). See also Amezúa y Mayo, ed., Desengaños amorosos, xiv, and del Val, ‘La novela española en el Siglo XVII’, xlvi.

  26. Hugo states, for example, that ‘Nous dirons seulement ici que, comme objectif auprès du sublime, comme moyen de contraste, le grotesque est, selon nous, la plus riche source que la nature puisse ouvrir à l'art’.

  27. Terms used by W. J. Harvey. ‘George Eliot and the omniscient author convention’, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 13 (Sept. 1958), 90.

  28. Anatomy of Criticism, 304-06. In The Secular Scripture Frye prefers the phrase ‘symbolic spread’ to the term ‘allegory’, in order to convey ‘the sense that a work of literature is expanding into insights and experiences beyond itself’, particularly as they refer to the conventions of romance itself (59).

  29. In Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode (Ithaca 1964), 48-49.

  30. Ibid., 105. Dunn, in his Castillo Solórzano and the Decline of the Spanish Novel, had commented upon the lack of visual appeal in the style of the novela cortesana and the abstract effect of the imagery (71-72), but did not relate this to the allegorical content.

  31. In The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype, trans. Ralph Manheim, 2nd ed. (Princeton 1963), especially Chapters Six and Seven, 64-83, and the diagram, Schema III, facing p. 82.

  32. For discussion of the patterns of imagery see Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (1957; rpt. New York 1969), 141-58.

  33. See Melveena McKendrick's Woman and Society in the Spanish Drama of the Golden Age. A Study of the ‘Mujer Varonil’ (London 1974) for a comprehensive description and evaluation of the popular character type. The bandolera is discussed on pp. 109-41.

Kenneth A. Stackhouse (essay date 1978)

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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 literary problem produced by her feminism, that of reconciling the illusion of history necessary for her ideological point of view with the supernatural and magical episodes in her tales. I propose to examine the novelist's concept of magic and the supernatural, to examine her technique of fostering the historical illusion, and finally, to discern her reconciliation of the two in both her collections of ten short stories each, entitled respectively Novelas amorosas y ejemplares (1637) and Parte segunda del sarao y entretenimiento amoroso (1649).2

María de Zayas could rely on many of her contemporaries' acceptance of magic and supernatural events for the purpose of fostering the admiratio they demanded in fiction because their requirement of verisimilitude in the novela seems to have been more moral and psychological than either scientific or historical. In Chapter XXXV of the Quijote, Cervantes' priest's evaluation of the tale “El curioso impertinente” suggests that while there is nothing impossible in the protagonist Anselmo's experiment with his wife's virtue, from a moral and psychological point of view his actions are highly reprehensible and improbable, respectively:

Bien—dijo el cura—me parece esta novela; pero no me puedo persuadir que esto sea verdad; y si es fingido, fingió mal el autor, porque no se puede imaginar que haya marido tan necio, que quiera hacer tan costosa experiencia como Anselmo. Si este caso se pusiera entre un galán y una dama, pudiérase llevar; pero entre marido y mujer, algo tiene del imposible. …3

The priest argues from his point of view on the sacrament of marriage that, if the story is imagined, the author may have erred in presenting Anselmo as a husband rather than as merely a lover. The priest's indignation over Anselmo's actions induces him to reject the idea that the story should be believed—if it is fiction—, just as his incapacity to believe that a husband as foolish as Anselmo actually exists leads him to reject the likelihood that the story will be believed—if it is history. In the priest's evaluation of the story, the two ideas are precariously intertwined into a synthetic concept of moral verisimilitude.

More clearly, the foremost theorist of the seventeenth-century Spanish novela, Francisco de Lugo y Dávila, writes in the “Proemio al lector” preceding his Teatro popular: novelas morales (1622) that “la mayor valentía y primor en la fábula que compone la novela, es mover a la admiración con suceso dependiente del caso y de la fortuna; mas esto tan próximo a lo verosímil, que no haya nada que repugne el crédito; porque según el filósofo, cuya es toda esta doctrina, al poeta no le toca narrar las cosas como fueron, sino verisímiles a lo que debieron ser.”4 These critics, placing emphasis on representing historical events as they should have been instead of presenting them as they were, subordinate the problem of scientific and historical verisimilitude to moral verisimilitude and give seventeenth-century Spanish writers the freedom to exploit the astonishing possibilities of extraordinary events in their work, providing they do so with an eye toward their reader's edification.

Well-known are the incursions into he supernatural made by the great dramatists of the day—Lope de Vega in El caballero de Olmedo, Ruiz de Alarcón in La prueba de las promesas, and Tirso de Molina in El burlador de Sevilla. Less well-known but equally important for understanding the Spaniards' attitudes toward the supernatural are the works of such writers as father Juan Eusebio Nieremburg who, in his Oculta filosofía (Madrid, 1633), seeks to establish that in some cases, much that appears magical can be explained in terms of natural causes. Following a survey of the works of Nieremburg and other seventeenth-century Spanish scholars writing in Latin and in Spanish, Lynn Thorndike concludes that in “seventeenth-century Spain, there seems to have persisted a somewhat more favorable attitude towards occult sciences than elsewhere in Western Europe, and less of an inclination to account for all magic as diabolical.”5 More recently, some critics have rejected Zayas' tales because of her use of magic. Such rejection dates from the nineteenth-century critic Navarrete who condemns her tales for their superstitions6 and persists into the twentieth with her English translator's dismissal of the tales as mere”Gothic extravaganza.”7 Zayas' concept of magic and the supernatural, however, lies well within her contemporaries' moral and religious beliefs. She uses the motifs to astound and edify her readers; the episodes themselves reflect well-known dogma.

Every supernatural episode is ultimately attributable to the Virgin, for example. In “El verdugo de su esposa,” through the resurrection of a hanged man to take Don Juan's place, the Virgin rescues the lusty Spaniard from an ambush set by the lady's husband (II, 165). In “El traidor contra su sangre,” Don Enrique has a vision of his murderer lover which warns him of the impending attack of her brother (II, 312). Enrique, by intercession of the Virgin, recovers from his wounds to fulfill his promise to enter a monastery. In “La perseguida triunfante,” the Virgin acts on the heroine Beatrice's behalf without the lady's knowing it. In “El imposible vencido,” the Virgin resurrects or perhaps revives Alonso's wife Leonor so that she can marry her first love, Don Rodrigo.

Similarly, every magical episode conforms to four basic ideas concerning the reality, consequences, geography, and theology of diabolical magic implied in the first magical episodes in Zayas' tales, in “El desengaño amando y premio de la virtud.”

First, magic is real and efficacious. The Italian witch Lucrecia makes a pact with Satan to win the Spaniard Fernando from his wife Juana by means of a blindfolded cock. When Juana wins Fernando back, Lucrecia brings about his death by means of a wax effigy (I, 285, 287). Those who doubt Lucrecia's spell are held up to the reader's ridicule: “Tres o cuatro veces se hizo [la] prueba, y tantas sucedió lo mismo, con lo que el Asistente acabó de caer en la cuenta y creyó ser verdad lo que todos decían” (I, 286).

Second, those who employ magic pay an extreme penalty. Lucrecia never repents and the narrator hypothesizes that she atones for her sins in hell (I, 287). When Juana enlists the aid of a student from Alcalá de Henares to combat Lucrecia's magic with magic of their own, the spells backfire, resulting in a sound drubbing for the student administered by the demons inhabiting his magical rings and in Juana's terrifying vision of a former lover, long since dead.

Third, magic occurs more abroad than in Spain due to the influence of the Church and the Inquisition. Lucrecia learned her arts in Italy. Juana and the student from Alcalá fail because they neglect to make the necessary pact with Satan. Zayas appeals to her reader's nationalism to make this point: “Hay en Nápoles en estos enredos y supersticiones tanta libertad, que públicamente usan sus invenciones, haciendo tantas y con tales apariencias de verdades, que casi obligan a ser creídas … ; como no hay el freno de la Inquisición, y los demás castigos no les amedrentan …” (I, 238-239). Among the Moors diabolical magic is even more frequent, “… que como ajenos a nuestra católica fe, no les es dificultoso, con apremios que hacen al demonio” (II, 123). In Northern Europe, Zayas writes, the Devil often deals with men of high degree to gain political power. In “La perseguida triunfante” Satan chooses the crown prince of Hungary as his protégé (II, 372). On the other hand, when Spaniards engage in magic, they at best appear as ridiculous as the miser Marcos in “El castigo de la miseria” who is duped into believing that a spell will reveal the whereabouts of his wife. At the worst, they find themselves in a situation comparable to that of Don Alonso in “La inocente castigada,” whisked away by the Inquisition, never to be heard from again (II, 130).

Fourth, when magic occurs, it does so only temporarily, seemingly only by divine dispensation. In “El desengaño amando y premio de la virtud,” the spectre tells Juana not to think that he has come “por la fuerza de los conjuros, sino por particular providencia y voluntad de Dios, que me mandó que viniese a avisarte desto y decirte que si no miras por ti, ¡ay de tu alma!” (I, 267). Zayas toys with this point in her story “El jardín engañoso” by presenting the enigma of Satan's relinquishment of his pact with the lover Jorge. The narrator comments that “lo que más es de admirar [es] que haya en [Satanás] ninguna obra buena. … Mas para eso puede haber otras secretas causas que nosotros ignoramos” (I, 400). Satan reveals his original vice, pride, as the motive for his extraordinary act of generosity: “No me habéis de vencer, aunque más hagáis” (I, 420). But Zayas reserves the full explanation of the puzzle—“de que en Satanás pudo haber virtud” (I, 420)—for her allegorical tale “La perseguida triunfante,” in which diabolical magic and the supernatural come into conflict.

In “La perseguida triunfante,” Zayas presents the nature, kinds, and limits of diabolical magic. The heroine Beatrice and her impassioned brother-in-law Federico dramatize the battle of every woman and every man as an allegorical representation of the forces of transcendent good and evil, respectively. Beatrice finds her defense against the onslaughts of Federico in a mysterious benefactress whom all but she recognize as the Virgin. Federico makes a diabolical pact with Satan's earthly representative, a Faustian scholar with magical powers.

Through the mysterious doctor, Zayas reveals that there are in general three kinds of diabolical magic. The first consists of the power unlimited by time or space to know historical events: “… pues con [la ciencia] alcanzo y sé cuanto pasa en el mundo …” (II, 371). In effect, at their initial meeting, the magician already knows the prince's history and his unhappy circumstances. Second is the knowledge of the special virtues or hidden powers of plants, stones, and animals. Federico's cohort uses an herb to induce sleep; he uses a stone to enable the prince to change his appearance at will. The virtues of symbols—effigies, glyphs, and words—comprise the third. The inscription on Federico's ring enables him to convince his skeptical brother, the king, of Queen Beatrice's infidelity.

Almost every instance of magic in Zayas' stories falls under one of these three categories. The mysterious doctor's knowledge of the future and non-visual present which permits him to persecute Beatrice belongs to the first. The ring used by the student from Alcalá de Henares to extract promises of marriage in “El desengaño amando y premio de la virtud” and the teeth and hair required for a love potion in “La fuerza del amor” together with the blindfolded cock used by Lucrecia in “El desengaño amando” to submit the youthful Fernando to her will belong to the second. To the third belong the words chanted by the trickster in “El castigo de la miseria” to conjure a demon from hell and the wax candle used by Riego in “La inocente castigada” to conquer the lady Inés. Interestingly, when Satan himself casts a spell, as in “El jardín engañoso,” no vehicle to effect the magic seems necessary.

The limits of diabolical magic, its dependence on divine dispensation, appear in “La perseguida triunfante” as well. The magician's knowledge of the future is obviously imperfect, since he repeatedly extracts the promise that Federico will never reveal their pact, especially in the confessional. While the mysterious doctor's knowledge of historical events is nearly perfect, the miraculous dumbfounds him. He cannot divine how Beatrice's sight is restored, how she is rescued from an execution, where she is hidden, how she cures the sick, nor the identity of her protectress. Most important, the magician's powers are shown to be temporary. They diminish in direct proportion to the ever-greater influence of the Virgin in Beatrice's life. In one scene, the magician is able to put Beatrice to sleep with herbs, but he can do her no physical harm; in the next, he cannot discover where she is hiding; in a third, he does not recognize her when she appears before him in disguise. From the allegory, Zayas' concept of magic emerges. It is real, of diabolical origin, yet transitory because it is powerless before the sacraments of the Church and the succor of the Virgin. Because of the Inquisition, it occurs more abroad than in Spain. It is real, however, and if its practitioners do not eventually repent, they suffer a severe penalty.

Zayas' tendency to limit diabolical magic on the one hand and her association of supernatural events with the Virgin on the other concur with the beliefs of her contemporaries. Therefore her stories would not likely incur the disbelief of those readers whose main concern with verisimilitude is moral. There is no disagreement apparent in comparing Cervante's curate's and Lugo y Dávila's statements with Zayas': “… en la misma verdad no puede haber falta, como lo dixo Cristo nuestro Señor, cuando dixo: ‘Si verdad os digo …’” (II, 103).

Zayas' conformity does not entail a lack of discernment, however. She reflects Nieremburg's ideas in that she illustrates through her stories that not every episode which at first appears magic or supernatural is so. The ghost who appears to Doña Blanca in “El imposible vencido” is only a would-be lover in disguise. The demon conjured from hell by the Salamantine student in “El castigo de la miseria” proves to be merely a tortured cat and the episode serves to make the miser Marcos look foolish in his efforts to use magic to find his wife and fortune. The potion of hanged men's teeth concocted for the purpose of winning back the heroine Laura's husband in “La fuerza de amor” is never put to the test. Moreover, the narrator of this story carefully discredits the hag who recommends the elixir by means of his epithets referring to her as “la embustera,” “la falsa enredadora,” a woman, finally, lured by Laura's promise of gifts, “sed de semejantes mujeres” (I, 239). Even the intervention of the Virgin in “El impossible vencido” to resurrect the seemingly dead Leonor proves doubtful with the narrator's concluding remark that “el sacristán … fue vuelto a su Iglesia, para que se vea en esta verdadera y octava maravilla, el mayor imposible vencido” (I, 367). The comparison of the sacristan's reinstatement with Leonor's resurrection opens the story to the likely explanation that Leonor was not dead, but merely unconscious, and therefore the Virgin's intervention was not real, but merely apparent. In these four episodes, Zayas concurs with Nieremburg's recommendation of careful examination of events magical and supernatural.

The exercise of such discretion becomes more necessary when Zayas, in her second collection of stories, requires that her tales have the appearance of historical as well as moral truth: “Lisis manda que sean casos verdaderos los que se digan” (II, 143); “diferente cosa es novelar sólo con la inventiva un caso que ni fue, ni pudo ser, y ése no sirve de desengaño, sino de entretenimiento, a contar un caso verdadero, que no sólo sirva de entretener, sino de avisar” (II, 144). With the imposition of a feminist cause in her stories—“fue la pretensión de Lisis en esto volver por la fama de las mujeres … que lo cierto es que no hubiera malas mujeres si no hubiera malos hombres” (II, 10)—Zayas evidently feels that, if she is going to be convincing, her tales must have the appearance of social documents, portraying society as it is, not simply as it should be. In giving the tales the appearance of historical truth, however, Zayas realizes, judging from her handling of the problem, that she surrenders the latitude afforded to exemplary fiction and thereupon encounters the chasm separating magic and the supernatural from the terrain of a credible historical narrative.

Zayas responds to this challenge by ingeniously selecting a historical illusion which bridges the problem of incurring her readers' disbelief. Half-jokingly, she associates the tales with the common gossip of the court: “Habían de ser las damas las que novelasen (y en esto acertó con la opinión de los hombres, pues siempre tienen a las mujeres por noveleras) …” (II, 10). She associates the noun novela with the adjective novelero in its pejorative connotation of “fond of gossip”: “El vulgo es novelero y no todos bien entendidos … (II, 167). Perhaps the unflattering connotation of the term is responsible for her calling the first ten stories maravillas, “que con este nombre quiso desempalagar al vulgo del de novela, título tan enfadoso que ya en todas partes le aborrecen” (I, 31), and the second ten desengaños.

In spite of Zayas' low opinion of gossip, she has the Boccaccian tradition to justify her using it as the narrative mode for her tales. She places them in the framework of two saraos, having young ladies and gentlemen narrate them as provincial gossip told at court. She realizes that gossip overcomes the impediment common in more exemplary stories, the necessity of excluding anything unpleasant. Gossip is always enticing: “Mas eso tienen las novedades, que aunque no sean muy sabrosas, todos gustan de comerlas” (II, 102). But most important is the fact that in spite of its acknowledged unreliability, gossip has tremendous power to persuade and convince. In her story “El verdugo de su esposa” Zayas describes how the jealous husband Pedro, fully aware of his wife's innocence, kills her to free his reputation of slander. As Zayas' tale illustrates, the persuasive power of gossip is due to the persistent, lingering suspicion that there might be a basis in fact for people's opinions, no matter how uncritically they express them. Zayas believes the power of gossip to convince is reinforced by the vague déjà vu she expects her narrators' audience to perceive in the tales: “… si acaso pareciere que los desengaños aquí referidos … los habéis oído en otras partes, será haberle contado quien, como yo y las demás desengañadoras, lo supo por mayor …” (II, 143). Most important, it is the suspicion that the stories are true, not the assertion, which permits the author to incorporate magic and supernatural episodes without fear of losing her audience's belief in the sociological value of her stories.

The reliability of gossip and by analogy the historical illusion of Zayas' tales depend on the trustworthiness of the narrators, of the narrators' sources, and on the careful specification of when, where, and to whom the events narrated occurred. In her framework, Zayas attempts to fulfill the first requirement by portraying her narrators as fairly discreet ladies and gentlemen, distinguished by their acquaintance with well-known historical figures, the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia, the countess of Lemos, the novelist Doña Ana Caro, the countess of Gálvez, and the latter's illustrious lady-in-waiting, Doña Isabel de Ribadeneyra (II, 178). Zayas answers the second requirement by concluding every story with the narrator's acknowledgment of his source, an acknowledgment which is verifiable by checking the consistency of the events of the tale with the source's point of view. To the third Zayas responds with the pretense that, providing no one's reputation will suffer, her narrators are specific about names, places, and dates, as in “La fuerza del amor,”: “Era don Antonio … del linaje y apellido de Garrafa, deudo de los duques de Nochera, y señor de Piedra Blanca, lugar que tiene su asiento cuatro millas de Nápoles …” (I, 221). Most convincing are her narrators' feigned efforts toward accuracy: “No ha mucho más de veinte y seis años que en una cuidad de las nobles y populosas del Andalucía, que a lo que he podido alcanzar es la insigne de Jaén, vivía un caballero de los nobles y ricos de ella, cuyo nombre es don Pedro …” (II, 299).

Almost all twenty of Zayas' stories, by virtue of the narrators' acknowledgment of sources and the reliability of these for each episode presented, appear credible.8 In each of the eight episodes presenting magic or the supernatural, however, the assertion that the scenes are true does not hold. The criterion found lacking is the very one that distinguishes history from gossip—while the narrators themselves appear unquestionable, their sources do not. But, providing the narrators handle consistently the details of time and space, the suspicion that they are true does not necessarily falter.

In the supernatural episodes, the sources are too diffuse to be reliable. In “El verdugo de su esposa,” the only source for the Virgin's intervention to save Don Juan from ambush is Don Juan himself, and he had disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again, following his brief appearance to his lover Rosaleta and her husband Pedro (II, 167). The story “se había divulgado por la ciudad, que no se hablaba en otra cosa, y como el vulgo es novelero, y no todos bien entendidos, cada uno daba su parecer” (II, 167). In “El traidor contra su sangre,” Enrique's vision of Dona Mencía's corpse was another private experience, although there were witnesses who, had it been a natural phenomenon, would have been able to see it (II, 313). The Corregidor verified Enrique's report of Mencía's death; through the official's investigation, the story became known throughout the city. The people, well-intentioned, perhaps, but not always reliable, are the source for these two episodes.

In “El imposible vencido,” the source is a theologian who learned the story of Leonor's resurrection while he was in a debating contest as a divinity student at Salamanca (I, 367). In order not to destroy the effectiveness of the tale, the ambiguities are left unexplained. Finally, in “La perseguida triunfante,” the narrator's acknowledgment of her source is counter-productive and together with the various cultural anomalies within the text, works to discredit the very illusion such an acknowledgment usually fosters. The German shepherds with whom Beatrice seeks refuge dine on tasajos cecinados (II, 383); the prayer book in the Hungarian hermitage where Beatrice does penance is written in buen romance (II, 393); the narrator's assertion that she read the manuscript written by Beatrice, an Englishwoman, while she, the narrator, was traveling in Italy merely increases the linguistic complexity of the transmission of the text (II, 409). Granted the reliability of the pueblo as a source for Zayas' tales, the verisimilitude achieved by acknowledging the people is moral rather than historical.

In the three stories relating magical episodes Zayas' attenuation of the historical illusion becomes even more complex. At one extreme, the narrator of “El jardín engañoso” confesses that there is no basis in fact for her tale: “No quiero, discreto auditorio, venderos por verdades averiguadas los sucesos desta historia; si bien todos son de calidad que lo pudieran ser. … En eso no os obligo a creer más de lo que diere gusto; pues el decirla yo no es más de para dar ejemplo …” (I, 400). The concern here with verisimilitude is patently moral—especially since the narrator's acknowledged source, Teodosia, jealously instigated the murders of two rivals for her sister's hand (I, 422). More subtle is the narrator Luisa's acknowledgment of her source at the end of “La inocente castigada”: “… me lo contó quien se halló presente” (II, 138). A scrutiny of the text reveals the most likely candidate to be a ten-year-old girl unexpectedly introduced into the last episode which treats of the heroine's release from a six-month confinement in a closet (II, 133). The authority of the child, who is irrelevant to the story in any other capacity, is limited to the action that occurs in Seville, however. The enchantment—Don Diego's seduction of Inés by means of a wax candle carved in her image—occurs in an unspecified city somewhere near Seville. Thus the narrator limits the authority of her source to the last, non-magical episodes.

The most complex attenuation of the historical illusion occurs in conjunction with Zayas' most complete exposition of her and her contemporaries' ideas regarding magic, the story “El desengaño amando y premio de la virtud.” First, the narrator Filis refrains from specifying a source. Her explanation of her selection of a compound title, the first heroine's decision to enter a convent and the second one's marriage to a long-suffering suitor, replaces the usual acknowledgment (I, 289). Such restraint is wise, for her source would have had unusual vision to relate authoritatively that the witch Lucrecia pays for her crimes in hell while her victim Fernando receives his reward in heaven (I, 287). Secondly, in contrast to Zayas' usual precision, this narrator is deliberately arbitrary about time and the identity of her characters: “Aquí, pues, vivía, no ha muchos años, un caballero cuyo nombre será don Fernando … “(I, 251); “le sujetó amor a la hermosura, donaire y discreción de una dama … cuyo nombre será doña Juana” (I, 252). Thirdly, Zayas attenuates the magical episodes themselves. Juana's conjuration of a dead lover is not diabolical magic at all, but rather a warning from God (I, 266-267). The greatest effect realized by the demon-inhabited rings is the reader's laughter, recalling El Pinciano's statement that “lo verdaderamente admirable ha de poseer verosimilitud. Cuando no sucede así la admiración de la cosa se convierte en risa.”9 After beating the student, the devils berate him: “Bellaco traidor, que nos entregaste a una mujer que nos puso en poder de una criada, que ni ha dexado río ni playa donde no nos ha traído, sacando agua y fregando con nosotros” (I, 263). Even Lucrecia's magic, which is real enough to alienate Fernando's will, kill him, and bring her to damnation, is attenuated. The narrator offers an alternative, more rational explanation as the less likely reason for Fernando's attraction to the elderly woman: “… como era vario de condición y los tales tienen el remudar por aliño, porque cansados de una hermosura apetecen una fealdad, que fuese esto o el interés de tener que gastar o jugar, o lo más cierto, que le inclinasen las artes y conjuros de Lucrecia, acetó el partido …” (I, 260). Moreover, by associating Lucrecia's magic with cosmetics, Zayas shifts the emphasis from diabolical to natural magic: “… hallaron en el escritorio de Lucrecia mil invenciones y embelecos que causaban temor y admiración con que Lucrecia aparecía a los ojos de don Fernando gallarda y hermosa” (I, 287). Finally, Zayas relies on the opinions of her narrator's audience in the framework of the sarao to deemphasize the diabolical nature of the magic. For them, the rings and the conjuration are indeed prodigious, but Fernando is merely deceived and Lucrecia simply obstinate (I, 290).

In conclusion, the concept of verisimilitude for the novela seems to have been more moral and psychological than historical or scientific among Zayas' contemporaries, a concept which gives seventeenth-century writers in Spain the freedom to utilize magic and the supernatural to produce awe in their reader, providing such wonder be for his edification.10 Zayas presents magic as real, a diabolical knowledge of the secret virtues of plants, stones, animals, and symbols, knowledge that endangers the magician, yet gives him extraordinary powers. Zayas' demonstration that magic is powerless against the sacraments of the Church and the protection of the Virgin, moreover, concurs with well-known popular beliefs. The supernatural episodes in her stories are all manifestations of the Virgin helping believers threatened by evil of any kind. Thus, there is no conflict in Zayas' stories between verisimilitude, magic and the supernatural—until she gives her tales a feminist motive which necessitates their having sociological as well as moral value. The concept of verisimilitude then changes focus historical and scientific criteria carrying nearly equal importance. Zayas reacts by denying the magical and supernatural episodes the authority lent her stories by her narrators' acknowledgments of their sources. The people, morally but not necessarily scientifically or historically reliable, are the source for the supernatural episodes. For the magical episodes, in spite of their apparent orthodoxy, either there is no source acknowledged or the source is totally unreliable. Moreover, the magical episodes themselves are often attenuated by means of alternate rational explanations, offered as the less likely, however. Like Nieremburg, Zayas realizes that extraordinary discretion is necessary to distinguish between magical or supernatural events and natural phenomena. To overcome the problem, Zayas jokingly associates her tales with mere gossip, a serious jest which enables her to ignore her narrators' assertions that the tales are true, without necessarily destroying the reader's suspicion that there may be some basis in fact for any story, no matter how fantastic it appears.


  1. M. V. de Lara, “De escritoras españolas II,” Bulletin of Spanish Studies IX, 1932; M. Nelken, Las escritoras españolas (Barcelona: Ed. Labor, 1930); Lena E. V. Sylvania, “Doña María de Zayas: A Contribution to the Study of her Work,” Romanic Review XIII, 1922; Irma V. Vasileski, María de Zayas y Sotomayor: su época y su obra (New York: Plaza Mayor, 1972).

  2. María de Zayas y Sotomayor, Novelas amorosas y ejemplares, ed. Agustin de Amezúa (Madrid: Aldus, 1948) and Desengaños amorosos: parte segunda del sarao y entretenimiento amoroso, ed. Amezúa (Madrid: Aldus, 1950). I have selected Amezúa's editions because they are the most recent to incorporate Zayas' tales in their original Boccaccian framework. In the text, references to the two volumes are made parenthetically as (I) and (II).

  3. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quijote de la Mancha (Barcelona: Editorial Juventud, 1958), p. 371.

  4. Francisco de Lugo y Dávila, Teatro popular: novelas morales in the Colección Selecta de Antiguas Novelas Españolas I (Madrid, 1906), pp. 23-24.

  5. Lynn Thorndike, History of Magic and Experimental Science: The Seventeenth Century (New York: Colombia University Press, 1923) VII, 323.

  6. Eustaquio Fernández de Navarrete, “Bosquejo histórico de la novela española” in Novelistas posteriores a Cervantes BAE XXXIII (Madrid, 1950).

  7. John Sturrock, trans., “Introduction,” A Shameful Revenge and Other Stories by María de Zayas y Sotomayor (London: The Folio Society, 1968), p. v.

  8. See my “Narrative Roles and Style in the Novelas of María de Zayas y Sotomayor,” Diss. University of Florida 1972.

  9. Alonso López Pinciano, Philosofía antigua poética (Madrid, 1953) II, 61.

  10. In this regard, Carroll B. Johnson in his work Matías de los Reyes and the Craft of Fiction UCPMPH 101 (Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1973) reveals that for Zayas' contemporaries, verisimilitude is indeed moral, more a function of the author's honor than of the possible probability of the events narrated: “To his feeling of personal honor, Matías de los Reyes subordinates his idea of verisimilitude, which becomes a matter of not what shall be believed, but of who.” (p. 285).


Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. Don Quijote de la Mancha. Barcelona: Editorial Juventud, 1958.

Fernández de Navarrete, Eustaquio. “Bosquejo histórico de la novela española.” Novelistas posteriores a Cervantes. Biblioteca de Autores Españoles. Vol. 33. Madrid, 1950.

Johnson, Carroll B. Matías de los Reyes and the Craft of Fiction. UCPMH 101. Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1973.

Lara, María Victoria de. “De escritoras españolas II.” Bulletin of Spanish Studies, 9 (1936) 31-37.

López Pinciano, Alonso. Philosofía antigua poética. Vol. 2. Madrid, 1953.

Lugo y Dávila, Francisco de. Teatro popular: novelas morales. Colección Selecta de Antiguas Novelas Españolas I. Madrid, 1906.

Nelken, Margarita. Las escritoras españolas. Barcelona: Editorial Labor, 1930.

Stackhouse, Kenneth Allen. Narrative Roles and Style in the Novelas of María de Zayas y Sotomayor. Diss. University of Florida, 1972.

Sturrock, John. “Introduction.” María de Zayas y Sotomayor, A Shameful Revenge and Other Stories. Trans. John Sturrock. London: The Folio Society, 1963.

Sylvania, Lena E. V. “Doña María de Zayas y Sotomayor: A Contribution to the Study of Her Works.” The Romanic Review No. 3, 13 (July-Sept., 1922), 197-213.

Thorndike, Lynn. History of Magic and Experimental Science: The Seventeenth Century. Vol. 7. New York: Colombia University Press, 1923.

Vasileski, Irma V. María de Zayas y Sotomayor: su época y su obra. New York: Plaza Mayor, 1972.

Zayas y Sotomayor, Doña María de. Novelas amorosas y ejemplares. Ed. Agustín de Amezúa y Mayo. Madrid: Aldus, 1948.

Zayas y Sotomayor, Doña María de. Desengaños amorosos: Parte segunda del sarao y entretenimiento honesto. Madrid: Aldus, 1950.

Lucía Fox-Lockert (essay date 1979)

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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 in the literary life of the court. Lope de Vega alludes to her as a “clear, lively mind” and a distinguished poet.2 We have no data on her personal life; we do not even know if she was single, married or a widow. Her two works are: Novelas amorosas y ejemplares3 (1637) and Desengaños amorosos4 (1647). If we take Lisis, the protagonist of Desengaños, as the mouthpiece of the author, we might assume that María de Zayas entered a convent after the publication of the novel because nothing else was ever heard of her afterwards. Although the two novels were published in numerous editions for two centuries, no one bothered to document the biography of the author or to verify several points concerning her existence.

The two novels have a similar structure: ladies and gentlemen get together to tell stories, and separating these love stories we find exchanges and interactions among the storytellers. Thus there is both unity and diversity in the narration. The lady of the house, Lisis, gives the themes to those present and these themes become the titles of the two novels: amores (love) for the first and desengaños (disillusion) for the second. There is also continuity among the tales in both novels in that they all have a beginning, suspenseful development, and a resolution to the love affairs. The same characters appear in both novels with the exception of a few which are added to the second one. Both novels take place over a limited number of days, since these people have gathered together in their literary groups at significant dates on the Catholic calendar: during the Christmas season and in the days before Carnival.

In Novelas amorosas the action takes place in Lisis' house on five nights. Men and women alike take their turns in telling a story of love. Lisarda tells “Adventurarse perdiendo,” Matilde “La burlada Aminta y venganza de honor,” Lisis “El desengaño amado y premio de la virtud,” Miguel “Al fín se paga todo,” Lope “El imposible vencido,” Juan “El juez de su causa,” Laura (the mother of Lisis) “El jardín engañoso.” Lisis, the protagonist, is being courted by Don Juan. After a while, he is attracted to Lisarda, one of the ladies present in the group. Lisis, out of spite, accepts the advances of Don Diego. The novel ends when the two protagonists, Lisis and Diego, announce their engagement. Two months later the group returns to the same house. On this occasion Lisis and Diego announce that their wedding will take place on the last day of Carnival. Two new people have joined the group: Estefanía, a nun who is recuperating from an illness, and Isabel. Lisis states that this time only the women will speak on the theme of desengaño and with the express purpose of defending and warning other women of the dangers that await them in various circumstances. The first night Isabel tells the tale “La más infame venganza,” Laura “La inocencia castigada,” Nise “El verdugo por su esposa,” Filis “Tarde llega el desengaño,” Matilde “Amar solo por vencer,” Isabel “Mal presagio casar lejos,” Doña Francisca “El traidor contra su sangre,” Doña Estefanía “La perseguida triunfante,” and on the last night Lisis tells “Engaños que causa el vicio.”

I shall only examine the novel Desengaños by analyzing the position of the author as regards her feminism and I shall put special emphasis on the basic relationships of family, social class and sexuality. The story “La esclava de su amante” presents social conflict. The protagonist, Isabel, is from the upper class and is violated by Manuel, a boy from the lower class. Manuel does so because this is the only way he could have anything to do with her. Isabel is only 14 years old and describes thusly her reaction: “I do not know what has happened to me because the fright caused me to faint. Oh! Weak womankind, intimidated from childhood and weakened because we were taught to make hem-stitches rather than to play at war games” (p. 29). When Manuel abandons her, she follows him to seek vengeance dressed as a man and accompanied by a gentleman friend. When they find Manuel, he insults her because of her bad reputation—of course he admits no responsibility for her dishonor! Nevertheless, they become reconciled and carry on together in several adventures. She is carried off by the Moors and is sold as a slave. Meanwhile, Manuel decides to marry a rich lady and Isabel arranges for her gentleman friend to kill him out of vengeance. She then flees, continues her life as a maid, and thus arrives at the house of Lisis. There she is known as Zelima. Isabel makes known her true identity and begs Lisis to allow her to enter a convent because “in the company of such a Husband … I will no longer feel shame and now that I have had a sad youth, at least I may rest in my old age” (p. 65).

In “La más infame venganza” social and economic differences play an important role in the seduction of a poor girl (Octavia) by a rich man (Carlos). Juan, the brother of Octavia decides to avenge Octavia's dishonor through Camila, Carlos' wife. Armed with a knife, he threatens and then violates her. Camila takes refuge in a convent but her husband makes her come out with promises of pardon. When she returns home, her husband poisons her, but instead of dying she is horribly disfigured. The two men flee, leaving the women to fend for themselves.

In “La inocencia castigada” there are no family or social barriers between Doña Inés and Don Alonso, who are both rich and of the nobility and who are married with the approval of all. A lazy, rich, young man, Don Diego, brings disgrace to the couple. When he finds it impossible to seduce Doña Inés, he obtains the services of a sorcerer who bewitches her. While sleepwalking, she keeps several rendezvous with Don Diego. Her brother finds her and takes her home and he and her husband plot to take vengeance on her and bury her alive. Years later a neighbor hears her cries and with the help of the authorities the crime is uncovered and the guilty punished. Doña Inés enters a convent, having now acquired a reputation of holiness. The narrator concludes that “as far as cruelty is concerned, unfortunate women should trust neither brother nor husband, for all are men” (p. 138).

“El verdugo de su esposa” shows us Pedro and Rosaleta, a married couple, who suffer because Juan, a friend of Pedro, falls in love with Rosaleta. Juan constantly harasses her and she threatens to denounce him to her husband. Juan persists and Pedro plots vengeance, but Juan miraculously escapes. Pedro now becomes enamored of Juan's lover and punishes Rosaleta by bleeding her to death. The narrator puts special emphasis on the fact that whether the wife speaks or remains silent, the husband will take revenge on her whether or not she is innocent. The husband is more interested in the loss of his reputation, and would rather see his wife disappear than to suffer public dishonor.

“Tarde llega el desengaño” has a magnificent introductory discourse in which the narrator expounds on the fact that the fear and envy of men deprive women of education in the arts and in weapons. She concludes that “it would be better for women to use swords than to allow a man to aggravate her at anytime” (p. 177). The protagonist of the story is a rich and noble gentleman who allows his black slave girl to take the place of his wife at the table. He forces his wife to go about on all fours, like a dog, picking up the crumbs that fall from the table. He explains that the reason for his action is that the slave girl has confided to him that his wife has been having an affair with the chaplain of the castle. In the end he discovers that it was only a plot on the part of the slave to gain his favor. The narrator concludes that “women have such a bad reputation these days that neither with suffering can they conquer the hearts of their husbands nor can their innocence be esteemed” (p. 208).

“Amar solo por vencer” offers an interesting case of a man who passes himself off as a woman in order to seduce a woman he is interested in. The author feels that education plays an important role in the making of “effeminate” women: “Men make us more effeminate than Nature, if Nature gives us kind hearts and weakness, at least Nature gave us a soul that can encompass all, just like men” (p. 211). Differences in social class cause Esteban to dress as a maid in the house, for in no other way could he even consider courting Laurela. The other maids notice something wrong and make jokes about “the woman in love with another.” The author takes the opportunity here to digress on the spiritual identity of her characters whose souls “are neither of men nor of women.” Laurela's father arranges a wedding for her with a nobleman. Esteban hurries to uncover his identity, declare his love and seduce her. After he has possessed Laurela, he abandons her, taking all of her jewels. Ashamed, Laurela seeks refuge in her uncle's house. Once again, the men of the family, in this case the father and the uncle, plan to avenge her dishonor: they cause a wall to fall on her which buries her. A maid, witnessing the event, tells Laurela's mother and sisters what has happened. Disillusioned and frightened, the women seek protection together in a convent. The author tries to understand how a lover, after so many professions of his love, could do this thing simply because he has obtained his goal. She believes that Laurela, like any woman, would have believed him and asks: “How can you expect a woman to be good, if you have made her bad and even have taught her to so be?” (p. 254). This is the same argument that Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a Mexican nun, was to use many years later in her Redondilla, “Foolish men, who accuse. …”5

“Mal presagio casar lejos” presents an interesting use of male homosexuality. This is the woeful tale of four daughters of a noble Spaniard. The oldest was killed when her husband laid a trap for her in which she appeared to be unfaithful. The second was hanged by her own hair because she praised a gentleman who was passing by. The third daughter, who was a witness, jumped from the window so her brother-in-law would not kill her also and was crippled for the rest of her life. The youngest daughter, Blanca, after seeing what happened to her sisters, does not want to take any chances and places the condition that any man who wants to marry her must be well-known to her for at least one year. A prince from Flanders has asked for her hand and accepts Blanca's condition: “To love through familiarity and to know through dealings the condition and graces of the husband” (p. 262). Blanca realizes that interest, convenience and fear play an “important role in matrimony” and prefers to go to a convent if the boyfriend does not satisfy her requirements. Since the boyfriend accepts the betrothal condition, after a year they are married and they travel to Flanders. She takes with her a court of ladies and gentlemen because she is a lady of high social standing. A political element now enters the story since the Spaniards are hated in Flanders. Her husband takes leave of her once they arrive at his palace. His only company there is a 15-year-old page. One day Blanca surprises them together in bed “in such twisted and abominable pleasures that are lowly, not only to say but even to think of” (p. 286). Since she has been a witness, she knows that both of the men will kill her and she prepares to die. First she confesses, then she says goodbye to her ladies, giving them her jewels and telling them what has happened. The husband, page and father-in-law open her veins and she dies. The hatred of the father-in-law toward Spain is well evident when he comments: “How I wish I could have all of her nation as I have her” (p. 290). The narrator comments that beauty, virtue, wisdom, royal blood, and innocence were of no good to the four sisters; all were sacrificed on the “altar of disgrace.” Their wretched star was to “be born women.”

“El traidor contra su sangre” shows the great conflict that exists between the various social classes and the role that money plays in the marriage of both sons and daughters. A rich gentleman has a daughter, Mencia, and a son, Alonso. A rich farmer, Don Enrique, is in love with Mencia, but he is from a lower social class. Alonso, following the desires of his father, kills Mencia because she has been having secret meetings with Don Enrique. In another city, Alonso falls in love with a very beautiful but poor girl, Ana. When his father finds out about Ana, Alonso's father disinherits him. Alonso begins to hate her, “at each step insults her with her poverty” (p. 322) and starves her. Even though they have a son, he kills Ana and demands his father support him as when he killed his sister. The father simply comments: “I would rather have a hanged son than one poorly married” and allows him to be executed.

“La perseguida triunfante” the tale of the nun Estefanía who, due to her little worldly experience (“from a child she consecrated herself to the Bridegroom”), tells the only story that deals with the life of a saint. Ladislao of Hungary marries Beatrice, daughter of the king of England. Federico, brother of Ladislao, is charged with bringing her to Hungary; on the way he falls in love with her. Since Ladislao is away at war, Federico continues to pursue her. She has him put in a lion's cage to stop his advances and then rules the country, “the vassels so content that they do not even miss the king” (p. 356). When Ladislao returns, Federico accuses Beatrice of having “lacivious and impure desires” toward him. Ladislao publicly slaps Beatrice, has her eyes put out and then abandons her in the forest for the wild beasts to eat. A miracle occurs and she is saved. Meanwhile, Federico hires a sorcerer who makes known to him that she is still alive. He goes to the forest to once again try to violate her but she is again miraculously saved. After many years she returns to the court of Hungary, her innocence is proved, and she discovers that her protector was the Virgin Mary. When Ladislao tries to assert his rights as a husband, Beatrice tells him that she already belongs to the Celestial Bridegroom. She asks permission to found a convent and retire along with those ladies who wish to follow her. The narrator reflects that even a woman so virtuous as this has to suffer “the treachery and cruelty of man” (p. 409).

“Engaños que causa el vicio” is the story of two girls raised as sisters. When the parents die, the girls go to live with their aunt and uncle. Although they love the girls, the aunt and uncle will not allow them to marry in order that they might keep the girls' dowries for themselves. In spite of this, Magdalena marries Dionis and takes Florentina to live with them. Unfortunately, the sister falls in love with Dionis and they have an affair for four years. She incites Dionis to kill his wife, but the husband goes crazy and kills all the women in the house, including the maids. Only Florentina escapes, badly wounded, and she enters a convent to expiate her deeds. The author here shows us the situation of a sister who turns on her own sister and the message is obvious: women should not become divided and should at all costs remain united. As it is Lisis who is telling this story, she remembers the fickleness of Lisarda, but she also reminds the men that when it comes to satisfying their desires, they never pass up an opportunity. Lisis wants “to defend all women and correct all men,” but since men are the natural enemies of women, there is no alternative but “war.” At the end of her story, Lisis reveals her intention not to marry Don Diego as she had announced at the beginning, she does not wish to take part in that battle which so many women have lost. She affirms that “we need to take arms and defend ourselves from their evil intentions and from our enemies” (p. 460).

In all of the narrations the man is the executioner and the woman his victim. From the story told by Lisis we can observe that a man, such as Dionis, may be educated and seem to be noble and honorable, yet he kills women. There is the constant threat of war between the sexes. Lisis insists that the women tell the stories in order to reflect their point of view, because “since men are those who preside, they never tell the evil they do, but rather speak of the evil done to them, and if you look closely, the men are at fault and the women follow the men's opinion since they believe the men are right; the most obvious thing is that there are no bad women, only evil men” (p. 10).

Within the social framework of this period, women occupied a place superior only to that of animals and crazy people. Even if she belonged to the higher classes, this only imposed certain dress standards and added more limitations. Within the family, the woman was a possession that could be given, exchanged or done away with according to the circumstances. Honor was so fundamental in the Spanish system that it could be besmirched by simple indiscretion and as Lope de Vega put it, “Honor is that which comes from another. No man gains honor by himself.” Especially with respect to the woman, the social system was organized to strictly watch over feminine conduct. The father, brother and husband were those empowered to carry out retribution. One aspect of the work of Zayas that is new and different is that she denounces many of the situations that masculine writers tried to hide: crimes and hatred toward women. Even when the man found out that the woman was innocent, he saw to it that she disappeared because she was a witness to his dishonor and humiliation. The husband could easily find ways of doing away with his wife without interference from the authorities and it seems that family conspiracies were common, with the men as accomplices and the women as victims. Another aspect of her work is the latent homosexuality exhibited by the men. Men also seem to transfer their repressed sexual desires into action against the wives of their friends or against their own sisters.

Education, according to the author, is one of the principal forms of repression. This masculine system kept the woman ignorant and apart. The author mentions various examples of what women learn and which in no way prepares them for the dangers they face nor allows them to realize the full potential of their intelligence. She insists many times that the soul is neither masculine nor feminine and thus places emphasis on the equality of men and women. Several of her protagonists show themselves to be fearless as they follow those men who abandoned them. In other cases, women make the decision to retreat from the world, for many this is the immediate alternative of escape from the slavery of men. There are many other women, however, who prefer the convent because it signifies “Holy Sanctuary,” from which no one could remove them because of the religious laws. Education does not prepare women to earn a living and they must depend on their families unless they marry. In the convent they at least find a number of tasks that allow them to justify their existence. Zayas also notices that girls who are raised in the great houses—she is speaking of the higher social classes—by their relatives or maids are ignorant of what goes on outside the four walls of their home and thus are easy prey of the tricks of men. There is a definite purpose to Zayas' novel: to warn all women of the things that happen in the relationship between the sexes. She offers many examples of women who have been queens or wise governors when they had the opportunity. She definitely believes that women must stop thinking of themselves as weak and evil, as taught by masculine indoctrination. She tries to induce women to analyze the simple examples she presents and to begin to see the causes and effects of the actions of both sexes. She believes that it is possible for women to begin to reason for themselves without recourse to masculine teachings, which only create a poor and defective vision of themselves.

The sexuality Zayas discusses is principally that of the youth of the higher classes, which she knows very well. The male children are sent to religious schools and the girls remain at home where, following Arabic customs, they are given room to roam about in without being seen by strangers—thus there is little filial affection between the two. The girls generally find out that some gentleman is in love with them through the maids. And the gentlemen, using the menservants who in turn use the maids, then establish contact. Women thus receive a false idea of love. Courtly love predominates and the men, who are well-versed in this art, go through the rituals in order to convince the victim of their devotion. Laziness, wealth and great freedom in the young men help them convert this art of love into a favorite pastime. The man wants to make as many conquests as possible and he has no interest in remaining with any woman who has given herself to him. In Spain, predominantly, the Arab has reinforced the double standard: the man may have many wives but the woman must remain absolutely faithful. Once the man becomes infatuated with a woman, he throws himself into the conquest like the soldier who lays siege to a city, but after satisfying his sexual desires, he loses interest; “after sex all animals are sad.” The women, on the other hand, live in their gardens dreaming of love and of being loved. When a gentleman presents himself, they reject him if they are virtuous. Many times they are convinced that this gentleman truly loves them and they take the risk, knowing that they may sacrifice their honor and expose themselves to the scorn and vengeance of their families. This risk freely taken reveals, according to the author, the superiority of women in that their desires are not sensual but spiritual and thus can remain strong even after men have defrauded them.

Marriage appears to be something arranged out of convenience by the families. The women must have a dowry in order to attract candidates from the same social class. She never really knows her future husband until after the wedding, when she begins to discover a world much different from that of courtly love. Now she is a recluse in the house, allowed only to go to Church or to go visiting with her husband. Danger is ever present, especially if she is young and beautiful, for other men will try and court her, placing her reputation in danger. We must assume that while she must be prudent, she is never free from the chance that some man might take advantage of her. Zayas reveals another aspect of feminine sexuality that male writers of this period never discuss: the terror of the woman when faced by masculine violence, a crime which is viewed by the author without mercy. But the woman also suffers when her boyfriend or husband is unfaithful; this pain is exceptionally well captured by the author. The woman needs to believe that her lover will not fool her and when all fails, she has no other recourse but Jesus. Many women enter the convent “seeking perfect love from the Bridegroom who never fails.” But even here we find masculine indoctrination concerning honor. Santa Teresa, in her Relaciones espirituales,6 says that when Christ appeared to her in visions he told her: “See this nail, it is a sign that you will be my bride from this day forth; until today you did not merit it; from now on you will watch out for me as Creator, King, God, and you will also guard my honor.”

Lisis, the voice of the author, is the most militant of the group. She sees the situation as a “cold war” between the sexes, which are in continual battle. Men have their own code and work together against women. Historically, the thesis that woman is superior to man in the telling of lies, working of intrigues and the playing of tricks has been perpetuated. Thus man always has had little confidence in his wife, even if she is virtuous. The author does not believe that a single woman like Lisis can fight the whole system by herself. Her mission is to proceed to gather the women together so that, united for a common cause, they may protect their virtue and individual integrity. Following the system, Lisis and those that follow her retire to a convent. Many years later, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the Mexican nun, explained her decision to enter the convent: “It was the least abnormal and most decent way I could assure myself of the salvation my soul longed for.” Ascetic retreat in the Catholic Church represents a decisive move for the woman—she either thus rejects society or has herself been rejected. It is difficult to imagine the convent as the last stronghold of feminine nonconformity; paradoxically it is also their means of spiritual vindication. While men writers have never bothered to consider why women enter convents, Zayas has given us a full spectrum of cases which allow us to visualize all the social abuses heaped upon women. We often believe that fathers force their daughters to go to the convent in order to hide their shame and disobedience.

Zayas shows us that the fathers and brothers in no way understand either their wives or those women in their custody; they act according to specific conventions which cause them to lose sight of feminine sensitivity. Perhaps victims and executioners are a product of society motivated by honor and love. If the man kills for honor, the woman dies for love. He spends his life looking for conquests while she imagines a place of pure love. He believes himself free and is a slave to his own mistrust. She believes herself to be a slave and yet within her spirit she has found the path that not only will make her free but that will also bring her eternal love.


  1. Manuel Serrano y Sanz, Apuntes para una biblioteca de autoras españolas (Madrid: n.p., 1903), vol. II, pp. 583-586.

  2. Quoted by Edwin Place in “Maria de Zayas, an Outstanding Woman Short-Story Writer of Seventeenth Century Spain,” University of Colorado Studies XIII, (1923), 26-30.

  3. María de Zayas, Novelas amorosas y ejemplares (Madrid: Aldus, 1948). In this edition there is a long introduction written by Augustín de Amezua.

  4. María de Zayas, Disegnaños amorosos (Madrid: Aldus, 1950). Page references for quotations in the text are to this edition.

  5. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Obras completas de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, edited by Alfonso Mendez Plancarte (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1951). Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is a Mexican poet who lived in Colonial times (1748-1695).

  6. Helmut Hatzfeld, in Estudios literarios sobre mística española (Madrid: Editorial Gredos, 1968), devotes several chapters to women in Spain and their religious convictions.


Alborg, Juan Luis. Historia de la literatura española. Madrid: Editorial Gredos, 1972.

Goyri de Menéndez Pidal, Maria. La difunta pleiteada, estudio de literatura comparada. Madrid: 1909.

Morby, Edwin, “The Difunta Pleiteada Theme in María de Zayas.” Hispanic Review XVI (1948), 238-242.

Pfandl, Ludwig. Historia de la literatura nacional española en la Edad de oro. Barcelona, 1933, pp. 369-370.

Place, Edwin. “María de Zayas, An Outstanding Woman Short-Story Writer of the Seventeenth Century Spain.” University of Colorado Studies XIII, 1 (1923), 26-30.

Praag, J. A. van. “Sobre las novelas de María de Zayas.” Clavileño XV (1952).

Senabre, Ricardo. “La fuente de una novela de doña María de Zayas.” Revista de Filología Española XLVI (1963) 163-172.

Serrano Poncela, Segundo. “Casamientos engañosos (Doña María de Zayas, Scarron y un proceso de creación literaria).” Bulletin Hispanique LXIV (1962), 248-259.

———. Apuntes para un estudio de escritoras españolas desde el año 1401 al 1833. 2 vols. Madrid, 1903-1905.

Sylvania, Lena. Doña María de Zayas y Sotomayor. New York: AMS Press, 1966.

Ticknor, George. Vol. III, Histoire de la littérature espagnole. Paris, 1864-72.

Zayas, María de. Novelas amorosas y ejemplares. Madrid: Aldus, 1948.

———. Desengaños amorosos. Madrid: Aldus, 1950.

———. Nouvelles de Dona María de Zayas. Paris: La Boutique de G. Quinot, MDLXXX.

———. Novelas de doña María de Zayas, selected by Emilia Pardo Bazán. Madrid: Biblioteca de la Mujer, 1892. Vol. III.

William H. Clamurro (essay date summer 1988)

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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 acceptances, rejections, and later reincorporations are not the subject of this present paper, the renewed interest in Zayas and her novelas is illustrative of the case of a writer popular and admired in her own time, then later all but forgotten, and finally “rediscovered”—with each turn of literary-historical judgment suggesting significant politico-historical questions.1 But rather than pursuing the issue of later reception and literary evaluations, I would like to consider the way in which Zayas's fiction reveals itself as an intriguing reflection of ideological crisis and contradiction in an epoch of painful political decline. For, while all prose fiction implicitly allows an ideological-historical rereading, the Desengaños amorosos of María de Zayas demand, and in fact define, such a reading.

For obvious reasons, the issue of the “feminism” (the implicit and explicit defense of women) in Zayas's fiction has been much discussed; some studies, most notably E. J. Ordóñez's “Woman and Her Text in the Works of María de Zayas and Ana Caro,” not only see the explicit feminist theme as a sincere and important question, but also see Zayas's life and work as revealing examples of the female writer's struggle for an authentic “voice” within, or against, an emphatically patriarchal society and literary tradition.2 In contrast, other critics—for example, S. C. Griswold, in “Topoi and Rhetorical Distance: The ‘Feminism’ of María de Zayas”—have argued that the overt and “didactic” feminism of Zayas's fiction is mainly a conventional literary device employed by Zayas for largely structural reasons.3 But whether a certain feminist message or problematic is the goal of her fiction or merely a device or point of departure, there can be little doubt that very much at the center of her fiction and vision lies the complex question of the inevitable antagonism between the force of the erotic and sexual, on the one hand, and the deeply rooted, socially established, and ego-driven demands of the honor code. Juan Goytisolo, in “El mundo erótico de María de Zayas,” has explored this fundamental point in a fittingly provocative way.4 And while the conflict between honor and eros underlies a good deal of Spanish baroque literature, notably the honra plays of Golden Age Spanish theatre, few writers of her time and place have dealt with the question with quite the same intensity as Zayas.

In the world of Zayas's fiction, we generally find that carnal desire on the part of the male figures leads to the various deceptions, betrayals, and abuses of the women characters, while (relatedly) any state of nominal possession, such as marriage, is inherently unstable and leads to suspicion, jealousy, or loss of desire—almost always with disastrous results for the women involved. In this grim world, any sudden amorous interest, or the loss thereof, or any “disturbance” in the socially ordained rigidities of the male-female relationship ends up in violence—the retaliations of honra, as it were. In this light, it is not surprising that the dominant message, projected with particular force in the second of Zayas's two volumes of novelas (the Desengaños amorosos, of 1647), incorporates the following central ideas: (1) the folly and futility of trusting men, (2) the almost inevitably tragic outcome of any marriage or love affair, and (3) the wisdom of rejecting men and of rejecting life in the predatory chaos of the secular world.5

But as Goytisolo, Hans Felten, and others have suggested, there is much more to “la visión zayesca” than the simple denunciation of men and of the inevitable but rather conventionalized “literary” conflict between the individual, “biological” and irrational forces of eros and the social repressions of honor. For, as a careful reading of the Desengaños amorosos will reveal, the rather pathological “love problematic” (or, the question of the hostile instability of eros and honor) is not only a perhaps exaggerated commentary on the situation of women in seventeenth-century Spain, but it also represents a subtly encoded critique of the state of a society—the Spain of the 1640s—in which the valor and virtue of the aristocracy had been betrayed and abandoned by the men of that social class.6 This more historically specific and, as it were, political reading of Zayas's fiction becomes more than merely possible—becomes in fact unavoidable—when one considers the deliberate, if slightly disconcerting, relationship of the “frame tale” to the ten distinct individual novelas supposedly narrated by the women characters of the frame tale. From such a reading, one can begin to see how—to an unexpectedly great degree—a complex and finally contradictory and inconsistent ideological position is materialized in literary form, in the peculiar “messages,” the warnings and curious affirmations of the novelas themselves and in the interplay of the ten novelas and the encompassing fiction of Lisis's sarao (soirée).

The frame tale of the Desengaños amorosos is a sequel to that of Zayas's previous collection the Novelas ejemplares y amorosas (1637). The “ficción de marco” centers on the main female character, Lisis—in whose honor is held the sarao during which the ten novelas are narrated—and her involvement in a kind of unresolved love quadrangle.7 Lisis, in the implicit fictional timelapse between the first soirée (that contained in the Novelas ejemplares) and this second gathering, has been suffering from “una calentura” resulting from her rejection by her former suitor, don Juan, who has left her in favor of another woman, Lisarda. But finally Lisis seems to be resigned to this state of affairs and to the prospect of accepting the marriage proposal of another man, don Diego.8 And with her health now restored, Lisis agrees to allow a festive celebration in honor of the up-coming engagement. As with the first sarao, the main activity will be the narration of stories, but Lisis stipulates some special ground rules: “en primer lugar, que habían de ser las damas las que novelasen” and “en segundo, que los que refiriesen fuesen casos verdaderos; y que tuviesen nombre de desengaños …” (118). Lisis's ostensible intention is a feminist defense, or as the narrator puts it, “Fue la pretensión de Lisis en esto volver por la fama de las mujeres (tan postrada y abatida por su mal juicio, que apenas hay quien hable bien de ellas)” (118). Thus, what Lisis and the other women of the party plan to relate is a series of “true stores” in defense of the good name of womankind, but which will also illustrate the endemic problem of the misfortunes, abuses, and cruelties which women suffer at the hands of husbands and lovers. A strange “program” to arrange for what purports to be an engagement party!9

The three successive evenings of story-telling that follow present an almost unrelieved panorama of male cruelty and female victimization. The conventionally attributed titles (all but the first of which were added much later for the 1734 edition10) give a fair characterization of what transpires; these titles include “La esclava de su amante,” “La más infame venganza,” “El verdugo de su esposa,” “La inocencia castigada,” and “Estragos que causa el vicio.” While it is simply inaccurate to say that each and every male character is evil and that every woman is a paragon of virtue and innocence (the complexities and dynamics of plot demand a bit more variety), in general the men are primarily the culpable parties: they are the ones whose unrestrained desires, or exorbitant jealousies and sense of honra, usually set the tragic machinery in motion. The main female characters in nearly all cases are killed off, usually in gruesome ways, and in those rare cases where they miraculously survive the murderous efforts of their husbands, lovers, and others—as in “La inocencia castigada” and “La perseguida triunfante”—they do so only after the longest and most sadistic physical and mental violence.

At first glance, then, it would seem that Lisis's purported “defense of women” is primarily a scathing and deeply desengañado attack on men and their violent excesses. But there is in fact something more going on in these novelas cortesanas, as one is emphatically reminded at the end, in the somewhat surprising conclusion of the frame tale.11 For this reason, I would like to turn to a brief consideration of the framing fiction and its structural-ideological implications; I would also like to consider the content and symbolic suggestions of the tenth and last desengaño and its relationship to the larger enclosing fictional structure.

First, we should note the obvious and less-than-obvious symbolic implications of the sarao. The social space and social moment of the sarao are simultaneously apart from and critical of the aristocratic world of its participants, and yet are subtly indicative of the temporary, limited liberties made possible by an aristocracy's material power and idleness. The paradoxes embodied in this simultaneous critique of aristocrats and implicit affirmation of aristocratic privilege and responsibilities are of no small significance, since Zayas's defense of women and critique of men does not overtly attack the social system but rather calls for a return to a full realization of aristocratic ideals and obligations. In any case, the implications of the sarao include the fact that it is essentially a social gathering that marks a notable hiatus from normal obligations of the kind that is only possible to an aristocratic class. Within this privileged space, which in turn is enclosed within the larger aristocratic world, the usual rules of power and supremacy can be briefly suspended, in the sense that the women will “rule” and will tell the stories.

But the most immediately noticeable feature of Lisis's sarao is that the desengaños narrated by the women of the group—with the lurid, deranged world of male-female interaction and conflict which they present—are a kind of parallel and nightmarish projection of the seemingly civil and orderly aristocratic circle made up by Lisis and her friends. This is to say that the extremes and grotesquenesses of the internal tales not only carry out their ostensible mission as cautionary stories, thus exploiting exaggeration in order to instruct and “entertain,” but they also speak about a more subtly pervasive pathology in the fictional social world of the frame tale and in the specific historical moment that “breaks through” the apparent autonomy of the textual frame. This more complex relationship is made most emphatic in the tenth and last novela (narrated by Lisis herself) and in the brief “epilogue” of the frame tale, in which Lisis goes beyond a mere reiteration of the feminist defense theme and announces her decision to reject don Diego's marriage proposal and to enter a convent.

The concluding desengaño—known by the rather understated title Estragos que causa el vicio—not only gains particular impact from its place at the end and the identity of its narrator (Lisis), but is also an especially intriguing materialization of the latent socio-political critique. For in this text we see most clearly how the extremes of erotic passion, in inevitable conflict with the social and ego-determined conception of the honor code, not only consume themselves and their victims but also symbolize and produce the disintegration of the social structure itself.12 The plot is as follows: don Gaspar, a Spanish nobleman, comes to Lisbon in the retinue of Felipe III. One night, about to enter the home of four Portuguese sisters (one of whom he is courting), he hears groans and subsequently discovers the corpse of an unidentified man. Don Gaspar interprets this as a “Divine Warning” and breaks off his contacts with the woman, but soon thereafter while at Mass he sees two beautiful women, doña Magdalena (wife of a Portuguese nobleman, don Dionís) and her half-sister, doña Florentina, with whom Gaspar falls madly in love. One night not long after, walking down the street in front of don Dionís's house, Gaspar finds Florentina lying in the street, gravely wounded; he brings her to his own house where she tells him to return to the home of Dionís. When he gets there, with the local authorities, he finds a gruesome spectacle: all the people of the house have been murdered, apparently by don Dionís, who finished the job by killing himself. After doña Florentina has sufficiently recovered, she tells Gaspar the grim history: she had fallen in love with her brother-in-law, he had responded, and the two were entangled in an adulterous affair; wishing to “eliminate” her half-sister, Florentina and an unscrupulous maid servant had set up a complex deception in which the innocent Magdalena would appear to be involved in an illicit affair with a young page. Dionís arrives at a seemingly compromising moment and in a rage murders the boy, his wife, and all the servants of the house—with the exception of the evil maid, who reveals the truth, at which point, Dionís kills her, then stabs his lover Florentina, and believing her dead, kills himself. With this discovery of Florentina's sinful actions, Gaspar is suddenly glad that he has not previously declared his love to her; taking pity on the woman, he aids her in her wish to enter a convent, and finally the thoroughly desengañado don Gaspar returns to Toledo, where he marries a Spanish noblewoman.

A couple of aspects of this tale are worth special note. In the first place, whereas in most of Zayas's novelas the principal woman character is the innocent victim of almost unrelieved male evil, in this tale the central woman (Florentina) puts the tragic action in motion by yielding to her adulterous desires for her brother-in-law and, later, she and the malevolent maid set up the deception which leads Dionís to kill his wife and the rest of his household (a kind of “microcosm” of society). The usual notion of the routine innocence of women is thus jarringly questioned. Don Dionís and his actions, meanwhile, complete the picture in that he literally embodies the anarchic effects of eroticism and adultery, on the one hand, and the social and individual retaliations of the honor code, on the other; for don Dionís combines in one person two usually distinct and separate roles: he is the sexually driven male who enthusiastically participates in an adulterous affair and he is also (in his own mind and in his violent actions) the furious, “betrayed” husband who wreaks punishment on a seemingly adulterous wife. Thematically, then, don Dionís acts as a focal point for the peculiar “madness” of this tale in that he represents the honor code taken to its logical conclusion while also representing the pervasiveness of the uncontrollable passions which this same honra exists to contain. Thus, he and his actions dramatize the “self-destructiveness” of this contention of forces.

With the conclusion of this rather “cathartic” final novela, the narrative focus returns to the frame tale; and after this last story we are not terribly surprised to find that it has been Lisis's dramatic prelude to her announcement that she will not in fact marry don Diego—or anyone!—and that she will enter a convent (509). But before revealing her decision, Lisis connects her “defensa de las mujeres” with a peculiarly specific and historically contemporaneous accusation; speaking directly to the men of the group, she asks: “¿De qué pensáis que procede el poco ánimo que hoy todos tenéis, que sufrís que estén los enemigos dentro de España, y nuestro Rey en campaña, y vosotros en el Prado y en el río, llenos de galas y trajes femeniles, y los pocos que le acompañan, suspirando por las ollas de Egipto?” (505). Lisis (Zayas?) leaves absolutely no doubt that the excessive, obsessive sexual adventuring of the noble class, its effeminate foppery, and its irrational jealousies and honor obsessions are symptomatically linked to the loss of military valor, sense of sacrifice, and patriotic loyalty of these same idle aristocrats. The tangled interconnection of these notions, along with Lisis's passionate concern, can be seen throughout this final passage; for example, in the following, where Lisis states: “Y digo que ni es caballero, ni noble, ni honrado el que dice mal de las mujeres, aunque sean malas, pues las tales se pueden librar en virtud de las buenas. Y en forma de desafío, digo que el que dijere mal de ellas no cumple con su obligación. Y como he tomado la pluma, habiendo tantos años que la tenía arrimada, en su defensa, tomaré la espada para lo mismo, que los agravios sacan fuerzas donde no las hay; no por mí, que no me toca, pues me conocéis por lo escrito, mas no por la vista, sino por todas, por la piedad y lástima que me causa su mala opinión” (506-07). As the foregoing suggests, the boundary between Zayas's rather distinct fictional spokeswoman (Lisis) and the external persona of the author herself becomes blurred. The quite specific reference to the crises of the 1640s and Felipe IV's woes, moreover, not only jars the reader out of a sort of abstract and generalized fictional world, but also refocuses the historical and (more exactly) ideological dimension of Zayas's fiction.

And yet Zayas's plausibly sincere defense of women and her patriotic and somewhat conservative concern over the abandonment of “ideal” aristocratic values runs up against, and in a sense dramatizes, a basic contradiction. Her fictional “argument” seeks to defend the honor and best interests of women, at the same time that it tries to recover the lost valor, heroism, and moral character of men. But there is little if any support (outside of the slightly fantastic world of the chivalric romances) for the notion that the real practices of aristocratic manliness were necessarily more respectful of women in some near or distant past. Or to put it another way, it is anything but clear that the social decadence observed by Zayas results from the abandonment of aristocratic values as opposed to being the logical outgrowth of an aristocracy living in the peculiarly complex and contradictory world of Imperial Spain in the 1600s, a world in which the more one (like Zayas) tried to affirm the public, official beliefs, the more the internal contradictions of its implicit ideology became apparent.13 Not unlike the writing of Quevedo, another (and very different) disillusioned aristocrat, Zayas's work implicitly calls for a restoration of social and political health by appealing to the traditional values of a class whose “original”—if not fictitious—heroic values apparently have not survived into an age that has made such virtues anachronistic. And this contradiction is, I believe, what lies at the heart of the nightmares of eros and honor that are the Desengaños amorosos.


  1. In addition to the critical studies mentioned below, this present commentary is much indebted to the following: H. P. Boyer, “La visión artística de María de Zayas,” in Estudios sobre el siglo de oro en homenaje a Raymond R. MacCurdy, eds. Angel Gonzáles, Tamara Holzapfel and Alfred Rodríguez (Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1983) 253-63; Hans Felten, María de Zayas y Sotomayor. Zum Zusammenhang zwischen moralistischen Texten und Novellenliteratur (Frankfurt Am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1978); S. M. Foa, Feminsmo y forma narrativa: Estudio del tema y las técnicas de María de Zayas y Sotomayor (Valencia: Albatros, 1979), and Foa, “María de Zayas: Visión conflictiva y renuncia del mundo,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 331 (1978): 128-35; Margarita Levisi, “La crueldad en los Desengaños amorosos de María de Zayas,” in Estudios literarios de hispanistas norteamericanos dedicados a Helmut Hatzfeld con motivo de su 80 aniversario, eds. J. M. Sola-Solé, A. Crisfulli and B. Damiani (Barcelona: Hispam, 1974) 447-56; Alessandra Melloni, Il sistema narrativo di María de Zayas (Torino: “Quaderni Ibero-Americani” Editore, 1976); and Marcia L. Welles, “María de Zayas y Sotomayor and her novela cortesana: a re-evaluation,” BHS 60 (Oct. 1978): 301-10. Perhaps the most intriguing and thorough book-length study of Zayas's works, particularly with regard to the issues of fiction and society, is Salvador Montesa Peydro's Texto y contexto en la narrativa de María de Zayas (Madrid: Dirección General de la Juventud y Promoción Sociocultural, 1981). Finally my reading is also much indebted to Alicia Yllera's introduction to her edition of the Desengaños amorosos (Madrid: Cátedra, 1983) 9-99; all quotations of the text are taken from this edition and are identified by page number.

  2. See Elizabeth J. Ordóñez, “Women and Her Text in the Works of María de Zayas and Ana Caro,” REH (Vassar) 19 (enero 1985): 3-15.

  3. See Susan C. Griswold, “Topoi and Rhetorical Distance: The ‘Feminism’ of María de Zayas,” REH (Alabama) 14 (mayo 1980): 97-116.

  4. Juan Goytisolo, “El mundo érotico de María de Zayas,” in Disidencias (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1977 & 1978) 63-115; although the title of his essay seems to suggest a sole focus on the psychological, sexual and “individual” dynamics of Zayas's fiction, the essay in fact deals quite significantly with the implicit relationships of the individual-erotic and the social-institutional forces in tension which underlie the fictional world of Zayas's novelas.

  5. As Goytisolo has stated, “La ley narrativa implícita en la mayoría de los relatos (aparte de la mencionada antinomia pasión-honra) radica en la incompatibilidad entre el amor y la posesión: se ama lo que no se posee; una vez obtenido el ser amado, el amor, inevitablemente, se desvanece” (73); and as Montesa Peydro has noted, “Lejos de la plenitud vital que tal sentimiento [amor] conlleva, Zayas encuentra en él no un impulso creador, sino destructor” (193-94). See also Levisi, “La crueldad” and Foa, “María de Zayas: Visión conflictiva.”

  6. Concerning the crisis of 1640 and the subsequent years and its impact on Spanish society, see J. H. Elliott, Imperial Spain 1469-1716 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963) especially 341 ff; see also Henry Kamen, Spain 1469-1714: A Society of Conflict (London: Longman, 1983) especially 205-10 and 242-46, “The Crisis of the Aristocracy.”

  7. See the “introducción” of the Desengaños, in which Zayas's narrator presents the “current situation” of the frame tale (115-20); see also Yllera's introductory study 34-36.

  8. See Yllera's footnote #1 on 115.

  9. On Lisis's quite explicit format for her second sarao, see 119.

  10. Concerning the question of the added titles and of the rather complex textual problems encountered in establishing a “reliable text” for Zayas's works, see Yllera's introduction, especially 60-63.

  11. The final scene of the frame tale begins immediately at the end of the last tale, as the narrative voice of Lisis yields to the voice of the more comprehensive narrator, with the following phrase: “Apenas dio fin la hermosa Lisis a su desengaño, cuando la linda doña Isabel … dejando el arpa, y tomando una guitarra, cantó sola lo que se sigue” (500).

  12. On the question of the implications, for the larger social order, of Zayas's nightmarish fictions of amorous, individual “disorder,” see Montesa Peydro, Texto y contexto especially 91-137; also see Goytisolo, “El mundo érotico.” The notion that the violation of a crucial social contract (marriage), which adultery effects and symbolizes, embodies a real threat to the whole social order, seems also to be central to Zayas's vision; for a provocative study of this relationship “adultery/social disintergration”—although posed in the context of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century “bourgeois” novel—see Tony Tanner, Adultery in the Novel: Contract and Transgression (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1979).

  13. On the complexities and contradictions of the ideological stance implicit in Zayas's ostensible sociocritical arguments, see Yllera's introduction 52-60; as Yllera suggests, “María de Zayas opta por la postura intransigente a la manera de Calderón, probablemente porque, al ser escritores tardíos, reflejan no ya una realidad sino un endurecimiento de las posturas ideológicas de la sociedad, motivadas por la decadencia del país” (53); and, concerning the inconsistencies, “tras sus creencias conservadoras y convencionales, existen impulsos y contradicciones, de los que seguramente la autora no era plenamente consciente, que supo reflejar en muchas de sus creaciones” (59). See also Montesa Peydro, 91-137; as he notes at one point, “Entender pues las particulares matizaciones de sus ideas exige encuadrarlas en el contexto social en el que surgen: la crisis del Barroco. Crisis de la que la autora tiene conciencia clara al contraponer continuamente y a todos los niveles un pasado más brillante con la decadente situación que le toca vivir: las virtudes humanas de sus conciudadanos y el poderío de España como nación no son más que sombras de lo que anteriormente fueron. Este hundimiento individual y colectivo es el que angustia a doña María y la lleva a su rebelión personal centrada principlamente en la condición de la mujer” (94).

H. Patsy Boyer (essay date spring 1990)

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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 they represent contrary treatments of the “other” woman in the same situation: the bride who decides to enter the convent rather than marry. My reason for juxtaposing such dissimilar works comes from the internally stated purpose of Zayas's novelas: they aim to represent a defense of women's good name2 in a violently misogynistic society3 and, more to our point, Zayas's novelas aim to defend the female character so meanly exploited by the male authors who comprised the masculinist canon: “There is no book published nor any play staged that is not a total offense to women” (Disenchantments, 12).

In her introduction to the last, or twentieth, tale, Lysis, the frame protagonist, states that because all men are “declared enemies of women,” she “has declared war against all men” (Disenchantments, 495). Lysis's war metaphor explains the subversive strategies that characterize Zayas's text, such as subtle intertextuality, double discourse, and irony. In addition, intricate framing devices and internal commentaries on the tales inscribe dual gender readings that enable both masculinist and feminist reader to interpret the tales in accord with individual perceptions of social order. Paradoxically, these confining structures serve to open up the text to conflicting, often contradictory, interpretations.4

The “other” woman in Zayas's novelas represents a crucial dimension of the subversive strategies at work. The “other” woman in this context is a female character who actively betrays a female protagonist or one whose behavior flagrantly transgresses socially accepted—patriarchal—values and literary conventions. In the twenty novelas, there are at least fourteen such characters. Although several come to the expected bad end, the majority achieve their desire in defiance of audience/reader expectations of poetic justice. Not only is the “other” woman often redeemed in Zayas's texts, she serves as an exemplary role model, in spite of, or because of, her socially reprehensible behavior, her transgression of patriarchal norms, as is abundantly evident in the concluding novela, “The Ravages of Vice,” and in the denouement of the frame narrative.

Definition and treatment of the “other” woman in Persiles seem radically different, perhaps because in this work all women are perceived as different, as “other.” Certainly a guiding principle in the definition of the female character in this text is the need to bring her under, to subordinate her to, the patriarchal order;5 consequently “other” in this context refers to the unsubordinated, or the insubordinate, female character. In the Sousa Coutinho episode of Persiles, Leonora is a species of “other” woman in a striking way. She is not “other” in the destructiveness of her ungoverned lust like Rosamunda or Cenotia, rather her “otherness” comes from her desire to remain chaste, to become a bride of Christ rather than Sousa Coutinho's bride. In disobeying her father and in rejecting her suitor, Leonora rejects the authority of the patriarchal social order, and she pays a dear price for choosing Christ over Coutinho:6 she dies a seemingly gratuitous death. Insofar as Leonora's side of the story remains an “untold” story, it typifies the conventions that served as inspiration for Zayas's chrestomathy of “untold” stories.7

The story Cervantes tells is clearly Sousa Coutinho's. Leonora figures primarily for structural reasons, as an objectified adjunct to plot and to the characterization of the male protagonist, rather than as a significant character in her own right. Even so, two details are important: that she chooses chastity over marriage, and that mysteriously she dies. Leonora's rejection of Sousa Coutinho endows him with identity as the prototypical Portuguese lover; it also endows him with a story to tell which, in its brevity, stands as a negative exemplum of male-female relations in Persiles. Significantly, this episode is reenacted by Auristela and Periandro at the very end of the book, where it brings about the revelation of their identities as true lovers just prior to the moment of epiphany.

Apart from its startling, if undeveloped, message,8 perhaps the most striking characteristic of the episode is its suffocated speechlessness. Its language stresses the oppositions between voice/silence, expression/suppression, dominance/subordination, manifested in the asymmetrical relationship between male subject and female object. Sousa Coutinho fails to win his bride because of his inability to speak and only when he is at last able to tell his tale to the pilgrims does he achieve release in death. Leonora, of course, has no right to speak at all, and she is harshly punished for her unruliness in raising her voice against the patriarchal order.

Following upon the heels of Rutilio's tale (who, we will recall, served among the barbarians disguised as a deaf-mute), the pilgrims hear a sweet voice across the calm waters, and invite the singer to join their number. After they land and make themselves comfortable, Periandro asks the singer to tell his story. He identifies himself as Manuel de Sousa Coutinho, a Portuguese soldier. Without preliminary courtship, he had petitioned for the hand of the lovely Leonora and her father had promised her to him two years later. Then he was ordered away on military duty; when he went to bid Leonora farewell, she “came out to the great hall to see me. With her came modesty, grace, and silence. I was overcome when I saw such beauty so near me; I wanted to speak but my voice caught in my throat and my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I didn't know what to do, nor could I do anything but keep still and let silence express my confusion.” Leonora's father said: “On days of departure, … the tongue should never say too much and it may be that this silence speaks more in your favor than any eloquence.” Sousa Coutinho goes on: “All these words stuck in my memory and were so stamped on my soul that I haven't forgotten nor will I forget them as long as I live. Neither the beautiful Leonora nor her mother spoke a word to me; neither could I, as I've said, say a thing” (54-55). The lover went off to the wars, returned, and all was set for the extravagant exchange of vows.

Just as Sousa Coutinho's tale is introduced by his harmonious song, the marriage scene is set off by music and voices “as one.” At the culminating moment, Leonora “raises her voice” for the very first time and confesses her “treachery”: although she had promised to take no other husband on earth but Sousa Coutinho, she was, in fact, already married to her heavenly spouse, Christ. As she defies Sousa Coutinho to “call her any name that comes to mind,” the nuns strip off her costly raiment and shear her hair, symbolizing not only her farewell to the world but also the fact that she has been stripped of the word, she has no voice, no story; she is a negative entity whose only act is not choosing the convent but rejecting marriage. Sousa Coutinho is momentarily struck dumb by her unimaginable act but he does raise his voice to utter “Maria optimam partem elegit” and again lapses into silence. With the final word of his tale, he breathes his last and drops dead. The pilgrims bury his body in the snowy waste and continue on their way.

Although the intense tale of Sousa Coutinho's ill-starred love seems complete with his death, it achieves closure only in its epitaph (III, 1). Upon landing in Portugal, the pilgrims are taken to read the epitaph on the white marble tombstone erected in “Living Memory of the Quite Dead Manuel de Sousa Coitiño” (197). Auristela asks what became of his bride, the nun, and is told that Leonora died within a few days of hearing of his death, either from the austerity of her (chaste) life or from the shock of the unexpected news. It is significant that the tale is not complete without the epitaph, representing the joining of word to memory, nor is it complete without the news of Leonora's mysterious death, representing the dissolution of the word into an untold silence.

The split episode speaks of the split relationship between male and female, between world and word. Both characters are subsumed into the silence of death, but his story lives while hers has yet to be told. Sousa Coutinho the lover presents himself as victimized, betrayed, by a woman who places her “selfish” desire for purity above his desire to possess her and thus incorporate her into (or subordinate her to) the social order. Leonora's “otherness” reveals the degree to which her disobedience threatens the dominant male order. Until very recently, the convent in literature has not been regarded as a legitimate, let alone a spiritual, option for a female character. Rather it has been considered a negative space, contrary to natural law, in that it allows the female to escape from patriarchal control. Leonora contrasts with the many female characters in Persiles who do voice their own narratives; inevitably, however, these women are subsumed into the male order through marriage. Not one of the four lustful female characters (three of whom come to a bad end) “has” a story. Leonora's futile bid for autonomy reoccurs in all its destructive implications in Auristela's fleeting decision to remain a “sister,” to enter the convent instead of entering into marriage with Periandro. Her bid for independent identity must be rejected as inimical to the “natural,” masculine order symbolized in marriage.

Despite the fact that Sousa Coutinho's story is presented from the masculine point of view, his constipated speechlessness seems to represent a knot in the development of the narrative. He is unable to get in touch with the feminine he so desires until after he has lost her. Only then does he become author and protagonist of his brief tale. This suggests that the feminine, Leonora, stands for the voice he lacks (a relationship inverted in the parodic pairing of lustful Rosamunda and slanderous Clodio, and alluded to in many other pairs in Persiles). If woman, Leonora/Auristela, is what is other to the male, what he lacks, voice or language, then she must be brought into relationship with the masculine, she must be subsumed into the male system; she cannot be left free, loose, dangling, particularly not in the feminine space of the convent. An important part of the message of this episode consists of the struggle to find and express self, masculine, through an alien and sometimes rebellious medium, feminine.

What relates this intense episode to the narrative that frames Zayas's novelas is that the two plots have in common the bride's last-minute decision to enter the convent. As previously mentioned, the stated purpose of Zayas's framed novelas was first to defend women's good name and second to revise the negative image of the female character depicted in masculine literature, images like Leonora's. Zayas's feminist revision of Golden Age literature does not represent a simple inversion, but rather a complex subversion, of masculine plots, conventions, discourse.

Although most Zayas critics have either failed to address the importance of the frame material or have dismissed it as an irrelevant formal device, the frame is crucial to an understanding of the work in its integrity. In the Enchantments of Love, the conventional plot of the frame tells the courtly story of Lysis, her quartan fever, and the entertainment her friends plan for her diversion during the Christmas season. The soiree consists of five evenings of elaborate dances, masques, feasts, songs, and storytelling. Lysis had fallen ill from depression caused by her unrequited love for don Juan; soon it is revealed that her fickle suitor has transferred his attentions to her cousin, Lisarda, who is described as being “unprincipled in getting her way” (Enchantments, 8).

The frame material occurs at the beginning and end of each collection, on each night, and also in the introductions to each tale and the commentaries at their conclusion. That is, in addition to its own plot, the frame presents a wealth of information about the character-narrators, about how the stories are narrated, and about how they are interpreted by the frame characters. Also important is the fact that most of the tales in the Enchantments are framed by Lysis's voice as she sings introductory and concluding songs. As the frame plot develops, don Juan becomes more open in his courtship of Lisarda even as he tries to maintain his hold over Lysis. His friend don Diego falls in love with Lysis and begins to court her, which enrages don Juan and the two come to the verge of a duel. The duel is averted and the first part ends with the promise of a second part, at Easter, to celebrate Lysis's wedding to don Diego (Enchantments, 312). Although the Enchantments seems to construct a conventional literary universe, it is important to note the preeminence of woman's voice; the power over narration is divided equally between five men and five women storytellers and the gender distinctions between their tales are highly significant.

In the second part, The Disenchantments of Love, the soiree to celebrate Lysis's marriage to don Diego takes place, not the following Easter, but a year later due to her lingering illness. On this occasion, Lysis alters the rules significantly: only women are to narrate true cases designed to disenchant women about men's deceptions and men about their wrongheaded notions of women. The new design posits the listeners, and by extension the readers, as fundamentally deceived, in need of undeception about gender relations.9 Much to their annoyance, the men at this soiree are denied power over discourse for, to the ladies' great delight, these are all to be women's tales (Disenchantments, 4-5). Furthermore, the Disenchantments sets out meticulously to deconstruct the seemingly conventional novelistic universe of the Enchantments.

At the end of the frame plot, at the very moment of her wedding, Lysis delivers a lengthy feminist disquisition and then raises her voice to announce her decision to join Isabel and Estefania in the convent. Lysis's announcement stuns everyone present including her own mother. Soon thereafter, however, we learn that her mother and Isabel's join the three girls in the convent.10 Interestingly, the suitors, don Diego, don Juan, and don Felipe, perish as gratuitously as did Cervantes's Leonora.

This surprising conclusion has been anticipated from the very beginning in the frame protagonist's name, Lysis, meaning “release.” The storytelling does, in fact, “release” Lysis from the patriarchal order, and her decision to enter the convent is described by the principal narrator as “the happiest possible ending” (Disenchantments, 312). The final “release” has been anticipated in the four strategically placed tales narrated in the first person by the female protagonist herself. The first story in each part is a highly conventional tale narrated by the internal female protagonist. In “Everything Ventured,” a pastoral story, Jacinta tells her tale to a rescuer who, interestingly enough, does not seek to marry her. Instead he places her in a convent, where she lives a happy secular life. This tale is, in a sense, re-vised in the first tale of the Disenchantments, “Slave to Her Own Lover,” with one significant difference. Here the character-narrator, Isabel, is the only frame character to tell her own story. Isabel expiates her sin (of having been raped) by telling her tale, which liberates her from slavery to the patriarchy and enables her to find release in the convent. She functions as an alter ego (a better term would be “sister”) for Lysis; she replaces Lysis in providing the frame songs for the tales and ultimately inspires Lysis to join her in the convent. The only way women can escape enslavement to the male hegemony, indeed the only way women can survive, the Disenchantments seems to say, is through telling their own stories, through control over discourse, and through finding their own feminine space—the convent.

The most significant tale with regard to the denoument of the frame, and the only tale narrated by Lysis herself, is the very last tale of the two part collection, “The Ravages of Vice.” It is the capstone tale that sets the stage for Lysis's surprise announcement.11 “The Ravages of Vice” is a stunning story and its protagonist, Florentina, is Zayas's most flamboyant “other” woman in her transgression of moral law and literary convention. It is the tale of her passionate, ecstatic love affair with her sister's husband which she herself narrates to her rescuer, don Gaspar. After four years of forbidden pleasure, her confessor threatened anathema, so she framed her sister in such a way that her husband, don Dionís, would kill her. Florentina's plot assumed that he would then marry her and restore her honor. Inflamed with vindictive rage, however, don Dionís stabbed to death his innocent wife and every other member of the household, including himself. Only Florentina managed to escape the slaughter, gravely injured, but alive, saved by the intervention of a black slave girl. She was then rescued by a suitor, don Gaspar, who desisted from his love for her after he heard her tale. He did, however, obtain the king's pardon for her crime and arrange her entry into the convent, where Florentina “at last achieved her desire and became a nun in one of the most sumptuous convents in Lisbon” (Disenchantments, 537).

Her story is shocking in its violence and in its message; namely that the protagonist is a loose woman who achieves her desire, first physically in an incestuous adultery, then spiritually in the convent. She survives the carnage she herself had plotted and not only goes unpunished but is rewarded. Her plot to use the male system (don Dionís's honor and his sword) against itself shadows Zayas's technique in applying her pen (sword) to the subversion of masculine literary conventions (honor). Florentina's transgression, the explosion of rage she unleashes, and her expiatory story, release her from the patriarchal coil and transform her into an autonomous spiritual woman. Her liberating narration of her own story, her entry into a female space, and her discovery of a new sisterhood reinforce the example set for Lysis and for the female reader.

The Sousa Coutinho episode that resurfaces at the end of Persiles, when Auristela tells Periandro she has decided to enter the convent, represents a reversal of the book's happy conclusion. For both Leonora and Auristela, the decision to enter the convent (a commitment to chastity rather than lust, to the spirit instead of the flesh) represents a disjunction, a severance, a disunion that threatens death to both members of the pair. Persiles seems predicated on a necessary relationship of masculine and feminine. This is the very relationship studied throughout Zayas's novelas and rotundly rejected in favor of female autonomy. In her work, the “other” woman, through her otherness, through her transgression, becomes author and subject of her own story, of her own discourse. In this way, she frees herself from her “enslavement” to the masculine order, from being the “object” of masculine desire, from subordination, suppression, silence. Her admission into the sisterhood represents a release, a lysis, of the feminine into control over self, body, and voice in her own protected space.

Zayas's re-vision of the Sousa Coutinho episode clearly rejects the conventional desideratum of patriarchal social order as symbolized in marriage. In her work, marriage seems instead to represent a celebration of the masculine subjugation of the feminine, a disjunction, a prelude to an honor tragedy, just the reverse of what it means in Persiles. Through a feminist subversion of the message implicit in the Sousa Coutinho episode and in Persiles, Zayas's frame narrative suggests that what is important for women is the power to control their own lives and their own discourse. Only in this way can they achieve inner harmony and the development of the self within an alienating and an alienated society.12


  1. All page references are to the following translations: Miguel de Cervantes, The Trials of Persiles and Sigismunda, trans. by Celia Richmond Weller and Clark A. Colahan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989) and Maria de Zayas, The Enchantments of Love (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990) and The Disenchantments of Love (typescript under review at the University of California Press) both trans. by H. Patsy Boyer.

  2. “Lysis's intention in this was to defend women's good name (so defamed and denigrated by men's bad opinion that there is scarcely anyone who speaks well of them)” Disenchantments, 3-4.

  3. See José Antonio Maravall, La literatura picaresca desde la historia social (Madrid: Taurus Ediciones, 1986), Chapters XII-XIII.

  4. See my unpublished “A Baroque Reading of ‘El verdugo de su esposa’” read at the Kentucky Foreign Language Conference, April, 1989.

  5. I am indebted to Ruth El Saffar's studies of the feminine in Cervantes's works; see Beyond Fiction: The Recovery of the Feminine in the Novels of Cervantes (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).

  6. Despite the apparent historicism of the name (see note 1, p. 370), I wonder to what extent the name Coutinho/Coitiño may be ironic.

  7. See Mary S. Gossy, The Untold Story: Women and Theory in Golden Age Texts (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989).

  8. This episode is, of course, a masculinist revision of the Marcela/Grisóstomo episode in Don Quijote.

  9. In this connection, I have come to consider Zayas's text as “masculine” in that it deceives the reader with words just the way men deceive women, as opposed to Cervantes's presentation of text and voice as feminine. The question of difference, of “otherness,” in the two texts merits closer study.

  10. Estefania is already a nun, Isabel intends to take her vows, but the other three women remain secular and do not become nuns.

  11. This tale represents a feminist re-vision of “Just Desserts,” the male-narrated seventh tale of the Enchantments, a thesis developed in my unpublished “Zayas's ‘Other’ Woman,” read at the Wichita Foreign Language Conference, April 1990.

  12. Maravall, in the work cited, amply describes alienation in seventeenth-century Spanish society. William H. Clamurro also stresses social disintegration in his study of “The Ravages of Vice,” “Ideological Contradiction and Imperial Decline: Toward a Reading of Zayas's Desengaños amorosos” (South Carolina Review, Summer 1988, V, 2, 43-50).

H. Patsy Boyer (essay date 1990)

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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 Exemplary Novels (Novelas amorosas y ejemplares, 1637) and its sequel, The Disenchantments of Love (Desengaños amorosos, 1647). It is believed that she was noble, probably the daughter of don Fernando de Zayas y Sotomayor, a captain in the army and member of the elite Order of Santiago, and of doña Ana de Barasa. As a girl, she may have spent time in Naples when don Fernando served under the Spanish viceroy, the count of Lemos (1610-1616). The only contemporary references to Zayas pertain to her literary activity; her works were highly acclaimed by such notable contemporaries as Lope de Vega, who praised “her rare and unique genius.” The first such mention occurs in 1621; there is no further reference to her after the publication of the Disenchantments in 1647. The dates and places of her birth and death have not come down to us.

With so little known about Zayas's life, it is no wonder that scholars have set forth an amazing amount of conjecture about this intriguing woman. Interpreting statements made by characters in the novellas, critics have debated whether Zayas was beautiful or ugly, whether she married, remained a spinster, or suffered a devastating love affair and took refuge in a convent like so many of her characters. What stands out is that Maria de Zayas was a remarkable woman for her time and is acknowledged by Hispanists as one of the foremost writers of Spain's Golden Age. She is among the first secular women writers in Spain and certainly the first to achieve such great fame.

Zayas's novellas became instant best sellers in Spain and remained so for two hundred years, rivaled only by Cervantes's novellas in popularity. During the 1650s, Scarron and Boisrobert translated and adapted them into French without attributing them to Zayas. Consequently, the widespread diffusion of Zayas's novellas in France and England has redounded to the fame of her French adapters. Often her works were attributed to Cervantes, but never, outside of Spain, have they achieved recognition as hers. The only direct translations of her work into English are Roscoe's “The Miser Chastised” (1832) and Sturrock's A Shameful Revenge (1963), in fact a lively adaptation of two enchantments and six disenchantments.

With the rise of subjective criticism in the nineteenth century, the popularity of Zayas's works waned precipitously. Renowned historian of Spanish literature George Ticknor wrote of the Enchantments in 1849: “Although written by a lady of the court, the work is the filthiest and most immodest that I have ever read.” In 1929, the famous German Hispanist Ludwig Pfandl wrote: “Can there be anything more gross and obscene, more nonaesthetic and repulsive, than a woman who writes lascivious, dirty, sadistic, and morally corrupt stories?” This kind of masculinist criticism resulted in a total eclipse: her works at last disappeared. The twentieth century has produced a few editions, which soon went out of print. Agustin G. de Amezua published authoritative editions of the Novelas amorosas y ejemplares in 1948 (used for this translation) and the Desengaños amorosos in 1950; Maria Martinez del Portal reedited these two scholarly versions in a popular edition in 1973; at present the Novelas amorosas y ejemplares is not available in Spanish; the Desengaños amorosos has recently appeared in Alicia Yllera's superb scholarly version (1983). So, despite the long popularity of Zayas's work in Spain and its intrinsic merit as a Spanish and a world classic, this is the first complete translation of the Enchantments into English. The fate of her work reflects historical attitudes toward women through time and culture.

Remarkable, then, is the fact that, in an age when women received little if any formal education, Zayas managed to become highly literate and set pen to paper. She published her works in a society where, as a rule, women had no place in public life and had no voice. Zayas felt it necessary to defend herself as a woman writer in her foreword to the Enchantments, “To the Reader.” The need for formal education of girls and the importance of women having a voice, of being able to communicate, inform both collections of novellas. Because of her commitment to these tenets, Zayas has been recognized as a women's advocate and a feminist in the modern sense of the term.

Zayas read widely and knew thoroughly the literature of her day, which she used as a base for her fictions. To appreciate her art, it is helpful to have some information on the genres she cultivated. Cervantes, in the prologue to his Exemplary Novels (1613), affirmed that he was the first in Spain to write the exemplary novella modeled on the Italian Renaissance novella. This elegant genre differs substantially from the ancient and naive folktale which has persisted down through the ages in that the stories are longer, more complex and sophisticated. Cervantes's novellas stem from the tradition of Boccaccio's Decameron (1350), a work that radically influenced the development of the narrative in Europe. In England, France, Italy, and Spain, many great writers made artful use of Italian tales, including Chaucer, Shakespeare, Marguerite de Navarre, Scarron, Moliere, Masuccio, Bandello, Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Tirso de Molina. Maria de Zayas wrote in the same fashionable Italianate tradition.

Characteristic of Zayas's art, as of all Renaissance literature, is the ingenious reworking of accepted plots and literary conventions to create a new work. We recognize in her stories motifs reminiscent of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare's Italianate plays, Moliere, and Cervantes, because they derive from the same Renaissance tradition. The modern reader, formed within this common literary heritage, is familiar with the reiterated plot elements, stylized language, and artificial conventions, while the scholar finds it difficult, if not impossible, to point with certainty to the original source of these elements.

Zayas drew from all the narrative and poetic literature in vogue in her day: chivalric, sentimental, pastoral, picaresque, Moorish, and Byzantine as well as the Italianate love story. She also made extensive use of motifs from Spain's most popular genre during the Golden Age, the comedia. We still delight in the tantalizing stage device of the woman disguised as a man, and anyone familiar with Calderon's bloodcurdling honor tragedies will recognize very similar scenes in Zayas's works, especially in the Disenchantments. Even the rich and popular ballad tradition finds echo in her poems. Many scholars, most notably Edwin Place, have studied her use of sources to conclude that her stories have a highly original and unique stamp.

Before discussing her stories, a brief explanation of terminology and the titles is in order. The term “novella,” as in the original title Novelas amorosas y ejemplares, designates a fairly extensive, complex, prose narrative based on the fashionable Italian model. Undoubtedly the primary inspiration for Zayas's work was Cervantes's Exemplary Novels (1613). The genre became immediately popular in Spain as it already was elsewhere in Europe. In the author's “Beginning” to The Enchantments of Love: Amorous and Exemplary Novels, we learn that, by 1637, the term was so overused that it had lost its appeal. The organizer of the soirees, which make up the frame for the stories, instructed the storytellers to tell “enchantments” instead: “In using this term, she wanted to avoid the common term ‘novella,’ so trite that it was now entirely out of fashion.” So, in spite of the work's title, the stories themselves are called “enchantments.”

The Spanish word I have translated as “enchantment,” maravilla, accords with the oft-stated aim of Golden Age literature to “fill with wonder, to amaze” (maravillar). In place of the literal “marvel,” I have chosen to use the word “enchantments” for the stories and have also added it to the original title in order to underscore the relationship between the first and the second parts of Zayas's work (The Enchantments of Love: Amorous and Exemplary Novels, 1637, and The Disenchantments of Love, 1647) and to emphasize the word “disenchantment.” This term constitutes a primary theme in all twenty novellas, designates the stories of the second part, and is the Spanish title of the second part, Desengaños amorosos.

The Spanish word desengaño has no good equivalent in English; it does not quite mean “disenchantment,” just as maravilla is not the same as “enchantment.” Desengaño is the negation of the word engaño, which means “deceit-deception” so, literally, desengaño means the state or process of being “un-deceived,” “disabused of error,” “seeing the light.” This concept, then, adds meaning to the term “exemplary”; from reading the novellas, the reader should learn and take example, should “see the light.” Hispanists use the term desengaño to describe the overall theme of seventeenth-century Spanish literature, particularly when studying its baroque aspects. The most moving illustration of desengaño occurs in Alonso Quijano's deathbed disavowal of books of chivalry, of knight-errantry, and of his identity as don Quixote. He recovers his sanity and “sees the light.” Engaño, how men deceive or enchant women, and desengaño how women should see through the deception, are fundamental themes in both parts. To stress the importance of these two concepts and to reiterate the reciprocal relationship between the two parts, I refer to them as the Enchantments and the Disenchantments and use the term generically to differentiate the novellas from each of the two parts.

Inextricably intertwined with the pervasive theme of desengaño is the theme of love between a handsome gallant and a lovely lady. It appears in myriad forms from raw lust, rape, and eroticism to ritualized courtship, true love, and marital relationship. Love is not treated philosophically but rather is taken as an inevitable fact of life, a powerful and irrational force beyond the individual's control. Problems arise because men and women have vastly different notions of what love is. According to literary convention, the instant a man sees a beautiful woman, he desires simply to enjoy her favors without having to commit himself to marriage, and he calls this love. A woman, when she sees herself courted by a handsome gallant, wants to select for herself a man who promises to be a loving husband (thereby confusing suitor and husband), and she calls this love. Generally, Zayas's men are characterized as fickle and her women as constant. Men deceive in order to get their way and women, inexperienced and credulous, let themselves be deceived. The clash between their intentions produces disenchantment.

This agonistic approach to love is further complicated by the issue of honor. In Zayas's novellas, honor conforms to the rigid literary code of honor, which reflects social attitudes that still persist in our society—namely, that men (father, brother, husband, church, and state) have the right and the responsibility to control women's sexuality. The tension derives from the fact that a woman's purity, her chastity, must remain intact while men, whether single or married, devote their energy and their cunning to the conquest of that fortress. Traditionally, a promise of marriage made in the presence of a witness was considered binding. (It was not until 1545 that marriage became a sacrament.) In Zayas's work, a man's most vile deception was the abuse of this sacred promise that allowed him to have his pleasure while it left the trusting woman dishonored and, like Aminta, faced with death. Interestingly, however, in “Aminta Deceived and Honor's Revenge,” Aminta avenges her dishonor and finds a happy marriage, as does doña Hipolita in “Just Desserts,” suggesting that the loss of virginity does not necessarily ruin a woman forever.

In 1609, Lope de Vega wrote that honor was the best dramatic subject, and every one of Zayas's novellas treats some aspect of this unhappy theme. (It is important to distinguish between conventional literary treatment of courtship, honor, and marriage and actual social practices.) Zayas's characters, unlike Calderon's, do not typically rail out against the bloody honor code, although several do accuse men of exaggerating its importance in order to oppress women, as we see in the epigraph to this book. In the novellas, honor represents women's vulnerability, that which gives men power over them. For this reason, there is insistence that women assume responsibility for their own honor, to such a degree that they should be trained in swordsmanship so they can properly defend themselves and women's good name. This message underlies the enchantments, as in “Aminta Deceived and Honor's Revenge,” and becomes explicit in the disenchantments.

The honor code may strike the modern reader either as too artificial and literary, or as characteristic of a barbaric, “macho,” society. Nevertheless, given that men's violence against women is still a reality in even the most advanced societies, honor, insofar as it represents men's power over women, continues to be a deeply emotional issue. For that reason, the theme of honor is rich in dramatic and tragic potential, particularly when presented from the woman's point of view. In the Enchantments, we find female characters deceived and sometimes dishonored, but the emphasis is on how these women cope with deception. They explore their options and attempt to control their destinies in a variety of ways, not the least of which is withdrawal into the convent. The Disenchantments, however, focus almost exclusively on unjustified wife abuse, torture, and killing, often in the name of honor. In this work, the central theme is women's powerlessness and inability to cope, expressed in extreme and bizarre cases of female victimization and male cruelty.

Zayas's artfully focused examination of sex roles as depicted in literature makes her work coherent and unique. Whereas earlier writers, like Boccaccio and Marguerite de Navarre, playfully exploited the battle of the sexes and a less rigid version of the honor code, Zayas refined the issues and their implications. She did, however, use her renowned predecessors as models in structuring her two collections around one central frame, which gradually develops into an exemplary tale in itself. While both collections clearly come from the same pen, their stories are as different from each other as day and night. The Enchantments contains ten courtly novellas narrated by five women and five men at a series of five lavish Christmas soirees held for the purpose of entertaining the lovely Lysis, ill with the quartan fever. This courtly frame develops the character of the ten narrators, provides opportunity for commentary on the stories, and, because it continues throughout the second part, serves to unify Zayas's two collections of novellas. The Disenchantments repeats the structure of the first part in that there are ten exemplary tales narrated by characters from the original frame story.

In the Enchantments, the frame seems mostly decorative as it describes costume and elaborate entertainments consisting of music, skits, masked balls, and sumptuous banquets. The plot presents the amorous intrigue of don Juan's change of affection—from the hostess, Lysis, to her cousin Lisarda—and is complicated by the fact that don Juan's friend, don Diego, begins to court Lysis. At the end of the Enchantments, the Narrator concludes: “I end my well-intentioned and entertaining soiree, promising a second part if this one is received with the pleasure I hope. In the second part, we shall see don Juan's ingratitude, Lisarda's change of heart, and Lysis's wedding. I hope my work is appreciated, valued, and praised, not my rough style, but the will with which it has been written.”

The second set of soirees was planned for New Year's Day to celebrate Lysis's marriage to don Diego. The occasion gets postponed for over a year in the frame, although ten years separate the publication of the two parts. On this occasion, the hostess Lysis establishes rules: only women will narrate; the tales must be true “case histories” to enlighten, or disenchant, women about men's deceptions; and they must be in defense of women's good name. After hearing the ten disenchantments, told according to her stipulations, Lysis sees the light and decides not to marry her adoring suitor. She prefers to retire from the world to live a secular life in the convent. Four other ladies join her. After the soirees end, the Narrator concludes the book by stating: “this end is not tragic but rather the happiest that one could have asked for, because she, wanted and desired by many, did not subject herself to anyone.” This stunning conclusion, so similar to the end of Mme de La Fayette's Princesse de Cleves, was published some thirty years prior to the French masterpiece.

A principal difference between the two parts, then, is the way the Disenchantments unfolds from the Enchantments; the frame story elaborates a coherent feminist message, which produces a greater unity and homogeneity in the ten stories. The Enchantments, on the other hand, is characterized by the variety of the ten stories and a highly subtle feminism. The distinctions between the five tales narrated by women and the five by men, and the variation in plots, tones, and textures demand reader interpretation. As in Cervantes's Exemplary Novels, the ten enchantments represent a mix of very different kinds of novellas: there are a pastoral and a Byzantine tale, two satires, two miracle stories, and honor pieces with cloak and dagger elements. When read from a feminist perspective, these stories and their ironies raise a host of questions which are left to the reader to answer. What, for example, do we know about the frame narrator? How are male and female characters depicted? Who is the central character? What does the end mean?

Besides raising provocative questions, each of the ten enchantments relies on some sort of catchy device intended to enchant and amaze (maravillar). There are, for example, several powerful and prophetic dreams (“Everything Ventured”), and two miracles, interestingly worked by Christ and not by the Virgin (“Triumph over the Impossible” and “The Power of Love”). God sends an awesome warning to Juana through the ghost of a former lover in “Disillusionment in Love and Virtue Rewarded.” The devil plays a key part in “The Magic Garden” and in the first edition ending of “The Miser's Reward.” Magic and the supernatural are pervasive in medieval and Renaissance literature and in Zayas's novellas. Treated sarcastically at times, magic seems to represent a fashionable and flashy literary device, but we should bear in mind that this was the age of witchhunts in northern Europe. (In Spain, there were few witch trials, as the zeal of the Spanish Inquisition was directed against heretics rather than witches and magicians. Magic and witchcraft are significant feminist issues in that the persecution of witches was, in fact, a persecution of women, and the phenomenon points out women's lack of power in posthumanist societies.) Don Marcos is fooled by a farcical magician (“The Miser's Reward”). Laura (“The Power of Love”) and Juana (“Disillusionment in Love and Virtue Rewarded”) seek the aid of a magician in their futile efforts to hold the affections of their lovers. Lucrecia, in the latter story, exercises powerful spells to keep her don Fernando enchanted. An appealing dramatic device is the woman disguised as a man who sets out to redress some wrong (“Everything Ventured,” “Aminta Deceived and Honor's Revenge,” and “Judge Thyself”). The two witty satires (“The Miser's Reward” and “Forewarned but not Forearmed”) derive much of their humor from deliciously exaggerated situations, as we see in the description of don Marcos's rude awakening the morning after his wedding night, or when don Fadrique teaches his simple bride her marital duty.

The Disenchantments, on the other hand, relies on violence and irrationality for effect. Because of the ground rules that define the disenchantments, the differentiation between men's and women's stories is eliminated and there is less irony and less left to the imagination. The disenchantments seem to raise questions about human behavior rather than about how the tales are told. They are bizarre and shocking, even to the modern movie-goer, in their depiction of female victimization and male brutality. Through a meticulous process of undeception, or disenchantment, these novellas deconstruct the familiar and seemingly conventional literary universe established in the Enchantments. Six of the ten enchantments, for example, end in an ostensibly happy marriage, two women enter the convent, and the two satires end with the death of the foolish male protagonist. In contrast, six of the ten disenchantments end in vicious wife murder, and the other four depict traumatic torture and persecution of the female protagonist before she takes refuge in the convent. The enchantments generally treat courtship in a way reminiscent of Lope de Vega's cloak and dagger plays, while the disenchantments treat marriage in the style of Calderon's honor tragedies, but in both cases stressing gender perspective.

The grounding of the novellas in well-known literature is fundamental to Zayas's creative technique and her originality in that one of her aims is to demonstrate how literature written by men projects a negative and damaging image of women, an aim that brings to mind the modern concern about the influence of the media on thinking and values. This is summed up in the “Beginning” to the Disenchantments as Zelima begins the first tale: “My lady, you have commanded me tonight to tell a disenchantment to caution ladies about men's deceptions and their cunning, and also to defend women's good name in an age when it has fallen so low that no one ever hears or speaks a good word about them. Without a single exception, there is no play staged or any book printed that is not a total offense against women [italics mine].” There was, of course, at least one exception: Zayas's own Enchantments, published ten years before.

New in Zayas's work is the conscious feminization of a tremendous array of motifs taken from a highly refined, male-produced literature. In the Enchantments, this feminization is seen in the difference between the five stories narrated by women and the five narrated by men, in the perspective of the protagonists, in the way the character-narrators portray male and female characters, and in the pervasive irony. All five of the women's stories have strong female protagonists who are noble in character, constant in love, and perform some heroic deed. The men's protagonists reveal serious moral flaws. Only two of the five men's tales have female protagonists: doña Hipolita, in “Just Desserts,” is of dubious moral fiber, and Estela, in “Judge Thyself,” attributes her heroic valor to her love for don Carlos, as opposed to the women's self-motivated protagonists like Aminta. Ironically, after Estela becomes viceroy of Valencia and reveals that she is, in fact, a woman, the honors she has won through her heroism are transferred to her less valiant husband. In the other three men's tales, the women in some way deceive or betray the male protagonist.

In “Triumph Over the Impossible,” don Rodrigo stands out as one of the more ambiguous of the men's protagonists. In order to merit the hand of his true love, doña Leonor, he goes off to war in Flanders, where he indulges in a highly unconventional dalliance. He neglects to write to doña Leonor and returns home more than a year later than he had promised. Then he blames doña Leonor for her betrayal in marrying another man, even though he knows that her parents, in order to force her into the undesired marriage, treacherously told her that he had married in Flanders. This tale, narrated by a man from the perspective of its flawed male protagonist, brings into contrast the adventuresome, novelistic, lives of men and the cloistered, restricted, and uninteresting, lives of women.

The men's tales differ significantly from the women's in many other ways. They have a more artificial, literary quality, with a polish and an intellectual control in their manipulation of traditional sources which tend to distance the reader from the action and the characters. They seem more ambiguous, perhaps because they are narrated by those “masters of deception,” perhaps because of the ironic undermining of masculinist discourse. Of the twenty novellas, the only three that contain humor are men's tales. “The Miser's Reward” is a witty satire of a man's avarice. “Forewarned but not Forearmed” satirizes a man who, fearing that a clever woman will dishonor him, deliberately marries a mindless woman and, too late, learns his lesson. With delicious humor, both focus on the male protagonist who deceives and is himself deceived. Both were translated into French by Scarron and so, indirectly, came to serve as inspiration for Moliere's L'avare and L'ecole des femmes. It is interesting to note, from a cursory review of Zayas's stories adapted into French and English, that the five men's tales have far outstripped in popularity the fifteen women's tales.

Another frequently adapted men's tale with several highly comic moments is “Just Desserts.” The protagonist, doña Hipolita, deceives her good husband, ultimately causing his death. She is raped by her brother-in-law, whom she murders. In the end, she marries the compassionate gentleman who rescued her from certain death, and, we are assured, they lived happily ever after. When we ponder what he knows about her character, however, we must wonder what kind of marriage they will have. The conventional happy ending with marriage as the solution to a woman's problems, as well as the title itself, appear to be highly ironic.

As the men's tales vary in type, so do the women's. Several stress what happens after marriage (“The Power of Love” and “Disillusionment in Love and Virtue Rewarded”). Husbands are all too often unfaithful, neglectful, and physically abusive. Wife battering is, in fact, the theme of “The Power of Love” and later becomes the central focus of the Disenchantments. This story is one of the most moving of the enchantments in its description of don Diego's transformation from loving suitor into abusive husband, and of Laura's solitude and helplessness. In the end, her husband realizes the “power of her love,” but she has learned her lesson; unable to trust him, she chooses life in the convent.

In tone, the five women's stories seem more serious, intimate, and human, allowing the reader to identify more closely with the characters, which are better developed than in the men's stories. In women's tales as well as men's, female characters tend to be depicted as helpless and driven to resort to magic or needing a compassionate man to rescue them. Contrary to the Italianate tradition, the only women who deceive men occur either in the men's tales or as secondary, and evil, characters. Once enamored, the women's protagonists are invariably constant in their love. Some undertake heroic action and so, in effect, rescue themselves, albeit with the assistance of a man. Because the novellas tend to be bipartite rather than unitary, with two separate parts to the plot and at least two distinct messages (e.g., “Disillusionment in Love and Virtue Rewarded”), it is difficult to characterize them in simple terms, but, significantly, the women's tales present a wide range of female experience and feminine fantasy.

The contrast between the two kinds of enchantments is enhanced by the fact that men's and women's tales occur on alternate nights. On the last night, the concluding stories are don Juan's “Judge Thyself,” a reworking of a novella by Lope de Vega, and Laura's “The Magic Garden,” a reworking of a Boccaccio tale. To the modern reader, these two may seem the most contrived, but, as the final enchantments, they represent a culminating irony in the way they treat their sources and in the posture of their narrators. “Judge Thyself,” told by the arrogant don Juan, is a prototypical feminist tale. It is based, not only on Lope's novella, but also on the historical-legendary precedents of Joan of Arc, Queen Christina of Sweden, and Spain's lady lieutenant, Catalina Erauso, three viragos made popular by the comedia. The Byzantine adventures of the protagonist, Estela, include abduction, enslavement, sexual assault, and timely rescue by the Prince of Fez. By dint of her extraordinary valor, she becomes a captain in the Emperor Charles V's cavalry and rises so high in his favor that he appoints her viceroy of Valencia. The first case brought before the new viceroy is her own disappearance. When she reveals her true identity, her titles and honors are transferred to her unheroic husband. Why is it that the arrogant don Juan narrates the tale of an improbably heroic female protagonist, a woman disguised as a man who achieves great military and political power? And why does this tale follow on the heels of don Lope's characterization of doña Leonor, in “Triumph Over the Impossible,” as a woman who has no means whatsoever for controlling her life?

The final tale, “The Magic Garden,” further exemplifies the subtle feminism of the enchantments which must be extrapolated from the action, characters, narrative points of view, ironies, and from what is not said. At the end of this final story, the frame characters debate who is noblest: the husband, the lover, or the devil. Each has behaved ignobly. None of the frame characters, however, defends the genuine nobility of the faithful wife, Constanza, who preferred death to dishonor. Indeed, they blame her for setting an impossible price on her honor when the true cause of the crisis is the lover who courted an honorable married woman and resorted to a pact with the devil to get his way with her. This tale, narrated by the hostess's mother, is in fact a prototypical masculine story recounted in similar form by Boccaccio (X, 5) and by Chaucer (“The Franklin's Tale”). Since it is told by the most important female narrator and is the concluding story in the first part, we cannot fail to perceive that the true protagonist is Constanza; the other characters, including Constanza's sister, Theodosia, reveal serious moral flaws. Nor can we overlook the irony of the frame characters' misinterpretation of the story which culminates in the arrogant don Juan's winning the prize for playing the devil's advocate so “divinely.” (His name may be ironic as well, since Tirso de Molina's famous don Juan play was produced in 1630, only seven years before the publication of the Enchantments.) The subtlety of this subversion of a masculinist story and a masculinist interpretation of it keeps Zayas's readers on their toes. These nuances would have been easily understood by a seventeenth-century audience, accustomed to deciphering the riddle of meaning by looking beyond deceptive appearances.

As previously mentioned, the enchantments cause the reader to ask questions. Tales like “Judge Thyself,” “The Magic Garden,” and “Triumph Over the Impossible” could and, perhaps, should be narrated from a different point of view. That is, the fact that a female narrator tells a masculinist story, and a male narrator tells a feminist story, accentuates the importance of the identity and reliability of the narrator and, consequently, of the author. One of the more intriguing questions we can ask is: why this detail? Each story contains puzzling and seemingly gratuitous details that may be fraught with significance. In the men's stories, generally more tightly knit, the questions refer to flaws in character (e.g., doña Hipolita, don Rodrigo) whereas, in the women's stories, the questions usually relate to plot elements. Why, for example, doesn't Jacinta marry her rescuer Fabio at the end of “Everything Ventured”? Or, why did Laura spend three hours in the charnel house? This kind of question, so exploited by television series, brings alive the character of the narrators, involves the reader, and removes the stories from neat predictability.

In her feminism, Zayas wrote within the tradition of the medieval “woman question” debates that flourished in Spain and elsewhere in Europe and inspired a number of amusing comedias (see Matulka's article). What is new is that Zayas wedded the philosophical arguments in defense of women with exemplary fiction, a genre of rising popularity. Although the Enchantments and the Disenchantments differ in the way they present their feminist message, both collections were written primarily to entertain and to entertain both men and women; they did, in fact, become best sellers and remained so for over two hundred years. In “To the Reader,” we see that Zayas was concerned from the very beginning to explore the gender implications of the message inherent in literature: what does literature communicate to men and women, about men and women, and how? On the basis of the amazing success of the Enchantments, it would seem that she felt encouraged to strengthen the defense of women in the Disenchantments.

In the disenchantments, it is easier to identify subtexts, or elements drawn from other works, such as Cervantes's “The Man Who Was Too Curious for His Own Good,” or Calderon's “Surgeon of His Honor,” as well as reworked elements from the Enchantments. All the novellas, however, stress the interplay between a masculinist perspective and a feminist perspective in text and subtext. This conscious pastiche technique of reworking recognizable motifs is fundamental to Zayas's feminization of Golden Age literature and to her resoundingly modern feminist message.

In both parts, the compelling criticism is directed against a society whose social institutions (courtship, the rigid honor code, marriage, the family) and cultural institutions (education and the arts, which we should equate with the media) conspire to oppress women and to deny them access to power. Zayas created her masterpiece primarily to entertain, but to entertain at the expense of a literature and a theater whose popularity was rooted in the negative depiction of women, so evident in Tirso's don Juan Tenorio, who has come to be one of Western literature's most widely interpreted heroes.

In seventeenth-century Spanish society, as opposed to literature, the well-to-do girl had only one decision to make in her lifetime: whether to marry or to enter the convent. Normally, even this decision was made for her by her parents, who typically determined a daughter's future, be it marriage or convent, before puberty. As we see in the epigraph, a woman's status, indeed her very identity, was controlled by her parents, by her husband, or by the church, and there was no place in Spanish society for the respectable single woman except the convent. This explains why the choice of a husband and marriage represented the crucial events in the life of a Spanish woman. It also explains why women's powerlessness is such an important theme in Zayas's novellas. Aminta's revenge, Estela's heroic exploits, even Clara's constancy, represent fantasies rather than options available to the average Spanish woman.

In contrast, a man's life, his identity, was not circumscribed or even limited by marriage. Given the age-old double standard, men were always free to womanize, to engage in the chase in an effort to conquer a woman's chastity. To a masculine public, the “happily ever after” marriage in literature symbolized the male conquest of the female (otherwise called “social order restored”). Marriage, as a literary device, was a celebration of masculine triumph while, for a feminine public, marriage was only the beginning of what might turn into an excruciating honor tragedy, as is powerfully depicted in the disenchantments (see the entry on “marriage” in Barbara G. Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets). A woman's only sure exercise of self-determination and self-protection lay in the decision to enter the convent.

It was not uncommon for an upper-class Spanish woman to retire to a convent. This did not necessarily mean that she became a nun or took vows, but rather that she chose to live her life in an environment protected from a society that had no place for the single woman. The convent represented a safehouse for those who wished to abandon the arena of amorous struggle, which is how Zayas depicted life in society. In feminine literature, to enter the convent symbolizes a return to sisterhood, to the feminine. A few of her characters do take their vows, but many, like Lysis, simply withdraw from the world while continuing to live a secular life filled with all the comforts their rich estates afford: elaborate dress, servants, music, soirees, even suitors.

With regard to the religious dimension of the novellas, it is difficult for us in the twentieth century to understand the nature of Catholicism in Golden Age Spain. Dominant and omnipresent, based upon a complex theology, seventeenth-century Spanish Catholicism differs vastly from twentieth-century Protestant ethic. Following upon the Council of Trent and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, Spanish Catholicism permitted moral freedoms unthinkable to the Victorians at the same time that there was dogmatic control and harsh repression of heresy under the Inquisition. Zayas's novellas are in no way unorthodox and were lauded as exemplary by the censors, yet they treat moral issues and present material (e.g., rape, battering, murder) with a frankness that seems shocking to us. The spirit of the novellas is secular and the language conventional. Even in the miracle stories, like “Triumph Over the Impossible,” there is little religious sentiment. Few of the characters who enter the convent express a vocation although all seem to find happiness in that way of life.

Many scholars have described Zayas's stories as “realistic” depictions of life in seventeenth century Spanish society which, to my mind, is like saying that television accurately reflects the life of the average American. There are, however, many elements in Zayas's stories which make them appear “realistic.” The stories are set in specific places at precise moments in contemporary Spanish history and include references to well-known historical personages. Sometimes we feel as if we are glimpsing a moment in a real life, especially in the characters' monologues. Graphic descriptive detail contributes a painterly quality that brings to mind Zurbaran's paintings, as when don Fadrique watches doña Beatrice descend the staircase. The lavish descriptions of feminine attire, like the spectacular portraits of the time, depict the external constraint that characterized women's lives. But, when we consider the derivative plots, the courtly characterizations, and Zayas's aim to entertain and instruct by exposing the gender messages in literature and drama, we must acknowledge the primacy of the literary and the aesthetic over any desire to depict life as it really was. Certainly art reflects life, as was suggested in my comments on the meaning of love, courtship, and marriage for men and women, but art also filters and purifies the way such concepts are presented, in accord with the cultural climate of the time. In practically every story the character narrating it insists that it is a true tale and often provides elaborate proof, but this conventional insistence upon the literal truth of the tales has a Borges-like ring when it is followed by the ironic disclaimer: only the names and the places have been changed.

Even if we resist the temptation to believe that Zayas is speaking personally when, in fact, her characters are speaking, we can still draw parallels between the novellas and her experience. Clearly the oft-repeated pleas for the formal education of girls reflect a deep personal conviction. Reiterated is the statement that women should have access to culture through literacy and access to power through learning and swordsmanship. There is insistence that women must be responsible for their own honor and be able to defend it with the sword. Zayas wielded her pen as a sword. The remarkable existence of the Enchantments and the Disenchantments attests to the importance of women having a public voice with which to defend their good name and their honor. These two works added a new, feminist dimension to the recognition of the ways literature affects perception, thinking, and values, a theme central to the Spanish masterpiece, Don Quixote, as well. Zayas's genius lies in her masterful use of masculine discourse to subvert masculine literature.

The novellas are courtly and pertain to the life of the nobility, as opposed to the variety of social classes we find depicted in Boccaccio, Chaucer, Marguerite de Navarre, and Cervantes. This is undoubtedly the only world Zayas experienced directly. Her class and gender denied her freedom of movement; she could not get out and make contact with other ways of life as could any man. Given the traditional cloistering of women in Spain, the sheltered leisure and astonishing isolation of Zayas's female characters most likely reflect her own life. This might explain why there is not a shred of biographical information about this remarkable woman. Zayas's unflattering treatment of the lower classes indicates an elitist attitude. Servants and other “ordinary” people, be they courtesans, matchmakers, or nobles come down in the world, tend to act ignobly, but then so do a surprising number of the nobles. Shocking to us is the racism we find in “Forewarned but not Forearmed,” a story that also presents women in a dubious, if comic, light, in the spirit of the Decameron and the Heptameron.

Zayas's narrators apologize for their inexperience in telling stories, for their use of everyday language, and their artlessness, as she herself does in “To the Reader” and in the concluding words of the Enchantments. Repeatedly, they urge their audience to appreciate the substance of what they say and their “will,” which we would call message, meaning, or intention, and not criticize how they say it, because they are unschooled women. These statements are, I believe, both accurate and ironic appraisals of the style of both parts. While we would not consider her elegant prose “everyday” language, it is prose, and it does seem “everyday” in comparison with the refined and hermetic poetic language of her contemporaries like Quevedo and Gongora.

The novellas are liberally laced with a wide variety of poetry, some of which is so complex that it defies adequate translation. The poetry of the Enchantments varies greatly and is of high quality, particularly the long love ballads. It serves several purposes. First, in the Renaissance and in seventeenth-century Spain, prose was regarded as an inferior genre, demonstrating little art in comparison with poetry. In this connection, we will recall that the comedia was quintessentially poetic and the public went to the theater to “hear” a play rather than to “see” it. For this reason, writers dressed up prose with poetic adornment to prove their art and also to complement the content, to add variety and emotional nuance. Also, as the novellas often stress, competence in singing and composing music and verse were hallmarks of the well brought up nobleman and, sometimes, noblewoman. They were an important dimension of courtship and of everyday diversion. Zayas achieved renown as a poet beginning in 1621, and, by including so much poetry, she offsets criticism of her “rough style,” she depicts the importance of poetry and music in the life of the nobility, and she revels in her own talent. Some technical aspects of Spanish poetry will be further described in the “Translator's Note.”

The style of the two parts is powerful; the language is sparse, dynamic, and vigorous. The dialogue is lively, the description vivid, the narration fast-paced. The stories have a dramatic, oral quality that almost demands that they be read aloud, acted out, that the songs be sung. Given the widespread illiteracy in that day and especially among women, this is undoubtedly how the book was read. We can envision a group of women doing their needlework while one read aloud from Zayas's novellas. With this scene in mind, we can imagine the listeners' discussion of the stories, which would contrast sharply with the frame characters' commentary.

Another, more subtle, aspect of Zayas's writing is that each of the character-narrators has a distinctive manner of narrating consistent with his or her characterization. This contributes to the rich texture and variety of the two works. The characterization of the frame narrators develops more fully in the Disenchantments, but, even so, there are marked stylistic differences between the novellas. This can be seen, for example, in the way narrators do or do not use such elements as poetry, poetic language, classical allusion, visual imagery, exclamations, humor, irony, parenthesis, and subjective editorial commentary. Some of this variation derives from the nature of the stories but much reflects conscious differentiation.

As a result of the multiple layers of discourse in the novellas, it is sometimes difficult to identify the speaker. The omniscient Narrator controls the frame and seems to speak for Zayas at the conclusion of both books; this voice may also intrude on the stories themselves. The nature of the frame characters determines the kind of story they tell, and their personality is revealed in their attitudes toward characters and events, expressed when they introduce or conclude the story and editorialize or comment on it. From within the stories, the perspective of the protagonist contrasts with that of the other characters in the story. Any of these perspectives may be subverted by irony. Beyond the text are recognizable subtexts, or elements reworked from other sources, which serve as counterpoint. We may also include the imagined dimension of commentary by a seventeenth-century audience, such as a sewing circle or a men's club. In addition to these interpenetrating levels, there is a strong sense of authorial presence in many of the tales which has led scholars to affirm that “Zayas says this or that.” The sporadic exclamations, “Poor girl, if only you knew what you were getting into!”, comments such as “I don't know if it was caused by …” or “when I think of where she went, it fills me with horror,” serve to remind us of the fiction within the fiction. The complex structuring and articulation of Zayas's two collections of novellas attest to her mastery of the form, despite her apology for her rough style.

Above and beyond the complex stylized literary world depicted in these novellas there are characters and moments of immediate and touching humanity, for example, Laura and her plight in “The Power of Love.” Zayas's characters are not simple types; there is a wide range of sensible and good characters, both male and female, just as there are evil men and evil women. A significant number have unsettling flaws, particularly in the men's tales. There is harsh criticism of evil women, like Flora and Claudia who betray their sex (“Aminta Deceived and Honor's Revenge,” “Judge Thyself”); of the deceits and abuses of unscrupulous men, like Celio and don Jacinto (“Everything Ventured,” “Aminta Deceived”); of parents, especially fathers, who neglect and deceive their daughters (lack of parental support typifies almost all of the stories); of blabbing servants and greedy matchmakers.

Most striking in Zayas's stories is the development of character through monologue. This technique was unusual in Golden Age literature, which stressed external action over character development. Most of the novellas contain at least one moving monologue that humanizes the character and makes the situation poignant, as we see in don Diego's lovesick sleeplessness, and later in Laura's desperate hopelessness in “The Power of Love,” part of which appears as the epigraph. Besides these touching moments, the use of seemingly minor or incongruent detail also serves to particularize the characters in such a powerful way that the reader gets caught up in the fiction. Just as the characters vary, so too the plots and styles maintain a vivid freshness, avoiding the predictability or monotony one might expect of an “unschooled woman.” Evil often goes unpunished and good may or may not be properly rewarded. Indeed, contrary to all the rules of poetic justice, the most repeated motif in the twenty novellas is the victimization of an innocent woman sacrificed on the altar of love, or honor, a motif reminiscent of stories of the early Christian martyrs.

What strikes us as “truest” in the novellas is the presentation of love from the woman's point of view. The treatment of this complex emotion is much more than a cliche or a pretext for a message. Zayas magically succeeds in bringing this age-old theme to life and in capturing its powerful effects on men and women. The modern reader surely will respond with wonderment and sometimes shock at the passion and suffering depicted in these stories. The Enchantments are enchanting, and it is my hope as it was Zayas's, that the reader will be both edified and entertained.

Patricia E. Grieve (essay date spring 1991)

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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 interpreter of one of Spain's greatest writers, Cervantes, by challenging his attitude to and treatment of women. This study compares Zayas' and Cervantes' handling of similar fictional situations and suggests that Zayas' reading of Cervantes invited her to respond to his paradigmatic novellas by exploring concerns that pervade seventeenth-century European literature and beyond, especially women's writings: the questions of education, silence, and violence against women.1 Virtually unknown today outside Hispanic letters, Zayas is the rare find Lipking describes: an “Aristotle's sister,” a woman who reads and writes, and thereby forges her own poetics. For example, a pivotal novella recalls a thirteenth-century heretical group that believed in a newly-structured church with a female priesthood, a woman pope, and rewritten scriptures. Zayas' work cannot be classified precisely as literary theory, but it comes close to the mark: her stories are as much about how to create literary communities of women—writings by and for women—as they are stories of the women who recoil from men and find refuge in religious communities.

The Novellas amorosas y ejemplares (Amorous and Exemplary Tales, 1637) is a loosely-linked collection of ten novellas. Desengaños amorosos (Amorous Disillusionments, 1647) is different. Only women narrate the stories, which must be truthful accounts of the evil deeds of men.2 Whereas Zayas calls the novellas of the first part maravillas, “marvels” or “wonders”—recalling the literary precept of admiratio—the tales of the second employ a pervasive term of the Spanish baroque: desengaños—translated variously as disillusionments, undeceptions, warnings, lessons learned from experience, and the recognition of the truth of a situation—and the storytellers themselves are called desengañadoras, “disillusioners” or “undeceivers.”3 This literature of desengaño proves so edifying that Lisis, one of the storytellers, becomes “undeceived” or “disillusioned” and renounces her engagement, preferring to enter a convent, as many characters in the novellas have done. This, Zayas informs us, “is not a tragic end, but the happiest end that could happen” (II: 461).4

The two collections reflect the influence of Cervantes' craftsmanship, both in form and content.5 Marriage and the treatment of women dominate Zayas' stories; these topics can, of course, be found in Marguerite de Navarre and other novella writers as well as Cervantes. But Cervantes is particularly interesting because, apart from being the most important novella writer of his time, he is generally considered to be a male author sympathetic to the plight of women in that his novellas do not dwell on women as latter-day Eves but keenly delineate the complex moral and social implications of any individual's actions (Forcione, El Saffar). In order to demonstrate how Zayas challenges the Cervantine canon and subverts the Church's hagiographic model, this study will deal with three novellas from Amorous DisillusionmentsLa inocencia castigada (An Innocent Punished), La perseguida triunfante (The Triumphant Persecuted Woman), and El verdugo de su esposa (The Executioner of His Wife)—and Cervantes' El celoso extremeño (The Jealous Hidalgo), La fuerza de la sangre (The Force of Blood), and, briefly, El curioso impertinente (The Tale of Foolish Curiosity), contained in Don Quijote.

First of all, it is essential to understand that hagiography functions as the structural and thematic underpinning of Amorous Disillusionments by giving the collection a strong unity. Zayas constantly contextualizes martyrdom within marriage, either through stories of her own invention, while borrowing stock plot devices from hagiography, or through revision of known legends.6 Recently, Mary Jacobus called for a revisionist text in which woman can maintain her heritage of alienation and separateness, yet transcend her marginality. By foregrounding hagiography and transforming seventeenth-century male-approved reading matter for women into material for women's writing, while refusing merely to imitate it, Zayas creates a revisionist text that subverts hagiography's patriarchal discourse.7 She appropriates the content but revises the context of their stories, thereby circumventing the pitfalls of being a female voice in a male discourse. Instead of writing tales of unrelenting “feminist propaganda,”8 Zayas explores ways to achieve a feminization of both the form and content of the novella. Her method is to create a woman's sphere that proves ultimately to vanquish the traditional male sphere of book learning. But Zayas does not reject all book learning, for in the prologue she laments that men place embroidery instead of books in women's hands: “The moment I see a book, new or old, I drop my sewing and can't rest until I've read it. From this inclination came information, and from the information good taste, and from this the writing of poetry, and then the writing of these novellas” (I: 22-23; trans. Boyer, 2). This thread continues in the frame when a narrator decries the lack of education for women: “And so, when little girls learn to talk, they are immediately taught to sew and embroider, and, if they are taught to read, it's a miracle, because most fathers give little value to their daughters' learning to read and write, fearing instead that knowing how to do so causes them to be bad, as if there were not many more women who do not know how to do so, but are just as bad. This is a natural envy felt by men who think that women who could read and write would surpass them in everything” (II: 176-77).

Cervantes does not deal directly with the question of women's formal education, but he does treat the issue of male domination, which keeps women from becoming educated in the ways of the world, infanticizing them, and prohibiting the mature, moral exercise of free will. Although the events of The Jealous Hidalgo and An Innocent Punished, both set in Seville, differ considerably, the essence of the works is the confinement of women. The confinement of Cervantes' heroine leads to the consequential inability to exercise free will, while Zayas' heroine exercises her free will and chooses correctly by rejecting persistent suitors, only to be led into a brutal imprisonment. Cervantes' novella is marked by images of penetration into the house-cum-fortress, and thereby into increasingly smaller spaces. Zayas emulates this spatial concept but through a different exposition: she draws her heroine, Inés, out of the house in the opening scenes and then thrusts her into spaces of increasing confinement and compromise, first in the room of Diego the suitor, and finally when her husband imprisons her in a closet-like space. Zayas' impulse to reveal the limitations of both freedom and experience for women in the social world of her novellas necessitates the breaking of the boundaries of the home, the traditional space of protection (and imprisonment) for women.

It would be useful, perhaps, to work backwards from the closing of The Jealous Hidalgo because the first part of An Innocent Punished implicitly takes up the question of the admittedly ambiguous moral ending of the Cervantine tale. The repression of instinctual vitality—more simply, the lack of experience in the real world—puts the innocent Leonora squarely in the face of moral danger, but her unexpectedly powerful resistance to her attacker prevails. However, her husband, witnessing the couple asleep in an embrace, understandably suspects the worst but resigns himself to accept the blame of their familial dishonor. Leonora herself feels both guilt and innocence: “I have offended you only in thought” (238). The narrator, complicitous in the confusion of guilt, adds as the closing comment his own indirect question: “The one thing I do not know is why Leonora did not make more of an effort to excuse herself and convince her jealous husband how guiltless she had been in that whole affair. But confusion tied her tongue, and the rapidity of her husband's death gave her no opportunity to exonerate herself” (239). As Forcione points out, the novella springs open just when it is presumably drawing to a close.9

By adhering to details that seem true to women's experience, Zayas provides some insight into the question of why a woman in Leonora's position would not speak. She also challenges the assertion that experience might facilitate the successful moral exercise of free will, because, as we shall see, society assures the failure of women on every level.10An Innocent Punished, clearly echoing Don Quijote's memorable opening line, begins: “In a town near mighty Seville, which I prefer not to name” (29). Zayas introduces the hagiographic note almost immediately: “Before two months were out she found that she had escaped from captivity into martyrdom, and this despite the kindness she received at first from her husband” (29). Inés, unlike Leonora, moves rather freely throughout the city. When a Moorish necromancer casts a spell that causes her to commit adultery in Diego's room, the compromised state of her virtue increases, while the physical space around her decreases, signifying her lack of freedom and free will in the moral dilemma. The authorities of the Inquisition acquit her, although her husband, brother, and sister-in-law do not.

Zayas rejects the fairytale quality of the enclosure of Cervantes' heroine in a fortress-like house—the maiden in the tower (Cirot)—for the more graphically-described walled-up heroine. Interestingly enough, this kind of story in hagiography, where the female penitent lives in her own filth, deprived of food, light, and even sufficient space in which to recline, appears to be linked to the stories of the penitent whore, and it is precisely fornication that Zayas' heroine is accused of.11

When Inés is finally released from her imprisonment, Zayas' description has a powerful visual impact:

When she had been shut away Doña Inés had been no more than twenty-four years old; having been walled up for six years, she was now thirty, in the very prime of life. But, though her eyes were bright, she could no longer see, either because of the time she had spent in the darkness (it is an accepted fact that those deprived of light for any length of time go blind), or because she had wept so unceasingly. Her lovely hair which, when she had been imprisoned, had been like threads of pure gold, was now white as snow, matted and seething with insects. Her colour was the colour of death, and she was so thin and weak that all her bones were visible as if the skin which covered them were a transparent gauze. From her eyes to her chin ran two deep furrows made by her tears. She was barefoot, and the excrement from her body, which she had been unable to dispose of, had eaten away her clothing and eroded the very flesh from her bones.


This description provoked Place to remark that there was entirely too much detail and undoubtedly is part of the reason Ticknor and Pfandl found her work immodest and obscene.13 But the hagiographic model not only permits grotesque descriptions of female martyrs, it practically requires it. The critics who would fault her audacity in depicting women in such tortured states, fail to see that she simply relies on her many male predecessors in this regard, who are not only well-respected for their writings but heralded by the Church.

Cervantes concentrates on keys, duennas, and guileless maidens for the “moral” of his story: “an example and mirror of how little trust can be put in keys, turnstiles, and walls when the will is left free; and how much less can be put in innocent, tender years if there are duennas in their nun-black attire and long white coifs around to whisper things in guileless ears” (239).

Zayas' moral summation removes the focus from the actions of the woman and redirects it to men, who, after all, make all the rules. She even includes the wisdom of a great, thirteenth-century Castilian authority: “And in it [the story] lies a lesson for the ladies, for if things like this can happen to the innocent, what can the guilty not expect? Nor dare a woman trust either brother or husband, for they are, after all, always men. As King Alfonso the Wise said, ‘The heart of man is a dark forest, where no one can find the path, and where a wild and untameable animal called cruelty has his lair’” (51). For this last remark, Zayas is apparently relying on the principle of the aphorism, “what's good for the goose is good for the gander.” Since male authors continually misquoted and invented material that they then attributed to Aristotle and other authorities in order to support misogynistic claims, Zayas joins them by giving the last word to a male authority, critical of his own sex—but one who never said anything of the kind.

In sum, Zayas challenges Cervantes' implication that women such as Leonora could exercise their free will in making moral choices, if given the opportunity to have experiences that would educate them in the ways of the world. She takes a darker view, that women are set up to fail and that neither experience nor innocence will save them. Even if women do possess enough knowledge and experience to defend themselves, as Inés did, either through action or speech, they are judged culpable of staining family honor, and men then exact a price from them. According to the rules of the society Zayas paints, Leonora's self-defense would have been futile. This belief is even more prominently demonstrated in the next stories to be discussed, as is Zayas' challenge to Cervantes himself. Specifically, in two of her stories, Zayas explores the nature of violence against women and the situation of a scoundrel who is saved by divine intervention while the saintly woman receives no such miraculous aid. First, however, we must look at the Cervantine model.

The Force of Blood, whose narrative impetus is the rape of the heroine, is one of Cervantes' lesser-known novellas. Forcione aptly reconstructs the impulses that led to the genesis of this novella—the translation of St. Leocadia's remains to Toledo in 1587 and the resultant spectacular festivities that accompanied the return (quite possibly witnessed by Cervantes, who was living nearby at the time)—and emerges with an illuminating interpretation of the work as Cervantes' contribution to the popular medieval form known as the miracle narrative (317-97).14

The child who was conceived when Rodolfo raped Leocadia is seriously wounded in an accident and is carried into the very room in which Leocadia had been violated years before. When Rodolfo's mother, Doña Estefanía, becomes aware of her son's nefarious deed, she engineers the reconciliation of the two adults. Leocadia, presented as a guest in Rodolfo's parents' home, enters the room as a magnificent image:

She came in clad, it being then winter, in a gown of black velvet set with buttons of gold and pearl, a girdle and chain of diamonds; her own hairs, which were long and of an auburn colour, did serve her instead of her head-dressings, whose invention of ribbands, tufts of feathers, and glitterings of diamonds, which were interwoven with them, did dazzle the eyes of the beholders. … They all rose up to do her reverence as if she had been some deity sent down from heaven which had thus miraculously appeared unto them. None of those that were there but stood astonished, beholding so rare a piece, and the more they looked on her the more they were amazed, insomuch that they were not able to speak unto her—such power hath beauty to impose silence


The reader, Rodolfo, and the witnesses behold the transformation of violated woman into object of reverence. Many critics have objected to the seeming implausibilities of the tale, but Forcione compellingly argues that both Leocadia's ability to love Rodolfo and Rodolfo's awakened recognition of Leocadia's perfect combination of beauty and virtue must be seen through the lens of the “miracle.” Cervantes may well be exploring the mystery of the miracle, but that does not explain the attitude towards rape: first of all, that it even occurs in a miracle narrative, and secondly, that the consequence of such a crime is marriage, without any sense of outrage expressed by characters or narrator.15

In hagiography, female saints are usually saved from rape. Virginity, their most cherished possession, remains untouched in spite of the many attempts to rob them of it and the many other mutilations and violent acts perpetrated against them.16 Cervantes' “miracle” commences, then, with the almost unheard-of event in hagiography, an inversion of a stock device, the unsuccessful rape of the heroine. That Leocadia is not sacrosanct can perhaps be explained by the fact that she is neither a saint nor the direct recipient of divine intervention. For Cervantes she represents, rather, the vessel through which Rodolfo receives redemption. Rodolfo, on the other hand, would not seem to merit divine intervention but is, in fact, a typical recipient.17

In completely sublimating the violence against Leocadia by transforming her into an object of devotion, much as is the Crucifix she had stolen, Cervantes' authorial action approximates the kind of formal sublimation found in some paintings of female saints, most notably in Francisco de Zurbarán's seventeenth-century series of female martyrs. These elegant images of beautiful, well-dressed women belie the fact that the subjects died in brutal ways at the hands of men long before their transformation into objects of reverence for both men and women. The compositions reveal no hint of violence nor do they resemble religious figures. My observations do not imply that in the portrayals of male saints there is never a modified depiction of their brutal martyrdoms, for the saints often do seem rapturous and unbloodied, but there is no mistaking the religious context of the paintings.18 Zurbarán's martyred women, on the other hand, resemble elegant horsewomen, highly adorned noblewomen, and, occasionally, simple young maidens. They are further distanced from their historical reality by the incongruence displayed even for a seventeenth-century scene. As Jonathan Brown comments: “Saint Margaret looks more like a noblewoman playing at being a shepherdess than a keeper of sheep.”19 The violence is forgotten, at least by the painter and the viewer if not by the subject. In The Force of Blood, the sublimation invites the reader to accept without challenge that rape is not a violent act, a crime that should require punishment. Leocadia's transformation resembles that of Zurbarán's saints: the violence against her seemingly forgotten, she becomes an object of devotion and the recipient of a supposed honor: marriage to the rapist, a man of higher birth than she.

We can look at this from a feminist viewpoint. In a sense, Cervantes himself rewrites hagiography but not with the progress of women in mind, as Zayas did. Milton's Eve, as Froula tells us, was a substanceless shadow until united with Adam.20 Cervantes merely inscribes patriarchal theology, then, into a social context: the heroine is a non-being, as her loss of honor makes her, until she is reunited with, and therefore identified with, the rapist Rodolfo. While the miracle would imply that Leocadia redeems Rodolfo, in fact she is the outcast, expelled from society until her marriage permits her reintegration. Cervantes' miracle authorizes Rodolfo's complete possession of Leocadia: when he dominated her body alone, this act effectively expelled her from society. His spiritual “transformation” assumes all of Leocadia: her beauty, her virtue, her body, all belong to him.

The Triumphant Persecuted Woman, Zayas' longest novella, is the one in which she most clearly develops her attitudes towards violence against women, the silence of heroines, rewarding the villain, and the question of experience and learning as forms of education. Because of the repeated appearances of the Virgin Mary and the wondrous resuscitation of a child that Beatriz is falsely accused of murdering, The Triumphant Persecuted Woman is Zayas' most sustained miracle narrative and, as such, bears comparison with The Force of Blood. A few observations are in order, however, about another of Zayas' novellas before turning to The Triumphant Persecuted Woman.

Zayas' The Executioner of His Wife resembles Cervantes' The Tale of Foolish Curiosity, in which a husband coerces his best friend into seducing his virtuous wife, thereby setting in motion a chain of events that brings about the moral downfall of all three. Zayas' story begins: “Don Juan and Don Pedro were such great friends … that whenever anyone said ‘the two friends,’ everyone knew that it meant Don Pedro and Don Juan” (II: 146).

Zayas clearly intends to draw an ironic parallel because, unlike Cervantes' tale in which the husband's best friend loyally tries to dissuade him, here the friend immediately attempts to seduce Pedro's wife, Rosaleta.21 Rosaleta dutifully informs her husband of Juan's intentions. When Pedro plans an ambush, the Virgin Mary acts quickly to save one of her devotees. A man swinging from the gallows begins to speak to Juan, warning him of the impending danger and explaining that the Virgin has intervened: “See what we Christian sinners owe to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Our Lady, who … asked her precious Son to liberate you from the danger that you yourself set out to find” (II: 164-65). The friend gives thanks for Mary's protection. Rosaleta and her impeccable virtue, unfortunately, do not fare so well as Juan: in spite of her innocence, her husband bleeds her to death in order to avenge his honor.

In The Tale of Foolish Curiosity, Camila indeed exercises her free will but within the morally questionable framework of being set up by her husband and his friend to see if they could, in fact, bring about her downfall. Zayas' heroine, Rosaleta, like Inés of An Innocent Punished, exercises her free will and triumphs over the man who would impugn her honor. Unfortunately, again like Inés, neither speech nor experience nor the exercise of free will prevents Rosaleta from falling victim to society's definition of honor, that is, the man's interpretation of honor.

Zayas' challenge to Cervantes manifests itself not in an overt reworking of his tale but in the treatment of similar situations, and the questions that arise naturally in her work and do not arise at all in his narratives. As with Cervantes' Rodolfo, a scoundrel benefits from the presence of a divine agent, the Virgin Mary; in this case, however, the fact that the woman's benefits are dubious does not remain unchallenged by the narrator, as it does in The Force of Blood. The puzzled participants in the evening's entertainment—the frame story—speculate as to why God had permitted Rosaleta's death while sparing Juan. Lisis cautions against questioning God's miracles, for his secrets are incomprehensible. But, she continues, it may be that Juan must do earthly penance while Rosaleta already enjoys heaven because of her martyrdom (II: 172). Certainly Zayas remains well within Catholic orthodoxy in all of this, but she does show herself to be a questioner who is not silently accepting all she has been taught.

In The Triumphant Persecuted Woman, Queen Beatriz, falsely accused of adultery, suffers the gouging of her eyes by her husband's henchmen, abandonment in the mountains, and attempted rape by her brother-in-law, Federico. This violence serves multiple purposes. In the first place, it highlights the Virgin Mary's restorative powers when she cures Beatriz. In the second place, it permits a sustained play on the concept of physical blindness and metaphorical blindness contrasted with the opening of everyone's eyes at the end of the text when Beatriz is revealed to be a holy healer and saintly woman. And, finally, it emphasizes the gratuitous cruelty of men, giving the narrator, Estefanía, a nun of the order of the Immaculate Conception, the opportunity to inject the comment that the men were doing to Beatriz what they do in “our” day to all women (II: 363).22 The Virgin intervenes in the attempted rape, and in this way the novella maintains the customary line of hagiography. Since Zayas rarely shrinks from overt violence, yet does in this case, it makes Cervantes' miracle that begins with rape all the more startling. Zayas then models the ending of her novella after Cervantes' ending but with a major difference.

Beatriz's husband offers a new beginning, and, the text says, he looked forward to his long-denied conjugal bliss at nightfall. That Beatriz rejects him for the convent does not depart from some earlier versions of the legend and the general hagiographic motif of the renunciation of the world. What is unique is that she puts the decision in terms of selecting one husband over another, the True Spouse over the lesser earthly spouse. It is not the world that cannot be trusted, but men specifically.

Federico marries Beatriz's sister, which would appear to be similar to rewarding the villain in The Force of Blood with marriage. There is a difference: before Beatriz reveals her identity (she had been healing people, going about the city unrecognized by anyone as their queen), Federico falls mortally ill. When the devil's agent fails to heal him, Beatriz consents to help if and when he confesses his evil deeds. Unlike Cervantes' poor Leocadia, who seeks only Rodolfo's silence in the entire matter, Zayas' Beatriz insists on a public confession. A conversion of the heart, as Rodolfo apparently felt, is not sufficient restitution in the society Zayas portrays.

The addition of the devil's agent serves not only to juxtapose good and evil, God and devil, but to challenge the superiority of male ciencia—knowledge, book learning, science—over experience and the more abstract concepts of intuition and faith. Within the novella, Estefanía consistently describes the diabolical healer as “hombre de ciencia.” Yet she also says: “I will not speak from experience but from learning” (II: 339). We can reconcile this seeming contradiction—ciencia is beneficial in one case, not in another—by considering the issue of Beatriz as author.

Estefanía claims that Beatriz recorded her story:

[After Ladislao, her husband] lived a saintly life, he died many years before Beatriz, who, before her death, wrote her autobiography, here called a “desengaño”; in it, women can see what they should fear, since through the cruelty and perfidy of men, Queen Beatriz suffered so many tribulations. Throughout Italy she is held to be a saint, and I saw her manuscript when I visited there with my parents. … If anyone has heard about this queen, her life was as I relate it and not printed or doctored by other intellects. And, as we have proposed that these desengaños be true stories, it is possible that some have heard it elsewhere but not as it is recounted here

(II: 409).

Before she became “undeceived,” Beatriz was silent: early in the text, when Federico lies to his brother, the narrator recounts Ladislao's hesitation but adds that, ultimately, he believed his brother's word because he is a man and no one believes in the innocence of a woman, so there was no point in permitting Beatriz to defend herself verbally. The narrator in Cervantes' tale of The Jealous Hidalgo may have wondered why Leonora did not defend herself more vigorously; Zayas' response would be the one found here: no one believes a woman's self-defense.

Within Zayas' fictional world, we can assume that the story of Beatriz's life is true because she herself composed it. If a woman does not fare well in a man's world, using words that are disbelieved, she most certainly cannot fare well in a man's text. Having learned her lesson through experiencia, Beatriz protects her story from defilement by writing it herself and transforming experiencia into ciencia. If Beatriz's story differs in tone and content from known Medieval and Renaissance versions of the tale, it is perhaps because the others are male texts—hence, the claim by Estefanía that other versions will not be like this one. We may return to Estefanía's remark that she recounts this desengaño not through experience but through science or learning. A female-generated ciencia permits women to benefit from book learning, a learning not written by and for men, as we know to be the case with most hagiographic narrative.23 Estefanía's description of Beatriz as a saint in Italy supports my contention that Zayas believes strongly in communities of women. As I have shown elsewhere, the figure of Beatriz derives from the Florence of Rome and Crescentia stories, but, more importantly for our purposes, from a chapter of ecclesiastical history, that of the thirteenth-century Guglielmites, founded by Saint Guglielma of Milan. The Guglielmites, who believed that Guglielma was the incarnation of the Holy Spirit, awaited a new ecclesia: a woman pope, female cardinals, salvation for all mankind through women. In the interests of a more perfect order, they rewrote scripture to produce new epistles, gospels, and prophecies.24

The question of women's education, either through experience or learning—essential to The Triumphant Persecuted Woman—underlies the entire collection. All the references to the topic, drawn together at the end by Lisis, are present even in the beginning of Amorous Disillusionments. The opening novella, La esclava de su amante (The Slave of Her Lover), is the only one told through experiencia and not ciencia: Isabel, deceived by a man, disguises herself as a Moorish slave, Zulima. After revealing her true identity, she asks Lisis of the frame story for permission to enter a convent to be with the true Amante and Esposo. The closing novella, Estragos que causa el vicio (The Ravages of Vice), is recounted by the bride-to-be, Lisis, and is a very personal ciencia: oral and written narrative conflate when Lisis reveals herself to be the author.

Lisis tells the gathering that she wrote the story in plain language so that all women could understand it, and, forging a link between the female martyrs of written hagiography and a woman who dares to enter the patriarchal world of letters, that she wrote it not to canonize herself as a scholar (“no traigo propósito de canonizarme”), but to be a good desengañadora, presumably as the other narrators have been (II: 410-11). Could Zayas have been implying, with this remark, that a woman who dares to write runs the risk of martyrdom at the hands of men, so often the prelude to female canonization? Lisis continues with a long, moralizing monologue that brings together many of the hagiographic allusions and features of the novella collection:

Men cannot deny that in ancient times there were many celebrated women, for to do so would deny the innumerable saints of whom the Church sings: so many martyrs, so many virgins, so many widows and constant women, so many who have died and suffered in the cruelty of men; if this were not so, these desengañadoras would have had little cloth from which to cut their desengaños, every one of them true as true can be; so true, in fact, that very little is due to invention, and they didn't even need beautifying.

(II: 454).

Lisis asks rhetorically why such cautionary tales are necessary. Her answer is that men fail to esteem and respect women as they had in the past. She boldly accuses men of cowardice and links the lack of defense of women to Spain's weakened state as a world power (II: 455). Lisis charges men to “esteem and honor women and you will see how it revives your lost valor” (II: 456).

A female-generated ciencia—the stories of her fellow desengañadoras—not bitter experiencia, has opened her eyes to the certain dangers of marriage, and her words echo those of the nun Estefanía: “Although I am not undeceived through experience, I am through learning” (II: 459). She decides to join Isabel, formerly Zulima the slave, in the convent. The ciencia/experiencia motif comes full circle, then, from Isabel, who had to experience deceit before learning her lesson, to Beatriz, “la perseguida triunfante,” who experiences and then translates it into learning, to Lisis, who writes and learns without having to experience the deceit of men. Lisis relies totally on the ciencia provided by women.

Beatriz and Lisis function, then, as simulacra of Zayas, not simply as spokeswomen against men but as the writers of female ciencia, Beatriz's story as ancient ciencia, Lisis' story as continuing the tradition of these ancient women.25 The wisdom of Zayas' intention to write her own model of female ciencia and the necessity of such an undertaking are confirmed, ironically, by the literary historians' attempts to suppress her writings through disdain for her unrelenting representations of violence against women, a specific charge of repetitiousness rarely levied against the hundreds of hagiographic tales of Western literature.26

In fact, it is well known that hagiography inspired and gave license to the general tendency in the Baroque toward the grotesque, toward, at the very least, graphic descriptions of reality.27 And yet, in two instances where it would be not only acceptable, but expected—Zurbarán's martyrs and Cervantes' raped heroine—the artistic renditions transcend (or deny and negate) the violence that gave rise to them. Critics assail this very tendency in Zayas while failing to recognize that hagiography and the Baroque in general empowered her to do so. Even Sturrock, who respected Zayas enough to translate some of her novellas, softens the description of the imprisoned Inés in An Innocent Punished, as if the words were simply too crude to be rendered exactly.28 The attitude of these twentieth-century critics can be linked to the actions of both Cervantes and Zurbarán. For whatever reason (perhaps to absolve men of responsibility for their treatment of women?), violence against women seems to be sublimated. When a woman writer fails to maintain this unspoken and unwritten code of sublimation, she is labeled offensive and the tone of her message strident. When a man sublimates this violence, it occasionally goes unnoticed, and it certainly passes without serious criticism.

In exhorting women to resist emulation that leads to their detriment and downfall, Zayas dismantles the very foundation of hagiography, whose goal was to inspire women to emulation, to martyrdom if need be. On the contrary, according to Zayas, women should reject the secular martyrdom sanctioned by society's view of civilized behavior—marriage—and seek refuge in the communities of women afforded by the convents. As Cervantes' stories unfortunately demonstrate, love and marriage can redeem the sinner, but redemption often occurs at the expense of the redeemer, either through sublimation of violence against her or the loss of her liberty and free will.

The hagiographic model permitted Zayas a tremendous amount of artistic liberty within the circumscribed conventions of that genre and the novella form. This model of women as protagonists (and never more so than when they are virgin martyrs or penitent whores), along with the popular subject matter of the novella—love and marriage—provided Zayas with the tools to create her subversive and revisionist texts: a new kind of novella, a new kind of ciencia, one by and for women. The Cervantine models, while respected and imitated, also served as indirect challenges to a woman reader, who felt compelled to create her own poetics, her own feminized novella. Whereas Cervantes implies that permitting women to have more freedom in society, more experience, will aid them in correct exercise of free will, Zayas sees the answer in learning, but in women's writings, not in men's. Yet Zayas never completely abandons the role men had determined for her sex, that of lace-maker and embroiderer. She takes written material, embroiders it with her own version of saintly threads, and emerges triumphant with a new garment. When Lisis says that, without the stories of ancient women, the desengañadoras would not have had the cloth to cut their stories, she metaphorically refers to Zayas herself, who produced very new shapes from old, time-honored, Church-sanctioned cloth.


  1. Cervantes' Novelas ejemplares (1613) were the standard against which all novella writers measured themselves, a practice that literary critics continue to this day. Even when Lope de Vega, Cervantes' contemporary and literary rival, judged the Novelas ejemplares to be flawed by lack of moral exemplarity (Prologue, Novelas a Marcia Leonarda, 27-28), the Cervantine tales were undeniably the force to be reckoned with when it came to Spanish adaptations, imitations, and transformations of the Italian novella. Zayas' novellas, popularly known as the Spanish Decameron because of the Boccaccian frame, were reprinted well into the eighteenth century.

  2. The novellas of Marguerite de Navarre's Heptameron also follow the pattern of true stories told by women. Zayas differs, however, in that she systematically insists on the novellas as instruments of desengaño for women and in consistently appropriating hagiography for her secular tales. But she was undoubtedly influenced by the Heptameron for some of her stories (see Place's source study), particularly for the first part of her collection.

  3. While I believe that Zayas rejects the term “novelas” for “desengaños” in order to distinguish her stories from Cervantes' tales and to suit her bold suggestion of a kind of writing for women, she is not the only author to employ other terms: various collections were entitled Fiestas, Carnestolendas, and Noches (Joaquín del Val, xlv-lxxx).

  4. Although Yllera's is the most recent edition of Desengaños amorosos, the only complete modern edition of both parts, including the important prefatory material, is the two-volume work of Amezúa y Mayo. All page references will be from his edition and the translations from Spanish are mine, except for An Innocent Punished, which Sturrock translated, and the Prologue, from H. Patsy Boyer's translation of the first part. The two Novelas ejemplares by Cervantes are quoted in their English translations by De Onís and Mabbe.

  5. Foa describes Cervantes' evident influence on Zayas. In general, El castigo de la miseria is the novella most valued by critics for its approximation to a Cervantine model (Foa, 141-52). She also discusses Cervantes' distance from his narrators, claiming that this feature in Zayas' work derives from Cervantes (180). There is a difference, however, between influence and response, and it seems quite clear that Zayas responded to other texts by Cervantes—not simply borrowed from him—and her work must be evaluated from that perspective. For a description of Zayas' reliance on other sources, see Foa, 131-39 and Place's thorough source study.

  6. For example, the heroine Beatriz and some of the events of The Triumphant Persecuted Woman are based on the legend found in varying forms as the Crescentia-saga, Florence of Rome, Empress of Rome, and wife of Charlemagne tales, but Zayas impresses with the clever changes she made from the known European versions. (See Patricia E. Grieve, “María de Zayas y su tratamiento revisionista de fuentes medievales,” forthcoming.) Other stories borrow from the tradition of the harlot-saint, such as Thaïs and Mary Magdalene. Cruel husbands mistreat their wives, locking them in small spaces and withholding food from them, much as the sometimes sadistic confessors did to female saints (Bynum). The corpse of a virtuous woman, slain by her brother, remains bathed in the odor of sanctity, fresh and beautiful, continuing to pour forth blood a year after her death. In the same tale, the murderous brother marries and decapitates a poor young girl whose severed head, buried for six months, is recovered as fresh and lovely as the day she died. Another woman, poisoned by her husband, swells to a monstrous size until her death, when she is called by God to her deserved sainthood in heaven. The insistence on the veracity of the stories is, of course, a commonplace of secular literature, but eyewitness accounts are also stock devices of hagiography and, indeed, of the very process of canonization: hagiography values witnesses to the life of the saint and, naturally, depends on testimonies of miracles, either before or after the saint's death. Foa examines the use of hagiography and agents of divine intervention in The Triumphant Persecuted Woman, but her discussion is limited by assuming that Zayas' story derived directly from one by Juan de Timoneda, which makes her conclusions about Zayas' innovations both incorrect and inconclusive. My interest goes beyond merely recognizing that Zayas employs phrases and some scenes from religious contexts to encompass what I consider to be a literary and ideological stance based on the subversion of hagiography.

  7. Hagiography and other devotional texts were encouraged reading material for women. Juan Luis Vives, in his conduct book The Instruction of a Christian Woman (1523), advocated such books in order to counteract the deleterious effects to be shunned “lykewise as of serpentes or snakes” (Bornstein sig.F1v). One of the most influential treatises in the Renaissance, this work was commissioned by Catherine of Aragon, and, as Wayne tells us (15), “was issued in at least thirty-six English and Continental editions and in six modern languages by the end of the sixteenth century.” Women's writing was not a concern, except for the admonition that women practice their handwriting, “copying some sad, prudent, and chaste sentence over and over again. As she shapes her letters, she is being shaped by another's moral and religious precepts” (Wayne, 28).

  8. Place, 47.

  9. Forcione, 90.

  10. Susan Griswold sees the central conflict of Zayas' two collections to be that of reason and will (entendimiento and voluntad), and she concludes that the women and men who adhere to reason generally manage to avoid disaster (110-13). Although Amorous Disillusionments continues the frame introduced in Amorous and Exemplary Tales, there is a radical discontinuity between the two collections. Griswold correctly recognizes in Amorous and Exemplary Tales the dichotomy of reason and will so prevalent in other novella collections and other forms of prose fiction, such as the Spanish sentimental romance, but this dichotomy becomes less important in the second collection. A major point of the stories is that a woman's behavior neither improves nor worsens her lot in life, which is so often determined by the men around her. When the narrator Lisis adheres to reason at the end of the collection, the important difference between her actions and those of the women of the first collection is that the use of reason causes Lisis to withdraw completely from male-dominated society.

  11. As Marina Warner tells us: “The Magdalene, like Eve, was brought into existence by the powerful undertow of misogyny in Christianity, which associates women with the dangers and degradation of the flesh. For this reason she became a prominent and beloved saint” (225). Magdalene is not alone: “She has colleagues in this particular brand of hagiography, which so neatly condenses Christianity's fear of women, its identification of physical beauty with temptation, and its practice of bodily mortification. With the courtesan Thaïs (d. ca. 348), about whom Anatole France wrote his savage indictment of asceticism; with the anchorite Mary the Harlot, who lived outside her uncle's holy cell until she was debauched and then reclaimed; with Mary of Egypt; and with the actress Pelagia, Mary Magdalene leads a Christian company of harlot saints” (Warner, 232). Hrosvitha of Gandersheim dramatized the stories of Thaïs and Mary, niece of Abraham. Thaïs' story contains a description of the confinement of the heroine which is very similar to that of Inés.

  12. If Inés' punishment recalls the enclosure of Thaïs in the cell, her physical portraiture resembles that of another harlot saint, Mary of Egypt, in which the narrator juxtaposes Mary's former fleshly glory to her startlingly ugly transformation (ll. 719-732).

  13. Place, 44; Ticknor, 346; Pfandl, 368-70.

  14. The novella is not a re-creation of the life of Saint Leocadia; Forcione's point (317-28) is that popular religious culture had a tremendous impact on the society of Cervantes' age and that the name, setting, and virtue of the heroine may have inspired the Cervantine tale.

  15. The rape in the novella inspired a variety of reactions, most of which vitiate the rapist's guilt. For El Saffar, the rape is, first and foremost, the symbolic death of Leocadia's honor, an act that is “transformed” and “reinterpreted” at the end of the text as “a life-giving force as well as a death-giving force” (1974, 137). Slaniceanu, 104, defines Leocadia as a “calculating woman” whose resourcefulness in trying to determine where she is and the identity of the rapist is unrealistic: “Leocadia exhibits none of the despair that a normal young woman would feel. … Her reaction is much too sanguine, for she resembles a thorough investigator at the scene of a crime.” Her assessment, consciously or unconsciously, diminishes the rapist's culpability by blaming the woman for failing to appear as victimized as she should. In fact, that Leocadia begs for Rodolfo's silence about the rape (criticized by Slaniceanu) has a parallel in a saint's life. Weinstein and Bell, 89, describe the valuable testimony of Jutta of Huy (twelfth century) at the moment of imminent rape, written by her friend and biographer: “What should she do? To whom should she turn? If she wished to escape there was no place to go. If she tried to resist, the man was stronger. If she cried out, she was afraid the aggression would become public and that the ensuing scandal would compromise both of them forever.” More fortunate than Cervantes' Leocadia, Jutta was saved by the Virgin. Amezúa y Mayo, 208, sees Rodolfo's behavior as typical of those of his social class, revealing his “temperamento sexual y erótico.” Casalduero, 121-34, interprets the entire tale as redemption from the sin of having conceived a child out of wedlock and a celebration of the sacrament of marriage. Schevill, 389, was on the right track when he objected to the lack of punishment: “one cannot see in any part of the novella a single chastising word about the infamous crime.”

  16. For a discussion of the importance of virginity and chastity to saints, especially female saints, see Weinstein and Bell, 73-99.

  17. Forcione, 329. Warner, 325, informs us that scoundrels were, in fact, Mary's chosen recipients: “The more raffish the Virgin's suppliants, the better she likes him. The miracles' heroes are liars, thieves, adulterers, and fornicators, footloose students, pregnant nuns, unruly and lazy clerics, and eloping monks. On the single condition that they sing her praises, usually by reciting the Ave Maria, and show due respect for the miracle of the Incarnation wrought in her, they can do no wrong.”

  18. Brown makes the point that Zurbarán, by diminishing the violence inherent in the depiction of female martyrs, was elaborating on a tendency already found in seventeenth-century art, as evidenced by Pacheco's 1612 drawing of Saint Lucy. Zurbarán's rendering of male martyrs makes a “virtually symbolic representation of Christian martyrdom” (Brown, 68). Brown's description of Saint Serapion, 68 and pl. 5, explains that “the most impressive aspect of the painting [is] its rigorous suppression of morbid details. Zurbarán has painted a bloodless martyrdom in direct contradiction to the atrocious death suffered by the young English monk in 1240.” While I agree with Brown's assessment of the paintings, it still remains clear that the paintings of the male martyrs are just that: religious pictures of the martyrdom of saints. The women's images, on the other hand, are just as clearly “imaginary portraits of virgin martyrs in contemporary dress” (Brown, 104), and are not at all definitively recognizable as saints, let alone martyrs.

  19. Brown, 106.

  20. Froula, 156.

  21. Diana de Armas Wilson, in an illuminating article on The Tale of Foolish Curiosity, explains that Lotario was as guilty as Anselmo in the reification of Camila and that women were excluded by male language as well as by their actions. This view of women, she argues, is replaced by Cervantes' last work, Persiles y Sigismunda, in which women take their rightful place alongside the men. In this regard, her argument agrees with that of Ruth El Saffar, 1984, who also sees the later works, La Gitanilla, La ilustre fregona, La española inglesa and Persiles y Sigismunda, as examples of the recovery of the lost woman, who “brings back into the society from which she had been stolen or ejected health, prosperity, harmony, and wholeness” (xii). El Saffar claims for these later stories a pattern in which “the male heroes experience a breakdown of received values as they make contact with a socially devalued female through whom, while redeeming her, they are redeemed” (xii). She does not mention The Force of Blood, but it would seem to fit this pattern. While I find this convincing, I would argue, nonetheless, that Zayas quite rightly challenges the society and actions that create the “socially devalued female” in the first place.

  22. Just as the story of Saint Leocadia appears to have inspired The Force of Blood, the popular interest in the Immaculate Conception seems to have inspired Zayas in her portrayal of the Virgin Mary as divine agent. When the Virgin finally appears in all her splendor, her description is clearly based on the paintings and sculptures of the Immacolata, who is the patron of Seville, identifiable through her crown of stars and her stance on the half moon. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the narrator, Estefanía, belongs to the order of the Immaculate Conception. This particular imagery of the Immaculate Conception was sculpted by Alonso Cano and painted by Zurbarán, among many others.

  23. See Weinstein and Bell, 89.

  24. As Wessley tells us, 289-91, an inquisitorial process repressed the Guglielmites in the beginning of the fourteenth century. When later authors recounted Guglielma's legend, her story became one of sexual licentiousness, which, by all historical accounts is incorrect.

  25. It would be a mistake, as Griswold reminds us, 103-4, to reduce the multi-layered distance that Zayas constructs between herself and the narrators in order to focus on one or another character as the voice of Zayas, a topic that needs more study. However, I think that we can safely draw analogies, as I have done, between women who write and the woman who wrote about women writing. A really thorough study of Zayas' attempts to address problems of literary theory must include Amorous and Exemplary Tales. Boyer begins to address the issue of the radical differences between the two collections by analyzing the second novella of each collection, with very interesting results.

  26. Delehaye refers to hagiography's “teinte monochrome,” 223, but the term applies, as Elliott tells us, 2, to the lack of historical perspective, improbable miracles, and ubiquitous sameness and not necessarily to the actual scenes of violence in the works. Warner, 71, discusses the sadomasochism inherent in tales of both male and female saints, “but the particular focus on women's torn and broken flesh reveals the psychological obsession of the religion with sexual sin.” Even though Place and others felt that Zayas' dwelled incessantly on violence against women, even in hagiography “the female martyrs of the Christian calendar are assaulted in any number of ingenious and often sexual ways” (Warner, 71).

  27. Weisbach, 86-87. Margarita Levisi suggests that Zayas may have been inspired in her depictions of women by the paintings of martyrs of the late sixteenth century (453-55), commenting that Zayas may have been more familiar with Italian painters than Spanish ones, given that it has been inferred from her novellas a first-hand knowledge of Italy.

  28. Where Sturrock refers to the excrement from Inés' body having “eroded the very flesh from her bones,” the Spanish text says: “la propia carne comida hasta los muslos de llagas y gusanos, de que estaba lleno el hediondo lugar.” The Spanish graphically includes that the excrement had produced worms and that the worms and excrement together had caused sores and eaten the flesh to the bone.

A preliminary version of this paper was presented at the Ninth Annual Medieval-Renaissance Conference at Barnard College, “Images of Sainthood in the Middle Ages,” 14 November 1987. I am grateful to the organizer of the conference, Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, for helpful comments on an earlier draft of the article. I would like to thank Columbia University for the following: a leave for the year 1988-89, during which time I finished this article; the Council for Research in the Humanities, which provided me with a summer stipend; and the Philip and Ruth Hettleman Award for Junior Faculty. Finally, I thank the students of my graduate course at Brown University in 1985, where I first postulated my ideas on Zayas' appropriation of hagiography as a means to subvert patriarchal discourse.


Boyer, H. Patsy. “La visión artística de María de Zayas.” In Estudios sobre el Siglo de Oro en homenaje a Raymond R. MacCurdy, ed. Angel González, et al., 253-63. Albuquerque, 1983.

Brown, Jonathan. Francisco de Zurbarán. New York, 1974.

Bynum, Caroline Walker. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley, 1987.

Casalduero, Joaquín. Sentido y forma de las ‘Novelas ejemplares’. Buenos Aires, 1943.

Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. The Force of Blood. Vol. 2, 95-132. Trans. James Mabbe (1640). London, 1900.

———. The Jealous Hidalgo. 202-39. Trans. Harriet de Onís. Woodbury, NY, 1961.

———. Novelas ejemplares. Vol. 3. Eds. Rudolph Schevill and Adolfo Bonilla. Madrid, 1925.

———. The Tale of Foolish Curiosity. In The Adventures of Don Quijote, 282-316, 320-24. Trans. J. M. Cohen. Hammondsworth, 1977.

Cirot, Georges. “El celoso extremeño et l'Histoire de Floire et de Blanceflor.Bulletin Hispanique 31 (1929): 138-43.

Delehaye, Hippolyte. Les Passions de martyrs et les genres littéraires. Subsidia hagiographica, 20. Brussels, 1921; rpt., 1966.

Del Val, Joaquín. “La novela española en el Siglo XVII.” In Historia general de las literaturas hispánicas, ed. Guillermo Díaz-Plaja, vol. 3, xlv-lxxx. Barcelona, 1953.

Elliott, Alison Goddard. Roads to Paradise: Reading the Lives of the Early Saints. Hanover, NH, 1987.

El Saffar, Ruth. Beyond Fiction: The Recovery of the Feminine in the Novels of Cervantes. Berkeley, 1984.

———. Novel to Romance: A Study of Cervantes' ‘Novelas ejemplares’. Baltimore, 1974.

Foa, Sandra M. Feminismo y forma: Estudio del tema y las técnicas de María de Zayas y Sotomayor. Chapel Hill, 1978.

Forcione, Alban K. Cervantes and the Humanist Vision: A Study of Four ‘Exemplary Novels.’ Princeton, NJ, 1982.

Froula, Christine. “When Eve Reads Milton: Undoing the Canonical Economy.” In Canons, 149-75. ed. R. von Hallberg. Chicago, 1984.

Griswold, Susan C. “Topoi and Rhetorical Distance: The ‘Feminism’ of María de Zayas.” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 14 (1980): 97-116.

Hallberg, Robert von, ed. Canons. Chicago, 1984.

Hrosvitha of Gandersheim. The Plays of Hrosvitha. Trans. Christopher St. John. New York, 1953.

Jacobus, Mary. Women Writing and Writing About Women. London, 1980.

Levisi, Margarita. “La crueldad in los Desengaños amorosos de María de Zayas.” In Estudios literarios de hispanistas norteamericanos dedicados a Helmut Hatzfeld con motivo de su 80 aniversario, ed. Josep Sola-Solé, et al., 447-56. Barcelona, 1974.

Lipking, Lawrence. “Aristotle's Sister: A Poetics of Abandonment.” In Canons, 85-105. ed. R. von Hallberg. Chicago, 1984.

Pfandl, Ludwig. Historia de la literatura nacional española en el Siglo de Oro. Barcelona, 1933.

Place, Edwin B. “María de Zayas, An Outstanding Woman Short-Story Writer of Seventeenth-Century Spain,” University of Colorado Studies 13 (1923): 1-56.

Sánchez de Palacios, Mariano. Zurbarán. Madrid, 1964.

Slaniceanu, Adriana L. “The Calculating Woman in Cervantes' La fuerza de la sangre.Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 64 (1987): 101-10.

Ticknor, George. Historia de la literatura española, vol. 3. Madrid, 1954.

Vega Carpio, Lope de. Novelas a Marcia Leonarda, ed. Francisco Rico. Madrid, 1968.

Vida de Santa María Egipçiaca. In Antigua poesía española, 55-126. ed. Manuel Alvar. Mexico City, 1974.

Vives, Juan Luis. Distaves and Dames: Renaissance Treatises for and About Women, ed. Diane Bornstein. Delmar, NY, 1978.

Warner, Marina. Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary (1976). Rpt. New York, 1983.

Wayne, Valerie. “‘Some Sad Sentence’: Vives' Instruction of a Christian Woman.” In Silent But for the Word, ed. Margaret Patterson Hannay, 15-29. Kent, OH, 1985.

Weinstein, Donald, and Rudolph M. Bell. Saints and Society: The Two Worlds of Western Christendom, 1000-1700. Chicago, 1982.

Weisbach, Werner. El barroco, arte de la contrarreforma. Trans. Enrique Lafuente Ferrari. Madrid, 1942.

Wessley, Stephen E. “The Thirteenth-Century Guglielmites: Salvation Through Women.” In Medieval Women, ed. Derek Baker, 289-303. Oxford, Eng., 1978; rpt. 1985.

Wilson, Diana de Armas. “‘Passing the Love of Women’: The Intertextuality of El curioso impertinente.Cervantes 7 (1987): 9-28.

Zayas Sotomayor, María de. Novelas amorosas y ejemplares and Desengaños amorosos: Parte segunda del sarao y entretenimiento honesto, ed. Agustín González Amezúa y Mayo. Madrid, 1948-1950.

———. The Enchantments of Love: Amorous and Exemplary Novels. Trans. H. Patsy Boyer. Berkeley, 1990.

———. Parte segunda del Sarao y entretenimiento honesto [Desengaños amorosos], 11-21. Ed. Alicia Yllera. Madrid, 1983.

———. A Shameful Revenge and Other Stories. Trans. John Sturrock. London, 1963.

Ruth El Saffar (essay date fall 1993)

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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 young men and women engaged in dancing, banqueting, singing, and storytelling assemble for five nights during the Christmas season as part of an effort to dispel the fever suffered by their hostess Lysis. In a fashion perhaps closer to the Thousand and One Nights than to the Decameron, however, the stories the gentlemen and ladies tell play an important role in the drama of the frame tale. At stake is the disposition of Lysis's will as she considers the question of marriage. At the beginning of the frame tale Lysis hopes to marry the dashing Don Juan. Don Juan, however, proves an unworthy object of her affections, having turned his eyes toward Lysis's cousin Lisarda.2

Over the course of the five nights of storytelling, Lysis, through a succession of poetic compositions, and Don Juan, with a series of poems of his own, spar with one another. Through verses traded over the first two nights they accuse one another of falseness, insincerity and jealousy in a wrangle lost on none of the observers. The tension between the two rises when Don Diego appears to step into the spot in Lysis's affection left vacant by Don Juan, leading to a point at the end of the second night when the two male rivals agree to a duel, albeit one postponed until after the festivities are over, so as “not to spoil the ladies' pleasure in these celebrations” (154).

The frame tale functions as a courtly love romance featuring the rivalry between Lysis and Lisarda on the one hand, and Don Juan and Don Diego on the other. Within that romance, and serving simultaneously as distractions, deferrals, and amplifications, the ten novellas are embedded. In the study that follows I will examine the various fictional levels of the Enchantments and how those levels interpenetrate and refract off one another as they repeat the problematics of the “writing woman” in a social order that obstructs female autonomy and authority. Through a consideration of the various narrative levels and voices I will seek to show how Zayas's voice breaks through narrative as well as social constraints to challenge the dominant assumptions regarding woman's place and role.


From the very beginning of the soirées organized for her entertainment it becomes clear that Lysis is a poet few can rival. She performs the poetic and musical entertainment from the first night, voicing through her compositions her feelings of injury and moral superiority vis-à-vis her unfaithful love, Don Juan. At the beginning of the third evening Lysis, by this time having consented to marry Don Diego and wanting “to avoid the theme of love and jealousy and so discourage the rivalry between [Don Juan and Don Diego]” (158), sings an apparently passion-free sonnet in honor of King Philip IV.

Given Philip's reputation as a womanizer, and Zayas's tendency to turn literary and patriarchal conventions against themselves, Lysis's opening poem of the third night can hardly be read as neutral. The Philip whom Lysis lauds in the quartets as “Sun” and “Phoenix” is transformed in the tercets into first Jupiter with his nymphs, and then the youthful Cupid (157-58). If a monarch well known for his mistresses sets the moral tone for the whole court,3 what, we may well be encouraged by Zayas to ask, are we to expect from the lesser nobility from whom the likes of such fickle suitors as Don Juan are drawn?

Paired with the convention of the laudatory poem to the King as part of Lysis's interlude entertainment on the third night is another poem, also conventional, that further ironizes the courtly love game. Drawing on the familiar conceit of the fly or mosquito who has such easy access to the beloved's flesh, Lysis sings to “sister flea” a madrigal commenting on the power of that nearly invisible creature who is as voracious as she is indiscriminate.

Lysis's apparently neutral poems at mid-point in the series of soirées serve in fact to contextualize the love politics being enacted among her fellow noble men and women. The poems suggest that the network of deceptions within which the young men and women are operating extends well past the apartment building in which they live. Between the King, who epitomizes the noble pretenses and wealth of the assembled, and the flea, who exposes the commonality and fleshly hunger that promotes romance,4 can be recognized the whole work that Zayas has produced.

The frame tale interludes highlight sumptuous banquets, perfumes, elegant costumes, exquisite music. The stories, on the other hand, dredge up from the depths passion's otherwise artfully disguised affiliations with betrayal, murder, suicide, and madness. It is over this world of ceremony and secret passion that King Philip IV and the humble flea preside. Between the pretenses of the former and the stark truths of the latter, Zayas, through Lysis, seeks to find her place.

The poems to Philip IV and the flea, however incisive in their allusions to power and its relation to desire, work within the frame primarily to ease the growing tensions among the guests. The tension is pointed out by the frame narrator, who notes that “everyone felt good because Lisarda and Lysis prudently had asked Don Juan and Don Diego to promise to be friends” (212). The fact that Lysis's poetic commentary on love is lost on the guests of the soirée suggests the presence in the work of an intended reader distinct from the ones dramatized in the text. Indeed, as Patsy Boyer has noted, the frame characters frequently misunderstand, or show only partial understanding, of the stories they hear. In a later section of this paper I will consider this point in greater detail.

The collective relief occasioned by the apparent resolution of the two frame-tale triangles continues into the fourth night, when it is announced that Don Juan and Don Diego will take turns hosting the dinners of the two remaining nights. The apparent resolution of conflict is further underscored by the accent on dancing, with its association of the harmonious pairing of men and women: “The remainder of the afternoon was spent in dancing. With much grace and skill, the participants competed with one another in dress, bearing, elegance, and courtliness for, at this soirée, everyone knew who was courting whom” (213).

The betrothal at mid-festivities has a premature, unsettled air, however, as Lysis reveals in her opening song on the fourth evening. Somewhat surprisingly, considering that she is now supposedly happily promised to Don Diego, she sings: “To love a faithless man, / can there be greater misfortune? / Curses upon the woman who tries / to attract the constant man” (214). In the ever-shifting alliances on which the triangle's inherent instability is based, Lysis's curse upon fickle men throws Don Juan and Don Diego into temporary alliance against Lysis. The narrator comments: “Lysis cut Don Juan deeply with these three stanzas, and even Don Diego was saddened by them” (214).

Lysis makes a quick disclaimer about the verses, saying they were written by someone else because she hadn't had time to write something of her own. The multi-layered structure of the work as a whole, however, invites us to consider to whom, if not to Don Juan and Don Diego, were Lysis's words addressed. As will be developed in Section II of this paper, where Lysis's role vis-à-vis the frame narrator is explored, the question of the destinary in Zayas's hermetic courtly text is not easily resolved. The point here is only that, undermining the principal frame characters' drive toward reconciliation is another voice, present among them but not intended for them, which is less patient with the flaws of men. Where Lysis might be represented as “aggravated” or pained by Don Juan's inconstancy, the other voice, commenting to the reader, is more savage, and more inclined to say of Don Juan, “Such fickle men belong in solitary confinement” (181).

Lysis also opens the fifth night with a song. Although her new work is reported to please Don Diego, who imagines that “these were occasional verses intended to erase the memory of the ill-intentioned verses that had been sung before” (272), her poem should hardly have been the occasion for a lover's joy were he attuned to the beloved's feelings rather than to the skirmishes in which passion plays itself out. In her poem Lysis contrasts the abundance of nature overflowing with gladness with “Marfisa's” sorrow:

What is this, beautiful nature, / she asks tearfully; / it seems as if your glory / is born from my sorrow. / If you laugh because I weep, / cease, nature, your laughter, / for you should pity / and lament my sad love.


Once again, the inaccuracy of the frame characters' interpretation leaves a gap between the dramatized sender and the dramatized recipient that allows us to conjecture that there is in Zayas's text an unnamed other for whom the verses are in reality intended.

Lysis continues the theme of unhappiness in love into the interlude between the first and second stories of the fifth night, singing:

The misfortunes I suffer are so great / that I am misfortune personified; / life for me is living death. / But if Favio is both life and heaven, / why do you, Marfisa, fear / that heaven will hear your sorrows, / that life will grant you death? / While nature overflows with gladness, / only Marfisa weeps.


The use of riddles, emblems, and imprese is common in Renaissance literary compositions. In at least one of her novellas (“Aminta Deceived and Honor's Revenge”), Zayas, following Masuccio, employs the device of the impresa.5 The riddle in Lysis's just-cited poem, poses the simple question of identification: “Who is Marfisa?; Who is Favio?” The fact that nothing in what Lysis appears to be experiencing suggests that “Marfisa” and “Fabio” are figures for her and Don Diego leaves the door wide open, once again, for the possibility that Zayas's work has a riddle quality designed to be understood by a specific, historical reader. Hovering unseen over the entire collection may be another pair of lovers, between whom our text moves as a message only they can decode.

Despite the clear poetic indications of Lysis's uncertainty, the frame narrator ends the book promising a second part where “we shall see Don Juan's ingratitude punished, Lisarda's change of heart, and Lysis's wedding” (312). In a collection of stories full of “true” examples of the deceptions occasioned by love,6 Lysis's apprehensions about love itself, and her still-smoldering resentment of Don Juan, belie the narrator's promise for a successful resolution to the love conflicts represented in the frame tale. Like Cervantes's unfinished pastoral novel La Galatea, the tensions among the principal characters in the frame tale cry out for a resolution that nothing in the structure of the work admits. The true story that “romance” seeks to disguise is that the “other” can never in fact be possessed.7 In both Zayas and the Cervantes of the Galatea, males and females remain fundamentally separated from one another, making courtship a matter not of harmonious interaction but of dominance and resistance.

By the end of the first collection of stories we know that Lysis is betrothed to Don Diego. She wears his diamond necklace, her fever has lifted, and she has accepted his proposal for marriage. Her mother has approved the match. All that remains for the frame tale of the promised second collection, according to the narrator, is the punishment of Don Juan and Lisarda, and the marriage of Lysis and Don Diego.

The announced, yet deferred “happy ending” is suspicious on a number of counts. The perspicacious reader would not need to wait for the 1647 collection of Disenchantments, Desengaños amorosos, to suspect that Lysis's planned marriage to Don Diego was destined to miscarry. In a book rigorously structured to reflect the separation of men and women, and full of commentary on the perils that await those who seek to form a permanent alliance with an “other” from the opposing camp, no foundation is laid for enduring heterosexual love.

The drama of the frame tale is clearly unfinished at the end of María de Zayas's first collection of stories, in part because all the options available to Lysis have not been considered. The male-female bi-partite structure of Book 1, as will be explored in detail in the next section of this paper, supposes that the choice confronting Lysis is between Don Juan and Don Diego. The exercise of her will is oriented, in other words, toward the selection of a mate in a context that assumes matrimony as the outcome. Latent in the structure of the frame, however, and explicit in many of the “exemplary” frame tales, is the option of rejecting heterosexual love entirely that will in fact prevail in the second collection. Before considering that other option, and how it is represented in latent form in the 1637 text, we need to look closely at the male/female binarisms built not only into the narrative structure of the frame in the 1637 collection, but into the fabric of the society out of which Zayas writes.


In the frame tale of the Novelas ejemplares y amorosas male and female forces are carefully balanced against one another. Women as well as men have access to the spoken word, as in equal numbers on alternating nights they recite tales of love that lay bare the mechanisms of conflict their dances, masques, and courtly behavior work to disguise. At the level of the frame the sexual parity is believable. Various depictions of life in Spain in the seventeenth century show the development, especially under Philip IV, of a courtly society made up of highly refined women as well as men who were schooled in the arts of poetry and theater, and equally enamored of wit and literary skill. Cervantes's depiction of such characters as the Duke and Duchess, Altisidora, and the ladies of the “False Arcadia” show early signs of a courtly and literate aristocratic sub-culture that becomes responsible, by the 1620s, for most of what we now consider the artistic and literary output of the Spanish Baroque.8

Though we know next to nothing about the life of María de Zayas, we do have it on record that Lope de Vega as early as 1621 had acknowledged her literary talents. Since she published her two collections of stories after his death, we can surmise that Lope's praise of Zayas's “rare and unique genius” (qtd. in Boyer, Introduction xi) was based on his appreciation of what wit and poetic talent María de Zayas may have shown in the literary salons of which both must have formed a part. In her introduction “To the Reader,” Zayas traces what may well have been her own literary trajectory when she says:

The moment I see a book, new or old, I drop my sewing and can't rest until I've read it. From this inclination came information, and from the information, good taste, and from this the writing of poetry and then the writing of these novellas. …


The implication is that Zayas, clearly a member of the Madrid nobility and most probably an active participant in the literary salons that had become popular in the early seventeenth century, had attracted Lope's attention with her skill at writing verse.

A glimpse of what the literary gatherings she attended may have been like is provided by Zayas herself as she recreates in the frame the idle and refined life to which young men and women of the aristocratic classes devoted themselves. Women like Lysis, like, indeed, the Doña Ana to be discussed in Section III when we take up the novella “Forewarned but not Forearmed,” may well have been as active as men in composing occasional poems. The examples of Lysis and Doña Ana, in fact, suggest that the literary women may have been better than most of their male counterparts.9 Where they differed, and this is important in considering Zayas's work as a whole, was in the making of the decisive step from the spoken to the written word. So conscious is Zayas of the momentous quality of the breach in convention that she is making in coming out in print that her very first words anticipate the reader's amazement. In “To the Reader” she writes:

Oh my reader, no doubt it will amaze you that a woman has the nerve, not only to write a book but actually to publish it, for publication is the crucible in which the purity of genius is tested. … Who can doubt … that there will be many who will attribute to folly my audacity in publishing my scribbles because I'm a woman, and women, in the opinion of some fools, are unfit beings.


As Ann Rosalind Jones in her study of Luise Labe and Veronica Franco points out, and as Zayas herself makes clear, women's erudition was considered an adornment in the Renaissance, a domestic enrichment that was in no way considered something which she should display outside the confines of her intimate circle, much less something she should sell for profit.10 Openly challenging that limitation on women's artistic productivity, Zayas not only questions in the first prologue the tacit injunction against women publishing, but in the second prologue (“Prologue by an Objective Reader”) spends considerable time on the question of profit, urging, like the author of the Buscón, that the reader not rifle through her book at the bookstall, but actually buy it.11 After giving a number of examples of how “parasitic” readers escape paying for a book they want to read, Zayas's “Objective Reader” exhorts: “Oh, dearest readers, let this book be exempt from this kind of treatment because of its great merit. Don't let the swindler get away with reading it for free.” (4)

The frank merchandising of her work makes a clear statement about a system designed to make women vassals in an economy entirely male-controlled.12 Given the impossibility of women earning an honest living outside marriage or the convent, Zayas's plea, however possibly ironic, for profit for her writing, highlights an aspect of her distance from her frame heroine Lysis, who is staged as a woman still hopeful of marriage, and apparently content to let her poetry serve occasional, decorative purposes. Lysis is a long way from the independence and assertiveness which her author, by the very act of publishing the work, is demonstrating.

In the background of Zayas's frame-tale presentation of men and women of intelligence and literary skill is the sense on the part of the author herself that the equality of souls on which she is so insistent has no relation to the realities of economic and political power. Nor does the equality have relevance to the conjugal unit, as story after story within the frame reveals. The frame, then, is a kind of artifice, a suspension between the outer world of seventeenth-century Spanish politics and the inner realities of matrimony—a beguiling moment of courtship in which Lysis is being seduced by illusions of equality that she cannot in fact experience.

It is in the context of the artificiality of the courtly festivities that the reader is invited to consider the situation of Lysis, whose unrequited love for Don Juan appears to motivate the entire work. Underneath the costumes and finery a fever burns that Lysis hopes to tame. The work of soothing her rage is given over to her mother, Laura, who sets the rules for this courtly exploration of the ways of romance and the possibility that its rituals can promote or prepare for lasting union. The rules can be seen as an effort at order that is constantly challenged by the sentiments of the participants.

Don Juan appears at the festivities accompanied by a number of friends equal to that of the women who attend Lysis. Both principals in the love contest thus have four cohorts, making a total, counting Lysis and Don Juan, of ten named young men and women. The pairing of the group into couples at the beginning of the party gives an appearance of heterosexual bonding that the narrator is careful to reveal as drastically unstable.

Lysis, who is nominated “president of the delightful entertainments” (8), is dressed in blue, “the color of jealousy” (9), while her supposed counterpart, Don Juan, the man to whom “she was hoping to surrender in legal matrimony all the delightful charms with which heaven had endowed her” (7), appears, as master of ceremonies, dressed in brown. Their separation is reinforced spatially as Lysis, due to her fever, is seated on her couch. Don Juan, without a partner, is compelled to start the dance alone. The others who follow him onto the dance floor, though they enter the hall in pairs, are in no case enamored of the one with whom they enter. Lisarda, “wearing brown to match Don Juan's colors,” comes in on the arm of Don Álvaro, who is wearing Matilda's colors. Matilda, however, appears with Don Alonso, who has eyes for Nise, and so on.

The rigidity of the barrier separating the sexes is emphasized in the structuring of the storytelling. Laura decrees that two women tell stories the first night, two men the second night, and so on until the fifth night when Don Juan would tell the first story and Laura, replacing her daughter, the second. It is Laura, then, who is pared structurally with Don Juan, not Lysis.

As if further to underscore the rigor by which men and women are depicted as separate from one another, the author gratuitously and improbably endows each young man and woman at the party with a same-sex parent who is invited to the final banquet. The narrator says that the participants made plans to “invite the ladies' mothers and the gentlemen's fathers, for it just so happened that none of the ladies had a father and none of the gentlemen had a mother.” As if sensing the need for an explanation, the narrator adds somewhat lamely that “death does not accommodate the desires of mortals” (8-9).

The redoubling of the separation of the sexes to the second generation, while it seems to have no import in the construction of the story, gives a quality of overdetermination, of obsessive reiteration, to the question of gender distinction. In the courtly world that Zayas recreates in her imagination, no models for the effort honorably to cross the gender barrier seem to be available. Dishonorable boundary crossings, of course, are the rule in a courtly society that R. Trevor Davies has depicted as “overwhelmingly depraved” (87).13

On the other hand, aspirations to some form of reconciliation, through marriage, between the sexes remain alive in this first collection of Zayas's stories: Some couples in the frame tales manage to overcome the innumerable impediments to fulfilling union; and the heroine of the frame story remains at least nominally committed to marriage. The frame narrator, furthermore, makes room for men as well as women in her equal distribution of male and female narrators, as already noted. Finally, the very use of such social activities as eating and dancing bespeak a form of potential harmony among parties otherwise prone to separation and mutual hostility.

However, a closer look at the relationship between the frame narrator and the principal frame character reveals that the apparent “even-handed” distribution of men and women at the party and in the collection is undermined by a clearly partisan favoring of women over men. Examination reveals that the voice of the frame narrator, though more emphatic than that of Lysis, is closely allied with the emotional position of her character, amounting at times to a blurring of the narrator/character boundaries and a corollary investiture of “authority” in the character of Lysis.

Lysis, indeed, stands out from all the other young people in the work. She occupies a place midway between the characters, on the one hand, and the author/reader on the other. While she is one of the characters in that she participates in the action, interacts with the other characters, and experiences on their level the desires, hopes, and frustrations, she also stands apart as the most accomplished of them from a literary standpoint. She is the only one of the women to compose and sing poetry, some of it so close to her own passion that she sings with tears, her soul weeping (44), some so disengaged as to be represented as work written for a contest. Her only rival in that art of poetry is Don Juan (“Consummate in composition as in everything else he did” [77]), who sings two compositions.

Clearly Zayas intends to make a point here with regard to Lysis's superiority. The other frame characters, with the exception of Don Juan, limit themselves to prose, considered an inferior genre from a literary point of view. All, again except for Don Juan, emphasize that their work is not literary, and that it comes instead from stories others have told them, or have written, based on true, contemporary events. Closer to Lysis's literary skill than the others, Don Juan emphasizes the writerly quality of his own story when he says of it, “I took my pen in hand and wrote out several drafts, product of my feeble wit” (273).

If Don Juan exhibits poetic aspirations, Zayas is careful to stage his work as inferior to Lysis's, not only in quantity, but in quality. Against the two poems written by Don Juan are seven composed and sung by Lysis. And while Don Juan restricts his work to the rustic and poetically simple ballad, Lysis displays a variety of cultured verse forms, including the sonnet, in her repertoire. Lysis also stands out as the only one among the assembled men and women who does not tell a story. Instead she sits to the side of the dais on a luxurious couch that served as “seat, sanctuary, and throne” (9). From that place slightly above and slightly removed from the others Lysis considers her amorous situation, listening each night as alternating pairs of men and women tell the troubled stories of love.

That Lysis in her position at once in and out of the setting in which she is placed figures forth the position of the author, herself acclaimed as a poet, is supported by a considerable array of evidence. First, as already suggested, the narrator's commentary tends to favor Lysis over against her adversaries. A totally disinterested narrator would limit herself to describing the rivalries on which the love struggles are based. This narrator, however, makes adverse judgments on Don Juan and Lisarda, but never on Lysis. She refers to Lisarda as “unprincipled in getting her way” (8), and shows at the end a desire, like her main character, to see Lisarda and Don Juan punished (312).

Even at the end, now out of the context of Lysis and the guests, and addressing herself as writer to the reader, the author can still be found expressing what appears to be her wish that Don Juan be punished. Since we have no evidence that would help us understand the nature of Don Juan's commitment to Lysis, we can only say that the characterization of Don Juan as a cad alludes to the presence of an unnamed but clearly intended destinary, who may stand for men outside the text whom Zayas wishes to reprove.

The story-within-a-story structure of the work, its mise en abîme quality that encloses narratives within narratives in an ever-receding replication of the failed love of the frame, in itself invites the conjecture of a faithless lover and rival male writer to whom the author addresses herself. Just as Lysis voices her complaints of Don Juan using the names of such poetic figures as “Fabio” and “Marfisa,” so “Lysis” and “Don Juan” may well be names given to fictional courtiers designed to represent Zayas's own struggle with the men who have wounded her.

Clark Hulse argues persuasively for the search for historical destinaries in Renaissance texts in his article on Philip Sidney's sonnets. Questioning the twentieth-century New Critical assumption of a self-referential text, Hulse points to the public quality of courtship in Renaissance courts that required the poet frequently to construct poems able simultaneously to convey a general meaning to the audience at large and a special meaning to those few who understand. The Golden Age drama, where lovers are rarely free openly to discuss their desire for one another, is full of such poems of double-entendre. Mencía's conversation with Enrique in front of her husband in Act I of Calderón's El médico de su honra is an example, as is Doña Leonor's address to her former lover, Don Luis, in A secreto agravio secreta venganza. Hulse points out, bearing in mind the situation at the Renaissance court, that:

readers, like writers, exist as real people. … Just as the image of the writer within the text acts as a double for the real writer, partially disclosing, partially hiding his life and thoughts, so the image of the reader in the text interacts ironically with real readers. … When we measure our sense of the fictive audience of a poem against a real Renaissance audience, this interplay can help us see how the creation of the poem was itself an act with consequences—personal, sexual, and political—within its literary culture.


As has been noted already in Section I of this paper, Zayas leaves a large gap between sender and fictional recipient in many of Lysis's poems. The presence, in Golden Age drama, of the misperceiving recipient (usually the deceived husband), always implies another destinary for whom the hidden message is intended.

The picture that emerges out of the partisanship betrayed by the frame narrator—her clear identification with Lysis as both woman betrayed and as consumate courtly poet—is that of a gifted and talented woman author, mirrored in Lysis, in search of a place in a male-dominated social and literary order. That that order has mocked, when not able to prevent, women's publications has already been noted as the dominant point of the author's opening address to the reader. That that order also severely restricts women's social activities before, but even more after marriage, is clear in the stories that Lysis listens to. At either side of the frame tale whose heroine bridges the disparate fictional realms of frame narrator on the one side and characters within the novella on the other, the reader is presented with the spectacle of a society which leaves little room for female freedom.

In La vida cotidiana en el Siglo de Oro español, Néstor Luján corroborates the position Zayas illustrates in her fiction, pointing out that:

La mujer en el Madrid de los Austrias, por lo general, había recibido una educación deficiente y estaba sometida a unas circunstancias jurídicas bastante duras; por un lado, la potestad paterna, o sea el derecho para casar a las hijas sin consentimiento, y por otro la desigualdad de la mujer en el matrimonio, donde la autoridad del marido estaba apoyada por grandes facilidades jurídicas, incluso el asesinato por infidelidad de la mujer. Esto es un hecho incontrovertible y viene apoyado no tan sólo por las leyes y costumbres, sino por los hechos.


The anomaly of the brilliant and free woman is one that Zayas seeks to reconcile within a social structure designed to limit and silence her. It is not until 1647, with the publication of the Desengaños amorosos, that Zayas abandons all hope for integration for her young heroine Lysis. In that later publication the sexual division is complete. Although men form part of the audience in the frame tale of the later collection, only women are permitted to tell stories, and those stories focus exclusively not on courtship, but rather on the fate of women in matrimony. Of the “true” tales of the second collection, six married women die at the hands of their husbands and/or brothers and fathers, while the other four, after brutal treatment, escape to the convent. Lysis, her mother Laura, and many of her friends end the soirées of the second collection deciding to take the tales as cautionary and themselves enter the convent, leaving Don Diego's hopes for marriage to Lysis dashed.

Like Virginia Woolf three centuries later, Zayas appears to have resolved the struggle represented in the character of Lysis in favor of celibacy and female bonding. As Jane Marcus says of Woolf,

it is clear that the survival of the fittest is in conflict with the survival of the creative woman. She can only refuse to reproduce, refuse wifehood and motherhood. Chastity is power. Chastity is liberty. Marriage … is a trade. And since women have no control over the means of production in their trade or the means of reproduction, their only access to dignity is the sexual strike.


Also like Woolf, the “daughter of an educated man,” Zayas has found through her appropriation of the means of self-expression that she has rendered herself incapable of engaging in the gendered game of dominance and submission that depended on her ignorance of its rules. Her stories are the more shocking for their effort to disrupt the very codes on which they are based. Though they are not notably innovative at the structural and lexical level, they are nonetheless radically subversive of the honor code which determined social and literary relations in seventeenth-century Spain.14 Because much of what transpires at the level of the frame in the second collection is anticipated in the novellas of the first collection, I want now to move from questions of frame and the relation of the frame heroine and author, to a close examination of one of the most interesting stories in the first collection.


The clear ambiguity of Zayas's position in 1637 when the first collection was published does not allow her yet to reach the radical position to which she will have arrived a decade later. In the final section of this paper I want to focus on a tale from the 1637 collection in which I find the uncertainty of Zayas's own image best reflected. The story, “Forewarned but not Forearmed,” is not entirely flattering to women, since it presents a series of female figures best characterized by their willfulness, their sexual appetite, their wiliness and their hypocrisy.

Like the other stories in the collection that present women as either Amazonian or adulterously inclined, this one is narrated by a man. As Patsy Boyer has astutely pointed out, the stories are in fact sex-coded, and some recognition of the narrative bias is important in assessing each story (xxviii). Typically, the stories narrated by the women present female characters as devoted, and as victims of male treachery. Though they may act in a “manly” way to avenge themselves when dishonored, they are never themselves depicted as wrongdoers. In the stories told by men, on the other hand, women generally show at least some inclination toward depravity as defined by the honor code. Interestingly, however, the male narrators tend to favor resolutions that end in marriage, while the three instances in which women disappointed in love enter convents all occur in tales told by women.

I have chosen to highlight “Forewarned but not Forearmed,” the story Don Alonso narrates as the second tale of the second night, because it offers, embedded within its episodic structure, the image of a female character who, like the figure we have extracted from the Lysis/Zayas composite, is a gifted and attractive woman of the court. The figure of the adulterous and lascivious woman that Don Alonso paints, as he takes his hero, Don Fadrique, on a sexual odyssey through Spain and Italy in search of the faithful wife, is not unknown in the courtly environment of seventeenth-century Spain. Quoting once again from Luján, we see that:

si el siglo XVII en Madrid es el siglo del honor, también lo es del libertinaje. Los hombres tienen mancebas, bastardos, son clientes de burdeles, enferman de males secretos. Muchas de las mujeres por merecer, las solteras, llevan una vida hipócrita y disimulada de disolución, de tal modo que la palabra “soltera” llega a tener un sentido equívoco y a las que mantienen su virginidad se las llama doncellas.


The hero of “Forewarned” is clearly intended to be shown as a foolish man. Don Fadrique, in his efforts to find a noble and honest wife, styles himself a kind of Diogenes figure, traveling from town to town in search of the woman who will display the qualities of chastity and fidelity he so desires to possess. The story appears to be designed to respond to the question, much debated in the seventeenth century, of which was preferable, a submissive wife or a cultivated woman. Vigil notes that the abundance of household help gave women of the upper and middle classes considerable leisure time, which worried the moralists of the day. Husbands, she adds, were concerned about the freedom of their wives, but also tended to complain that house-bound wives were irritable and unattractive.15

Don Fadrique, after his many disappointments with clever women, is certain that only an ignorant woman can be faithful. At the end of his sixteen years of affairs, mostly with married women, he concludes that the only available woman who will meet his criterion of absolute trustworthiness is a girl called Gracia who has spent her entire life in a convent. The ironic twist that Zayas puts on the contest between worldly and naïve women, however, is to show that even the product of the convent, a mere child and utterly ignorant, cannot be counted on. In the end Zayas has Don Fadrique learn that clever women are better after all because if they do not in fact practice marital fidelity, they at least know how to appear to do so.

Fadrique's search for the faithful woman begins in his own home town of Granada, where the beautiful Serafina attracts his devotion. In what will come to be a pattern throughout his travels, Fadrique finds that Serafina is already being courted by someone else. Confident that he will win his suit for her hand since his rival is less rich and well-connected than he, he presses for marriage through Serafina's parents, who agree to the match. The difficulty comes when Fadrique, keeping obsessive vigil over Serafina's house, discovers that she escapes one night secretly to give birth in a fallen-down shed. She abandons the child, who, because Fadrique rescues her, winds up in the convent and eventually becomes his wife. That comes at the end of the story. At this point, having discovered Serafina's betrayal, Fadrique goes to Seville.

In Seville he again falls in love, this time with a beautiful widow named Doña Beatrice. Keeping watch once more through the night, the over-curious Fadrique discovers that this idealized woman also has a secret. He manages to follow her into the stables when she thinks the house is quiet, and finds that Beatrice has had the custom of sleeping with a black stable hand whom she has apparently so exhausted with her unquenchable desire that he has come to despise her and attribute his impending death to her.

Making yet another hasty retreat Fadrique finds himself now in Madrid, where, through his cousin Don Juan, he meets Doña Ana and Violante, two wealthy and clever women of the court to whom the two young gallants quickly become enamored. By now Don Fadrique has developed a fear of clever women. Doña Ana and Violante are so vivacious and attractive, however, that Fadrique finds himself caught. The story-within-a-story of Doña Ana, Violante, Don Juan, and Don Fadrique, shows women demonstrating, through their cleverness, their absolute control over their and their lovers' sexuality.

If Zayas turns the tables on the male debate over whether a dull and virtuous wife is preferable to one who is charming and untrustworthy by showing that the question hangs on a false dichotomy, her work is duplicated within the novella in the machinations of Doña Ana and Violante. In both cases what we see overturned is the assumption, basic to the honor code, that the usual tools of male control work to limit female sexuality. Neither by denying her access to education nor by subjecting her to threats of punishment and death can a woman be denied her freedom. By making a fool of Don Fadrique in the story as a whole and in the episode, to be described below, with Doña Ana and Violante, Zayas argues once again for the right of clever and attractive women to be recognized and appreciated.

It must be noted that in the much darker tales of the Disenchantments Zayas does not present female characters on a romp, joyfully turning their would-be lovers' illusions of control into shams. By 1647 she seems convinced that women can in fact be broken by the honor system, and, furthermore, that men can be counted on to press their legal rights to power over their wives to the limit. In “Forewarned,” as in many of the novellas of the Enchantments, however, we are still in the world of courtship, where women enjoy more power.16

The two women who “play” with Fadrique, in the third of the five episodes that track his erotic odyssey, bear certain characteristics in common with Zayas and Lysis, as already noted. Doña Ana and Violante, like their sisters in the frame and beyond, are renowned in Madrid as poets and musicians. Don Juan says of them, “[they] are the sibyls of Spain: both are beautiful, witty, both are musicians and poets. In conclusion, these two women possess the sum of all beauty and intelligence scattered among all other women in the world” (130).

Doña Ana, whom Don Juan loves, is promised to a man still in the Indies. Doña Violante is unmarried. They refuse any erotic entanglement with the two young men until after Doña Ana's future husband arrives, presumably so as to preserve Doña Ana's virginity. Once he has come and the marriage has been settled, Doña Ana and Doña Violante send messages to Don Juan and Don Fadrique promising them an invitation once her husband leaves town on a business trip. The men become impatient, and finally Doña Ana hits on a plan. She gets Don Juan to persuade Don Fadrique to spend the night in her husband's bed so that, her place apparently occupied, she can then sleep with Don Juan.

Fadrique is of course horrified with the plan and makes every effort to refuse. At stake for him, however is a relationship with Violante, and Don Juan is so desperate for a night with Ana that he threatens suicide if Fadrique doesn't help him. With extreme reluctance, followed by utter terror, Fadrique allows Ana to lead him, dressed only in a nightshirt, into her husband's bed. The narrator takes apparent great relish in describing Fadrique's night of torment—the husband's turning and sighing, his cozying up to his “wife,” Fadrique's belief that he would never survive the night. It is not until day finally breaks and Doña Ana returns that Fadrique learns the “man” he spent the night with was not Doña Ana's husband at all, but Violante.

The trick Doña Ana works on Don Fadrique is one that has the effect of putting him in the place of the adulterous woman, exposing him to the terror of spending the night in bed with a jealous man. Doña Ana and Violante have forced him by trickery into a reversal of sex roles that demonstrates the humiliation that attends powerlessness, and the phallic control that women of intelligence can exercise over men who presume to be their masters. The alliance Zayas makes in this episode, and the next one of the Duchess, of intelligence and sexual freedom is not used in this story so much to corroborate male fears as to make light of Don Fadrique's prejudices. The real point, made clear in the last episode where even the innocent Gracia is led to betray her husband, is that women, like men, have sexual desires. When the social structure mitigates against the expression of those desires, they are either expressed in secretive and abnormal fashion, as with Serafina, who is forced out of fear to abandon her infant daughter, and Doña Beatrice, a slave to the love of a black slave, or disguised in a more flamboyant manner as with Doña Ana and the Duchess. Gracia, however unknowing of the ways of the world, also soon discovers that there is more to married life than dressing up in a breastplate and pacing in front of her husband's bed with a sword. What her ultimate succumbing to the charms of a young suitor reveals is that it is desire itself, not intelligence, that determines behavior.

Doña Ana's and Violante's game of sexual table turning with Don Fadrique is a basically didactic and entertaining work of art, a gratuitous performance designed, like the tale that contains it, to ridicule the laws of honor that justify the suppression of women's education. The story shows that whether they have access to the pen, like Doña Ana, or the sword, like Gracia, it is the will that wields them, and not the instruments themselves, that determines the use to which they will be put.

Although the story clearly addresses one of Zayas's major complaints about the society in which she lives—that women are deprived of the means to defend themselves and to become independent, and that that deprivation is justified by the false assumption that women with power will be less faithful than women easily forced into submission—“Forewarned” also contains another, scarcely developed story worth considering. The tale ends not with Fadrique, who seemed to be the “hero,” but with Serafina, the first of his fiancées, and the hapless mother of Gracia. We learn that Serafina, tormented by the guilt of having had to abandon her daughter, threw herself after the incident into a life of repentance, and came to be considered a saint. Only after several anxiety-filled years of living with his infantile yet still untrustworthy wife, and knowing he is about to die, does Fadrique finally tell Serafina that Gracia is her daughter. In his will he stipulates that the two be reunited in the convent, in exchange for which he would leave them all his wealth.

The true end to the story is the reunion, in the convent, of a mother and daughter separated because of the fear that sexual disobedience inspired in the young Serafina. Undergirding the whole series of comic adventures of Don Fadrique is the tragic and yet scarcely recorded story of mother-daughter separation and forced abandonment. It is only at the end that we realize that Don Fadrique, who seems to be on a noble quest, is in fact part of a system that controls not only the sexuality and educational opportunities of women, but also the access of a mother to her child. This darker, still submerged tale of female suffering at the hands of patriarchy, with its resultant discovery of a female utopia outside the bounds of male-female intercourse, will become, in the Disenchantments, the central focus.

In the Enchantments, at every level, we find signs that Zayas was still very much a part of the world of courtiers and courtship. She presents high-spirited single women at every level of the work who are known for their wit and relative social freedom, and often offers stories that end in marriage. On the other hand, she also shows an awareness of the myriad ways in which marriage can work to the detriment of women. Her depiction of Lysis as favoring marriage is, I suspect, an accurate indicator of Zayas's own still-mixed feelings about courtship and marriage. In the Enchantments she is still holding out for the possibility of female freedom and enduring heterosexual love. The story of Don Fadrique that I have focused on here, gives, perhaps, the best snapshot of the possibilities Zayas still envisaged for young women of talent. Its further value is that it also foreshadows, in the scarcely-written story of Serafina and Gracia, the retreat to a world made up exclusively of women—of mothers and daughters—toward which Zayas's work was leading her.


  1. The references to the Novelas amorosas y ejemplares used here and throughout this article are taken from H. Patsy Boyer's recently published English translation. The new edition finally makes Zayas's work accessible to a wider range of critics. This article is dedicated to Patsy, to whom I am indebted for having introduced Zayas to me many years ago, and for having produced such a beautiful rendition of and introduction to the work of that too little read seventeenth-century writer.

  2. As Patsy Boyer has noted in her introduction to the Enchantments, the name of Don Juan is not without wry significance, since much of the frame tale will be devoted to a not so poorly disguised deflation of this particular Don Juan's flamboyant and narcissistic character (Introduction xviii).

  3. R. Trevor Davies says of Philip, “En general, no se esforzó demasiado por conformar su conducta a los patrones de la moral cristiana. Al morir dejó por lo menos siete u ocho hijos ilegítimos; algunos autores elevan este número a treinta y dos” (85).

  4. My use of the word romance here exploits intentionally the dual signification—erotic and literary—of the term. I have further chosen to use the word in its double sense because Zayas so clearly conflates the literary and the erotic. In her work the erotic skirmishes carried out among her lovers are literature: they are patently false, dependent on artistry, highly self-conscious, and closely allied to literary forms and conventions. At the level of the frame as well as at the level of the novellas, her characters are figures trapped in the fiction of romance. Echoing the early work of René Girard, one could say of the whole collection that it constitutes, through the characters of Lysis and her mother, Laura, a search for a haven beyond the mensonge romantique, a place of self-dominion where the devil himself is defeated.

  5. I am indebted to Maude Bregoli-Russo for calling attention to the appearance of imprese in Zayas's work, and for her reference to the Masuccio novella.

  6. The narrators of the novellas all affirm, with the exception of Don Juan, that the stories they tell actually happened, after adding that the characters represented in them are still living in the city named in the tale. This reiterated affirmation of a reality that reaches outside the closed house of fiction in which the noble men and women live serves only to reinforce the sense that, on the one hand, the whole work is intended to reach a real audience, possibly consisting of a single destinary—and on the other, that that reality rooted in mimetic desire (see Girard), is in fact indistinguishable from fiction.

  7. The failure to possess the “other” as female, the radical impenetrability of the woman who is the object of desire, is what Mary Gossey refers to as the “untold story.” No one perhaps as subtly as Zayas (whom Gossey does not study in her work) writes that tale of the failure of the dream of romance. As in Gossey's study, the failure of romance in Zayas leads to the discovery of new and more lasting bonds of affiliation among women.

  8. John Elliott writes of the over-production of educated aristocrats in the seventeenth century, and their lavish support of the arts:

    On the whole, the wealth of the aristocracy seems to have been spent more on the patronage of literature and painting than on architecture. … The Count of Olivares, after leaving Salamanca University, spent several years at Seville in the company of poets and authors. … When he became the Favourite of Philip IV—himself a great connoisseur, and a patron of arts and letters—he made the Court a brilliant literary and artistic centre, famous for the theatrical presentations and literary fiestas, in which such names as Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca figured prominently.


  9. In “Everything Ventured” the narrator Jacinta comments on her skill as a poet and her sense of competition with her lover Celio:

    Since I too compose poetry, he would challenge me and we would enjoy the competition. It didn't amaze him that I composed poetry. That's no miracle in a woman whose soul is just the same as a man's, and maybe it pleases Nature to perform this wonder, or maybe men shouldn't feel so vain, believing they're the only ones who enjoy great talent. What did amaze Celio was that I composed so well.


    In Jacinta's combination of pride, competitiveness and defensiveness can be found an echo of the Zayas of the Prologue, who both knows her talent and the hostility with which it is likely to be received.

  10. Ann Rosalind Jones writes:

    If they [women] went on to write, gender expectations … shaped their choice of genre and their sense of an audience. … Unlike the humanist and courtly texts that male writers directed toward readers and fellow citizens, women's literary production was typically described as intended only for the use of their families. Their themes and their audiences were private.

    (emphasis hers; 299)

  11. In her first prologue she argues further that souls are without sex, and that men overpower women in the world only because women have been denied training:

    How … can men presume to be wise and presume that women are not? … [T]he only answer to this question is men's cruelty and tyranny in keeping us cloistered and not giving us teachers. The real reason why women are not learned is not a defect in intelligence but a lack of opportunity. When our parents bring us up if, instead of putting cambric on our sewing cushions and patterns in our embroidery frames, they gave us books and teachers, we would be as fit as men for any job or university professorship.


  12. For more on the economic aspects of the patriarchal family so firmly entrenched in Spain (and most other European countries by late in the sixteenth century), see Vigil 105-26.

  13. Trevor Davies says: “La tremenda depravación en que estaban sumidas las gentes y la casi increíble relajación de las Órdenes Religiosas en España se pusieron de manifiesto con los escándalos del convento de San Plácido” (87). The scandals he goes on to describe, dating from 1623 to 1628, and therefore not long before Zayas's novellas were published, include the kind of easy male access to the convent present in Zayas's first novella of the 1637 collection, “Everything Ventured.”

  14. Although I value and have been greatly inspired by Paul Julian Smith's effort to find in Julia Kristeva's “semiotic” a means of distinguishing Zayas's prose from that of her male contemporaries, I am not persuaded that the meandering and episodic plots to which Smith alludes are decisive of what most basically differentiates her work from that of male writers. I am more inclined to attribute such features in Zayas as the blurring of the distinction between author and character, the projection of a female utopia in the form of the convent, and the exaggeration of the social depravity that oppresses women, to Zayas's need to establish a self and a social identity in a political environment hostile to those aspirations. Following the work of Rita Felski, I am looking much more directly at content in Zayas's work than, using a French feminist model, Paul Julian Smith would do.

  15. Vigil says, quoting Guevara on the problems of married men, “si tu mujer es muy aliñada y casera, es por otra parte tan brava que no hay moza—criada—que la sufra.” Virgil also cites Ferrer de Valcedebro who observed that if one is married “con entendida, no es casera; si con casera, es insufrible” (117-18).

  16. For a still excellent study of the power women can exercise during the courtship process, see Fred de Armas's The Invisible Mistress.

Works Cited

Boyer, H. Patsy. “Introduction.” Zayas, Enchantments xi-xxxi.

De Armas, Frederick. The Invisible Mistress. Charlottesville, VA: Biblioteca Siglo de Oro, 1976.

Elliott, J. H. Imperial Spain, 1469-1716. New York: Mentor Books, 1966.

Felski, Rita. Beyond Feminist Aesthetics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989.

Girard, René. Deceit, Desire, and the Novel. Trans. Yvonne Freccero. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1970. Trans. of Mensonge romantique et verité romanesque.

Gossey, Mary. The Untold Story: Women and Theory in Golden Age Texts. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1989.

Hulse, Clark. “‘Stella's Wit’: Penelope Rich as Reader of Sidney's Sonnets.” Rewriting the Renaissance. Ed. Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986. 272-86.

Jones, Ann Rosalind. “City Women and Their Audiences: Louise Labe and Veronica Franco.” Rewriting the Renaissance. Ed. Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986. 299-316.

Luján, Néstor. La vida cotidiana en el Siglo de Oro español. Barcelona: Planeta, 1988.

Marcus, Jane. “Liberty, Sorority, Misogyny.” The Representation of Women in Fiction: Selected Papers from the English Institute, 1981. Ed. Carolyn G. Heilbrun and Margaret R. Higonnet. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1983. 60-97.

Smith, Paul Julian. The Body Hispanic: Gender and Sexuality in Spanish and Spanish American Literature. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1989.

Trevor Davies, R. La decadencia española, 1621-1700. Barcelona: Editorial Labor, 1969.

Vigil, Marilo. La vida de las mujeres en los siglos XVI y XVII. Madrid: Siglo Veintiuno, 1986.

Zayas y Sotomayor, María de. Desengaños amorosos. 1647. Ed. Alicia Yllera. Madrid: Cátedra, 1983.

———. The Enchantments of Love: Amorous and Exemplary Novels. Trans. and Intro. H. Patsy Boyer. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990. Trans. of Novelas amorosas y ejemplares. 1637.

Valerie Hegstrom (essay date summer 1994)

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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. Her play La traición en la amistad stands out among comedias, as one of just a handful of theatrical works available by women of that period. One scholar who has treated La traición, Matthew Stroud, concludes that despite Zayas's daring, feminist prose, she has as playwright failed to overcome the norms imposed by the Golden Age comedia and demanded by comedia audiences. In contrast, Constance Wilkins in a recent article compares Zayas's play with Sor Juana's Los empeños de una casa, and rereads La traición from a distinctly feminist perspective as a subversion of the conventions of the comedia and of the norms of its “political and social” context (107).1 This rereading of La traición goes beyond interpretations of the comedia that attribute a pro-female stance to male authors of the genre, suggesting that their works call into question the position and treatment of women in seventeenth-century Spanish society. Zayas's play reaches even farther than those male-authored comedias, and in fact shifts the borders of the genre in new directions.

Critics have described in detail the presence of mujeres varoniles in the comedia. Many studies have appeared on the mujer vestida de hombre (for example, Romera-Navarro, Ashcom, and Bravo-Villasante). Melveena McKendrick's Women and Society in the Spanish Drama of the Golden Age: A Study of the “Mujer varonil” delineates the characteristics of various types of strong female characters in the comedia. Amy Williamsen looks at both mujeres vestidas de hombre and mujeres varoniles to explore their relationship to the carnivalesque. Although not as obvious, hombres mujeriles also play an important role in Golden Age theater. While Jean Canavaggio's article treats hombres vestidos de mujer, Esther Beth Sullivan argues that Reichenberger's “order disturbed” in the comedia comes about through “displaced masculinity and femininity”; when women act like men and men act like women, they disturb order (57). Mujeres varoniles and hombres mujeriles tend to upset the scheme of things in their plays. Their behavior is often seen as a threat to the honor code and other values inherent in the comedia and seventeenth-century Spanish culture. According to Sullivan, the comedia achieves Reichenberger's “order restored” by the imposition of “masculine dominance” at the end of each play (57).

This imposition or reestablishment of “masculine dominance” at the end of the plays usually occurs through murder or marriage; women thus return to their feminine (passive) state, and men recover their masculine (active) dominance. Privileging one alternative (masculine active dominance) over another intolerable, although often explored, alternative (feminine active dominance) restores order in the comedia. The end of María de Zayas's La traición inverts and then subverts these conventional endings of male-authored comedias by establishing feminine dominance and then foregrounding the false dichotomy inherent in the convention.

The fallacy of false dichotomy or alternatives, a kind of oversimplification, has several other names: the “All-or-Nothing Mistake,” “the great either-or” (Fearnside 30), “bifurcation,” “the black or white fallacy” (Engel 49), and the “false dilemma” (Kahane 56). According to Howard Kahane, this fallacy “occurs when we reason or argue from the assumption that there are just two plausible solutions to a problem or issue, when in fact there are at least three” (56). The false dichotomies in Zayas's La traición en la amistad are the binary oppositions masculine/feminine and active/passive. The characters act and react in a way that calls attention to these oppositions, which exclude any other possibility. María de Zayas goes beyond other comedias in La traición by reestablishing order at the end of the play through feminine active dominance. She has the women take on the role of active dominance usually reserved for males, relegating the male characters to passivity. Furthermore, she calls attention to the false dichotomy inherent in the comedia generally by suppressing in the end the character who tries to find a new position in a space between the polar oppositions.

An exploration of gender roles dominates the development of La traición en la amistad. Liseo enjoys the active role of the burlador and Laura accepts the passive position of the mujer burlada. Liseo seduces Laura, and promises to marry her; she discovers his infidelity one night in bed when he anxiously reveals in his sleep: “Marcia y Fenisa me adoran” (598a).2 Liseo, like many of his counterparts in other comedias, begins to despise the woman he has already seduced. When Liseo's gracioso, León, mentions Laura's name, Liseo shouts, “Calla, borracho, / si sabes que la aborrezco / ¿por qué me nombras su nombre?” (595a-b). Liseo prefers the names of two other women:

Es Marcia de mi amor prenda querida
y Fenisa adorada en tal manera,
que está mi voluntad loca y perdida.
Laura ya no es mujer, es una fiera;
Marcia es un ángel; mi Fenisa diosa;
éstas vivan, León, y Laura muera


Laura, not a particularly strong woman, bursts into tears at least four times during the play and faints once. The other characters repeatedly beg her not to cry. When she tries to explain her situation to her faithful friend Félix, she hesitates several times, and he must keep encouraging her to continue with her story. She also loses her nerve when she tries to confront Marcia with the truth. Laura cries out in an aside: “ya el ánimo y la color / tengo de verla, perdida” and later asks the audience: “¿Qué tiemblo? ¿qué estoy cobarde?” (599a-b). Laura is such a passive character that, were it not for the constant encouragement of Félix and the other women, she would never avenge herself of Liseo's wrongdoing.

Other characters in the play experience injustice due to the actions of unfaithful lovers, but they are not nearly as weak in their reactions as Laura. For example, Liseo also wrongs Marcia, but her behavior never includes weeping or fainting. In the opening speech of the play we learn that Marcia loves Liseo, for she tells her friend Fenisa that when she first saw him, he looked at her and from his eyes he sent her “aquel veneno que dice / que se bebe por la vista” (590a). That same kind of poison had entered lovers' eyes in classical, Medieval, and other Golden Age literature, and in Marcia's case its effects could devastate because of Liseo's philandering nature. This love enters appropriately as poison, because Liseo tells León that he loves Marcia for her chastity and intends to marry her, but in the meantime he will enjoy the pleasures that Fenisa offers him. When Marcia learns of Liseo's infidelity, she immediately becomes disenchanted and pledges her support to Laura's cause. Not only strong in the face of Liseo's deception, Marcia also plays the part of the mujer esquiva and rejects the repeated petitions from the overly loyal Gerardo. He has courted her for seven years to no avail; she considers him little more than an annoyance.

Marcia's cousin, Belisa, another woman unjustly used and then ignored by her man, spends most of her time announcing Marcia's visitors and speaking on behalf of Gerardo. Belisa had enjoyed the attentions of Juan, until he became interested in Fenisa. Belisa, however, never weeps over or even mentions the loss of her former lover until Laura tells her sad tale. Suddenly Belisa decides to win Juan back:

Que pierdo
el juicio, imaginando
tal traición, y que si puedo
le he de quitar á don Juan
mi antiguo y querido dueño,
que también le persuadió
á que no me viese.


Laura, surprised by Belisa's sudden revelation, exclaims, “¡Ay cielo! / ¿también tú estás agraviada?” (601a). Belisa bears the offense well (almost, it seems, without noticing it) and sets about to reclaim her former lover.

Given his treatment of Belisa, Juan might seem the typical burlador, if in his first appearance onstage he did not accuse Fenisa of deceiving him:

                                                                                Yo padezco
y tú mi dolor ignoras;
… tú pagas mal
mi amor.


Rather than burlador, Juan finds himself in the passive and traditionally feminine role of amante burlado. He calls Fenisa, “Una harpía, un desamor, un olvido,” “[f]iera,” and “ingrata” (592a-b). For all his complaints, he cannot establish a masculine, active posture in his relationship with Fenisa. Fenisa invents an excuse for Juan to explain away his complaints, but reveals her true motives to the audience; so we know that she lies to Juan.

In addition to developing these several characters who both betray and are betrayed, Zayas also explores complete gender role reversals in the play through her characters Gerardo and Fenisa. Gerardo, like a character in a Garcilaso égloga or a novela pastoril, drags himself about the stage weeping and fainting because Marcia prefers the attentions of Liseo. Gerardo has served Marcia faithfully for seven years, receiving no encouragement in return. He hires Antonio and Fabio, two musicians, to sing the sad song of his passion as he paces back and forth across the stage beneath Marcia's balcony.

¿Mandas, señor, que cantemos?
Fabio, Antonio, bien venidos
seáis. …
¿Qué diremos?
Mi pasión podéis cantar.
Será muy triste canción …
¡Ay! Fabio, ¡ay! Antonio, sí
cantad, pues, y no templéis; …
          (Cantan y Gerardo se pasea.)
Por qué, divina Marcia,
de mis ojos te ausentas
y en tanto desconsuelo
triste sin ti me dejas?


Despite all his efforts, Marcia refuses to see Gerardo, nearly causing him to faint. Belisa tells him, “mas no es justo desmayes” (596b). The musicians fear that Marcia's disdain will kill him:

¡Triste mancebo! Antonio,
miedo tengo que muera.
Dejémosle que á solas
pasa mejor sus penas.


While not unprecedented in Golden Age literature, Gerardo's behavior makes him the most extreme example of an hombre mujeril in Zayas's play. He resigns himself to accept his fate passively, and will react only by crying, fainting, or dying.

In Fenisa, Zayas creates her extreme example of a mujer varonil. This character takes on the masculine role of deceiver, loving every male with whom she comes into contact. Not quite a burladora, Fenisa's philosophy is not “love ‘em and leave ‘em,” but “love the one you're with.” She explains this philosophy several times during the play. Twice she speaks in asides to the audience, once during a conversation with Juan:

Aunque á don Juan digo amores
el alma en Liseo está,
que en ella posada habrá
para un millón de amadores;


and once during a conversation with Liseo:

y aunque á mi don Juan adoro,
quiero también á Liseo
porque en mi alma hay lugar
para amar á cuantos veo. …
tantos quiero cuantos miro,
y aunque á ninguno aborrezco
este que miro me mata.


If these two explanations of her capacity to love do not suffice, Fenisa returns to the theme at the beginning of a soliloquy: “Gallarda condición, Cupido, tengo, / muchos amantes en mi alma caben” (605a). Nearing the end of the play her philosophy takes on the proportions of religious conviction when she compares her charitable attitude toward men to God's, and tells her servant Lucía,

                    … á todos los estimo;
á todos cuantos quiero yo me inclino,
los quiero, los estimo y los adoro;
á los feos, hermosos, mozos, viejos,
ricos y pobres, sólo por ser hombres.
Tengo la condición del mismo cielo,
que como él tiene asiento para todos
á todos doy lugar dentro en mi pecho.


Clearly, Fenisa has an enormous sexual appetite. During the course of the play, she conquers the bodies, if not the hearts, of Liseo, Juan, and Lauro, and claims to have as many as ten lovers at one time. She even offers her love to Gerardo, who, horrified because of his unfailing devotion to Marcia, responds, “¡Calla, lengua de serpiente! / ¡Calla, amiga destos tiempos! / ¡Calla, desleal …” (606a). Fenisa does all she can to keep her various lovers under control, including entertaining two of them, Liseo and Lauro, at the same time during an afternoon picnic.

All of this exploration of gender roles points to the binary oppositions of masculinity/femininity and activity/passivity. Like female characters in many comedias, the women in La traición actively seek justice, but they do so somewhat uniquely, by working together. Marcia, Belisa, and Laura develop a plan through which they reclaim their men. And the end of La traición bears out the masculine/feminine dichotomy, though in a nontraditional manner, for it is the women who take on the active role and the men become passive. Unlike the final scenes in other comedias, in which one of the male characters pronounces who will marry whom, in this play Marcia makes these decisions and says to Liseo:

                    … cosa imposible
es apartar lo que ordena
el cielo; pues Laura es tuya,
por mí tu mano merezca.


Then she offers her own hand to Gerardo: “doy mi mano / á Gerardo, porque sea / premiada su voluntad” (619a-b). Belisa declares that Juan is already her husband. Belisa and Laura, as well as Marcia, play a major part in repressing the decision-making role of the male characters, Gerardo, Juan, and Liseo. Still weak-kneed and fearing Liseo's constant love for Marcia, Gerardo threatens to faint again at the end of the play, but Marcia orders him: “Ten ánimo y no desmayes” (619a). When she gives him her hand, Gerardo humbles himself, “De rodillas en la tierra / la recibo, Marcia mía” (619b). While Marcia regulates Gerardo's behavior, Belisa controls the actions of Juan. When Juan enters and Belisa greets him, he responds, “Pues ya vengo á que me veas / y me mandes como á esclavo” (618a). When Fenisa asks for his hand, Juan tells her to ask Belisa's permission: “Di á Belisa que consienta / en ello” (619b). Gerardo and Juan resign themselves to their passive roles, but Liseo still thinks he will marry Marcia. Then Laura steps in and states firmly, “Eso será cuando quiera / Laura la licencia darte” (619a). Surprised by her presence, having believed that Laura had entered a convent, Liseo wonders if he sees a vision. After recovering from his fear, he finally gives Laura his hand and promises her his soul. Thus, the final scene of La traición finds Gerardo on his knees, Juan enslaved, Liseo beholden to the owner of his soul, and the women in charge of their own circumstances and the destinies of the male characters.

In her essay “The Bounded Text,” Julia Kristeva describes her view of the shift from symbol to sign in European society in the late Middle Ages, and explains the implications of this shift in the novel. Regarding the novel, she notes, “The text turns on a thematic axis: the interplay between two exclusive oppositions” (42). These exclusive oppositions call to mind the false dichotomy or dilemma described earlier. Some of the oppositions Kristeva mentions include life or death, love or hate, virtue or vice, good or bad, being or nothingness (47). La traición turns on the same kind of thematic axis, the “interplay between” masculine or feminine, active or passive; these oppositions in the play, like those mentioned by Kristeva, are exclusive. The characters may function exclusively as masculine or feminine, active or passive, dominating or dominated. For Kristeva the novel moves along a “semic axis of these oppositions” which remains constant. “They [the oppositions] will alternate [within the novel] according to a trajectory limited by nothing but the initially presupposed excluded middle” (43).3 The “initially presupposed excluded middle” makes the oppositions, dichotomy, or dilemma fallacious.

As La traición develops, the characters situate themselves along the play's “semic axis,” alternating between the oppositions in the direction contrary to that normally expected in the comedia. If at first most of the female characters behave passively (or even whiningly), accepting their roles as mujeres burladas (Belisa and Laura), while only Marcia takes the active stance of rejecting the devoted Gerardo, in the end all three of these women dominate their male counterparts. Similarly, if in the beginning most of the male characters control their female partners through deception (Juan and Liseo) and only Gerardo passively accepts his feminine, devoted stance, all three of these male characters end up controlled by their female counterparts. Zayas restores order in La traición by the imposition of feminine active dominance at the end of the play.

Even though all of the characters switch gender roles in the play's final scene, the binary gender construct still controls the behavior of these characters and disallows the possibility for individual development beyond the dichotomy. They fail to find alternatives to the oppositions through Kristeva's “presupposed excluded middle.” To appropriate Kristeva's words, the characters must inevitably choose “one or the other term (with the “or” being exclusive),” and the “presupposed excluded middle” remains an excluded space or possibility (45). Almost all the characters in La traición do finally choose or are forced to accept one pole in the dichotomy or the other, masculine or feminine, except Fenisa. She represents Kristeva's excluded middle—an active woman, in charge of her circumstances, but forced into passivity at the end of the play by the ultimately dominant female characters. When Fenisa tries to reclaim Juan, Belisa starts a fistfight with her. Liseo enters and Fenisa tries to regain his love, but Marcia tells her to be quiet, “que sólo por ser mujer / no te echo por la escalera” (619a). Fenisa turns again to Juan, but Belisa commands,

Desvíate á un lado, necia,
que don Juan no ha de ser tuyo
mientras el cielo me tenga


León, the gracioso, hurriedly asks Lucía for her hand, “que según Fenisa queda / pienso que ha de asir de mí” (619b). Fenisa complains,

Todos habéis sido ingratos
á mi favor y finezas.
Justicia, cielos, justicia
sobre aquesta casa venga.


Because Fenisa does not choose one or the other term—masculine or feminine—but rather chooses both (she seduces and loves all of the men, but leaves none; she befriends the women, but lacks fidelity to that friendship), her behavior is wholly unacceptable to the other characters. The title of the play, La traición en la amistad, refers to Fenisa; she betrays the friendship of the other women. The other women, by contrast, experience a bonding in their friendship that forms the foundation of their dominant posture. In the end, Marcia, Belisa, and Laura reject Fenisa's friendship and exclude her from the circle of marriage and friendship. Kristeva suggests that the only resolution in a work structured on a bipolar opposition is the negation of the middle (43).4La traición plays out Kristeva's theory: the alternatives masculine/feminine are affirmed in the three noble couples that plan to marry at the end of the play; the excluded middle, Fenisa, is negated when all the other characters reject her. In a final insult, León offers her to the men in the audience:

Señores míos, Fenisa,
qual ven, sin amantes queda;
si alguno la quiere, avise
para que su casa sepa.


Whether or not a mosquetero or two would take León up on his offer, this insult becomes the last in a series that, taken together, effectively exclude Fenisa from the play's happy resolution. Zayas makes it clear in La traición that Fenisa is not nearly as guilty of infidelity as Liseo, who admits, “si yo á Fenisa galanteo, / es con engaños, burlas y mentiras, / no más de por cumplir con mi deseo” (603b); but Liseo's behavior is easily identified as masculine, while Fenisa seems within the context of the comedia a monstrous mix of masculinity and femininity.

By structuring her play on the masculine/feminine, active/passive oppositions, María de Zayas negates the “excluded middle,” Fenisa. But the very act of negating Fenisa calls attention to her and her position in the group. The other characters in La traición en la amistad switch gender roles, but never function outside or in the middle of the false dichotomy of masculine or feminine. Only Fenisa tries to break out of this opposition, searching for another place in the or between the terms. If Fenisa fails in the end because of rejection by her peers, Zayas uses her character's negation to point most clearly to the double standard in the comedia specifically and in patriarchal seventeenth-century Spanish society generally.


  1. One other article on La traición appeared in 1988, three years before Wilkins's. Susan Paun de García believes the play contains the traditional themes that appear in most comedias—love, friendship, and honor—but she claims, “Lo interesante de esta comedia es que estos temas se manifiestan en el ámbito de los personajes femeninos, es decir, la amistad entre las damas y el honor de las damas” (379).

  2. This and all other quotations from and references to La traición en la amistad come from Serrano y Sanz's sometimes unreliable edition (1903) included in the Biblioteca de Autores Españoles 271: 590-620. I choose this edition because of its wide availability. Alessandra Melloni's 1983 edition, published in Verona, while readily available in Madrid and Verona, is virtually unobtainable in the United States. I hope that my forthcoming edition of the play will help to alleviate this problem.

  3. I hope that Kristeva would not mind my calculated misreading of her theory. At any rate, I believe my interpretation of Zayas's play to be in line with other contemporary theory as well. In “Frame-Up: Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Theatre,” Barbara Freedman summarizes “the shared goals of feminism, psychoanalysis, and deconstruction”:

    [A]ll are similarly predicated upon subverting the figuration of difference as binary opposition. Structuralism and semiotics, the twin harbingers and now culprits of postmodernist theory, process experiences into polar oppositions which offer an Illusion of Alternatives—nature/culture, passive/active, male/female—rather than a continuum of differences.


    In La traición, the playing out of various gender roles and role reversals by all the characters processes “experiences into polar oppositions which offer an Illusion of [the] Alternatives”—masculine/feminine, active/passive, dominating/dominated.

  4. The counterpart to Kristeva's “negation of the middle” in Freedman's summary is the exclusion of a “continuum of differences” from structuralism's/semiotics's construction of difference as binary opposition (57).

Works Cited

Ashcom, Benjamin B. “Concerning La mujer en hábito de hombre in the Comedia.” Hispanic Review 28 (1960): 43-62.

Bravo-Villasante, Carmen. La mujer vestida de hombre en el teatro español (siglo XVI-XVII). 2nd ed. Madrid: Sociedad General Española de Librería, 1976.

Canavaggio, Jean. “Los disfrazados de mujer en la comedia.” In La mujer en el teatro y la novela del siglo XVII: Actas del II Coloquio del Grupo de Estudios sobre Teatro Español. Toulouse-Le Mirail: U del Toulouse-Mirail, 1979. 133-45.

Engel, S. Morris. Analyzing Informal Fallacies. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980.

Fearnside, W. Ward and William B. Holther. Fallacy: The Counterfeit of Argument. Englewood cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1959.

Freedman, Barbara. “Frame-Up: Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Theatre.” Performing Feminisms: Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre. Ed. Sue-Ellen Case. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1990. 54-76.

Kahane, Howard. Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric: The Use of Reason in Everyday Life. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1988.

Kristeva, Julia. “The Bounded Text.” Desire in Language. Ed. and Trans. Leon Roudiez. New York: Columbia UP, 1980.

McKendrick, Melveena. Woman and Society in the Spanish Drama of the Golden Age: A Study of the “Mujer varonil”. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1974.

Paun de García, Susan. “Traición en la amistad de María de Zayas.” Anales de Literatura Española 6 (1988): 377-90.

Reichenberger, Arnold. “The Uniqueness of the Comedia.” Hispanic Review 27 (1959): 303-16.

Romera-Navarro, M. “Las disfrazadas de varón en la comedia.” Hispanic Review 2 (1934): 269-86.

Stroud, Matthew. “Love, Friendship, and Deceit in La traición en la amistad, by María de Zayas.” Neophilologus 69 (1985): 539-47.

Sullivan, Esther Beth. “A Feminist Analysis of Narrative in Spanish Golden Age Honor Plays.” Literature in Performance: A Journal of Literary and Performing Art 8.1 (1988): 53-62.

Wilkins, Constance. “Subversion through Comedy?: Two Plays by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and María de Zayas.” The Perception of Women in Spanish Theater of the Golden Age. Ed. Anita K. Stoll and Dawn L. Smith. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1991.

Williamsen, Amy R. “Sexual Inversion: Carnival and la mujer varonil in La fénix de Salamanca and La tercera de sí misma.” Ed. Anita K. Stoll and Dawn L. Smith. The Perception of Women in Spanish Theater of the Golden Age. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1991. 259-71.

Zayas, María de. La traición en la amistad. Apuntes para una biblioteca de escritoras españolas. Ed. Manuel Serrano y Sanz. Vol. 2, part 2. Madrid: Sucesores de Rivadeneyra, 1903. 2 vols. Biblioteca de Autores Españoles. Vol. 271. Madrid: Atlas, 1975. 590-620.

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

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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, noble rich; the serious drama, penned by a man, treats such weighty issues as human salvation. One focuses on social interaction; the other, on divine intervention. Yet, there are numerous points of contact between the two plays. The libidinous Liseo of Zayas's comedy sounds much like the infamous Don Juan Tenorio when he describes his plans for seduction: “si yo a Fenisa galanteo, / es con engaños, burlas y mentiras, / no más de por cumplir con mi deseo” (603b). In several guises, Tirso's words echo within Zayas's text; the classic examples are Marcia's complaint, “Bien dijo quien decía / mal haya la mujer que en hombres fía” (611b), and Fenisa's comic inversion, “Mal haya la que sólo un hombre quiere, / que tener uno solo es cobardía” (605a). To be sure, previous critics have noted the links between the two plays. Matthew Stroud labels Zayas's strong female protagonist (Fenisa) a Doña Juana, although Valerie Hegstrom Oakey modifies that view by noting that Fenisa is not a true burladora, since rather than humiliate and desert her lovers, she truly seems to love each of the men in her life and strives to enjoy the favors of as many of them as possible. Constance Wilkins reminds us of the connection between Don Juan and Fenisa but also warns us to resist the temptation “to identify with Fenisa in the validity of her bursting the constraints on women's freedom of sexual expression” (“Subversion” 114). I both agree with and take gentle exception to Professor Wilkins's argument, which leads me to the thesis of this essay. I would suggest that we need to be wary of dismissing too quickly the ways that the two plays enter into dialogue with one another, and I would like to examine in greater detail how the two dramatists explore the relationships between men and women and between reading and writing. Don Juan's legacy is evident in the text and subtext of La traición en la amistad, but in addition, it survives in our own critical confrontations with Tirso's play and with its avatar.

The two dramas are most alike when they deal with the social issues of love, sex, seduction, and friendship. In its treatment of the interaction of the sexes, Zayas's Traición both echoes and challenges Tirso's Burlador. In both plays, we find duplicity and deceit used as tools to win sexual favors, and we see social rebels trying to manipulate their sexual partners; in both cases, the rebel appears acutely aware of performance, of his or her own theatricality, of role-playing within the role. Each drama also reveals examples of the betrayal of one's friends for the sake of love—or at least lust. Each also depicts female bonding, in which women join forces to find the men who had abandoned them so that they might coerce those men into marriage. Each play ends with the punishment of the rebel who attempted to subvert the system and with the marriages of most of the other characters.

We might say that Zayas's play is simultaneously an inversion, a subversion, and a comic copy of the Burlador, especially with regard to the relationships between men and women, power and authority, seduction and deception, subject and object. Even the key words of the titles of the two plays telegraph vital information about the theme of deceit to the reader, although, significantly, La traición en la amistad focuses on an act of bonding and connectedness, while El Burlador de Sevilla singles out the male subject, a gendered behavior that Deborah Tannen emphasizes in her recent work on the ways that men and women communicate.

Each of the two plays highlights one gender while utilizing the other in a secondary role to show how the principal seducer uses the opposite sex for pleasure or power. Tirso's Don Juan Tenorio is the universally acknowledged symbol of the seductive trickster/lover, for the Burlador reifies the male as sexual subject. In La traición, Fenisa echoes many of Don Juan's actions with regard to the opposite sex, claiming to have as many as ten lovers:

diez amantes me adoran y yo á todos
los adoro, los quiero, los estimo,
y todos juntos en mi alma caben,


á todos cuantos quiero yo me inclino,
los quiero, los estimo y los adoro;
á los feos, hermosos, mozos, viejos,
ricos y pobres, sólo por ser hombres


Even when compared with the personal conduct of other women in Golden Age comedy (much less the majority of Siglo de Oro theater), Fenisa's behavior would have to be judged as liberal—and liberated—in the extreme. When her servant notes, “serás de amor infierno,” (615a) or calls her temeraria, Fenisa retorts, “¡Calla, que en esto he de ser / estremo de las mujeres” (606b), in yet other allusions to her Tirsian antecedent. Fenisa's strongest link to Don Juan, however, is her manipulation of the opposite sex in order to satisfy her own desires. She acknowledges that by pursuing her female friends' love objects, she is betraying their friendship:

¿Soy amiga? sí; pues, ¿cómo
pretendo contra mi amiga
tan alevosa traición?
el amor y la amistad
furiosos golpes se tiran;
cayó el amistad en tierra
y amor victoria apellida;
téngala yo, ciego Dios,
en tan dudosa conquista.


Throughout the play, Fenisa both affirms her role as authoritative and manipulative subject and illustrates her problems regarding solidarity with those of her sex. Because her actions are controlled by desire and because she tramples on her friends for her own selfish ends, Fenisa strongly resembles Tirso's Don Juan, the social rebel who leaves behind a trail of women and betrays his male friends for the sake of his own ego.

Yet, there are also a number of significant differences between the two plays—even on this most social of levels.1 A special quality of La traición en la amistad—and a quality seldom found to this extent in male-authored texts—lies in the idea of female bonding. Although in the Burlador the dishonored Isabela and Tisbea meet, commiserate, and agree to travel together to Seville in order to recuperate their lost honor, Zayas clearly emphasizes relationships between and among women, using the connectedness of female friendships as the essence of her play. These bonds between women may exact a high price, as more than one woman is tested and tempted. Certainly, Fenisa is not the only female character whose actions are motivated by desire; Marcia, for example, sees herself as a soldier in a guerra de amor, proclaiming, “a nadie estoy obligada / sino a mi gusto” (519a).2 But when Marcia finds out that her beloved Liseo has dishonored and abandoned another woman, the bonds of friendship prove more powerful than her own desire, and she immediately resolves to help the unfortunate woman reunite with the man who had jilted her:

                                                                                yo confieso
que le tengo voluntad [a Liseo];
mas, Laura hermosa, sabiendo
que te tiene obligación
desde aquí de amarle dejo,
en mi vida le veré.


A sense of sisterly solidarity joins with a moral consideration of what is right, leading these female characters to sacrifice personal satisfaction for the support and fellowship of other women. To accomplish their goals, the women metamorphose from passive objects to active subjects; they begin to act with authority, and they consequently assume greater control and power over the male suitors of the play. In that sense, the women characters of La traición invert traditional male/female roles, calling attention to the idea that women can actively control their lives and fates. In addition, as Wilkins rightly notes, Zayas highlights the notion of the multiple protagonist, in contrast to the phallic, unified “I” so evident in a text such as the Burlador, and provides evidence of a particularly female way of thinking—and speaking—about female relationships and moral responsibilities (110-11, n. 1).

Zayas accentuates the women's authoritative new roles by underscoring the metatheatrical nature of their enterprise: the women create a revenge play within the structure of the larger drama, self-consciously stating, “La traición en la amistad / puede llamarse este cuento” (601a). When we add that level of dramatic dynamism to the issue of female connectedness, we may well posit the idea that Zayas, in a distinctly female voice, presents her readers and audiences with a fundamentally different world view than that of most of her male counterparts.3 Finally, because the male characters of the play tend to be weak, passive, and whining, Zayas appears to stack the deck further in favor of her strong female characters. All of these elements suggests the creation of a female-inscribed alternative text, a concept that Elizabeth Ordóñez thoughtfully examines:

If we perceive difference in these works by women, we still cannot assume that Zayas or Caro, or any other women writer for that matter, necessarily made the conscious choice to create alternative texts. … Yet, women writers have always and inevitably experienced the constraints of their context—literary and social—if only on an unconscious or vaguely emotive level. At some time they all become the Other in search of their own discourse. The attentive reader can discern this often submerged quest for textual authority in the writings of women, and in so doing may discover not only plots about women, but plots about the theoretical difference of women struggling to write authoritatively about themselves.


Ordóñez may well have hit upon the essence of the plots and discourse of women writers of the Golden Age. Nonetheless, we could also deconstruct her premise by examining exactly what the women desire in La traición en la amistad. Their goal is marriage, finding a mate, erasing the stain of dishonor that would attach itself to them if it were generally known that they were sexually active. Ruth El Saffar describes these women's actions as typical of much literature of the Spanish Golden Age: a “desperate effort … to escape the fate of abandon, the fate of the woman whose lover has rendered her, whatever her social class, an outcast by virtue of his refusal to marry her” (2). In that sense, Zayas's “liberated” characters appear only to reaffirm the status quo, the honor code, and the traditional comedia ending.4 It could further be argued that in order to establish their authority and control, the women have only repeated the stereotypically negative female behaviors of manipulation and deceit, and that the female characters of Zayas's play ultimately merely reiterate the male gaze, the representations of women as seen by men. Clearly, the multiple marriages that take place at the end of the comedy leave the reader/spectator with questions regarding the play beyond the ending. How will these independent women, who controlled their men so well in the course of this play, handle their new roles as married women? How will Laura's marriage turn out, given that she is marrying a known philanderer who only agrees to marry her after having been tricked—and who has previously stated, “sus penas estimo en nada” (603b)?5 Moreover, Zayas punishes Fenisa, the only free spirit in the play, the female character who really does try to subvert the system and who challenges the submissive role that society traditionally prescribed for Golden Age women. At the end of the play, each of the men in turn rejects Fenisa for another woman, and Marcia scolds her, telling her that she has brought about her own downfall by being a disloyal and devious friend. Her ultimate shame, however, is the metaphorical public branding, which León emphasizes in his final words to the audience:

Señores míos, Fenisa,
qual ven, sin amantes queda;
si alguno la quiere, avisa
para que su casa sepa.


This confirmation of the double standard, created by offering the men in the audience the character's address, serves to illustrate the nature of Zayas's double-voiced discourse and the openness of the ending of her play. Although she may appear to be sympathetic toward her women characters, there is also inherent in her comedy a not-so-subtle disapproval of their challenge to traditional female roles.6 Of course, I could also subvert this reading by suggesting that the dramatist knew exactly what she was doing, and that by having her free spirit lose out at the end, she was actually challenging the era's notorious double standard of sexual behavior by calling attention to its inequities. All of these simultaneously contradictory readings create a tension between the Zayas who follows male models of dramatic theme, plot, characterization, and expression and the Zayas who challenges the patriarchy with her dynamic female characters, their assertive attempts to control their fates, and their strong sense of female community.

This doubly dramatic tension is intimately related to the issues of women's writing and reader/audience response. As we examine the open quality of her playtext, we may well ask whether Zayas possessed a female voice that clearly expressed a distinct world view, or if men and women see something different in Golden Age dramas written by men and those written by women. We might also wonder if women really identify better with the Zayas play, which seems to speak to women's ways of communicating, of perceiving the world, or we might question how a woman of the last decade of the twentieth century should react to plays that treat women as objects and reaffirm women's place at the bottom of social, gendered hierarchies. It may well be that the most important element of La traición en la amistad is that it asks us to ask questions about the nature of relationships between men and women. Our examination of the two plays should explore not only the images of woman that male and female dramatists produce, but the ways that modern readers have interpreted those dramatic texts. In doing so, we may begin to answer some of the questions I have just posed.

Both the Burlador de Sevilla and La traición en la amistad deal with the sexual interactions between men and women, and both have been examined by males and females from feminist and androcentric perspectives. The popular conception of Don Juan, the manipulative male who deceives and then abandons endless numbers of women, resonates throughout Zayas's comedy: Fenisa is clearly the avatar of Don Juan, and, like him, she suffers at the end of the play; yet, because this is a comedy—and because Fenisa has not toyed with God or tempted fate with multiple exclamations of “Tan largo me lo fiais”—she will suffer social humiliation rather than eternal damnation.

Fenisa is, of course, not the only “Doña Juana” in Golden Age theater. Even within the Burlador itself, Tirso offers a female parallel to his controlling protagonist. Tisbea, like Laura in Zayas's comedy, surrenders her virtue to a man who promises to marry her; she tells Don Juan:

Ven, y será la cabaña
del amor que me acompaña
tálamo de nuestro fuego.


Both Zayas's Laura and Tirso's Tisbea suffer after being rejected by their lovers, and both follow the men who have abandoned them, hoping to get them to honor their spoken commitment. Yet Tisbea not only is Don Juan's victim, but is also his double, having treated the men who love her just as Don Juan treats her:

Yo soy la que hacía siempre
de los hombres burla tanta;
que siempre las que hacen burla
vienen a quedar burladas.


Tirso further underscores the parallels between the two characters with the motif of fire: the flames of their passion echo in the real or metaphoric flames of Tisbea's burning hut and prefigure the infernal flames that will consume Don Juan in Act 3.7 Throughout, Tisbea exhibits a tension between her words and their meaning—for example, rejecting the love of the devoted fishermen while couching her rejection in sensuous language.

Within the very structure of the Burlador, Tirso has blurred the lines separating victimizer and victim, subject and object, burlador and burlada. And this may well represent the closest point of contact between Zayas's and Tirso's dramas. Zayas seems both to uphold and subvert her literary model. Elizabeth Ordóñez observes that the female author “often suffers from what Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have called ‘anxiety of authorship,’ as she struggles with the texts of male precursors, against their authority, their reading and misreading of her, to create an adequate text for her own story” (3). I would further suggest that Ordóñez's analysis of the relationship between writer, text, and reader in Zayas's prose fiction applies equally well to her theater. Zayas “shifts the text's emphasis away from the work itself to its effect on the reader, especially the female reader” (6).

The issue of women reading and writing about women is brought to the forefront in one of the seminal studies of Tirso's text. In her provocative article, “Tirso's View of Women in El burlador de Sevilla,” Ruth Lundelius challenges the opinion held by Blanca de los Ríos and most other Tirsian scholars that Fray Gabriel Téllez was a feminist aligned with “the more extravagant admirers and champions of womankind” (5).8 Noting that the dramatist's misogyny and antifeminist diatribes were characteristic of his age, Lundelius suggests that each women in the Burlador contributes to her own dishonor (7). She adds that “for each of his feminine characters, Tirso made it clear that it was her own weaknesses and failings that smoothed the way to, or even made possible, her seduction and dishonor. The description of Don Juan as ‘el castigo de las mujeres’ implies their guilt” (12). The women's sins, Lundelius observes, include pride, rebellion against paternal authority, flouting the precepts of church and state, and foolish social climbing: “the great care he gives to the tightly fused pattern of weakness—turpitude—retribution—restitution … marks the course of each woman through the dramatic development of the play” (12). This, Lundelius concludes, offers evidence of the “profound cynicism and pessimism” of the Burlador's portrait of women: “Tirso could have ennobled their character and raised them to a higher moral plane by intensifying their struggle with their respective weaknesses. But significantly he did not; rather he has deliberately drawn them as all too easily corruptible” (13).

There is something seductive in Lundelius's reasoning. Her descriptions of Tirso's misogyny are intended to explode a popular critical myth, the view of Tirso as one of the great, liberated Golden Age males, and she suggests a democratization of culpability that readers could find appealing. But her zealous depiction of Tirso-the-misogynist is, perhaps, a bit overstated: Lundelius's laundry list of female weaknesses in the Burlador states that they are “easily swayed by passion, lacking in moral courage, imprudent, foolish, irresponsible, devious, disobedient, incontinent, proud, rebellious toward their proper sphere in life, lascivious, frail, weak, and vain” (13). I am concerned that Lundelius's description of Tirso's (man)handling of women offers an even stronger castigation than that presented by the Mercedarian friar; note the critic's emphasis” “As they are portrayed, I must reiterate, they are as much the victims of their own moral deficiencies as of the seductive skill of Don Juan” (13). The essence of this reading of the play is that the women got exactly what they deserved, which reduces the audience's sympathy, understanding, and compassion toward them, and lessens the likelihood that they will be viewed as anything other than cardboard cut-outs.

Whatever our own preferred readings, it would surely be fair to say that Lundelius has, by attacking misogyny, highlighted the object of her attack. And, whether or not we agree with her reading, we may find it useful as we analyze the links between the Burlador and Zayas's Traición. Lundelius focuses a great deal of attention on Tirso's didacticism and moral purpose. To that end, she sees the women's weaknesses of character as further indicators of Tirso's “blunt indictment of sinning humanity” (13). She mediates Tirso's representation of gender in the Burlador with a socio-religious perspective that underscores sin, and her critique of both the play and the dramatist emanates from that reading. Yet, if we can use Zayas's comic incarnation of Tirso's play as a guide, the author of La traición en la amistad seems to read the Burlador from another position. Zayas appears to use the interaction of the sexes as the pretext for exploring other topics, offering her readers an open play text, one that defies pigeonholing and allows for both the subversion and support of the status quo. The openness of Zayas's denouement—indeed, of the entire play—allows her readers the freedom to explore multiple sides of the issues she treats, so that they may determine for themselves whether Zayas applauds or challenges the socio-cultural realities of her time, whether her discourse is double-voiced or a slavish imitation of patriarchal models, whether the dramatist is successful in transforming Tirso's objects of desire into assertive female subjects, and whether Zayas accomplished what Sue-Ellen Case calls the construction of a “deconstructive strategy that aids in exposing the patriarchal encodings in the dominant system of representation” (121). Perhaps the relationship between La traición en la amistad and El burlador de Sevilla hinges less on sinning, guilt, and victimization and more on the issue of authority (textual and otherwise), on the inscription of power, and on the relationship between subject and object. If that is, as I propose, the ultimate point of contact between the two plays, the Burlador is not merely the immediate source and counter example for La traición. Don Juan's legacy may also be a first- and second-hand lesson on the ways that we read and think about texts.


  1. These differences even manifest themselves at the level of servant interaction. Catalinón, Tirso's gracioso, spends a great deal of time moralizing; Zayas's counterpart, León, talks endlessly about sex and encourages his master (Liseo) to pursue and deceive as many women as possible.

  2. Marcia tells Fenisa that she intends to take full advantage of her father's absence from town: “y mientras mi padre asiste, / como ves, en Lombardía, / en esta guerra de amor / he de emplearme atrevida” (590a-b).

  3. Act 3 of La traición opens with a scene treating the effects of gossip on women's reputations, as we see Laura's reaction to the inaccurate report that Liseo has already married Fenisa. This scene, emphasized by its position at a critical moment in the play, illustrates Zayas's interest in women's issues and her use of topics less-frequently treated in male-inscribed texts. It further illustrates Katharina M. Wilson and Frank J. Warnke's theories regarding the emerging sense of gender collectivity in the seventeenth century, specifically, the idea that the works of women writers of the Early Modern era exhibited an “awareness of shared, gender-specific experience and ideas” (xiii). In his related analysis of Zayas's Mal presagio casarse lejos, Paul J. Smith describes the author's obvious understanding of female bonding; he notes the “fluidity of circulation among women characters” and a “reciprocal female exchange, so different to the fitful and halting relations between men and women in the story” (237).

  4. Nonetheless, Elizabeth Odóñez's comments with regard to the ending of Ana Caro's play bear repeating: “In this female-authored plot the inevitable marriages may be based on firmer bedrock than those in male-inscribed plots, plots in which more passive female characters accommodate to a hollow conformity more central and insistent than justice and love” (12).

  5. For a more detailed discussion of this topic see Edward H. Friedman's “Girl Gets Boy,” Bruce W. Wardropper's La comedia española del Siglo de Oro, and Dawn L. Smith's introduction to The Perception of Women in Spanish Theater of the Golden Age.

  6. Melveena McKendrick observes that in Golden Age theater, if sin is punished, marriage as an institution is preserved and the double standard becomes a kind of natural law. With regard to Zayas's play, Valerie Hegstrom Oakey sees the women characters as active and dominant but also notes the suppression of Fenisa, the character who most tries to break out of traditional gender roles. Although the gracioso León is the speaker of these final words to the audience (which may well render his voice unreliable and his words ironic), Zayas has nonetheless ended her play with this indictment of the comedy's free spirit, leaving her audience with this final impression of the probable fate of her character.

  7. Zayas employs similar imagery when she has Laura describe Liseo as Nero, who sets fire to her soul (600a).

  8. Raymond Conlon's intriguing psychological analysis of male sexual behavior in El burlador de Sevilla disputes many of Lundelius's conclusions regarding Tirso's expression of the misogyny inherent in Golden Age culture.

Works Cited

Case, Sue-Ellen. Feminism and Theatre. New York: Methuen, 1988.

Conlon, Raymond. “The Burlador and the Burlados: A Sinister Connection.” Bulletin of the Comediantes 42.1 (1990): 5-22.

El Saffar, Ruth. “Breaking Silences: Reflections on Spanish Women Writing.” Romance Languages Annual 2 (1991): 1-8.

Friedman, Edward H. “‘Girl Gets Boy’: A Note on the Value of Exchange in the Comedia.Bulletin of the Comediantes 39 (1987): 75-84.

Lundelius, Ruth. “Tirso's View of Women in El burlador de Sevilla.Bulletin of the Comediantes 27 (1975): 5-14.

McKendrick, Melveena. Women and Society in the Spanish Drama of the Golden Age: A Study of the Mujer Varonil. London: Cambridge University Press, 1974.

Oakey, Valerie Hegstrom. “The Fallacy of False Dichotomy in María de Zayas's La traición en la amistad.” Golden Age Spanish Drama Symposium. El Paso, TX (March 1992).

Ordóñez, Elizabeth J. “Woman and Her Text in the Works of María de Zayas and Ana Caro.” Revista de estudios hispánicos 19.1 (1985): 3-15.

Smith, Dawn L. “Introduction: The Perception of Women in the Spanish Comedia.The Perception of Women in Spanish Theater of the Golden Age. Eds. Dawn L. Smith and Anita K. Stoll. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1991.

Smith, Paul Julian. “Writing Women in Golden Age Spain: Saint Teresa and María de Zayas.” MLN 10.2 (1987): 220-40.

Stroud, Matthew D. “Love, Friendship, and Deceit in La traición en la amistad, by María de Zayas.” Neophilologus 69 (1985): 41-48.

Tannen, Deborah. You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation. New York: Ballentine, 1990.

Téllez, Gabriel (Tirso de Molina). El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra. 10th ed. Ed. Joaquín de Casalduero. Madrid: Cátedra, 1986.

Wardropper, Bruce W. La comedia española del Siglo de Oro. Teoría de la comedia. La comedia española del Siglo de Oro. Elder Olson and B. W. Wardropper. Trans. Salvador Oliva and Manuel Espín. Barcelona: Ariel, 1978.

Wilson, Katharina M., and Frank J. Warnke, intro. Women Writers of the Seventeenth Century. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987. xi-xxiii.

Wilkins, Constance. “Subversion Through Comedy? Two Plays by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and María de Zayas.” The Perception of Women in Spanish Theater of the Golden Age. Eds. Anita K. Stoll and Dawn L. Smith. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1991. 107-20.

Zayas, María de. La traición en la amistad. Apuntes para una biblioteca de escritoras españolas. Vol. 2. Ed. Manuel Serrano y Sanz. Madrid: Sucesores de Rivadeneyra, 1903. Rpt. BAE 271: 590-620.

Teresa S. Soufas (essay date 1994)

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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 are not about “life” and solutions in any therapeutic sense, nor should they be. They are about the plots of literature itself, about the constraints the maxim places on rendering a female life in fiction.

—Nancy K. Miller

… pues ni comedia se representa, ni libros se imprime que no sea todo en ofensa de las mujeres, sin que se reserve ninguna.

—María de Zayas y Sotomayor

In her only play, La traición en la amistad, María de Zayas offers dialectical responses to established theatrical conventions of seventeenth-century Spain.1 Examining and challenging some of the dramatic models developed and popularized by the predominantly male writers and viewers of Golden Age plays, Zayas offers her critique of these categories through a focus on the courtship conventions of the noble class, a favorite subject for theatrical depiction in Golden Age Spain. In so doing, she scrutinizes both the comedia as an art form and the values of the society represented and addressed by the performers on stage. The present study of Zayas's play proceeds from a point of view shared by such feminist critics as Jean Kennard and Lillian Robinson, who are concerned with the way literary conventions are imposed by the ideology and beliefs of the contemporary society that celebrates them. This reading of La traición en la amistad is premised upon a feminist emphasis “on the fact of literature as a social institution, embedded not only within its own literary traditions but also within the particular physical and mental artifacts of the society from which it comes” (Kolodny 1985, 147).

My focus is upon the ways in which Zayas depicts the disorder of the community that the comedia reflects and upon her insistence on the inaccessibility of transcendence for the comedia's female characters as they are regularly portrayed. Zayas thus begins by challenging the stereotypical gendering of the dramatis personae. Her characterization of Fenisa, who has been described as a female Don Juan,2 is at the center of this undermining of conventions. Through Fenisa, Zayas presents to her public an example of the social, political, and literary intolerance for a woman or her fictional representation who does not fulfill the conventions or “maxims” of the dominant cultural ideology. Some of Nancy Miller's observations about La Princesse de Clèves are applicable to Zayas's dramatic development of Fenisa: “To build a narrative around a character whose behavior is deliberately idiopathic … is not merely to create a puzzling fiction but to fly in the face of a certain ideology (of the text and its context); to violate a grammar of motives that describes while prescribing.”3

In addition, by incorporating into her drama standard models of comedia women, Zayas dramatizes the rejection of her idiopathic character by the proponents of the prevailing cultural, social, and literary codes, who are as limited by them as Fenisa is at the end of the play. None of the depicted women is shown triumphant within the system of maxims and literary conventions that Zayas critiques—the majority because they conform to the literary expectations, and Fenisa because the standards of the textual world she inhabits will not accept her or provide her with satisfactory alternatives. By grounding her play squarely within the conventional system, Zayas thus suggests the impossibility of being or becoming an admirable character of either sex, given the demands for conformity to an inadmirable model. She communicates a cynical regard for the literary stereotypes that make the process of falling in love and devoting oneself to a beloved simply part of a predictable, cyclical game of insincerity and trickery whose end is the standard pairings of often mismatched couples in the last act.

Zayas's literary reputation among twentieth-century scholars is as the author of collections of short prose pieces, but evidence afforded by her contemporary Juan Pérez de Montalbán indicates that her seventeenth-century audience recognized her more limited theatrical contribution: “Décima musa de nuestro siglo, ha escrito á los certámenes con grande acierto; tiene acabada una comedia de excelentes coplas, y un libro para dar á la estampa, en prosa y verso, de ocho novelas ejemplares.”4 In this century, Agustín G. de Amezúa discusses the play in his “Prólogo” to the Novelas amorosas y ejemplares de doña María de Zayas y Sotomayor, saying:

La traición en la amistad … es una de tantas piezas de enredo como entonces se llevaban a la escena; solamente que esta vez, y contra los impulsos defensivos femeninos de doña María, los enredos no parten del hombre, sino de una mujer, que, por ambiciosa en amores, se queda a la postre compuesta y sin novio. … Lo mejor de ella es la versificación, suelta y graciosa; … La comedia, a creer lo que nos refiere Montalbán, estuvo precedida de cierta fama, aunque no sepamos si, al representarse, alcanzó o no el buen éxito que de ella se esperaba.5

Amezúa's critical lens permits him elsewhere only a view of Zayas in relation to her male contemporaries: “Toda la comedia tiene el corte de las de Lope, a quien doña María imita francamente: tanto era entonces el señorío drámatico del Fénix” (xl).6 Such a bias is also upheld by Irma Vasileski, who opines: “Dentro del panorama general del teatro del Siglo de Oro, no nos parece posible incluir a María de Zayas en un lugar eminente por la razón mencionada de que no conocemos muchos de sus dramas, y sobre todo si consideramos las grandes figuras de dramaturgos contemporáneos suyos con quienes tendríamos que compararla” (33).7

By approaching La traición en la amistad, however, as a work that reveals its author's questioning of the social and literary conventions upheld by the male-dominated culture and dramatic circles in which she had to write and publish, one can appreciate this play's uniqueness in Zayas's production. This very uniqueness is indicative of her pessimism over the constraints of convention as well as of the admittedly limited access for women to the theatrical world, whether as playwright, spectator, or disparaged performer. This play can, moreover, be considered as a complement to Zayas's novelas, whose content challenges literary and social stereotypes and whose structure is developed through a frame tale about young nobles begun in the first published collection and continued in the second work (now known, respectively, as Novelas amorosas y ejemplares and Parte segunda del sarao y entretenimiento honesto[Desengaños amorosos]). Costumed decoratively, these characters take turns telling stories to an audience of friends in a decidedly theatrical manner.

The plot of La traición en la amistad involves a mixture of the components in the love intrigues so often dramatized in capa y espada works. The initial dilemmas faced by each of the principal characters result from their having fallen in love with someone who does not, at least as the play begins, return that affection.8 Marcia, for instance, has continually rejected Gerardo, her suitor of seven years, and is currently attracted by Liseo. This man is unfaithful to Laura, who nevertheless hopes to force him to honor an earlier promise of marriage. Marcia's cousin Belisa loves Juan, but he, like Liseo, Lauro, and other unnamed noblemen referred to in passing, openly woos Fenisa. The plot is thus replete with elements typical of numerous comedias—the court setting, an honor dilemma, a persistent though rejected courtly lover, secret liaisons, deceits, role-playing, seductions, jealousy—all part of the complicated courting practices of the noble classes that threaten or effect unhappiness or even disaster for many women (and some men as well) in numerous Golden Age plays.

Though it is obvious that Fenisa is a target for censure by the characters in the play because of her flirtations with many suitors and her competition with her female friends for this attention, she merely perpetuates the amorous games that the other characters play on a temporary basis, as befits convention. Their courtships also involve numerous betrayals, and rather than serving as the primary vehicle for Zayas's denouncement of a woman's untrustworthy behavior and attitude concerning her women friends, Fenisa serves as the central component in the playwright's condemnation of the whole system of courtship as regularly depicted in the comedia.9

In a short soliloquy in act 1, Fenisa laments her competition with Marcia: “¿dónde, voluntad, caminas / contra Marcia, tras Liseo?”;10 later she reiterates: “¿no miras que vas perdida? / el amor y la amistad / furiosos golpes se tiran” before affirming: “cayó el amistad en tierra / y amor victoria apellida” (591). Such declarations seem to contrast with Marcia's reaction when she learns that Laura has been betrayed and abandoned by Liseo: “mas, Laura hermosa, sabiendo / que te tiene obligación / desde aquí de amarle dejo” (600). Marcia's response here is more appropriately understood as motivated by Laura's honor predicament rather than specifically by feelings of friendship and loyalty to this woman. She does not necessarily best the questionable ethics of Fenisa, since she is called upon to respond to different information. The first evidence that Fenisa knows of Liseo's relationship with Laura, in fact, comes in act 2, when he mentions to her that—as he has been given to understand—Laura will enter a convent (“del mundo engañoso escapa” [604]). Fenisa thus would seem to consider herself in competition only with Marcia, who, like herself, is an eligible candidate for premarital courtship.

Although some of the criticism heaped upon Fenisa results from what is said to be her betrayal of friends, we must ask what their attitude and behavior toward her are. The only woman who attempts to counsel Fenisa or urge her to take another course of action is her maid Julia. The other noblewomen merely talk about her, but none speaks to her directly. Marcia, Belisa, and Laura enact the stereotypes of Golden Age love intrigues without ever breaking with literary convention. All three move in reaction to what is done to them and move progressively closer to the standard wedding in the final scene instead of envisioning another possibility for action or interaction. The new model provided by Fenisa is, however, unacceptable for two reasons: at the moral level because of her selfish attitudes and demeanor; and theatrically because, as a female character (who is supposed to be seen publicly with only one suitor and to welcome his attention alone), she does not supersede the conventional realm in which she is ultimately portrayed as trapped. From the fixed categorical system, Fenisa thus chooses a well-known masculine model whose tenets allow for greater freedom to indulge in multiple amorous relationships merely as diversions and with relative impunity: “Hombres, así vuestros engaños vengo; / guardémonos de necias que no saben, / aunque más su firmeza menoscaben, / entretenerse como me entretengo” (605).11

The use of the word amistad in the title and throughout the play suggests an additional level of Zayas's examination of the conventions. The definition of this term in the Diccionario de autoridades is significant, for along with the primary meaning (“amór, benevoléncia y confianza recíproca”), there is also listed the following: “Vale tambien lo mismo que Amancebamiento” (270). Amigarse is also described as “Lo mismo que Amancebarse,” and amigo as “[s]ignifica tambien el que vive amancebádo” (269). Likewise, amigado is “Lo própio que amancebádo: y assi esta voz amigado ordinariamente se toma en mala parte, y se entiende por el que está enlazado en alguna torpe amistád” (269). Such an emphasis cannot be overlooked in Zayas's play. In Fenisa's conversation with Liseo in act 2, for example, the two discuss his involvement with Marcia and the supposedly cloistered Laura, after which Fenisa asks “¿Somos amigos?” His answer suggests the ambiguous quality of the term that they bandy about: “¿Pues no?” (605). In a subsequent scene, Fenisa speaks with Gerardo, who seeks her help in his heretofore unsuccessful suit with Marcia. Requesting that she serve as his intermediary and appealing to her as a friend of Marcia—“pues su amiga eres” (606)—he thus hints at the two meanings of the word. Fenisa answers his petition with a seductive speech that reinforces the disjuncture of the two definitions of amistad: “yo te quiero, señor mío; / ¿por qué, mi bien, no pretendes / olvidarla?” (606). Gerardo's rejection of her proposition includes the charge that she represents “amiga destos tiempos” (606). As the scene ends, Fenisa summarizes the whole dramatized situation when she declares to her maid: “¡Ay, Lucía, / enredo notable es éste! / ¡Traición en tanta amistad!” (606).

Both Laura's predicament and Marcia's decision to sacrifice her feelings for Liseo are typical of the emotional turmoil that women characters experience as consequences of the courtship practices in which they all participate. Belisa and Laura commiserate over their similar circumstances: about Laura's honor dilemma Belisa asserts, “pierdo / el juicio, imaginando / tal traición”; and, upon learning of Juan's inconstancy, Laura exclaims to her new friend, “¡Ay cielo! / ¿también tú estás agraviada?” (601). Laura also informs Marcia of Fenisa's and Liseo's relationship: “que este cruel lisonjero / si a mi me desprecia, á ti / te engaña, pues sé por cierto / que ama á Fenisa tu amiga / que á ti te engaña cumpliendo / con traiciones” (600).

The distress the three women articulate in this scene is thus provoked not only by Fenisa's behavior but also by the deceptions perpetrated by the male suitors. Their own adherence to misogynistic stereotypes, however, leads them to blame Fenisa more heavily than Liseo for their unhappiness. Marcia assures Laura that “que ya he pensado el remedio / tal que he de dar á Fenisa / lo que merece su intento” (600); Belisa likewise blames Fenisa for Juan's fickleness: “y que si puedo / le he de quitar á don Juan, / mi antiguo y querido dueño, / que también le persuadió / á que no me viese” (601).12

The above conversation ends with Laura's statement: “La traición en la amistad / puede llamarse este cuento” (601), which brings the title within the play's text and symbolizes further the dissolution of the division between the internally represented microcosm and the external macrocosmic realm beyond the enacted text, to which the comedia normally looks for its transcendent message. The figures that Zayas depicts in La traición en la amistad are, in effect, caught in the circular space of the court and in the customs and consequences of courtship in which they engage. The female characters in this play, moreover, do not escape from this ambiance as do the noble women of the frame narrative of her novelas. These latter characters renounce the courtly secular realm and choose to enter the female community of the convent, where they are free from the calumny and abuse of men and the constraints upon their own educational and personal development that social codes impose.13

Though the courtships that Zayas portrays in La traición en la amistad do progress toward marriage for three of the noble couples, just as in some other Golden Age plays (Ruiz de Alarcón's La verdad sospechosa and Calderón's No hay cosa como callar are examples), this so-called remedy of disorder does not bring together two completely happy individuals in any of the pairings. Marcia, for instance, sacrifices any possible relationship with Liseo for Laura's sake, and she finally accepts Gerardo as her fiancé after having rejected him for seven years. Hers is an intellectual decision to promise herself to him, and although she does profess her affection for him in later passages, she explains to Belisa her reasons for changing her mind: “Porque viendo, Belisa, los engaños / de los hombres de ahora … / aposento a Gerardo” (607). The low esteem in which Marcia holds not only Liseo but “los hombres de ahora” collectively is the catalyst for her present reversal of attitude toward Gerardo. In the process, however, she pronounces what Zayas elsewhere presents as a mistaken attitude—that is, directing the sort of stereotypical calumny usually reserved for women to men.14 Marcia thus reiterates her own dependence on the fixed quality of the categories that she helps to represent in the dramatized society.

Gerardo, of course, gains the partner of his choice, but his union with Marcia stands for the suspected reality—sensual and emotional—behind the courtly love tradition; that is, the faithful and long-suffering male's success in winning the desired but disdainful woman leaves questions unanswered about the woman's fulfillment. Like Cervantes's Marcela, Marcia voices the woman's response to the complaints aimed at her because she does not reciprocate a devotion she never sought to inspire.15 The romantic love she has felt for Liseo is apparently not what she feels for Gerardo; she has simply chosen a safe relationship with a man whom she believes she can trust. This seems to be the most hopeful choice that Zayas offers any of her stereotypical female characters in La traición en la amistad, thanks to the rampant misconduct and skewed ethical system in which they interact.16

Liseo represents a particularly abusive practitioner of the courtship values and their double standard. In one conversation between him and his servant, León, the faithless nobleman articulates sentiments reminiscent of other despicable males of Golden Age drama (Tirso's Don Juan in El burlador de Sevilla, Calderón's Don Juan in No hay cosa como callar, and Lope's Comendador de Calatrava in Fuenteovejuna, for example). Recounting his treatment and feelings for the women with whom he is involved, he says: “Es Marcia de mi amor prenda querida / y Fenisa adorada en tal manera, / que está mi voluntad loca y perdida. / Laura ya no es mujer, es una fiera; / Marcia es un ángel; mi Fenisa diosa; / éstas vivan, León, y Laura muera” (603). Rejecting Laura in these cruel terms, he goes on to explain in greater detail his intentions regarding Marcia and Fenisa. Of the latter, he says: “León, si yo á Fenisa galanteo, / es con engaños, burlas y mentiras, / no más de por cumplir con mi deseo” (803). With regard to Marcia, however, he claims: “á sola Marcia mi nobleza aspira; / ella ha de ser mi esposa, que Fenisa / es burla” (603). The audience, nevertheless, is provided further information about the basis of Liseo's process of choosing his favorite from among these women. In the list of Marcia's attributes, he cites: “hermosura y perfecciones raras: / su hacienda, su nobleza, su hermosura, / su raro entendimiento” (603). Physical beauty and financial worth are the first recalled, and given his consistently self-serving attitude, his speech further suggests his practical rather than emotional attachment to this woman.

Fenisa's repeated statements about her many suitors are also revealing in their callous and/or frivolous sentiments. At one point, for example, she says to her maid Lucía: “diez amantes me adoran, y yo á todos / los adoro, los quiero, los estimo, / y todos juntos en mi alma caben, / aunque Liseo como rey preside” (605). Through such statements, Fenisa and Liseo expose the faulty nature of the aristocracy's concept of love. The dichotomous relationship between amor and amistad that Fenisa ponders in her early soliloquy, then, not only articulates the problems for friends who are simultaneously attracted to the same romantic partner; it also makes clear the questionable nature of declared romantic devotion in the intrigues and love affairs (the amistad) as regularly depicted on the seventeenth-century stage. Indeed, the sincerity of Fenisa and Liseo is certainly suspect, but it cannot be forgotten that all the other characters continuously interact with them in game playing and inconstancy. Juan is the first galán to appear on stage with Fenisa and does so in a scene in which he tries to calm her professed jealousy, wooing her just as Liseo and Lauro do later. Gerardo does not surrender to Fenisa's amorous advances, but his efforts to engage her services as a Celestinesque go-between cannot help but imply the potential disaster in such a proposition, based as it is on the obvious literary antecedents in Rojas's famous novel or Lope's El caballero de Olmedo. Liseo's charming deceptions likewise attract three of the four female principals.

The arrangement of conversations that Zayas organizes in the play also supports her disapproving depictions of the theatrical courtships at court. The discussion between Juan and Fenisa, in which she admits in an aside, “Aunque á don Juan digo amores / el alma en Liseo está,” is based on his protestations of jealousy. Sensing her coolness toward him (“tú pagas mal / mi amor”), he merely responds to her role-playing technique. She hopes to keep him unbalanced and to gain needed information about Liseo (“[Aparte] ‘Desta manera le engaño’” [592]). This same sort of language is soon imitated in Juan's conversation with the jealous Belisa, who labels as traitorous both Juan and his treatment of her (601). At this point, Juan continues to evince his propensity to emotional treason through a statement about Fenisa: “accidente fué el querer / á esa mujer” (602). This whole reversal of stated devotion is presumably a parallel of his disregard for Belisa during his courtship of Fenisa. Very soon he promises renewed devotion to Belisa with the telling request, “dame de amiga la mano” (602).

In addition, immediately after Juan's conversation with Fenisa in act 1, Zayas arranges a scene in which Liseo speaks with his servant, León. The latter offers his own crude remarks about relations with the opposite sex—the size and measurements of the most desirable women, for instance, and, in particular, the availability of “fregoncillas cortesanas” and his preference for “las fregoncillas que estos años / en la Corte se usan” (593). León's insistence upon the futility of chastity, his admiration of the unchaste woman (“que si fuera / mujer, que había de ser tan agradable / que no había de llamarme naide, esquiva”), and the anecdotes he uses to convince his master about the validity of his observations heighten the irony of the comparison of his lower-class attitudes with those of the noble class he serves (593).17 León's stories and remarks further strengthen the negativity of Zayas's depiction of the entire society and its social and literary common-places. Later, when Fenisa and Liseo engage in mutually jealous and seductive banter—reminiscent of their respective conversations with the other principals—León constantly interjects his own comic complaints about the loss of his remaining two teeth due to a slap from Liseo. The ridiculous quality of the gracioso's statements, coming as they do between those of the courting nobles, reduces the seriousness of what these two say (604). The scene ends with Fenisa's and Liseo's arrangement of a tryst in the “prado” in, significantly, the courtly setting of “la huerta del Duque,” where she also plans to meet other suitors that same night (605).

As is the case in many comedias, dishonesty has caused the problems, but it is also the means employed by the characters to effect the conventional resolution. In the process, trickery is further institutionalized. With the help of Marcia and Belisa, Laura engages in a standard theatrical ruse—role-playing in the dark to deceive a lover. Pretending to be Marcia, she obtains Liseo's signature on a written marriage contract and in the final scene produces it, to his embarrassment and chagrin. His acquiescence in the marriage does not portend a happy future for the couple.18 Having arrived at Marcia's house precisely to claim her as his bride, he even declares to Fenisa, “De Marcia soy, no pretendas / estorbar mi casamiento” (619). Now married to the woman upon whom he earlier wished death, Liseo participates in the final scene without ever having given any evidence of moral development. He has not behaved honorably to any woman, including Marcia, whom he has often claimed to want to marry—a claim he made about Laura in the play's prehistory. Though he is indeed the man whom Laura loves, the courtship system that has led to his unkind treatment of her has also allowed her reciprocal deception to trap him into marriage. They have fulfilled the conventions of the court's games of love and honor and the comedia's demand for marriage, but they merely reassemble in the relationship that led to the dramatized dilemma. A line delivered by Belisa midway through act 2 is thus significant as a summary of the cyclical and inescapable nature of the literary conventions examined by Zayas: “porque al fin todas las cosas / vuelven á lo que solían” (603).

Zayas's approach to her subject matter in this play belongs to the female writer's strategy described my Miller in the quotation at the beginning of this study. Zayas does not put forth suggestions for change. Through Fenisa she envisions an alternative within the fixed conventional characterizations of women in the comedia. Developing this alternative in a way that demonstrates its untenability in the conventional literary structure in which it must struggle for recognition, Zayas also exposes its inescapable conversion to convention in that system, which will not accommodate anything but the codified theatrical categories that audiences popularize. Fenisa's unconventionality partakes of the characteristics of both the male and female stereotypes. Like many of the damas of Golden Age theater, she is flirtatious and marriageable, but she insists on prolonging indefinitely the games she plays with a multitude of suitors instead of deciding to love only one. Like her sisters, she is also ill-treated by the most unscrupulous of her male admirers, for, as Liseo admits, he intends to deceive her with attention and promises until he marries Marcia. Fenisa nevertheless overtly models her attitude toward, and behavior with, her suitors on their male pattern of comportment. Liseo and Juan, however, are reconciled into the acceptable pattern of relationships, even without any moral development on their own part. Indeed, faithless male characters usually end up by honoring their original commitments to women whom they have abandoned, but only after being tricked into doing so; this is the case with Liseo and Laura.

Zayas does not, on the other hand, portray the reabsorption of Fenisa into society. Never renouncing her dedication to perpetual courtship, this character continues to reject the conventional resolution enacted at the end of most comedias, while at the same time she is rejected by the formulaic characters who obey this tradition. In the last scene, Fenisa is rebuffed by Juan and Liseo, who are now reunited with Belisa and Laura respectively; even León hastily contracts marriage with Lucía in order to avoid any possibility that he will have to marry the ostracized Fenisa. Joining Gerardo and Marcia, these couples form or reform the pairings that the dramatic conventions demand, returning the relationships to their original and/or initially potential status, just as Belisa has anticipated. In this undertaking, they reject Fenisa not only as a renegade from the social system they validate and preserve but also as a symbol of the activities of courtship they must renounce in order to marry and fulfill the literary precepts. Fenisa is therefore a representative of what must always be overcome in the dramas of love intrigues: a character's inability or unwillingness to love only one partner. She becomes, therefore, a conventional element herself even in her unconventionality because of the pessimistic view that Zayas suggests about change in comedia practice. Rejecting the rules that the other characters follow and affirm, Fenisa becomes a permanent fixture herself precisely because of the open-ended quality of Zayas's play and the implied ongoing nature of the conventional system. Fenisa does not revolutionize the stereotypes that will continue to be portrayed as demanded by theatrical audiences. In order to celebrate a boda at the end, the world of courtship will have to be sacrificed, just as Fenisa is renounced by the other characters in La traición en la amistad.

Courtship should be the means to an honorable matrimonial end. Fenisa makes of courtship an end in itself and, in so doing, violates the sense of propriety that the conventions are supposed to promote. She also exposes, however, the hypocrisy of comedia theory, since the formulaic repetition of enredos de amor seems to be the goal of playwright and playgoer alike at the expense of the characters' moral progress. The very fact that the characters in La traición en la amistad are reunited in the pairings of the play's prehistory implies a possible repetition of the disruption of those unions that has just been dramatized. León's invitation to the audience (“Señores míos”) to come and claim the unclaimed Fenisa (“qual ven, sin amantes queda; / si alguno la quiere, avise / para que su casa sepa” [620]) is thus doubly significant. Like his master, Liseo, who affirms that the play is “historia tan verdadera / que no ha un año que en la corte / sucedió como se cuenta” (620), León ends the play by insisting on the specular quality of the stage world and on the audience's responsibility for the repetition of the dramatized conventions. Though spectators' demands are shaped by traditions that they learn to expect, it is they who popularize the conventions perpetuated by the playwrights, who must then satisfy their viewers. Zayas's play questions this whole process. It does not close but rather points toward the sure repetition of the fixed dramatic categories that she has examined and challenged but has not replaced.

Finally, it is significant that Zayas embodies the deviation from conventions in a female character who eventually proves to be their prisoner. The gender differences upheld by the social and literary double standard are consistently affirmed in La traición en la amistad. Neither Juan nor Liseo is ever considered by the abandoned lovers or by any other member of the dramatized society to be unworthy of reassimilation into the resolved pattern at the end of the drama. Such a privilege is typical of depictions of numerous male suitors in countless Golden Age dramas, whereas just as many female characters left abandoned by these very men are considered temporarily or permanently dishonored, dishonorable, and unmarriageable. Fenisa embodies this dichotomy, as she is criticized throughout the drama by the other figures for doing what Liseo also does without loss of social status. It is she who is left alone and isolated, whereas all three of the other women work together to bring Liseo back into the circle of resolution. And yet Fenisa is also free to continue her preferred process of courtship at the play's end. As the character who has disrupted the romances of at least two of the couples during their courtships, she might later be the disruptive figure in an imagined adulterous affair in a subsequent drama about conjugal honor. Zayas and her audience, of course, are not accustomed to honor dilemmas proposed by adulterous husbands. Thus what is suggested by the unmarried status of Fenisa is therefore more subject matter for an unconventional plot that would reaffirm the conventions of injustice for female characters as developed by the dramatic formulas.


  1. The importance of the Golden Age plays and/or playwrights currently relegated by institutional consensus to noncanonical status is an issue appropriate for consideration by Hispanists. Vern Williamsen has challenged his colleagues to reconsider the importance to comedia development of less well known seventeenth-century authors (all but one of those he studies are male) whose contributions to the theatrical production of that period need to be recognized. Feminist scholars, of course, regularly reexamine the ideology that underlies both the literature of any given age and the discourse of subsequent interpretive scholarship. In the introductory remarks to their edition of essays on topics pertaining to social and cultural patterns of representation of women in the Renaissance, Ferguson, Quilligan, and Vickers reiterate that “feminists mount a challenge to the very notion of a canonical tradition; they further challenge that notion by reading canonical texts, generally by men, in heretical ways” (xxi).

  2. Stroud asserts, for example: “[Fenisa] is, in short, a kind of Doña Juana” (543).

  3. Miller, 340. Elsewhere Miller notes: “For sensibility, sensitivity, ‘extravagance’—so many code words for feminine in our culture that the attack is in fact tautological—are taken to be not merely inferior modalities of production but deviations from some obvious truth. The blind spot here is both political (or philosophical) and literary. It does not see, nor does it want to, that the fictions of desire behind the desiderata of fiction are masculine and not universal constructs. It does not see that the maxims that pass for the truth of human experience, and the encoding of that experience in literature, are organizations, when they are not fantasies, of the dominant culture” (357).

  4. Juan Pérez de Montalbán, fol. 359r. Zayas eventually published twenty novelas.

  5. Agustín G. de Amezúa, xl-xli. Serrano y Sanz likewise describes La traición en la amistad as “[m]anuscrito de mediados del siglo XVII” (590). See Place, 53-55.

  6. This statement is not necessarily supported by any evidence from Zayas. At the beginning of her “El traidor contra su sangre,” for instance, her narrator does praise Lope's poetic skill: “En tanto que duró la música que todos escucharon con gran gusto, oyendo en este romance trovados los últimos versos de uno que hizo aquel príncipe del Parnaso, Lope de Vega Carpio, cuya memoria no morirá mientras el mundo no tuviere fin” (1983, 369). Her play, however, actually offers a challenge to the sort of dramatic portrayal that Lope helped to popularize in the seventeenth century. Amezúa nevertheless persists in his traditional critical orientation and ends his discussion of La traición en la amistad with this final supposition: “el hecho es que doña María no volvió a las tablas dramáticas, creyendo, acaso, impropio de una mujer andar por ellas” (xli).

  7. See also Yllera's introduction to the Desengaños amorosos (21-22). Beyond the scant critical treatment already mentioned, La traición en la amistad has suffered the general neglect of scholars of the Spanish classical drama until the publication in this decade of the studies by Alessandra Melloni and Matthew Stroud. Examining the play from a formal standpoint, Melloni compares Zayas's dramatic technique with her narrative strategies and argues that the ending devised for the play is a “happy” one. Stroud claims that the play's ending is weak and is justifiable only: (1) if it is understood to show the risk run by a woman who betrays the female community, to which she should remain true regardless of her sexual appetite or interest in marriage; (2) if a character such as Fenisa is understood as a victim of the societal double standard that allows more freedom to men than to women in the courting practices; or (3) if Zayas's treatment is considered part of the more limiting dramatic system that provides playwrights fewer opportunities for direct communication with the audience for expressing personal views about the events presented within the inflexible plot development. My reading produces different conclusions, however, by means of its emphasis on Zayas's critique of the rigid literary codes that promote so much social and moral disorder, including gender inequities (Serrano y Sanz 1975, 545-46).

  8. This situation repeats certain elements in the frame tale of Zayas's prose works, in which a young noblewoman named Lisis is betrothed to Don Diego, even though she loves Don Juan. Juan, in turn, loves Lisarda.

  9. For a different interpretation, see Stroud, 543-45.

  10. Zayas (1975, 591). All quotations from the play are taken from this edition and will be identified henceforth in the text by page number.

  11. Even the notion of vengeance against the men who deceive women seems to lose its primacy for Fenisa as she adheres more and more closely to the flawed male model she has chosen.

  12. Later, in a conversation with the gracioso León, Belisa reiterates these conventional sentiments. Answering León's complaints about “las mujeres destos tiempos,” who, according to him, take advantage of lovers and their cuckolded husbands, she says, “no son mujeres; / sucias harpias son” (616). She soon points out, though, that “también los hombres tienen cien mujeres / sin querer á ninguna” (616), a statement that does not elicit a parallel diatribe against these faithless males. León enhances this stereotypical misogyny by claiming that in the case of such men, “si engañan, los hombres aprendieran / de los engaños que hay en las mujeres” (616).

  13. Not only do the majority of the young noblewomen of the frame tale of Zayas's prose collections make this decision; her protagonists in the following novelas do as well: La fuerza del amor; El desengaño andando y premio de la virtud; La esclava de su amante; La más infame venganza; La inocencia castigada; Mal presagio casar lejos; La perseguida triunfante; and Engaños que causa el vicio. For further information about the benefits of the cloister for women in seventeenth-century Spain, see Arenal and Arenal and Schlau.

  14. Near the end of the final novela in Desengaños amorosos, “Estragos que causa el vicio,” Zayas's authorial voice is raised on various topics, among them the following: “Bien ventilada me parece que queda, nobles y discretos caballeros y hermosísmas damas … la defensa de las mujeres, por lo que me dispuse a hacer esta segunda parte de mi entretenido y honesto sarao; pues, si bien confieso que hay muchas mujeres que, con sus vicios y yerros, han dado motivo a los hombres para la mucha desestimación que hoy hacen de ellas, no es razón que, hablando en común, las midan a todas con una misma medida. Que lo cierto es que en una máquina tal dilatada y extendida como lo del mundo, ha de haber buenas y malas, como asimismo hay hombres de la misma manera” (1983, 503).

  15. In the first scene, Marcia responds to Fenisa's advice to favor Gerardo as follows: “No digas, / que á nadie estoy obligada / sino á mi gusto” (591). For a feminist reading of the Marcela-Grisóstomo episode in Don Quijote, see Munich, 244-50.

  16. Stroud, moreover, questions even Gerardo's values, since he alone of the three principal males has not enjoyed the physical relationship he ultimately seeks with the woman he professes to love (540). If Liseo and Juan are representative of the male participants in the court's double standard, what could be expected of Gerardo were he to gain Marcia's assent to sexual relations? Marcia's initial confidence in Gerardo's integrity is thus perhaps as misplaced as Laura's and Belisa's has been with regard to Liseo and Juan.

  17. See also 595-96. Fenisa's maid Lucía offers similar sorts of anecdotal information at the same time that she warns the noblewoman of the social risk she runs due to her unorthodox behavior. See, for example, 605-6. León's carnivalesque suggestion of gender reversal is also indicative of the disorder of the society and is reiterated during the scene when Laura visits Marcia and Belisa for the first time. Impressed by the beauty of their visitor, the two cousins use language that suggests an erotic attraction to Laura. Belisa ends the exchange with the following lines: “No hay más bien / que ver cuando viendo estoy / tal belleza; el cielo os dé / la ventura cual la cara; / si hombre fuera, yo empleara / en vuestra afición mi fe” (599). These three women thus frame their conversation about female solidarity and their plot to trick Liseo with this tone of underlying inversion of the conventional order. As with the chaos of carnival reversals, however, the disorder cedes to the traditional cultural configurations. Marcia, Belisa, and Laura do not return to this sort of communication during the rest of the play but instead dedicate themselves to fulfilling the traditional plot development, which leads to what should be recognized as a questionable fulfillment for them.

  18. See Stroud, 544 on this same point.

Works Consulted

Arenal, Electa. 1983. “The Convent As Catalyst for Autonomy: Two Hispanic Nuns of the Seventeenth Century.” In Women in Hispanic Literature: Icons and Fallen Idols, edited by Beth Miller, 147-83. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Arenal, Electa, and Stacey Schlau, eds. 1989. Untold Sisters: Hispanic Nuns in Their Own Works. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Diccionario de autoridades. [1726-39] 1979. Madrid: Gredos.

Ferguson, Margaret W., Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers, eds. 1986. Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.

Kennard, Jean E. 1978. Victims of Convention. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books.

Kolodny, Annette. 1985. “Dancing through the Minefield: Some Observations on the Theory, Practice, and Politics of a Feminist Literary Criticism.” In The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, and Theory, edited by Elaine Showalter, 144-67. New York: Pantheon.

Melloni, Alessandra. 1981. “María de Zayas fra comedia e novela.” In Actas del coloquio Teoría y realidad en el teatro español del siglo XVII: La influencia italiana, 485-505. Rome: Instituto Español de Cultura y de Literatura de Roma, 1981.

Miller, Nancy K. 1985. “Emphasis Added: Plots and Plausibilities in Women's Fiction.” In The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature and Theory, edited by Elaine Showalter, 339-60. New York: Pantheon.

Munich, Adrienne. 1985. “Notorious Signs, Feminist Criticism and Literary Tradition.” In Making a Difference: Feminist Literary Criticism, edited by Gayle Greene and Coppélia Kahn, 238-59. London: Methuen.

Pérez de Montalbán, Juan. 1632. Para todos. Madrid.

Place, Edwin B. 1923. María de Zayas, an Outstanding Short-Story Writer of Seventeenth Century Spain. Boulder: University of Colorado Press.

Robinson, Lillian S. 1978. Sex, Class, and Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Stroud, Matthew D. 1985. “Love, Friendship, and Deceit in La traición en la amistad, by María de Zayas.” Neophilologus 69:539-47.

Vasileski, Irma. 1973. María de Zayas: Su época y su obra. Madrid: Playor.

Williamsen, Vern G. 1982. The Minor Dramatists of Seventeenth-Century Spain. Boston, Mass.: Twayne.

Zayas y Sotomayor, María de. 1948. Novelas amorosas y ejemplares de doña María de Zayas y Sotomayor. Edited by Agustín G. de Amezúa. Madrid: Real Academia Española.

———. 1975. La traición en la amistad. In Apuntes para una biblioteca de escritoras españolas, 2:590-620. Edited by Manuel Serrano y Sanz. Madrid: Rivadeneyra.

———. 1983. Desengaños amorosos. Edited by Alicia Yllera. Madrid: Cátedra.

Laura J. Gorfkle (essay date September 1995)

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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 in 1647, is a shocking testimony of violent acts that men perpetrate against women, including rape, torture, extortion and murder, apparently ubiquitous in the author's social milieu.1 At first glance, the novellas seem to read as a critique of a society that has abandoned all serious pretensions to conform to the honor code, widely divulged by the literature of the period, according to which men must guarantee their honor by protecting female virtue.2 In response to her male contemporaries who denigrate women's virtue in word and deed and create fiction or “lies” (“novelar” or “engañar”) that represent women as the “fallen angel,” Zayas promises to use fiction to reveal the truth (“desengañar”). She will protect women, and hence, strengthen the honor code, by providing a series of “scenarios” of seduction that will bring to women's consciousness the tragic consequences of the arousal of female desire. At the same time she will expose the slander to which the men of her time subjected women.3

Yet as more than one bewildered critic has pointed out, Zayas contradicts her stated intent to uphold traditional values as she obsessively interrogates the nature of female desire. Indeed, the detailed analyses of woman's sexual awakening, either in the form of sexual activity or its impassioned disavowal, confer vitality to the narration, as Juan Goytisolo asserts: “Las escenas y alusiones sexuales infunden un soplo de vida al material inerte de los recursos y esquemas de la novela” (98). The assorted descriptions of erotic sentiment clearly constitute the most captivating or “seductive” scenes in these tales, engendering an uncanny narrative excess that the author is unable to contain.4 In this paper, I would like to explore Zayas's conflictive attitudes toward female sexuality and gender, and the disorder they produce in the narrative. The psychic or symptomatic effects of what in psychoanalytic theory is referred to as “hysteria,” a female disease emerging from woman's ambivalence with regard to her sexual identity, inform, as I will argue, the underlying contradictions in Zayas's text.

Although hysteria was first identified as a widespread female malady with the clinical studies of Charcot and Freud, its origins can be traced to Antiquity. Having emerged with impetus in the sexually repressive culture of the Victorian period, hysteria can provide insights on the representation of gender and sexuality in earlier social and literary texts, particularly those of the Golden Age. Cultural historians of the early Modern period affirm that during the decline of the Spanish empire, definitions of apppriateness in gender and sexual roles became increasingly rigid. Referring to Counter Reformation attitudes on the vigilance and control of female sexuality, Elizabeth Perry speaks of a “theology of purity.” According to this belief system, the order of a crumbling society could only be maintained by the physical enclosure of the “wandering woman” within the institutions of the confessional, the convent, marriage or brothel. The emergence of sexual disorder or “deviance” to which all women were prone could thus be prevented. Within the divine or providential order, woman's inferior position was biologically determined and divinely ordained. She required man's mandates and protection, that in turn limited her autonomy and self-direction:

The partnership of secular and ecclesiastical authorities that was so apparent in early modern Seville had a lasting impact on gender. Its answer to the question of what is Woman transformed all women into daughters of perfidious Susana. Defining women as ideally pure, it also emphasized their dangerous sexuality, their weakness and propensity for disorder that require special protection.

(Perry 179)

The medical concept of hysteria in seventeenth century Europe, moreover, was defined in analogous terms. The “hyster” or womb was believed to rise up and “wander” about the body, causing pressure to the internal organs, creating mental “disorders” and anxiety. The doctor's job was to “cure” the malady by causing the womb to be pressed back to its assigned position. Thus, historically, hysteria functioned as a trope for the female condition, a disorderly infringement of the bodily (sexual and reproductive) functions on the rational ones, a sliding across boundaries that law, science, and religion would try to contain (Heath 27-32). Two more centuries would pass, however, before a theory of hysteria and its relation to female sexuality would be fully developed, providing a sexual ideology of which Freud was mere repository, rooted in Counter Reformation Europe.5

In what follows, I will briefly review the family plot of Freud's most celebrated case history of hysteria, “Dora, Fragment of an Analysis” and then trace some of the ways in which Zayas's female narrators and protagonists engender hysterical narratives. Following French feminist Catherine Clément's re-reading of Freud, I will analyze the narrative plots as “scenes” of seduction, in order to expose the manner in which rigid definitions of the “feminine” are trapped within the limits of an “ideological theater” (83) which the author hysterically reenacts or mimes, only to reveal their rhetorical underpinnings. Clément's perspective of ideology as “spectacle” will further allow me to question how a feminist reading of Zayas's “symptomizing” fiction asks us to transcend those ideological limits,—to find ways out.6


Freud defined hysteria as a psychosomatic illness suffered mainly by women, characterized by a variety of symptoms, including disjointed discourse, aphonia, paralysis, difficulty of breathing, fainting spells, and false pregnancies, each of which reenacts some aspect of the sexual act. Freud initially believed the symptoms were triggered by a memory or reminiscence of a seduction by a father or father figure. However, after developing his theory on the sexual fantasies of children, which were later to lead to the formulation of the oedipal complex, he revised his findings. The aetiology of hysteria is not derived from real seductions, but from fictitious ones, that is, from fantasies of seduction that disguise the truth of forbidden infantile desires. In literary texts, as well as in the text of the hysterical patient, symptoms are manifested physically by the female subject, but are also embedded discursively, in the gaps and displacements of the female-authored narrative. As Bernstein demonstrates in her analysis of Gallop's re-reading of Freud, the task of the psychoanalytic literary critic is to elicit what the narrative represses by “seiz[ing] on points of textual ambiguity as symptomatic moments which [he or] she investigates for ‘rootstocks’ of significance” (197-198).

Dora's narrative begins with the sexual interchange of two women. Dora accuses her father of wishing to deliver her as a sexual consort to Herr K., so that he may enjoy the sexual services of Frau K., Herr K.'s wife. Freud considered Dora's harsh rejection of her “suitor” pathogenic, since a heterosexual desire for the virile male, and, if possible, marriage, would be the normal repetition of her infantile desire for her father. As he outlines in his theory of Oedipus, the little girl assumes her femininity when she recognizes her condition of lack (castration), repudiates her originary love for her mother, and desires the phallus and a series of phallic substitutes. Freud intends to bring to Dora's consciousness her repressed incestual desire for her father which has been “converted” into an assortment of bodily or somatic (hysterical) symptoms. But Dora's symptoms do not disappear. Freud finally confesses, albeit parenthetically, that this is because Dora's story “deviates.” It contains a double plot. She maintains a desire for her father, which leads her to a rivalry with his lover Frau K., but also identifies with him, harboring an active masculine desire for Frau K.7 She desires simultaneously the mother and the father. With her oscillating hysterical sexual aims and symptoms, she defies Freud's oedipal plot, by which gender and sexuality were to be regularized and hierarchically ordered. In the end, she cuts off treatment, and refuses his (Freud's) seduction, the seduction of the Father's Law of sexuality, the Father's knowledge.8


Clément's first scene corresponds to Freud's first theory of seduction, the Father's seduction of the daughter. The hysteric suffers in her kinship relations because her father, uncle, or brother-in-law acts as a sexual aggressor. He is the guilty one, arousing prohibited feelings in the female victim that will convert into hysterical bodily suffering (Clément 41-45). Although at the time that Freud wrote up Dora's narrative he had discarded his first theory of sexual trauma for a theory of infantile sexual fantasy, Dora's story, as feminist scholars have pointed out, can clearly be read both ways, as reality as well as a fantasy. In the “realist” plot, we could expect to find a repetition of the daughter's original submission to the Father's perverse law, which commands: ‘You shall love none other than me.’ Clément affirms that in these plots, the hysterical daughter, while always looking for an ideal man as a substitute to eradicate her earlier relation, is condemned to fail at constituting an exogamous interchange. Precisely this interdiction informs the plot action of many of the tales in Zayas's fiction.

Zayas's sixth tale, “Amar sólo por vencer” resembles Dora's story. The story begins when the pubescent Laurela, the youngest of three sisters, becomes subject to an ambiguous attraction. Don Esteban, disguised as a woman (Doña Estefanía), has entered Laurela's household as her lady-in-waiting in order to seduce her. While “she” spends all day singing love songs to Laurela, affirming that it is possible for women to love other women, Don Bernardo falls in love with “her.” I would suggest that he sees in the young “woman” a double of his disarming, seductive daughter, who, with her beauty and charm, has captivated all those around her. His desire for his biological daughter, an unacceptable object choice, leads him to seek a surrogate object, Doña Estefanía. While attempting to seduce her with increasing despair, he delivers his daughter to Don Enrique, just as Dora's bedridden father exchanges Dora as his “nurse” for Frau K., delivering her to Herr K.

Don Bernardo, however, is unsuccessful in persuading his daughter to accept the suitor of his choice because of Laurela's same-sex attraction to Doña Estefanía, one which she is able to act on when she discovers his masculine identity. Similarly, Dora's father, with whom Freud identified, is unsuccessful in persuading Dora to accept Herr K. because of her same-sex attraction to Frau K. In the end, the perverse father can only try to reinstate his Law by force, not by seduction. Freud, the psychoanalytic father, egged on by Dora's father, will try to coerce Dora into accepting Herr K. by instilling in her the fear of being cast out as mad, disordered, hysterical. And Don Bernardo? If he cannot have (control of) the daughter, as object of desire or as object of exchange, none other will. Unable to locate the substitute daughter, he casts out the real one, murdering her for her transgressions. What he kills when he murders Laurela is the daughter's embodiment of the recalcitrant love object (she refuses to submit to his rule), of the rival (they both love the same woman/man), and of the rebel, (she forms part of a sexual circuit with her father in which sexual aims have become deviant—ambivalent, unstable, and free floating, a fact that undermines his own masculine identity or “hombría”). Doña Estefanía, the “hermaphrodite,” acts as a pivotal figure in the dynamic between father and daughter, provoking a series of equivocal desires in which one can more than intue an undercurrent of frustrated incestual desire.

Another family triangle is reproduced in “Estragos que causan el vicio.” Florentina and Magdalena have lived like sisters, their father and mother having married when they were very young. The amorous conflict centers on the affair between Florentina and her brother-in-law, Don Dionís. Although the narrator of the story blames Florentina for seducing or being seduced by Don Dionís and for the tragedy that results in Magdalena's death, in fact, Florentina is victim of an incestual triangle. Florentina is obliged to accompany Magdalena during her courtship, and comes to identify with her sister's role of love object. She is later brought to live with the couple after they are married. The couple are to take on the responsibility of finding her a husband, which, given the primary circuit of desire, is not fulfilled. The incestual and adulterous relationship that ensues results in Don Dionís's murder of his servants, wife and, finally, his own suicide.

The failure of exogamous relations occurs in other tales in the collection as well. Women are not exchanged, but become subject to the seductions of father figures, primarily brother-in-laws. In “El verdugo de su esposa,” Rosaleta is persecuted by a brother-in-law figure, Juan. Juan and Pedro are like brothers and have always been inseparable. Juan was brought up in Don Pedro's house and continues to live with him after Pedro marries Rosaleta. His seductive enticements, although not responded to in kind by Rosaleta, lead to her death. When Rosaleta accuses the perpetrator, Don Pedro stabs his wife to death. Beatriz is the object of seduction by her brother-in-law in “La perseguida triunfante.” Persecuted unmercifully by Federico, she falls subject to untold bodily, mental, and spiritual sufferings as a result of her rejection of him.9

The stories analyzed above are “symptomatic” inasmuch as the victimization of the female protagonists are a reminiscence, a repetition of the relations of the original child to the unforgettable, perverse, seductive Father (Clément 44). By means of the tragic repercussions that the early scenario later produces, Zayas points an accusatory finger at the social structure (the Father's law and the Father's identity) in its family roots. The ideological underpinnings of that structure are further challenged when the events occurring in the tales produce an affect on the narrators of the tales.

In a relationship of cause and effect, the daughter's inability to attain exogamous relations in the inner plots results in the recurrence or repetition of failure in the frame, but one which transforms the victim into rebel. Having invited her female companions to tell stories of seductions on the eve of her wedding in order to instruct herself on matters of the heart, Doña Lisis now refuses matrimony to Don Diego. She decides instead to enter the convent with her beloved servant Zelima (Isabel) and her mother Laura. The failures of the heroines in the stories to find the “ideal man” have brought to her consciousness the indomitable power of the paternal figure, which can only be avoided by the abandonment of marriage and the family, the institutions upon which the social structures of her society and its concomitant values were founded. She decides, in a rebellious gesture, to quit the circus, shut down the show. She will take the cloth: “me voy a salvar de los engaños de los hombres” (509).10


Clément's second scene corresponds to Freud's revision of his theory of hysteria. Freud's discovery of infantile sexuality and the fantasies arising from it exonerates the father. Now the blame falls on the daughter. She is a liar and a fraud, who accuses others of “things” which she herself has done or thought. In the hysterical plots that unfold in this scenic category, we can expect to find the motif of performance. In their later relationships, women pass themselves off as chaste, but they are really guilty of shameful desires and deeds. As analysts or critics, we must uncover the deception or spectacle, discover the hysteric's beastliness, and rehabilitate her through various repressive strategies (45-49).

In Zayas's fiction, three groups of plots can be charted, each one containing a repetition of the originary scene described by Freud, but at the same time, a retextualization of it that questions, if not absolves, women's guilt. On the one hand Zayas denounces in her plots the laws of representation by which women are defined under patriarchy: the sexual women, the hysteric, who “lives with her body in the past” and “transforms it into a theater for forgotten scenes” (Clément 5). On the other hand, she subverts this representation when the narrators reveal motives which will exonerate the victimized women, or when the female heroines are made to return after death, as saints or martyrs, to confirm their innocence. In a first group of plots, there is a persecution of women who are presumed guilty but are ultimately found to be innocent; in a second group, the sexual woman is found to be guilty in the eyes of the law, but her guilt is mitigated or eliminated by the uncovering of circumstances relevant to her actions; and in a third group, the categories of innocence and guilt are no longer clearly opposed or even distinguishable.

The collection abounds with plots of the first type. We have a cast of women who abide by the cultural norms defining the sexual conduct of women. They are virtuous, honest, angelic women, who shun any display of themselves as sexual beings. Doña Ana in “El traidor en contra de su sangre,” Doña Blanca in “Mal presagio casar lejos,” Doña Inés in “La inocencia castigada,” Beatriz in “La perseguida triunfante,”—all of these are women who defend their virtue and their husband's honor at all cost. Their virtue, however, is met with the rage of fathers, husbands, and brothers, who, eager to maintain their identity-in-the-world, obstinately persist in the persecution of a guilty victim. For them, women can only mime innocence.

In “El traidor contra su sangre,” Doña Ana falls prey to Don Alonso's persecution. An innocent and virtuous wife, she is persecuted, we are clearly told, not because she has hidden a sexual transgression, but because she has not inherited enough wealth to satisfy Alonso's father. He eradicates the female sexual body, the perennial threat to his identity, by chopping up and throwing the body down a well and later hiding the head in a cave. The head is eventually found, its original beauty still intact, illuminating the virtue of the young woman.

In “La inocencia castigada,” Doña Inés is accused by her husband and sister-in-law of succumbing to Don Dionís's seduction. Not only is her innocence eventually proven, but a temperament far removed from the one attributed to her is revealed. Unlike other female victims in these tales, Inés shows a desire to actively seek out means to protect her reputation. She discovers Don Dionís's aborted attempt to seduce her, and hiding the mayor in the next room so that he might hear the conversation, manages to make the young man confess his plan of seduction. She exonerates herself this time and is able to ward off the seduction in secrecy. The second time he pursues her, however, his onslaught is successful. Using effigy magic, he rapes her on successive occasions.

Although her innocence is again proved logically and legally, the event has been publicized and Inés's husband is predisposed to assert his honor by imputing guilt. Her punishment will represent the bodily abasement he attributes to her as well as the eradication of the threat her bodily desire represents to him. She is thrown into a small cubicle in the walls of their new lodgings, only large enough for her to stand up in. When she is removed six years later, she is miraculously found alive, buried under own excrements, her cell a stinking, fetid space. Her hair is wild, dishevelled and filled with worms. She is a reflection of bodily filth and beastliness. Her body is all open wounds, and at the same time consumed, reduced to bones. Yet something has changed in the representation her husband would bestow on her. In her abasement, she has become exalted. Blinded to the material world, she can see only Him for whom she has undergone so much suffering. We are told that her body is quickly restored to its original beauty and health, and soon thereafter she retires to a convent where she lives her life healing others.

Two other martyrs, Doña Blanca, in “Mal presagio casar lejos,” and Beatriz in “La perseguida triunfante” deserve mention. Doña Blanca's only crime is to have been an unfortunate witness to her husband's homosexual affair with his young page. He has projected on to her what he perceives as the insidiousness of his own sexual misconduct, accusing her of adultery in order to maintain his male identity. Doña Blanca's veins are cut and she is left to bleed to death, but four years later her dead body is found intact. Her glowing skin is evidence of her chastity. Beatriz is also proven innocent of the crimes alleged against her. She has not seduced her brother-in-law Federico; it is he, as the narrator has already informed us, who has seduced her. Yet in spite of her virtuous conduct, her eyes are gouged out, she is left to die of hunger, and she is publicly accused of conspiracy to murder. After the occurrence of each misfortune, the Virgin Mary appears to her, performing various miracles on her behalf, and eventually conferring on her the extraordinary power to cure others.

In these stories of saints and miracles, the message is clear: if virtuous women must endure unjust accusations and punishments, there is no ordinary mortal woman free of the slander and persecution of men. By means of the motif of the miracle, the revelation of the guilty penitence as mimicry, and the exposure of the illogical contradictions inherent in the ideology of representation, the critique of the representation of women as the guilty hysteric is effected in this group of plots. The persecution of women is not, as it seems, divinely ordained. Simultaneously, the mechanisms by which the ideology is enforced are exposed. The “wayward” woman (the “hyster”) is physically contained by the most vile contrivances: Like Laurela, Doña Inés is imprisoned in the inner walls of a dwelling, while Doña Blanca's dead body is contained in a well. As Elizabeth Ordóñez suggests, the physical imprisonment of many of Zayas's female protagonists reflects the entrapment of women in a system of representation that reduces them to bodily functions, “in which the erotic plot closes in on women, regardless of their innocence” (6).

In the second group of plots, the heroine is discovered to be guilty of her crimes. The female protagonist's sexuality is represented as catastrophic, undermining not only her husband's or father's social identity, but the honor and reputation of all woman, causing the crumbling of the morality of an entire society. In “Esclava de su amante,” Zelima's love for Don Manuel causes her parent's early demise and the death of her rival, Zaida. In “Tarde llega el desengaño,” Doña Lucrecia's illicit desire for Don Martín and her attempt to murder him cause him to distrust all women. Without awaiting further proof of guilt, he believes the slanderous testimony of his black slave, who, driven by jealousy, has falsely accused Elena of adultery. He immediately seeks revenge on Elena, double of Doña Lucrecia, enforcing a harsh and humiliating penance: physical isolation and starvation. In “La más infame venganza,” Camila, Carlos's wife, pays for Octavia's illicit sexual involvement with Carlos. Due to Octavia's misconduct, Camila is first raped by Octavia's brother, and then poisoned by her own husband. In “Estragos que causan el vicio,” Florentina's burning desire for her sister's husband causes the bloody death of an entire household. In “El traidor contra su sangre,” Doña Mencia's secret marriage to Don Enrique brings dishonor to her brother and father.

Yet in all of these tales the guilt of the female protagonist is neutralized by the multiple and varying responses of the audience, as well as by the perspective from which the tale is narrated. In “Esclava de su amante,” Isabel (Zelima) is the narrator of her own story. She presents herself in a manner that exonerates her guilt. Her involvement with Don Manuel was not of her own doing. She was raped and then urged by his sister, her beloved friend, to do whatever necessary to persuade Manuel to marry her. The narration of her dangerous pilgrimage in which, disguised as a moorish slave she pursues her lover in order to restore her honor, moves her listeners to esteem her loyalty, constancy and self-worth, heroically displayed under harrowing circumstances. In “La más infame venganza,” Octavia, a vital and dynamic young woman, falls victim to a man who refuses to marry her only because she is not sufficiently wealthy. Elena is raped and poisoned, not because Octavia's desire is reprehensible, but because women are prohibited from defending their own honor. They must place their reputation in the hands of men who feel no compunction to defend it. Men are the cause of women's misfortunes. In “Tarde llega el desengaño,” Doña Lucrecia's only crime was to have defended her own honor. The young widow sought revenge on her lover, Don Martín, for having broken his vow to keep their affair secret. He later tortures Elena, Lucrecia's double, driven by the impulse to counter the revenge. Finally, in “El traidor contra su sangre,” Doña Mencia is obliged to keep her relationship hidden. Her father wished her to become a nun, so that he would be free to pass his entire inheritance on to her brother Alonso. In this group of plots, the guilt of the hysteric is contingent, attenuated, even annulled. In some instances the opposite view is presented, whereby women's desire is perceived as a right and prerogative. Doña Mencia is indeed entitled to pursue a civil status, to act on a desire which her father and brother have prohibited.

In a third group of plots, we find the blurring of boundaries between the categories of guilty and innocent, by means of the juxtaposition of plots within one tale. In “Tarde llega el desengaño” and “La más infame venganza,” the heroines of the subplots, although never appearing contiguously, are inextricably linked. Elena's conflict begins when the black slave, who has fallen in love with Elena's cousin, seeks revenge for his rejection of her by falsely accusing Elena of having an adulterous relationship with him. Believing her testimony, Don Jaime imposes a punishment that reveals and eradicates Elena's sexual body. While raising the black slave to the position of “wife,” he converts his wife into “beast,” making her crawl in order to enter and exit the house through a small door, and feeding her leftover bones and crumbs under the table. After living in a state of semi-starvation for two years, her body withers. Yet her repressed desire lives and is represented in the body of the other woman, the black slave, whose protruding belly and obese, swollen facial features exude a sexuality that is prohibitive of (white) women. If Zayas consciously condemns sexuality in the tale by means of an overtly racist representation of the black body and its violent and apparently deserved expulsion (her sexual urge has jeopardized the lives of innocent women), she subconsciously reveals the impossibility of divesting any woman of physical embodiment. For, significantly, at the very moment that Don Jaime kills the female body, imputed to the figure of the black slave, Elena dies too. The one cannot live without the other.

In “La más infame venganza,” Octavia and Elena's existence are linked in a similar fashion. Octavia's pre-marital affair with Carlos lead to Elena's unjust punishment, but one which allows the young girl to manifest her repressed bodily desire. When Carlos administers poison to his wife after discovering she has been raped by Octavia's brother, surprisingly, she does not die. Instead, her body swells and grows big. Or, to put it another way, it “symptomizes.” The “innocent” woman and the sexual, “hysterical” woman, both of whom are victims of a metaphysical system and a social structure that deny women a position from which to speak the body, are no longer placed in opposition, but are mutually identifiable in the narrative. Under oppressive conditions that a state of purity engenders, “innocent” women turn themselves into a symptom, becoming their own messages of despair and alienation. The return of the repressed is an attempt against annihilation (Evans, 1991: 214-215).


Freud tells us that in the psychic history of the hysterical patient, the guilt further disseminates. The girl has been seduced not only by the father, but by the mother as well. Dora is seduced by Frau K.'s “adorable white body,” but also by the not-too-talked-about real mother, who cleans houses but bodies as well,—sexual organs, which she rubs and arouses. In hysterical sagas corresponding to the third family scene, we find a reminiscence of the maternal plot of seduction, in which maternal figures, such as governesses and maids, seduce the daughter. The mother figure is often portrayed ambiguously, as seductive, but also as terrifying and devouring. As Clément affirms, the guilt for seduction, whether it be initiated by the mother or the child, pushes the child toward the father and the oedipal resolution, as a means of escape from the anxiety-ridden desire for the mother (50-52).

The most salient figure of the seductive, sexual mother in Zayas's work is Doña Estefanía in “Amar sólo para vencer.” She is the older and more knowledgeable maid, through whose songs and dialogue Laurela learns of her own sexuality. In the narrator's elliptic narration of the year, Laurela's sexual awakening, the overriding interest in this tale, is revealed in the course of several telling “scenes,” centered around a song of despairing love improvised by Estefanía, followed by a conversation about desire which the song generates. Doña Estefanía's musical talent, her many pleasantries and her physical attributes seduce Laurela. However, after reflecting back to Laurela the heterogeneous nature of her desires by means of her own spectacle of gender, she reveals her true identity. Then, promising to marry her, “she” seduces and abandons her to the ire of her father. The role of the devouring, castrating (m)other is displaced onto Laurela's aunt, Don Bernardo's sister, who schemes the girl's murder.

Although there are several “devouring mother” types in the these tales, persuading or sexually enticing the “daughter” to conform to the Father's Law, often in the figure of a maid, another aggressive feminine figure intervenes with some frequency in Zayas's tales to undermine the fulfillment of the oedipal resolution: the rival. For the hysteric, whose feelings regarding the ambivalence of her sex differ only in quantity with that of her “healthy” female counterpart, other women are viewed ambivalently, inasmuch as they recall the primary figure of the mother: the originary love object, but also the rival, competing for the Father's love. The triangular relationship of rivalry is repeated endlessly in the literature of the period. In Zayas's narrative, however, the rival intervenes, not as a means to foster heterosexual desire or to propel the subject towards the desired object, but to keep the oedipal resolution and unendurable loss (castration) of the female protagonist at bay.

In “Esclava de su amante,” first Alejandra and then Zaida thwart Zelima's efforts to become the object of Manuel's desire. In “Estragos que causan el vicio,” Magdalena prevents Florentina from marrying Don Dionís. Lisis, the hostess of the group of feminine narrators, is unable to marry Juan, her first love, because of the success of her rival, Lisarda, in capturing his heart. Octavia is caught in a relationship of rivalry with Camila in “La más infame venganza,” as is Rosaleta with Angeliana in “El verdugo de su esposa.” In “El traidor contra su sangre,” Clavela schemes with Alonso to kill Doña Mencia. In the first three examples cited, feelings of intense affection between the rivals are evoked. Zelima and Zaida love each other dearly as do Magdalena and Florentina and Lisis and Lisarda. While in limited cases the intervention of the rival figure causes the death of the female protagonist, more frequently it allows the female heroine to escape male subjugation. There is, as it were, a positive function ascribed to the role of rival. Thanks to the rival, Florentina, Octavia, Isabel (Zelima), and Lisis abandon heterosexual love and are able to flee to the convent.


In the Epilogue of the family “drama,” Clément elaborates further on Freud's description of the role of the mother. Everywhere in the hysterical plot, there is the feminine character to whom Freud assigns the role of homosexual object. Dora, identifying with her father's active sexuality, takes her mother as object choice. Having not yet fully identified with her role as object, she fluctuates between the subject and the object position. The hysteric is split between her desire for her father and her desire for her mother (Clément 52-57). We may expect to find an enactment of a maternal scene from the Epilogue in “the bisexual plot,” clearly the most frequent plot type in Zayas's tales, in which the female protagonist expresses an oscillation in her sexual identity and aims. These plots can be broken down into two story types: the development of triangles of desire, involving a young girl's love for both a man and a woman, and the interlacing of double plots in a tale, in which an idealized or more knowledgeable feminine figure is presented to the female protagonist as a means by which she may attain knowledge of her identity as a woman.

In the first plot, the female protagonist's desire circulates between a man and a woman, often a sister of her lover. There is not a rivalry, but a double attraction. In conjunction with this triangular movement, desire further disseminates to a group of women from whom the feminist heroine is inseparable, often sisters, or a circle of servants. In “Mal presagio casar lejos,” Doña Blanca is grief-stricken when faced with the prospect of leaving her country because of her tremendous love for her sisters. The circle of Spanish maids with whom she surrounds herself in Holland replace this first intimate group. In addition, she becomes particularly attached to her sister-in-law, and fellow victim, Marieta: “Con esta señora trabó doña Blanca grande amistad, cobrándose las dos tanto amor, que si no era para dormir, no se dividía la una de la otra …” (350).11

In “Esclava de su amante,” Zelima is inseparable from Doña Eufrasia, Don Manuel's sister, whom she loves deeply:

Esta y yo nos tomamos tanto amor, como su madre y la mía, que de día ni de noche nos dividíamos, que, si no era para ir a dar el común reposo a los ojos, jamás nos apartábamos, o yo en su cuarto, o ella en el mío. No hay más que encarecerlo, sino que ya la ciudad nos celebraba con el nombre de “las dos amigas.”


In the external narrative frame, Zelima in turn becomes the object of affection of Lisis, who, so enthralled with her new found friendship, is able to forget her afflictions of the heart. The two become inseparable, “cobrándose tanto amor, que no era como de señora y esclava, sino de dos queridas hermanas: sabía muy bien Zelima granjear y atraer a sí la voluntad de Lisis, y Lisis pagárselo en quererla tanto, que apenas se hallaba sin ella” (117).

The second plot type involves the juxtaposition of double plots of erotic intrigue in a single tale, one which leads the reader to reflect on the nature of women's identity. In re-working Freud's analysis of the Dora case, Lacan posits the original thesis that the hysteric's desire for the other woman is not a sexual one but the search for a peculiarly female knowledge about her own identity as a woman. The hysteric loves the person she presumes to know the secret of her sex, the mother as being a living example of sexed reproduction (Evans, 1991: 182). In Zayas's tales, the reader is invited to compare the conduct of each woman in the tale as the protagonists' opposing attitudes about their sexual roles and identities are juxtaposed. Octavia, the sexual woman, is opposed to the innocent Camila; Lucrecia and the black slave are opposed to Elena. Florentina is thrown against Marieta, Zelima against the innocent Zaida, and Estefanía against Laurela. The more sophisticated and knowledgeable women are dynamic and passionate, fascinating not only to their respective female counterparts in the story (when they have knowledge of their existence), but to the reader as well. By means of the juxtaposition of these female characters, the one incarnating a knowledge of the sexed body, the other an ignorance of it, Zayas poses the question of female identity (What is a woman?) in its bodily and sexed dimension.

The knowledge the other woman symbolizes, however, is not exclusively of a sexual nature. What the hysteric might alternately seek in the other woman is an idealized mother, the Madonna, who would be able to tell her the secret of sexless reproduction. The wise, virginal mother figure represents to her a refusal of castration and the resultant desexualization of women as mothers (Evans, 1991: 183). In Zayas's tales, we find important examples of the “ideal” mother, competing against the oedipal one. In “La inocencia castigada,” Inés's sister-in-law, a terrifying mother figure and classic oedipal rival, buries Inés alive in the inner wall of their dwelling in punishment of the young woman's alleged adultery. However, a kind and saintly neighbor woman hears Inés's entreaties to God, saves her, and nurtures her back to health. In “La perseguida triunfante,” the Virgin Mary appears to save Beatriz from her undeserving torments. Beatriz contemplates her in ecstasy: “Que, puestos los ojos en ella, así como estaba de hinojos, se quedó inmóvil y elevada, gran rato absorta en tan gloriosa vista” (459).12 Finally, in the external narrative frame, the women who gather together to share their or other women's misfortunes engage in a discourse and a relationship based on love and nurturance, prohibited in the phallic economy. The act of “telling” enacts a reappropriation of discourse, by means of which the narrator may offer knowledge to other women from the woman's point of view. In re-writing the text of seduction with the woman appearing as speaking and desiring subject, Zayas inscribes the daughter's desire for the (m)other in its multiple and varied registers. She thereby unscreens the phallocentric scheme, which, as Jacobus affirms, relegates relations between women exclusively to the sphere of the “gynaecophilic” (143).


A comparative study of the seductive plot and its relationship to the psycho-sexual dynamics of the family uncovers an underlying ambivalence in the unconscious expression of female desire in the female-authored text within a concrete historic context. In her Desengaños amorosos, Zayas constructs a traditional oedipal narrative, in which the female must become a “woman,” accept her passive femininity or be cast out, asserting thus the aristocratic code of honor and the ecclesiastical and secular values which prevailed in her time. Yet due to continued shifts in points of view, the insertion and juxtaposition of double and multiple plots and the chameleonic nature of the heroines themselves, the tales deviate, and the hysterical, female subtext emerges. Within this subtext, circumstances are revealed which undermine the representation of the “wayward” daughter. The guilty finger is pointed back to the Father's Law, and its denial, not only of the expression of female subjectivity, but of any discourse or action that might betray the specificity of women's sexual identity. The symptomatic disjointedness of Zayas's text unveils the artificial nature of the primacy of the phallic law, revealing it as a self-serving construct used to preserve a hierarchy of male privilege, from within the family unit to the broader and more universal macro-social structures.

The analysis of the maternal and bisexual plots in Zayas's fiction further reveals a transcendence of the phallic representation of women. The representation of the feminine is broken up, disordered, both sexually and textually by means of the bisexual and maternal plot. Inés, Laurela, Zelima, Octavia, Beatriz, Florentina, and Lucrecia fluctuate between the active and the passive, the masculine and the feminine, the mother and the father, the oedipal and the preoedipal. Their “hysteria” inscribes the otherness or strangeness which inhabits psychoanalytic theory and literature by underscoring the larger epistemological implications of sexual difference veiled by these fields of knowledge. For women, knowing and being in the world are not experienced in a fixed and polarized state, but in a complex, fluid and forever changing one. Thus, hysteria must not be viewed exclusively as a pathology, but as the only affirmation possible of woman's status as a desiring subject. In Zayas's fiction, ultimately, the hysteria that is femininity represents a condemnation of a gender ideology that is only able to maintain a semblance of its “truth” by resorting to mechanisms such as the enclosure, rape, torture, and murder of women, mechanisms which, unfortunately, are still observable in postmodern societies of the Western world.


  1. I wish to express my appreciation to the National Endowment for the Humanities for a Summer Stipend and to the Program for Cultural Cooperation Between Spain's Ministry of Culture and U. S. Universities for a research grant, both of which provided support during the investigative stage of this study.

  2. There has been much critical debate about the veracity of Zayas's descriptions of female victimization. Griswold posits that Zayas's attack against men corresponds to literary debates of the period that hinge on feminist and anti-feminist attitudes. However Foa affirms that although a literary tradition did exist that could have influenced Zayas, her portrayal of women's victimization had a basis in reality. The historical and philosophical background of that reality is discussed by McKendrick 140-146; Perry 6-13; and Dolzburn 82.

  3. Critics diverge on their opinion of Zayas's feminism. Departing from the earlier opinion of Vasileski on Zyas's intent to portray the crude reality of her time (117-118), Boyer affirms that Zayas's fiction was written against social attitudes, cultural institutions and literary works which conspired to oppress women (xxiv). Foa confirms this opinion (55 and 84-86) as does Dolz-Blackburn (73-82) and Spieker (154-160). According to Yllera, however, Zayas sacrifices her feminist ideals and accepts the social conservatism of her time (49). Montesa, for his part, affirms that Zayas's preoccupation with sexuality is in overt opposition to the Christian indoctrination she espouses (206).

  4. According to Foa (133-135) and Senabre (163-172), Zayas's vision of sex and gender attitudes is sustained on two axes, which are at times in contradiction, namely, her feminism and her masculinist didacticism. Boyer affirms that the novellas focus on the interplay between a masculinist perspective and a feminist subtext (xxiv). Ordóñez speaks of an “anxiety of authorship,” according to which the author, struggling against the tradition of the male-authored text, re-creates it, but with submerged meanings (3). Griswold affirms that Zayas argues from both the feminist and anti-feminist sides, reflecting misogynist attitudes toward women in one moment and feminist ones in another. In regard to Zayas's focus on love and desire, Welles affirms the theme of love “contributes a dynamic effect of linear propulsion” (306) and Vasileski calls it an “uncontrolled obsession” (51). Goytisolo sees erotic passion as “la fuerza animadora” in her work (87).

  5. In his Histoire de la sexualité, I, Foucault posits a “hypothesis of repression,” which originated in the Western world under the influence of the Counter Reformation and culminated in the Victorian Age. For Sánchez Ortega, sexuality was an omnipresent theme in the seventeenth century, although not quite as repressive as in the age of Freud (7-9).

  6. Clément's revision of Freud's definition of hysteria is instructive, moreover, as a model for feminist criticism of Golden Age literature because at the same time that she critiques Freud's theories, she applies them to literary and social texts that existed prior to Freud's time. Indeed, she shows that Freud's refinement of his theories on hysteria, based on his case studies, were connected to his readings, during 1897, of the inquisitorial persecution of women as sorceresses and witches (sexual deviants) in early modern Europe. For an overview of the various feminist approaches to female-authored texts of the Golden Age and their validity, see Cruz, 212ff.

  7. Only at the end of his study, however, and in a footnote, does Freud acknowledge the fact that he did not pay sufficient attention to Dora's desire for Frau K (142).

  8. A plethora of studies on hysteria and its applicability as a theoretical approach to the analysis of gender and sexual difference in literary texts has appeared in the last decade. Beyond Clément's revision of Freud's theories, the studies that I have found most helpful in explaining the complex interrelationship between psychoanalysis and hysteria, and between psychoanalysis, feminism, and literature are Evan's Fits & Starts, Heath's The Sexual Fix, Irigaray's Speculum, and Jacobus's Reading Women Reading, as well as several edited collections: Bernheimer and Kahane's In Dora's Case, Garner, Kahane and Sprengnether's The (M)other Tongue and Hunter's Seduction and Theory. Although I do not cite all of these works directly within the text, their influence informs the theoretical basis of this study.

  9. Hipólita, in “Al fin se paga todo,” included in Zayas's first volume of novellas, is also seduced by a brother-in-law.

  10. Passages from the text have been taken from the edition by Alicia Yllera. The rejection of conjugal life was understood as a rebellious attitude toward the “natural” ordering of gender relations in the seventeenth century. For a review of the moral treatises that prescribed such ordering mechanisms, see McKendrick, 144ff and Perry 60-68. Recent investigation on life in the cloister further confirms that a woman's decision to take the cloth was a form of liberation from traditional roles (Arenal and Schlau).

  11. Smith analyzes “Mal presagio casarse lejos” in terms of women's discourse, or “parler femme,” following Kristeva and Irigaray.

  12. For an analysis of female archetypes and the symbolism associated with it, see Welles 306-308.

Works Cited

Arenal, Elena and Stacey Schlau. Untold Sisters: Hispanic Nuns in Their Own Works. With translations by Amanda Powell. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1989.

Bernheimer, Charles and Claire Kahane, ed. In Dora's Case: Freud—Hysteria—Feminism. New York: Columbia UP, 1990.

Bernstein, Susan David. “Confessing Lacan.” Seduction & Theory: Readings of Gender, Representation, and Rhetoric. Ed. Dianne Hunter. Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois, 1989. 195-213.

Boyer, H. Patsy, trans. The Enchantments of Love. By María de Zayas y Sotomayor. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 1990.

Clément, Catherine and Cixous, Hélène. The Newly Born Woman. Trans. Betsy Wing. Minneapolis: U of Minneapolis P, 1991.

Cruz, Anne J. “Studying Gender in the Spanish Golden Age.” Cultural and Historical Grounding for Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Feminist Literary Criticism. Ed. Hernán Vidal. Minneapolis: Institute for the Study of Ideologies and Literature, 1989. 193-222.

Dolz-Blackburn, Inés. “María de Zayas y Sotomayor y sus Novelas ejemplares y amorosas.EXTL 14 (1985-1986): 73-82.

Evans, Martha Noel. “Hysteria and the Seduction of Theory.” Seduction & Theory: Readings of Gender, Representation and Rhetoric. Ed. Dianne Hunter. Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1989. 73-85.

———. Fits & Starts: A Geneaology of Hysteria in Modern France. Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1991.

Foa, Sandra. Feminismo y forma narrativa: Estudio del tema y las técnicas de María de Zayas. Valencia: Albatros, 1979.

Freud, Sigmund. Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. New York: Macmillan, 1963.

Foucault, Michel. Histoire de la sexualité, I. Paris: Gallimard, 1976.

Gallop, Jane. The Daughter's Seduction: Feminism and Psychoanalysis. Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1982.

Garner, Shirley Nelson, Claire Kahane and Madelon Sprengnether, ed. The (M)other Tongue: Essays in Feminist Psychoanalytic Interpretation. Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1985.

Goytisolo, Juan. “El mundo erótico de María de Zayas.” Disidencias. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1977. 63-115.

Griswold, Susan C. “Topoi and Rhetorical Distance: The ‘Feminism’ of María de Zayas.” REH 14.2 (1980): 97-116.

Heath, Stephen. The Sexual Fix. New York: Schocken Books, 1982.

Hunter, Dianne, ed. Seduction & Theory: Readings of Gender, Representation, and Rhetoric. Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1989.

Jacobus, Mary. Reading Woman: Essays in Feminist Criticism. New York: Columbia UP, 1986.

McKendrick, Melveena. “Women Against Wedlock: The Reluctant Brides of Golden Age Drama.” Women in Hispanic Literature: Icons and Fallen Idols. Ed. Beth Miller. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 1983. 115-146.

Mitchell, Juliet. Women: The Longest Revolution. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.

Montesa Peydro, Salvador. Texto y contexto en la narrativa de María de Zayas. Madrid: Dirección general de la Juventud y Promoción Sociocultural, 1981.

Ordóñez, Elizabeth J. “Woman and Her Text in the Works of María de Zayas and Ana Caro.” REH 19.1 (1985): 3-15.

Pérez-Erdelyi, Mireya. La pícara y la dama: La imagen de las mujeres en las novelas picaresco-cortesanas de María de Zayas y Sotomayor y Alonso de Castillo Solórzano. Miami: Ediciones Universal, 1979.

Perry, Mary Elizabeth. Gender and Disorder in Early Modern Seville. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990.

Sánchez Ortega, María Helena. La mujer y la sexualidad en el antiguo régimen. La perspectiva inquisitorial. Madrid: Akal Universitaria, 1992.

Senabre, Ricardo. “La fuente de una novela de doña María de Zayas.” RFE 46 (1963): 163-172.

Smith, Paul Julian. “Writing Women in Golden Age Spain: Saint Teresa and María de Zayas.” MLN 102.2 (1987): 220-240.

Spieker, Joseph B. “El feminismo como clave estructural en las ‘novelle’ de doña María de Zayas.” EXTL 6.2 (1978): 153-60.

Sylvania, Lena, E. V. Doña María de Zayas y Sotomayor: A Contribution to the Study of her Works. New York: Columbia UP, 1922.

Vasileski, Irma V. María de Zayas y Sotomayor: su época y su obra. Madrid: Plaza Mayor, 1973.

Welles, Marcia. “María de Zayas y Sotomayor and her ‘novela cortesana’: A Re-evaluation.” BHS 55 (1978): 301-310.

Zayas y Sotomayor, María de. Desengaños amorosos. Ed. Alicia Yllera. Madrid: Cátedra, 1983.

Susan Paun de Garcia (essay date 1995)

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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 María de Zayas participated in literary academies, or academias. If, as a young woman, she accompanied her father to Naples, she might have been allowed to witness reunions of the Ociosos organized in 1611 by Pedro Fernández de Castro, Duque de Lemos. By the third decade of the century, her contemporaries, Juan Pérez de Montalbán and Alonso de Castillo Solórzano, testified to her success in the “academias de Madrid.” Willard F. King supposes this to indicate that the academia of Mendoza and possibly also that of Medrano permitted Zayas to participate. It is also possible that she might have become involved with the literary group of Zaragoza—specifically, Francisco Fernández de Castro, Conde de Lemos, and his son, Conde de Andrade. Lemos and Andrade maintained academias in their homes, to which many of Aragon's most distinguished nobles and poets belonged, among them the Duque de Hijar, to whom Zayas dedicated the Desengaños amorosos. In either of these academias she could have first appreciated, then later perfected, the literary craft.

The connection to academias is obviously important. In the first place, it is the only concrete information we have about María de Zayas of which we can be certain. In the second place, the structure of the academias gives us insight into the structure of her tales, especially the frames. In the third place, the difference in focus between the two series of Zayas's novels can be explained in terms of an academic debate. And finally, the commentaries gleaned from both series in reference to poets and writers suggest a change in the relationship between Zayas and her literary peers in terms of their attitude toward her work.

In seventeenth-century Spain, virtually everyone with any inclination to writing in any genre either belonged to an academia or participated in certámenes, or both (King 1963, 8). The academias served principally a social function (Pfandl 1959, 185). In these circles, literary friendships were made, surfacing for posterity in the form of laudatory poems appearing in the preliminary pages of a friend's work.

The use of the term academia in the seventeenth century is itself unclear. Primarily, it was used in reference to a group with an established membership (mostly men), a regularly scheduled time and place of meeting (most often at the house of a noble sponsoring the group), with specific officers and rules of procedure, topics, admission, and so forth. Admission to a literary academy signified approval and acceptance by one's peers, although not universally. Quarrels and bitter criticism were legion, and they provide some of the most fascinating evidence of the dynamics within the academias.

The academias functioned under rules particular to each group, and the themes proposed for the members varied by group as well, although by the middle of the century the most common topics were either satirical or festive, or else absurdly erudite and obscure. While the academias enjoyed enormous popularity, writers criticized one another; it was common practice to “roast” a poet before giving him a prize. But often the criticism was directed toward the “legos,” or “mirones”—those who came not to contribute but rather to be entertained first and to criticize and gossip later.

The academias sometimes had “special editions” in which visitors were invited to participate. These justas poéticas, or certámenes, were not limited in their popularity to the literati or nobility. They were organized to celebrate births, weddings, coronations, beatifications, canonizations, military victories, state visits from foreign royalty, the completion of new construction, etc., although often enough the only purpose was to showcase the abilities and ingenuity of the poets.

Another type of literary function was the informal reunion, which was more like a sarao or party organized principally to provide diversion rather than to display erudition or talents. A variety of participants would present diverse works, ranging from festive or amorous poetry that could be read (or more often sung), to erudite disquisitions, to prose tales read for the entertainment and enlightenment of the public in attendance. We must suppose that the fundamental purpose of any presentation in an academia must have been to demonstrate one's literary abilities and accomplishments and to garner the applause or criticism of one's peers. In the informal sarao, however, the purpose was to entertain and to exercise one's wits in pleasant company. The president of such a group would assign poetic topics to the participants or pose a conundrum to be commented upon or debated. The participants would perform their literary tasks and await commentary before the next participant took his turn. Because of its casual nature, we have no records, actas, estatutos, or premáticas. Rather, this type of reunion is often reflected in the novelistic prose of the seventeenth century, as King's study testifies. In the novels, these groups share many elements of their real-life counterparts. They generally have a “president” who assigns topics, and there is usually discussion, however minimal, following each presentation.

The frame of Zayas's Novelas amorosas is set as a sarao—a portrayal of an ideal literary gathering. The majority of the frame is devoted to the shifting amorous liaisons between Juan, Lisis, and their respective new loves. The stories themselves are designed primarily to cheer up Lisis, not to provide instruction or to prove a common point to the “noble auditorio” [noble audience] Zayas puts her feminine narrators on a par with their masculine counterparts. The women's tales are received and commented in the frame in the same manner and with the same frequency as the men's. There is a concerted equilibrium.

But in the Desengaños, the literary society has become exclusive. Its participants are women only, and their assigned topic admits no rebuttal. In the frame, there is almost no discussion of the relationship between the lovers. Very little description is offered of the setting, the refreshments, the entertainment, or other amenities elaborated upon in the Novelas amorosas. The tales are foremost, and the characters of the frame serve chiefly to tell them, to comment upon them, and to discuss them.

It is a sort of debate, like one might find in a literary academy. Lisis is the “president” of the session, and through her the topic is announced and certain ground rules are laid. But in the Desengaños, only the women have the floor. The Desengaños are expressly concocted to provide an exclusive voice, a unique proposal, without possible rebuttal. In the course of the “debate,” it is clear that not all of the women believe in their assigned topic or agree with the message they are instructed to convey. Nonetheless, they follow the rules and present their case admirably. The attempts of the narrators are designed to impress and convince, as they would in an academia. But in this academia, only one side of the debate is allowed to be presented.

In addition to these differences in the frames, the reader notes a marked divergence between the two collections of prose in the novels themselves. In the first series, we are entertained by stories, all involving typical characters of the novella, who fall prey to typical vices and follies. In these stories we find heroines who are wronged, but as many who are perpetrators of wrongs. We find, similarly, men who are both victims and victimizers. While the majority of the stories are of a serious nature, we find more than one of a humorous, even picaresque or burlesque quality.

In the second series, however, there is a decided turn to the scabrous, an emphasis on the blood-curdling, with black/white contrasts of good and evil, openly and avowedly designed to convey a single moral lesson: men wrong women. The “typical” plots and characters become exaggerated and grotesque. The men are invariably cruel and ruthless while the heroines are innocent, long-suffering, and wronged. Usually falsely accused of adultery, the wife is variously caged, immured, bled to death, poisoned, garroted, stabbed, shot, crushed by a falling wall, tossed down a well, dismembered, or, most mercifully, abandoned. These are serious messages, with no comic relief. Their intent is more than entertainment, although that facet is not to be denied. Their intent is to shock, to provoke, and to elicit tears and shame.

Indeed, the tremendous difference between the two series of novels can be most easily explained in terms of the frame plot. In the frame of the Novelas amorosas, Lisis set into motion a deceit. She had promised her hand in marriage to Diego not out of love but out of a peevish sense of vengeance. This is hardly the posture of one who is to give the example to all women. She cannot marry Diego on these terms. By the beginning of the Desengaños, we see that she is looking for a way out of the relationship. She must find a solution that will be beyond question and beyond reproach. The entire pretext of the sarao and the relation of the tales is an elaborate and intellectual way to extricate herself from the fix in which she finds herself. She orchestrates a “debate” that will prove that men cannot be trusted. In particular, married women will suffer tremendously at the hands of their husbands or their husband's relatives. The arguments must be so convincing that they will give her free access to escape the undesirable compromise into which she has entered stupidly and petulantly. There can be no room for vacillation in the end. Her decision must seem the only acceptable one both logically and morally. She cannot simply deny Diego only later to accept another, for that would be beneath her nobility. She must deny all men. Thus, Lisis's end in the Desengaños amorosos is dictated by her own impulsiveness in the frame of the Novelas amorosas. This is a logical conclusion, not a tragic one, Zayas's textualized voice assures Fabio in the epilogue. Moreover, the tone and content of the stories must force this conclusion.

Time and again, critics have pointed to the virulence of the misanthropic comments found throughout the Desengaños as evidence of a personal desengaño—as proof that Zayas herself suffered at the hands of an unscrupulous paramour, to be left ultimately alone and abandoned like her heroines, but bitter and resentful. Many critics take the fact that the character Lisis retires to a convent to be indicative of such a fate for Zayas herself, in an attempt to escape the cruel world dominated by deceitful men who have always wronged women in general and María de Zayas in particular.1 But this interpretation depends upon establishing an identity—an equation between Lisis, the character in the frame, and María de Zayas. We know virtually nothing about María de Zayas, lover or wife, but we do have evidence of María de Zayas, “sibila de Madrid” [sibyl of Madrid], author of drama and published poetry and prose, successful participant in activities of the literary community. This information comes both from outside and within the texts.2

In order to determine which narrative voice or voices might be the author's, we must examine the levels of narration within the texts in an attempt to approach Zayas. Palomo, Melloni, Griswold, and Montesa have all dealt with the problem of levels of narration or voices in their studies of Zayas. I like to think of the various levels in terms of a series of nesting boxes. The largest is the voice of Zayas, speaking as an author, addressing herself to the highest level of her reading public: her fellow writers. This voice is theoretically the one that will yield any information about Zayas, her life, and her relationship with her literary peers. Within this box is the voice of the omniscient narrator, who addresses the “mass” reader, the ladies and gentlemen of the corte. This narrator's principal function is to relate the proceedings of the sarao and to disclose the relationships and interpersonal exchanges between the characters in the frame, as a sort of puppeteer, while at the same time offering comments for the edification of the reader. At times, it is difficult to distinguish this voice from the previous one.

The next box is that of the narrators of the tales. These are characters of the frame who take turns telling stories reading or relating un caso to their listening public, i.e., the others present at the sarao, who are all nobles, both men and women, young and old. At times they discuss each others' stories and offer moralistic comments.

Within this box lies the last. It is a character within a novel who narrates his own story to another character within the story. While the character sometimes makes comments of a moralistic nature, they are usually limited to his or her own fate.

This hierarchy is not always maintained exactly. In this system, there is no communication between the omniscient narrator and a character of the frame who narrates a tale, but there is between the latter and a character within a tale, as in the case of Isabel in “La esclava de su amante” [Her lover's slave], who is both a character in the frame as well as a narrator of her own story about her misfortunes.

What is essential to our discussion is to find those instances or passages which can fairly safely be attributed to Zayas qua Zayas—i.e., those passages which are literary in nature, which deal with the life of a writer, with the mechanics of writing, or the relationships between writers. In general, narrators of the frame, including Lisis, maintain their position as such. However, in the tenth desengaño especially, we find Lisis crossing several boundaries. For example, she speaks of the sarao as “her” literary production: “Si fuere malo [mi sarao] no ha de perder el que le sacare a luz, pues le comprarán, siquiera sea para hablar mal de él” [Even if it (my soirée) were bad, the publisher could not lose because they will buy it, if only to speak ill of it] (469).3 At the end of the last desengaño, Lisis takes on the role of spokeswoman, taking care to stipulate that she personally has no need to take up her own defense: “no por mí, que no me toca, pues me conocéis por lo escrito, mas no por la vista” [not for my sake, since it doesn't matter to me because you know me only through my writing but not by sight] (507). Immediately, we see that this passage is not directed to the fictitious audience of the sarao but rather to the reading public. Ultimately, Lisis's voice as narrator fuses with Zayas's as author speaking of her published works. While the task of separating the various voices is not easy, it is possible to a certain extent.

Zayas's stated purpose at the beginning of her novelas is to defend women. In terms of literature, her attitude or position might be summed up as follows. In the world of letters and studies, women should have the same opportunities as men, for their capabilities are the same; but women lack the education or arte given to men. The very fact that she, Zayas, as woman, is writing fiction, testing the deep waters of rhetoric, “arte y ciencia,” [art and science] is a wonderful thing. But she should not be judged as an equal to men, for she does not have the same background and has not had the same advantages.

On the one hand, women should have the same advantages as men and should be treated the same as men. But on the other, Zayas wants to hold on to the privileged position women enjoyed in the past, when chivalrous men respected, admired, even adored women. Zayas looks longingly at this past, but will settle for respect in the present. Women must command respect from men. Accordingly, she, as a woman writer, should get preferential critical treatment by virtue of her sex. Women should have an advantage, a “handicap.”

Throughout the Novelas amorosas we find references to literary criticism in the court, as in the following passages:

Porque la llaneza de su ingenio no era como los fileteados de la Corte, que en passando [un romance] de seis estancias se enfadan.

(Don Alvaro, narrating El castigo de la miseria, 144)

[Because his simple intelligence was not like that of the woolly wits at court who get bored after six stanzas.]

(modification of Boyer 95)

Que un poeta si es enemigo es terrible, porque no hay navaja como una pluma.

(Diego, in the frame; 218)

[For a poet is a terrible enemy because there is no knife as sharp as a quill.]

In the Desengaños, we find similar remarks, some of which are mild, even mocking:

Demás que los músicos de los libros son más piadosos que los de las salas de los señores, que acortan los romances, que les quitan el ser, y los dexan sin pies ni cabeza.

(narrator of the frame; 123)

[Yet the musicians in books are more charitable than those in lordly parlors who slash verses, ruin their essence, and leave the verses headless and footless.]

Y habiéndole dado una guitarra, templó sin enfadar, y cantó sin ser rogada. Falta tan grande en los cantores: cuando vienen a conceder, ya tienen enfadado al género humano de rogarlos.”

(Matilde narrating; 300)

[And, having been given a guitar, she tuned it without fuss and sang without being begged. A tremendous flaw of all other singers: by the time they give in, they have already tired all humankind by forcing them to beg.]

Nonetheless, the majority of passages of a literary nature are neither jocular nor impersonal. While in the novelas there is confusion between Zayas-narrator-Lisis, there is a parallel confusion between the public for whom the tales are theoretically meant and to whom they are actually directed. Theoretically, Zayas directs her work to her peers, the narrator to the general reader, and Lisis to the “noble auditorio” [noble audience] gathered to hear the tales. But, we remember, the frame is a sarao, a sort of literary gathering, which parallels the literary academies in form and function. Remarks of a critical or complaining nature directed in theory to the audience at the sarao might in reality be meant for the members of the flesh-and-blood academias which serve as models for the sarao.

We recall that in the academias and within the literary community—here, her readers—there are mirones, legos, those who have not been able to get into print. Their envy makes them speak ill of others in general and, it seems, of Zayas in particular. In the frame of the Desengaños, we see that the Novelas did not receive universal acclaim: “unos le desestimaron” [some did not appreciate it] (258). Early in the Desengaños, Zelima/Isabel begins her story and quickly turns from the task of narrating her own misfortunes to address literary critics of the court:

Yo fui en todo extremada, y más en hacer versos, que era el espanto de aquel reino, y la envidia de muchos no tan peritos en esta facultad; que hay algunos ignorantes que, como si las mujeres les quitaran el entendimiento por tenerle, se consumen de los aciertos ajenos. ¡Bárbaro, ignorante! si lo sabes hacer, hazlos, que no te roba nadie tu caudal; si son buenos los que no son tuyos, y más si son de dama, adóralos y alábalos; y si malos, discúlpala, considerando que no tiene más caudal, y que es digna de más aplauso en una mujer que [en] un hombre, por adornarlos con menos arte


[I was gifted in everything, but especially in writing verses, so that I was the awe of the kingdom, and the envy of many not as talented in this area. There are some ignorant individuals who, as if women robbed them of their intellect by having their own, are consumed by jealousy for other's successes, ignorant, barbarian! If you know how to write verses, do it. No one can rob you of your talent. If those that are not yours are good—especially if they are by a woman—appreciate and praise them. And if they are bad, forgive her and, pitying her lack of talent, consider them more worthy of applause as the work of a woman rather than a man, since they are less blessed with art.]

It would seem that Zayas here hides behind a character, or removes the mask of the character to express her own indignation at the unfavorable criticism some of her literary peers have leveled at her work. We find this happening often, when a character or narrator refers to “mi sarao” or “mis desengaños.”

We can suppose that María de Zayas's prose has been criticized and accused of a lack of inventio, judging by the defense of her craft:

Si acaso pareciere que los desengaños aquí referidos, y los que faltan, los habéis oído en otras partes, será haberle contado quien, como yo y las demás engañadoras, lo supo por mayor, mas no con las circunstancias que aquí van hermoseadas, y no sacados de una parte a otra, como hubo algún lego o envidioso que lo dixo de la primera parte de nuestro sarao.

(Nise; 199)

[If, perhaps, you think you've heard some of the disenchantments told here or those yet to be told, you must have heard them elsewhere. You may have heard them from someone who, like me or the other storytellers, knew only the facts, but not with the detail that adorns them here. They have not been taken from any old source as some envious critic has stated about the first part of our entertainment.]

Zayas's narrators repeatedly stress their lack of education or “arte.” As in the case of the following examples, this can be taken either as a pose or as a defense against criticism:

Historias divinas y humanas nos lo dicen, que aunque pudiera citar algunas, no quiero, porque quiero granjear nombre de desengañadora, mas no de escolástica.

(Matilde; 294)

[Sacred as well as human stores tell us so, and although I could cite some sources here, I refuse to do so since I prefer earning the title of one who enlightens (desengañadora) to that of scholar.]

Y yo, como no traigo propósito de canonizarme por bien entendida, sino por buena desengañadora, es lo cierto que, ni en lo hablado, ni en lo que hablaré, he buscado razones retóricas, ni cultas; porque, de más de ser un lenguaje que con el extremo posible aborrezco, querría que me entendiesen todos, el culto y el lego.

(Lisis; 469-70)

[And as for me, since I don't wish to be canonized as well educated but rather as one who successfully enlightens, the truth is that neither in what I have spoken nor in what I am about to speak will I look for rhetorical or cultured reasons; because, besides being a language that I abhor to the greatest possible extreme, I want everyone to understand me, both the educated and the uneducated.]

At times the position adopted is one of anger—of resentment at the idea that the Desengaños will probably be criticized as the Novelas amorosas were:

¿Quién ignora que habría esta noche algunos no muy bien intencionados?, y aun me parece que los oigo decir: ¿Quién las pone a estas mujeres en estos disparates? ¿Enmendar a los hombres? Lindo acierto. Vamos ahora a estas bachillerías que no faltará ocasión de venganza. Y como no era esta fiesta en que se podía pagar un silbo a un mosquetero, dexarían en casa doblado el papel y cortadas las plumas, para vengarse.

(omniscient narrator; 258-59)

[Who doubts that this night there might be some with less than good intentions? And even now it seems I hear them say: “Who puts these women in such absurd situations? Reform men? Nice try. Let's hear their prattle, there'll be no lack of chances for vengeance.” And since it was not a public celebration where one could pay a heckler to whistle them down, they'll have to leave at home their folded paper and the sharpened quill in order to seek their vengeance.]

Again and again, we find the fear of the stories being ill-received and a defensiveness of the female writer being vilified as a “bachillería.”

The certainty of criticism is met with the argument of men's obligation to respect women. Near the end of the Desengaños, there is a plea for acceptance of the work by her literary peers which can be read alternately as coy or satirical:

Y así, pues no os quito y os doy, ¿qué razón habrá para que entre las grandes riquezas de vuestros heroicos discursos no halle lugar mi pobre jornalejo? Y supuesto que, aunque moneda inferior, es moneda y vale algo, por humilde, no la habéis de pisar; luego, si merece tener lugar entre vuestro grueso caudal, ya vencéis y me hacéis vencedora.

(Lisis; 470)

[And so, since I neither take from you nor give to you, why could not my poor scribblings find a place among the great riches of your heroic discourses? And given that, even though it is inferior coin, it is still coin and worth something, you shouldn't trample it just because it's humble. If, then, it is worthy of a place among your great wealth, you win and you make me a winner too.]

But at the end, a cynicism and a bitterness surface in the certainty that the sarao will be criticized and spoken ill of by envious writers and would-be poets:

Se fueron a sus casas, Ilevando unos que admirar, todos que contar, y muchos que murmurar del Sarao; que hay en la Corte gran número de sabandijas legas que su mayor gusto es decir mal de las obras ajenas, y es lo mejor que no las saben entender.

(omniscient narrator; 510)

[They all went home, some with things to admire, everyone with things to tell, and many with gossip about the soirée; for in the Court there are a great many uneducated vermin whose greatest pleasure is to speak ill of the work of others—above all, work they are incapable of understanding.]

These remarks hardly seem directed at the general reading public, the “mass audience,” but rather at an initiated and participating group of writers, of académicos de sarao. Let us part from the premise that Zayas, like other Siglo de Oro authors, wrote for her peers—specifically, her literary peers. Then María de Zayas might well be protesting—consciously or unconsciously—the criticism that her male counterparts have leveled against her sex in general and her literary abilities or production in particular.

We should not assume that everything said in the frames by the narrators is a true reflection of Zayas's innermost thoughts.4 But it is feasible to weigh possibilities one against the other. Perhaps there is an identification between what Lisis and the narradoras say at times and what Zayas espouses. At the very least, the evolution of their manifold literary comments and complaints indicates a relationship between Zayas and her peers that has, at least from her point of view, gone sour.


  1. See Amezúa's introduction to Yllera's edition of Desengaños amorosos, xxii; Montesa Peydro 1981, 28-32; Vasileski 1973, 59; and Desengaños, 21.

  2. See Palomo 1976, 68; Melloni 1976, 13-18; Griswold 1980, 103; and Montesa 1981, 337-78.

  3. Montesa 1981 also quotes this passage on page 369 of his study.

  4. As Maxime Chevalier affirms: “un texto literario, hasta cuando sale de la pluma del Príncipe de los ingenios [Cervantes], no tiene fuerza de documento de archivo, y que un episodio novelesco no tiene valor de testimonio personal” (1976, 92) [a literary text, even when it comes from the Prince of Creative Geniuses (Cervantes), does not have the force of an archival document, and that a novelistic episode does not carry the weight of personal testimony].

For the Novelas amorosas I have used Agustín González de Amezúa y Mayo's edition (Madrid: Aldus, 1948), while for the Desengaños I have used Alicia Yllera's (Madrid: Cátedra, 1983).


Chevalier, Maxime. 1976. Lectura y lectores en la España de los Siglos XVI y XVII. Madrid: Ediciones Turner.

Griswold, Susan C. 1980. “Topoi and Rhetorical Distance: The ‘Feminism’ of María de Zayas.” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 14: 97-116.

King, Willard F. 1963. Prosa novelística y academias literarias en el siglo XVII. Madrid: BRAE, anejo X.

Melloni, Alessandra. 1976. Il sistema narrativo di María de Zayas. Turin: Quaderni Ibero-Americani.

Montesa Peydro, Salvador. 1981. Texto y contexto en la narrativa de María de Zayas. Madrid: Dirección General de la Juventud y Promoción Sociocultural.

Palomo, María del Pilar. 1976. La novela cortesana (Forma y estructura). Barcelona: Planeta.

Pfandl, Ludwig. 1959. Cultura y costumbres del pueblo español de los siglos XVI y XVII: introducción al estudio del siglo de oro. Barcelona: Araluce.

Vasileski, Irma V. 1973. María de Zayas: su época y su obra. Madrid: Plaza Mayor.

Zayas y Sotomayor, María de. 1983. Desengaños amorosos. Edited by Alicia Yllera. Madrid: Cátedra.

———. 1948. Novelas amorosas. Edited by Agustín González de Amezúa y Mayo. Madrid: Aldus.

Judith A. Whitenack (essay date 1995)

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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 neglected wife who is brutally punished for committing adultery while under a magic spell has typically been seen as a straightforward feminist complaint: at the cruelty with which men avenge slights to their honor, with no regard for whether or not the woman involved is to blame.1 This reading is supported by the narrator's concluding comment: “Pues en cuanto a la crueldad para con las desdichadas mujeres, no hay que fiar en hermanos ni maridos, que todos son hombres” [Where cruelty toward unfortunate women is concerned, neither brothers nor husbands can be trusted, for they are all men] (Desengaños, 288) and by the reaction in the frame narrative from first listener Estefanía: “y los caballeros podrán también conocer cuán engañados andan en dar toda la culpa a las mujeres, acumulándolas todos los delitos, flaquezas, crueldades y malos tratos, pues no siempre tienen la culpa” [and gentlemen should also realize how much they err when they place all the blame on women and attribute to them all wrongdoing, weakness, cruelty, and ill treatment, because women are not always at fault] (289). Nonetheless, powerful and disturbing evidence in both the frame narrative and the tale itself directs attention to another, less obvious reading.

At the heart of the tale is an ancient motif: the use of enchantment for erotic ends. Attracting unwilling lovers through the use of magic potions, charms, and enchantments—what Caro Baroja (1964, 26) calls “amatory magic”—is an enduring human fantasy prominent in myth, folklore, and literature. Written injunctions against the practice of amatory magic are found as early as Plato's Laws, and patristic and legal writings of the Latin Middle Ages are similarly stern on the subject, as seen in the thirteenth-century Siete partidas of Alfonso X:2

Otrosi defendemos que ninguno non sea osado de facer imágines de cera, nin de metal nin de otros fechizos malos para enamorar los homes con las mugeres, nin para partir el amor que algunos hobiesen entre sí. Et aun defendemos que ninguno non sea osado de dar yerbas nin brebage á home o á muger por razon de enamoramiento.


[In addition, we forbid anyone to make images of wax or metal or other evil spells to make men fall in love with women, or to destroy the love that exists between two people. We also forbid anyone to give herbs or potions to men or women in order to make them fall in love.]

Clearly the burden of the law is that all erotic magic is forbidden, but it is interesting that the tools of witchcraft—wax or metal images, magic spells—are mentioned only in the context of women attracting men, whereas both sexes are enjoined from using love philtres. The underlying assumption, that in these matters men have more to fear from women than the reverse, is repeated in most commentaries on magic, along with the notion that woman is insatiable—an insaciabilis bestia—and that she is naturally inclined toward witchcraft because of her susceptibility to diabolical influence. For instance, the famous fifteenth-century compendium of witchcraft, the Malleus Maleficarum, states unequivocally that “all witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women never satisfied” and puts “inclining the minds of men to inordinate passion” at the head of the list of methods by which women “infect with witchcraft the venereal act and the conception of the womb” (Kramer 1971, 47).3 References to women's practice of amatory magic are everywhere. In Juan de Mena's El laberinto de fortuna, the figure of Providencia ridicules various illicit methods that women use to attract men, including “agujas fincadas en çera” [needles embedded in wax] and “vanas palabras del encantadera” (62) [the enchantress's futile words]. Similarly, Luis de Lucena's Repetición de amores includes using hechicerías [sorcery] among women's many sins (79), and the Arcipreste de Talavera attributes to diabolical influence women's use of erotic enchantment: “comiençan fazer byenquerencias—que ellas dizen—fechizos, encantamentos e obras diabólicas más verdaderamente nonbradas” [they start making “good will offerings”—as they call them—that is, spells and enchantments more properly called works of the devil] (Martínez de Toledo, 171-72). Santa Teresa cites a poor priest of her acquaintance whose concubine controlled him with magic spells for seven years: “le tenía puestos hechizos en un idolito de cobre, que le había rogado le trajese por amor de ella al cuello” (5) [had cast spells on him through a little copper idol she begged him to wear around his neck as proof of his love for her].4

Not unexpectedly, however, the distinction between seduction and magic is not always clear, so that “enchant” and “bewitch” (encantar and hechizar) are often used as metaphors for feminine seductive powers, as is said of Hipólita in Cervantes's Persiles y Sigismunda: “con la hermosura encantaba” (442). The love/enchantment equation is also a poetic commonplace, for instance in these lines from Francisco de la Torre:

El falso mago Amor, con el encanto
          de palabras quebradas por olvido,
          convirtió mi razón y mi sentido
          mi cuerpo no, por deschacelle en llanto.


Love the treacherous magician, using an enchantment
          of words broken by forgetfulness,
          transformed my reason and my senses,
          but not my body, in order to destroy it with sobs.]

Thus, it is not surprising to hear that popular opinion would blame witchcraft for certain prominent cases of inordinate passion, such as Edward IV's for Elizabeth Woodville, or that of Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn. Of course, these metaphors still survive in songs like “Witchcraft.” Interestingly enough, it is the goddess Circe, of all people, who in Lope de Vega's version defends women against the common male perception that love is a matter of witchcraft: “decís … si amáis alguna vez, que os hechizamos” [you men say … if you happen to fall in love, that we have enchanted you] (1015).

In Homer's Odyssey, we find perhaps the earliest literary examples of the use of erotic enchantment, as two different goddesses, Calypso and Circe, use their magic powers to keep Odysseus in thrall—Calypso for seven years and Circe for one.5 These episodes, which seem to suggest subliminal masculine fears of women's powers, are unlike some later erotic enchantments in that Odysseus never forgets his identity. For instance, he is ready to leave Calypso and continue his journey home once the nymph has “long since ceased to please” (Rieu 1966, 92) or “no longer pleased his fancy” (Shaw 1956, 73), but her powers, like those of Circe, force him to stay. As Odysseus later proclaims, “never for a moment did they win my heart” (Rieu 1966, 140), or “neither the one nor the other could pervert the heart in my manly breast” (Shaw 1956, 120). These enchantment episodes serve to demonstrate that the hero is irresistible—even to goddesses, one of whom (Circe) is accustomed to turning men into beasts. However, only supernatural powers can bind him to one of these women, once his desire for her is satisfied. Odysseus's sexual infidelities to Penelope are unimportant within the Homeric value system, where a hero is expected to have multiple concubines. And in any case, Penelope is the one to whom he eventually returns. What is most important, however, is his fidelity to his own heroism—not to be vanquished by any woman, goddess or not.

When sexual fidelity becomes a major issue in the Christian Middle Ages, the conventions of literary enchantments also change. Unlike Odysseus, the ideal knight does not enter into sexual liaisons willingly but rather is enchanted by a lascivious sorceress, which causes him to forget his identity entirely, so that he cannot be accused of infidelity to his lady. Thus the enchantment, as in Homer, provides an excuse for the hero's sexual dalliance, but the value system has changed drastically, to an ideal of sexual continence and fidelity to one woman that in the Homeric world would have been incomprehensible. So important is sexual fidelity for great heroes that in Malory's Le morte d'Arthur, for example, the only way for Lady Elaine to conceive Galahad by Lancelot is for the knight to believe that he is sleeping with his only love (and the wife of his lord), Queen Gwynevere (337-45). It is important to emphasize that the Gwynevere figure is not just a symbol of the dangers of love. We will remember that Gwynevere is reluctant to forgive his actions while enchanted and that she banishes him the second time it happens—triggering his plunge into total madness. Thus she becomes the personification of legendary, irrational feminine jealousy, since one of the conventions of all erotic enchantments is that the victim is powerless against it and therefore deserves no blame.

As the chivalric genre evolves from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, a figure like Lancelot, with his absolute loyalty to what is in itself an adulterous relationship, becomes less admirable as a model. In Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo's fifteenth-century version of the lost medieval Amadís de Gaula, the hero's unjust banishment by a jealous Oriana (chaps. 42-58) invites comparison with the Lancelot-Elaine episode. But Montalvo's conception of the perfect hero is so strongly tied to sexual continence that neither Amadís nor his even more exemplary son, Esplandián, is ever unfaithful, with or without the excuse of enchantment. However, many of the more than fifty Spanish chivalric romances stop far short of Montalvo's scrupulousness and feature a variety of knightly heroes, of whom some are great womanizers, a few are in the Amadís-Esplandián mold, and the largest group is composed of those who are completely faithful to their lady unless enchanted.6

Within the enchantment episodes, a major difference from Arthurian versions is the absence of the Gwynevere figure: no one—not even his lady—blames the knight for his behavior while enchanted. Also, the enchantress, or maga, is seldom a sympathetic character, unlike the Arthurian Elaine, for instance, the virgin destined to be the mother of the perfect Galahad. It is not she but her aunt, Lady Brusen, who works the magic; and from Elaine's first night with Lancelot, she loves him hopelessly and irrevocably and will never accept another lover. The Spanish maga, in contrast, is typically an alien and unsympathetic character, moved by her own passions. Although later she might bear the hero's child and then, like Elaine, remain faithful to him forever, initially the maga is introduced as the quintessential other woman: lustful, frequently dark-skinned, and, worst of all for those times, a Moslem or some other variety of non-Christian. While in the Lancelot tale the enchantment is essential to the narrative, since Galahad must be conceived while Lancelot remains faithful, in most of the Spanish romances there is no reason in the plot for including this kind of episode. In fact, it often seems that chivalric authors were simply stringing together all motifs which appealed to them. Episodes of erotic enchantment offer several advantages, not the least of which is the opportunity to describe in titillating detail the night's sexual adventures. They also attest to his typical heroic irresistibility to women, and—not incidentally—to his sexual prowess, even when enchanted. Moreover, an enchanted knight can still be portrayed as the perfectly faithful lover. “Hay muchas maneras de encantamentos,” as Don Quixote says, but the essential underlying assumption that links all literary episodes of erotic enchantment is that knights cannot be held responsible for their behavior while under a spell.7

Thus, Zayas in “La inocencia castigada” is making use of a conventional motif with a long history when she has Doña Inés succumb to Don Diego's lust while under a magic spell. Given the ubiquitousness of the erotic enchantment motif in classical mythology, Arthurian literature, widely disseminated works like Palmerín de Olivia, the later books of the Amadís series, Orlando furioso, and popular folklore and superstition, it is not presuming too much to say that Zayas's readers were familiar with it. Highly significant, however, is the way in which Zayas has changed some of the conventions of the motif: the magic spell is provided by a third party, the victim is a woman, and she remembers what has happened to her. Of course, there are works, like La Celestina and El caballero de Olmedo, for instance, where a young man employs an alcahueta (go-between) (and sometimes her magic) in order to win the lady of his heart, and in Othello, Desdemona's angry father initially accuses the Moor of having “enchanted” his daughter. However, even in La Celestina, not to mention El caballero de Olmedo, it is far from certain that magic had any effect on the young ladies in question, and in Othello it soon becomes clear that the only “witchcraft” involved is Othello's eloquent narration of his life story: “She loved me for the dangers I had passed, / And I loved her that she did pity them” (Act I: iii).

Moreover, in these works, all three ladies are thoroughly in love but just as thoroughly in possession of all their senses. Zayas, on the other hand, is using most of the conventions of the chivalric motif, whereby the seducers use magic in order to satisfy lust, and the victims only give in because they are not themselves. Zayas's Doña Inés, like a traditional enchanted knight, is entirely passive, as if in a trance:

privada con la fuerza del encanto y de la vela que ardía de su juicio, y en fin, forzada de algún espíritu diabólico que gobernaba aquello, se levantó de su cama … y fue en casa de don Diego … y sin hablar palabra, ni mirar en nada, se puso dentro de la cama donde estaba don Diego.

(Desengaños, 277)

[deprived of her senses by the magic spell and the burning candle, and finally, compelled by the diabolical spirit that controlled all of it, she left her bed … and went to Don Diego's house … and without speaking a word or looking at anything she got into the bed where Don Diego was lying.]

It is also obvious that Inés is to be regarded as a victim of diabolical magic. Although the Moor escapes, Don Diego is arrested by the Inquisition for employing the “gran hechicero y nigromántico,” who uses one of the very methods specifically forbidden by Alfonso X and so many others: a small wax statue of Inés with a candle which, when lighted, would bring the lady to his bed. Don Diego, just like all of the magas in chivalric fiction who complain that love induced by enchantment is meaningless, laments the “favores muertos” [lifeless favors] he enjoys from Inés. But of course he, like those magas, opts for enjoying “el tiempo y la ocasión” (278), although he is, in effect, engaging in an act of rape. The emphasis on Inés's passivity, that she is “fuera de juicio” and “fuera de su sentido,” connects her with any number of Golden Age noblewomen of literature who are unconscious during the act of rape:

A esto y otras muchas cosas que don Diego le decía, doña Inés no respondía palabra; que viendo esto el amante, algo pesaroso, por parecerle que doña Inés estaba fuera de su sentido con el maldito encanto, y que no tenía facultad para hablar, teniendo aquéllos, aunque favores, por muertos, conociendo claro que si la dama estuviera en su juicio, no se los hiciera.


Doña Inés did not respond to this or to the many other things Don Diego said to her. Her lover was somewhat disappointed by this, since he could see that the evil spell had deprived Doña Inés of her senses and that she was unable to speak, and he realized that the lifeless favors granted him were meaningless, since the lady would never have granted them to him if she had been in her right mind.]

Particularly important is the last clause: if the lady were in her right mind, she would not do it. Thus she, like all of those enchanted knights, should be entirely blameless for anything she does when “privada de su juicio.” However, as we know, it is her husband's refusal to believe that the episode with Don Diego is anything but simple adultery which leads to Inés's horrifying punishment. Her evil sister-in-law, in doubting the encantamiento and suggesting that it is simply Inés's invention in order to escape blame—“por quedar libre de culpa” (282)—is clearly as unreasonable as Gwynevere.

It is no mystery why Zayas changed the sex of the victim: in order to serve her contention that when their honor is involved, men are too blinded by rage to consider that the woman might be innocent, and also that men (as well as evil women) are capable of extraordinary cruelty, even sadism, toward women. Making the mago the intermediary rather than the principal also makes a kind of sense: the husband's revulsion at the thought of his wife having sex with a lascivious Moorish sorcerer might deflect some reader sympathy away from Inés. Zayas's reasons for the other major change in the conventional motif are less obvious. Unlike the enchanted knights, who typically remember nothing, during the entire month of the enchantment Inés is tormented by vivid memories of the hours spent in Diego's bed—memories that she can only interpret as dreams that are erotic and therefore shameful: “descompuestos sueños.”9 So guilty do these dreams make her feel that she prays to God and often consults her confessor, who of course cannot help her erase what are not dreams but memories:

La pobre señora andaba tan triste y casi asombrada de ver que no se podía librar de tan descompuestos sueños, que tal creía que eran, ni por encomendarse, como lo hacía, a Dios, ni por acudir a menudo a su confesor, que la consolaba, cuanto era posible, y deseaba que viniese su marido, por ver si con él podía remediar su tristeza.


[The poor lady was sad as well as astonished to see that she could not free herself of such unseemly dreams, which is what she believed they were, neither by commending herself to God nor by going frequently to her confessor, who consoled her as much as he could. She longed for her husband's return, to see if with him there he could provide a remedy for her sadness.]

These “dreams” at first glance seem to add an inexplicably discordant note to what would otherwise be a straightforward case of the victimization of an innocent woman. Inés's distraught appearance when Diego sees her on her balcony the next day convinces him that the previous night was no dream, but it is hardly necessary for Inés to suffer an entire month of erotic visions for such a limited purpose. Of course these unwelcome visions could simply be part of the larger picture of Inés's undeserved suffering. But for another possible explanation, let us recall the circumstances of Inés's marriage.

First of all, like any dutiful lady of the era, she is marrying a man chosen for her by her closest male relative, in this case her brother: “no tenía más voluntad que la suya” [she had no will apart from his]. Second, she is secretly delighted at the prospect of escaping from her brother's household: “por salir de la rigurosa condición de su cuñada” [in order to escape from her sister-in-law's harsh temper]. However, after less than two months of marriage, she realizes that she has exchanged a bad situation for a worse one: “antes de dos meses se halló, por salir de un cautiverio, puesta en otro martirio” (265) [within two months she found herself, having left one form of torture for another]. I believe that we have an important key to the tale when it becomes clear that “martirio” here means her husband's neglect—so typical, as the narrator tells us, of masculine behavior:

si bien, con la dulzura de las caricias de su esposo, que hasta en eso, a los principios, no hay quien se la gane a los hombres; antes se dan tan buena maña que tengo para mí que las gastan todas al primer año, como se hallan fallidos del caudal del agasajo, hacen morir a puras necesidades de él a sus esposas.


[of course, with her husband's sweet caresses, and in the early stages there is no one who can outdo men at these; on the contrary, they make such an effort at it that I personally believe that they use them all up in the first year, and then their supply of affection runs out and they leave their wives dying of frustration.]

The fact that the enchantment episode is set during her husband's lengthy absence in Seville strongly suggests the possibility that Inés is suffering from both emotional and sexual deprivation. And indeed, near the beginning of the tale, the narrator expands on the subject of the way husbands neglect their wives by suggesting that these are the very conditions which could drive a woman into “bajezas,” i.e., sexual indiscretions:

y quizá, y sin quizá, es lo cierto ser esto la causa por donde ellas, aborrecidas, se empeñan en bajezas, con que ellos pierden el honor y ellas la vida. ¿Qué espera un marido, ni un padre, ni un hermano, y hablando más comúnmente, un galán, de una dama, si se ve aborrecida, y falta de lo que ha menester, y tras eso, poco agasajada y estimada, sino una desdicha?


[and maybe—no, certainly—this is why women who are spurned lower themselves to vile behavior which causes the loss of their husbands' honor as well as their own lives. What can a lady's husband, father, brother, or more commonly, her suitor, expect but the worst, when she finds herself spurned, deprived of what she needs, neglected, and unappreciated?]

That a man seldom continues to love a woman once he possesses her—what Juan Goytisolo calls “la incompatibilidad entre el amor y la posesión” [the incompatibility between love and possession] (1978, 73)—is a recurring theme in Zayas's fiction, although the early sections of this tale contain perhaps her clearest expressions of a woman's sexual needs—“a puras necesidades de él,” “falta de lo que ha menester,” etc. Both Goytisolo (97) and Montesa Peydro (1981, 197) have spoken of Zayas's relative frankness in detailing the sexual needs of her female characters—what Goytisolo calls “el fuego que corroe a los personajes femeninos” [the fire that consumes her female characters] (97).11 Curiously, however, neither has connected Inés's “dreams” with her unhappy marriage.

Another interesting point is the often-quoted passage in the frame narration which precedes the tale, in which Laura, the narrator, expresses sympathy for women's motivations for avenging themselves on men who are not only neglectful but fickle, while she condemns as demeaning the kind of vengeance they typically take—what she calls “venganza civil” (i.e., sexual):

Dan motivo a las mujeres para que se quejen y aun para que se venguen, sino que han elegido una venganza civil, y que fuera tanto mejor vengarse en las vidas que no en las honras. Porque, bárbara, si tu amante o marido te agravia, ¿no ves que en hacer tú lo mismo te agravias a ti misma … ?


[They give women a reason to complain and even to take vengeance, except that women choose individual vengeance, and it would be better to take vengeance on men's lives, not their honor. You fool, if your lover or husband offends you, don't you see that by doing the same you are offending yourself?]

By urging women not to take sexual vengeance, she is confirming that at least some wives do so, and in her more radical recommendation that women kill their unfaithful husbands rather than paying them back in the same coin (“vengarse en las vidas que no en las honras”), the warning to men could not be more pointed.

However, after the remarks in the frame narration and then the digression in the descriptions of Inés's marriage on the “bajezas” in which neglected wives might engage, comes a complete change in direction: suddenly we are told that all of this is irrelevant to Inés: “No le sucedió por esta parte a doña Inés la desdicha, porque su esposo hacía la estimación de ella que merecía su valor y hermosura; por ésta le vino la desgracia” [That is not the way misfortune came to Doña Inés, because her husband gave her the esteem she deserved for her quality and beauty; it was the latter that caused her downfall] (266). The narrator then proceeds with the other elements of her tale: the crowd of local galanes who fall in love with the newly married beauty, “ilícita y deshonestamente,” Don Diego's various fruitless attempts to win her, his final success with the help of the Moor's magic spell, the experiments by which the Corregidor tests the magic statue and candle, the horrifyingly cruel punishment carried out by Inés's husband, brother, and sister-in-law, and finally her blessed end as a saintly nun. This strange shift of focus serves the purpose of separating Inés from these avenging women while leaving intact the censure of husbands—for a great deal of evidence suggests that the entire story revolves around the question of their neglect of their wives. For instance, despite her husband's neglect, Inés still believes that his return from Seville will solve her current problem: “por ver si con él podía remediar su tristeza” (279) [in order to see if with him there she could ease her sadness]. As we know, her erotic “dreams” are only her memory of actual events, although she obviously sees them as an expression of guilty, repressed desires, inexplicably centered, to her horror, around the person of her unwelcome suitor, Don Diego:

¡Qué es esto, desdichada de mí! ¿Pues cuándo he dado yo lugar a mi imaginación para que me represente cosas tan ajenas de mí, o qué pensamientos ilícitos he tenido yo con este hombre para que de ellos hayan nacido tan enormes y deshonestos efectos?


[What is this, oh unfortunate me? When have I ever allowed my imagination to represent things so alien to myself, or what illicit thoughts have I had about this man that would cause such enormous and shameful effects to be born?]

Even though she does not know what is really happening to her, Inés's guilty suffering seems designed to awaken husbands to the possible consequences of disregarding their wives' needs.

A few other details also serve to reinforce the message that a neglected wife might be vulnerable to advances from other men. For one thing, there is the description of the curious wax statue of Inés that contains the Moor's magic:

Estaba desnuda, y las manos puestas sobre el corazón, que tenía descubierto, clavado por él un alfiler grande, dorado, a modo de saeta, porque en lugar de la cabeza tenía la forma de plumas del mismo metal, y parecía que la dama quería sacarle con las manos, que tenía encaminadas a él.


[She (the statue) was nude, with her hands over her heart, which was uncovered and had a long golden pin piercing it like an arrow, feathers of the same metal on the tip, and it looked as if she were trying to pull it out with her hands, which were wrapped around it.]

This statue of a woman trying vainly to remove a golden arrow piercing her heart is a visualization of one of the most common images of love poetry—Cupid's golden arrows—those doradas flechas and saetas de oro buried in the pecho, corazón, or entrañas of the love god's hapless victim and inducing hopeless, irresistible passion. The wax image of Inés, then, connects her with hopeless passion, as do her erotic “dreams,” regardless of her innocence.

Additionally, evidence seeming to suggest that there is a logical progression from neglected wife to unfaithful wanton is found in the two “Atandra” poems in the frame narrative just before and just after the tale. The first is an extended lament of a neglected wife, Atandra, whose husband, in typical male fashion, has grown tired of her:

¿Adónde vas sin tu Atandra?
          ¿Cómo te cansó tan presto?
          Eres hombre, no me espanto;
          mas no eres hombre, que miento.


[Where are you going without your Atandra?
          How is it that you tired of me so quickly?
          But you are a man, so I'm not surprised;
          but I am lying—you are not really a man.]

The second is also a lament by a married lady, but this time reproving her husband for his affair with a wanton woman named Atandra who, she says, already has a man (dueño) of her own. The wife also complains that her husband is giving Atandra favores (i.e., sexual favors) that rightfully belong to her:

Hoy, al salir de tu albergue,
          mostró con rostro risueño,
          tirana de mis favores,
          cuánto se alegra en tenerlos.
Si miraras que son míos,
          no se los dieras tan presto;
          cometiste estelionato,
          porque vendiste lo ajeno.


[Today, as she left your room,
          that thief of the love that is mine
          demonstrated by her smiling face
          how happy she is to be in possession of it.
If you would recall that it is mine,
          you would not give it away so quickly;
          you are a swindler
          because you sold what belonged to someone else.]

Of course this second wife might also go astray, thereby continuing a kind of chain reaction of neglected wives vulnerable to illicit affairs. If we assume that these two Atandras are the same person (and it is worth noting that the name appears nowhere else in Zayas's work), then the poems appear to be the tale of a woman who, abandoned by her husband, turns to an affair with another married man, thereby reinforcing the message on the consequences of neglecting one's wife.

It also seems to me that Inés's expressions of guilt are excessive even for Zayas's characteristic rhetorical excess. Besides the conventional—“sacándose a manojos sus cabellos” [pulling her hair out by the handfuls], “alcanzándole un desmayo a otro, una congoja a otra” [falling into one fainting spell after another, one paroxysm after another], and threats of suicide (280-81)—she also asks her husband to kill her for having been “mala,” even though against her will: “se arrojó a sus pies, pidiéndole que la matase, pues había sido mala, que aunque sin su voluntad, había manchado su honor” [she threw herself at his feet, asking him to kill her since she had been wicked and had dishonored him, even though against her will] (281). This is not the typical reaction of the rape victim of the era, even in Zayas's own fiction. For instance, Isabel in “La esclava de su amante” reacts with “furor diabólico” [diabolical fury] after Manuel has raped her, and she considers the rape an “agravio” (Desengaños, 137). It seems odd, then, for Inés to insist that she has been “mala” rather than “agraviada.”

Moreover, in the frame narrative, it is curious that Doña Estefanía should seize upon Don Alonso's vengefulness as an occasion to laud the forgiving nature of her “divino Esposo,” i.e., Christ: “¡Ay, divino Esposo mío! Y si vos, todas las veces que os ofendemos, nos castigarais así, ¿qué fuera de nosotros?” [Oh, my divine husband! If you punished us like this every time we offended you, what would become of us?] (289). Since Inés is innocent, the stress should be on the fact that she deserves no punishment, not that her husband should follow Christ's model and be more forgiving. It is at least possible that Inés's insistence on calling herself mala proceeds logically from her anguished—and guilty—reaction to her “descompuestos sueños.” Estefanía, the first listener to react, might simply be following Inés's own self-condemnation, as do the other listeners, who do not focus on injustice of the punishment but rather on its excessive cruelty:

Pues cuando doña Inés, de malicia, hubiera cometido el yerro que le obligó a tal castigo, no merecía más que una muerte breve, como se han dado a otras que han pecado de malicia, y no darle tantas y tan dilatadas como le dieron.


[Even if Doña Inés had deliberately committed the transgression that earned her such a punishment, she would not have deserved anything beyond the quick death suffered by others who have deliberately sinned, and not the many and prolonged “deaths” that were her lot.]

In other words, these listeners locate the incident within the harshest version of the “honor code” (whether accepting or rejecting it), but significantly, they distinguish between a yerro (like that of Inés) and an action done “de malicia” (like that of a deliberately unfaithful wife)—something like the distinction between murder and involuntary manslaughter. Seemingly they do not consider it the equivalent of rape. Of course, even if it is strictly a case of rape, there are many in the era (and even in modern terms) who would consider, along with the narrator of Alemán's Guzmán de Alfarache, that the victim is to blame: “No hay fuerza de hombre que valga contra la mujer que no quiere” [No man's strength can overcome a woman who is not willing] (II, 327). Let us seek a possible explanation for the ambiguity of Inés's self-condemnation as “mala” against the listeners' seeming agreement that her action is not a “yerro” and the “inocencia” found in the title.

Popular belief, as well as Catholic doctrine, would defend the preeminence of Christian faith over diabolical magic, and of free will over enchantment. For instance, we will recall that the devil in Calderón's El mágico prodigioso cannot deliver Justina to Cipriano as he had promised, because she is a Christian endowed with free will. Similarly, in Zayas's own miracle tale, “La perseguida triunfante,” the magician's powers over Beatriz are limited because she is under the Virgin's special protection. If we look at Emblema CXI of Andrea Alciati's extremely popular collection (1531), moreover, we will also find the statement that virtue can overcome the power of Cupid's arrows: “Amor virtutis, alium Cupidinem superans” accompanied by the picture of Virtue casting the love god's bow and arrows into a fire (461-65). Lope's “Canción II” from La Arcadia also defends the possibility of resisting erotic encanto with one's free will:

cuando a las manos vengo
con el muchacho ciego,
haciendo rostro embisto,
venzo, triunfo y resisto
la flecha, el arco, la ponzoña, el fuego,
y con libre albedrío
lloro el ajeno mal y canto el mío.


[When I fall into the clutches of that blind boy, I conquer, triumph, and resist his arrows, bow, poison, and fire by ignoring him, and with my free will I weep for the misfortune of others while singing of my own.]

Likewise, in both the Quijote and the Persiles, free will is consistently defended over the powers of erotic magic. Don Quixote says so clearly to the old alcahuete in the galeotes episode: “Aunque bien sé que no hay hechizos en el mundo que puedan mover y forzar la voluntad, como algunos simples piensan; que es libre nuestro albedrío, y no hay yerba ni encanto que le fuerce” [Though I know well there are no sorceries in the world that can move or compel the will the way some simple people believe, for our will is free, nor is there herb or charm that can compel it] (vol. 1, chap. 22, p. 269). In the Persiles, Hipólita cannot attract Periandro/Persiles through magic spells and must content herself with having an hechicera make Auristela/Sigismunda deathly ill: “pidiéndole … no que mudase la voluntad de Periandro, pues ya sabía que era imposible” [asking him … not to overcome Periandro's will, for she knew that was impossible] (450). And of course we all know of the legendary power of a cross or holy water to ward off evil. The logical conclusion of these beliefs is that someone who is enchanted is in some way susceptible to it, consciously or not. Thus the suspicious reaction of Inés's relatives has some basis in commonly held beliefs of the time.

In view of this information and evidence in the text—the recitation in the initial frame narrative and the early part of the tale of the consequences of neglecting one's wife, Inés's loneliness and vulnerability, her own sense of guilt (both at her erotic “dreams” and then her own victimization), the form of the wax statue, the two “Atandra” poems, and the focus in the frame narration on the harshness rather than the injustice of Inés's punishment—it would seem clear that something is going on besides a complaint at the masculine obsession with honor. But before coming to any final conclusions, let us draw some brief comparisons between Inés's enchantment and Zayas's only other use of the erotic enchantment, in “El desengaño amando y premio de la virtud,” the tale of the middle-aged Italian maga who resorts to hechizos to keep young Don Fernando in thrall for many years. Here Zayas modifies some details of the conventional motif by having the victim of the enchantment be a thorough reprobate who finally even undergoes a deathbed conversion. Indeed, there are many reasons why Don Fernando might give in to Lucrecia even if she had no skill in magic: for instance, she is rich, his wife is much less so than he had hoped, and he needs money for gambling. He is also a womanizer in constant search of variety, and Lucrecia is attractive enough for her age. Finally, the death of his compassionate mother frees him from all constraints against treating his wife badly: “tan ásperamente como de allí adelante hizo” [as harshly as he did from then on] (Novelas, 216). Regardless of all these other reasons, local authorities with their experiments confirm the efficacy of the enchantment, just as in “La inocencia castigada.”

Kenneth Stackhouse, in his discussion of Zayas's use of magic (1978, 75), has noted what he calls the “attenuation” of the enchantment in “El desengaño amando” and attributes it to Zayas's need to validate her “ideological” (i.e., feminist) message by reconciling her use of magic with contemporary ideas on verisimilitude, a conclusion with which I cannot agree.12 Curiously, he almost ignores “La inocencia castigada,” despite the large role which magic plays in it, even though he could have pointed to clear “attenuations” of Inés's enchantment—her sexual frustration, her guilty conscience about her “dreams,” etc. It seems to me that the most obvious reason why Zayas was not willing to concede all power to magic is the belief, just mentioned, that no one can be enchanted entirely against her or his will. Thus, by offering alternative explanations, she also offers a case of someone who through his own wickedness is vulnerable to erotic, diabolic enchantment. She may even be casting doubt on the whole notion of erotic enchantment while at the same time making liberal use of the ancient motif. In this she could be doing as Castillo Solórzano did in his “La fantasma de Valencia” when he played upon popular taste for ghost stories while avoiding any possible accusations of belief in ghosts himself. Another possible reason for the equivocal enchantment (in “El desengaño amando”) of Fernando, the villain who is also victim, is perhaps so that the reader will not have too much pity on him—after all, he is a male guilty of all the failings of his sex. Even when Fernando is at last thoroughly in the maga's power, the narrator continues to reproach men, as she relates the “regalos y favores” [gifts and favors] with which he treats Lucrecia, “una mujer, que no los merecía, ni sus años ni su presencia” [a woman whose age and appearance made her unworthy of them] (223). Similarly, the narrator apparently cannot resist a damning comparison between Fernando's ill treatment of Clara and the exemplary way he behaves with Lucrecia, even though at the time he is supposedly “fuera de sí” [beside himself]: “haciendo con ella muy buen casado, tanto que con la mitad se diera Clara por contenta y pagada” [playing the role of a good husband with her so well that Doña Clara would have been content with half] (223).

The principal difference between the two stories finally comes down to gender. Doña Clara, in contrast with Inés's husband (Don Alonso), totally forgives her errant husband, despite his earlier cruelty to her, and she takes care of him until he dies, “consumido y acabado de los hechizos” [consumed and destroyed by the magic spells] (227). The fact that he turns immediately repentant and then wastes away into death is certainly the kind of punishment—divine, rather than spousal—that provides Zayas with the opportunity to show a case of feminine magnanimity and forgiveness. Fernando is guilty not only of neglecting but of totally abandoning his wife, and for this he is finally repentant. The function of the enchantment is to demonstrate what can happen to a straying husband.

In “La inocencia castigada,” however, I believe that the function of the encantamiento is quite different: to warn males that a neglected wife might well be vulnerable to seduction. The verifying tests which the local authorities conduct in both stories, then, are intended to convince us that enchantment is possible, but not that it is effective against totally innocent victims. Fernando in “El desengaño” is open to encantamientos because his free will is anything but strong against them, having so often chosen temptation. Our sympathies are much more with Inés, who is ultimately guilty only of a normal human response—as a matter of fact, she is victimized long before the enchantment. She is still very much “inocente,” since she never willingly acts on her repressed desires, and in any case her vulnerability is not her fault—at least from a wife's point of view. It does seem clear that on the unconscious level her free will—her ability to choose freely—is compromised by her own sexual needs. This explains the seeming contradiction between her supposed inocencia and the warnings to men about the consequences of making their wives “morir de puras necesidades” [die of pure frustration]. This tale, then, is a more complex psychological study than is first apparent and is therefore much richer than a hopeless lament on male deficiencies would be. It should also frighten husbands into mentally substituting “seduced” for “enchanted.” As the narrator says early in the tale, men think that by locking women up they can keep them from committing “travesuras” [mischief], whereas the only sure way to do so is to make them invulnerable by treating them well: “Quiéranlas, acarícienlas y denlas lo que les falta” [Love them, caress them, and give them what they need] (266).


  1. Of the more than forty articles, monographs, dissertations, and summaries in literary histories on Zayas to date, most critics have ignored “La inocencia castigada” except to remark upon the “tremendismo” or “terribilidad” of the description of Inés's punishment. Salvador Montesa Peydro's comment, after citing the passage describing Inés's condition upon her release, is typical: “Solamente transcribiendo tan larga cita podemos captar la minuciosidad con que se detiene en remachar los terribles efectos del terrible castigo” [Only by transcribing such a long quotation can we capture the minute detail through which emphasis is given to the terrible effects of the terrible punishment] (1981, 325). Victorino Polo, who defends what he calls the “romanticismo” of the tale, calls her punishment “bestialidad indefinible” (1967-68, 564) [unspeakable bestiality]. Also see Foa 1979, 117; Levisi 1974, 447-48; Amezúa 1950, xiv.

  2. See Caro Baroja (1964, 52-71) for further discussion on laws concerning magic.

  3. See Proverbs XXX regarding feminine insatiability. On the devil's power over man's “venereal acts,” see Question IV, 34 of St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica, as well as classic misogynistic texts like Juvenal's Sixth Satire, the Roman de la Rose, etc.

  4. Garrosa Resina 1987 cites the majority of these Spanish sources.

  5. As the archetype of the all-powerful seductress, Circe is typically remembered not because of her desire for Odysseus but because she turned men into beasts—literally, if not figuratively. Calypso, in contrast, is an almost forgotten figure, although in the introduction to Part I of the Quijote, Cervantes refers to both goddesses as “hechiceras” [sorceresses] (23). For many fruitful discussions on the Homeric ideal, I am indebted to friend and colleague Grant F. Leneaux, whose current book, The Agonistic Mind, is sure to be the definitive study on the Homeric hero.

  6. The various types of maga episodes in the Spanish romances of chivalry deserve a study in themselves. A few examples: Palmerín (1511) and its sequel Primaleón (1512); Floriseo (1516); Arderique (1517); Félix Magno (1535); and Espejo de príncipes (1555); as well as the later books of the Amadís series. There are also several maga episodes in Ariosto's Orlando furioso (1532), widely known in Spain.

  7. Don Quixote's remarks in their entirety are as follows.

    Pero ya te he dicho que hay muchas maneras de encantamentos, y podría ser que con el tiempo se hubiesen mudado de unos en otros, y que agora se use que los encantados hagan todo lo que yo hago, aunque antes no lo hacían. De manera, que contra el uso de los tiempos no hay que argüir ni de qué hacer consecuencias.

    (vol. 1, ch. 49, p. 575)

    [But I have already told you there are many sorts of enchantments. It may be that in the course of time they have been changed one for another, and now it may be the way with enchanted people to do all that I do, though they did not do so before. So it is vain to argue or draw inferences against customs of former times.


    Sancho's idea on those who are enchanted is that they behave like zombies: “no comen, ni beben, ni duermen, ni hacen las obras naturales que yo digo” (vol. 1, chap. 49, p. 575) [(they) do not eat or drink or sleep or do any of the natural acts that I am speaking of (381)].

  8. Consider, for example, the rape of a desmayada in Cervantes's “La fuerza de la sangre;” Gonzalo Céspedes y Meneses' “El desdén del alameda;” and Zayas's “La esclava de su amante” and “La más infame venganza.”

  9. This episode is something like the neglected wife's erotic dream adventure (which she believes is real) in Chilean novelist María Luisa Bombal's story “La última niebla” (1935).

  10. It is strange that despite this clear statement, several critics (Pérez-Erdelyi 1979, 86; Melloni 1976, 41; Vasileski 1973, 157) maintain that Inés's marriage was happy until Diego intervened.

  11. Hans Felten (1978, 64-68) is highly critical of Goytisolo's study.

  12. See Griswold (1980, 79-80) for further arguments against Stackhouse's views on verisimilitude.

All translations in this essay are my own, with the following exceptions: Don Quixote, translated by Joseph Jones and Kenneth Douglas (New York: Norton, 1981); Francisco de la Torre, translated by Elias Rivers in Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain (New York: Scribner's, 1966).


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Alemán, Mateo. 1979. Guzmán de Alfarache. 2 vols. Edited by Benito Brancaforte. Madrid: Cátedra.

Alfonso X. 1972. Las siete partidas. Edited by Real Acad. de la Historia. Madrid: Ediciones Atlas. Originally published in 1807 (Madrid: Imprenta Real).

Amezúa y Mayo, Agustín González de. 1950. Introduction to his edition of Desengaños amorosos, by María de Zayas y Sotomayor. Madrid: Aldus.

Caro Baroja, Julio. 1944. “La magia en Castilla durante los siglos XVI y XVII.” In Algunos mitos españoles. Madrid: Editora Nacional.

———. 1964. The World of the Witches. Translated by O. N. V. Glendinning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cervantes, Miguel de. 1981. Poesías completas. Edited by Vicente Gaos. Madrid: Castalia.

———. 1986. Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda. Edited by Juan B. Avalle-Arce. Madrid: Castalia.

———. 1987. Don Quijote de la Mancha. 2 vols. Edited by Luis Murillo. Madrid: Castalia.

Clamurro, William. 1988. “Ideological Contradiction and Imperial Decline: Toward a Reading of Zayas's Desengaños amorosos.South Central Review 5: 43-50.

Cocozzella, Peter. 1989. “Writer of the Baroque novela ejemplar: María de Zayas y Sotomayor.” In Women Writers of the Seventeenth Century, edited by Katharina Wilson and Frank J. Warnke, pp. 189-227. Athens: University of Georgia Press. (With a translation of II: 4, “Tarde llega el desengaño.”).

Felten, Hans. 1978. María de Zayas y Sotomayor. Zum Zusammenhang zwischen moralistischen Texten und Novellenliteratur. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann.

Foa, Sandra M. 1979. Feminismo y forma narrativa: estudio del tema y las técnicas de María de Zayas y Sotomayor. Valencia: Albatros.

Garrosa Resina, Antonio. 1987. Magia y superstición en la literatura castellana medieval. Valladolid: Universidad de Valladolid.

Goytisolo, Juan. 1977. “El mundo erótico de María de Zayas.” In Disidencias, pp. 63-115. Barcelona: Seix Barral.

Griswold, Susan C. 1980. “Topoi and Rhetorical Distance: The ‘Feminism’ of María de Zayas.” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 14: 97-116.

Homer. 1956. The Odyssey of Homer. Translated by T. E. Shaw. New York: Oxford University Press.

———. 1966. The Odyssey. Translated by E. V. Rieu. Baltimore: Penguin.

Kramer, Heinrich, and James Sprenger. 1971. Malleus Maleficarum. Translated by Montague Summers. New York: Dover. Originally published in 1928.

Levisi, Margarita. 1974. “La crueldad en los Desengaños amorosos de María de Zayas.” In Estudios literarios dedicados a Helmut Hatzfeld, pp. 447-56. Barcelona: Hispam.

Lucena, Luis de. 1954. Repetición de amores. Edited by Jacob Ornstein. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Malory, Sir Thomas. 1962. Le morte d'Arthur. Translated by Keith Baines. New York: New American Library.

Martínez de Toledo, Alfonso. 1970. Arcipreste de Talavera o Corbacho. Edited by J. González Muela. Madrid: Castalia.

Melloni, Alessandra. 1976. Il sistema narrativo di María de Zayas. Turin: Quaderni Ibero-Americani.

Mena, Juan de. 1960. El laberinto de la fortuna, o las trescientas. Edited by José Manuel Blecua. Madrid: Espasa Calpe.

Montesa Peydro, Salvador. 1981. Texto y contexto en la narrativa de María de Zayas. Madrid: Dirección General de la Juventud y Promoción Sociocultural.

Pérez-Erdelyi, Mireya. 1979. La pícara y la dama. La imagen de las mujeres en las novelas picaresco-cortesanas de María de Zayas y Sotomayor y Alonso de Castillo Solórzano. Miami: Ediciones Universal.

Polo, Victorino. 1967-68. “El romanticismo literario de doña María Zayas y Sotomayor.” Anales de la Universidad de Murcia 26: 557-66.

Profeti, Maria Grazia. 1988. “Los parentescos ficiticios desde una perspectiva femenina: María de Zayas y Mariana de Caravajal.” In Les parentés fictives en Espagne (XVIe-XVIIe siècles). Colloque International (Sorbonne, 1986), edited by Augustin Redondo. Paris: Sorbonne.

Rodríguez de Montalvo, Garci. 1988. Amadís de Gaula. Edited by Juan Manuel Cacho Blecua. Madrid: Cátedra.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. 1972. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Shakespeare, William. 1961. The Tragedy of Othello. Edited by Leonard F. Dean. New York: Crowell.

Spieker, Joseph B. 1977-78. “El feminismo como clave estructural en las ‘novelle’ de doña María de Zayas.” Explicación de Textos Literarios 6: 153-60.

Stackhouse, Kenneth. 1978. “Verisimilitude, Magic and the Supernatural in the Novelas of María de Zayas y Sotomayor. Hispanófila 62: 65-76.

Teresa de Avila. 1946. Libro de la vida. Edited by Dámaso Chicharro. Madrid: Castalia.

Thomas Aquinas. 1975. Summa Theologica. Edited by Thomas Gilby. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.

Thorndike, Lynn. 1923. A History of Magic and Experimental Science During the First Thirteen Centuries of Our Era. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan.

Torre, Francisco de la. 1966. Poetry of Spain. Edited by Elias Rivers. New York: Scribner's.

Vasileski, Irma V. 1973. María de Zayas: su época y su obra. Madrid: Plaza Mayor.

Vega Carpio, Lope de. 1969. La Circe. Obras poéticas. Vol. 1. Edited by José Manuel Blecua. Barcelona: Planeta.

———. 1975. La Arcadia. Edited by Edwin Morby. Madrid: Castalia.

Welles, Marcia L. 1978. “María de Zayas y Sotomayor and her ‘novela cortesana’: A Reevaluation.” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 55: 301-10.

Zayas y Sotomayor, María de. 1973. Novelas completas. Edited by María Martínez del Portal. Barcelona: Brughera.

———. 1983. Desengaños amorosos. Edited by Alicia Yllera. Madrid: Cátedra.

Lisa Vollendorf (essay date 1997)

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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 laments the dangers of modern society and duly notes the interconnectedness of power, sex, and death. These are the same issues that María de Zayas was struggling with as she sought to voice a feminist critique of the treatment of women in seventeenth-century Spanish society. In accordance with the emphasis on social control and maintenance of the social order seen in Spain's socio-political spectrum of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the themes of vengeance, justice, and sexual transgression abound in Golden Age literature, particularly in the comedia where many women fall victim to the vindictive plots of their overly-suspicious and obsessively jealous male counterparts.1 In María de Zayas's two novella collections (published in 1637 and 1647), the dynamics of vengeance figure prominently among the representations of the perils facing women in the sexual economy. In the historical context, the thirst for vengeance was legally sanctioned, of course, by the Nueva recopilación of the mid-sixteenth century which preserved the ancient secular law allowing men to kill their wives if the women were caught in the act of adultery. And although few cases of such uxoricide appear on the legal records of the time, the law is in fact emblematic of the double standards applied with regard to gender and sexuality: while men's promiscuity was tacitly accepted, women were condemned even upon mere suspicion of sexual misconduct.

Zayas streamlines her critique of the treatment of women under patriarchal rule by focusing on the ways in which the female body is imperiled within an honor code that sacrificed and oppressed the feminine to preserve masculine honor. Over thirty female characters suffer at the hands of men in her texts. These violent acts are perpetrated by lovers, husbands, fathers, and other male family members whose proprietary attitudes toward their female counterparts lead them to violate the feminine at will. In a collective attempt to silence or remove the women who are perceived as sexually tainted, resolution to questions of honor is sought through violence. Women who are raped or suspected of adultery, for example, are later killed by their husbands or fathers. Falsified sexual promiscuity is also contrived by men as a justification for murdering women. In sum, Zayas represents myriad variations on the hypocrisies and injustices affecting women in her society.

In the Novelas amorosas y ejemplares, two novellas seemingly invert the paradigm of male-authored violence by portraying women in the role of avengers. Aminta in “La burlada Aminta” and Hipólita in “Al fin se paga todo” both kill the men who wronged them. Embedded in texts which repeatedly narrate emotional and physical violations of the feminine, the violence perpetrated by these female characters empowers them to resolve their own problems independently of men. In “La burlada Aminta,” Jacinto entices Aminta to have sex with him by making a false marriage promise to her. Abandoned and disgraced after the consummation of the relationship, Aminta devises an elaborate scheme to follow her lover, crossdress in order to gain employment in his house, and, ultimately, to kill him and his current lover in order to avenge her honor. While another man presents himself as a rescuer, Aminta refuses anything but minimal assistance from him, choosing instead to carry out the plan on her own. When she finally lets the dagger fall and kills Jacinto and Flora as they sleep, Aminta completes the cycle of vengeance. Aminta's crossdressing is important here, for she is shown to be mimicking (violent) male behavior and borrowing the freedom of movement afforded to men.

As the other female avenger, Hipólita does not need to crossdress to attain freedom of movement: she has access to her rapist's home because he is her brother-in-law. Sneaking into his house in the middle of the night, she, too, wields a dagger to restore her honor. And while Aminta successfully escapes the authorities by dropping her male identity and changing her name (significantly, her new name Victoria underscores her victory over the man who deceived her), Hipólita suffers more violence before she is finally pardoned by the authorities. Beaten by her lover when she goes to him for help after the murder, Hipólita only finds release from such violence when she finally is pardoned by the king and enters a convent. These displays of female-authored violence constitute an insertion of the feminine into an honor code from which women were traditionally excluded. That both characters escape punishment from the authorities sanctions this portrayal of feminine violence as a legitimate means through which women may protect and avenge their honor in order to gain agency in a system which continually figures them as victims.

The portrayal of female agency and empowerment seen in these two novellas conforms to the representation of strong female characters throughout the Novelas amorosas. From the crossdressed characters who secure agency after being spurned by their lovers to the woman who dupes a miser into marrying her to another who becomes a viceroy and saves the king's life, female characters in this first volume are, by and large, portrayed as autonomous. And, in direct contrast to the pervasive victimization and terrorization of the second volume, the Novelas amorosas all end happily, with the characters either marrying the men they love or entering convents of their own free will. The marked contrast in tone and thematics between the Novelas amorosas and the Desengaños amorosos has led many critics to equate the “disenchanted” attitude of the second volume with either a change in Zayas's personal life or with the definitive political decay of the 1640s in Spain.2 Given that we know little about Zayas's life, such statements are purely speculative and entirely unfounded. Examination of the texts, however, and particularly of the frame tale which connects the two volumes, provides insight into this shift toward desengaño or disenchantment.

The texts do provide motivation for the intensified focus on the violations of the female body which come as a result of heterosexual relationships. As the frame-tale protagonist, Lisis serves as president to both soirées which themselves provide a reason for the twenty tales to be told. Rejected by Juan at the outset of the Novelas amorosas, Lisis engages in her own act of vengeance by flirting with Diego on the first night of the soirée and authorizing him to contract marriage with her on the second night. Jealousy arises among all four players, with Lisis and Juan purposefully provoking each other on several occasions. At times these characters' behavior is flirtatious and childish. After “La burlada Aminta” is told, for example, they each lavish attention on their new lovers because, as the narrator indicates, “Juan [hizo] mil regalos a Lisarda por picar a Lisis, y Lisis a don Diego por desesperar a don Juan” (Novelas 102).3 Juan's response to Lisis's new-found love and to her authority as president of the soirée becomes increasingly belligerent, however. On the second night of the soirée he usurps her assigned role of poet/singer, for example, when, unbeknownst to Lisis, he requests that the musicians sing a song he has written rather than one of her own. His most impertinent moment comes with his turn at narration when he acknowledges that he had not taken women's authority seriously. He states,

Por burla había tenido, discreto auditorio, el llegar yo a este punto para contar alguna historia. Y así, no me había prevenido de ninguna; mas anoche que el Presidente hermoso desta bellísima escuadra me mandó que lo hiciese, tomé la pluma y escribí unos borrones; ellos son parte de mi poco entendimiento; mas, supliendo los vuestros mis faltas, digo así …

(Novelas 290)

Juan's statements undermine feminine authority in that he admits to having completely disregarded the initial assignment to tell a story. By stating that he took the mandate as a joke (“por burla”), Juan diminishes women's authority, even after it has been established and respected throughout the soirée.

Eventually Juan's mistreatment of and disregard for women take a toll on Lisis, and her body begins to suffer the adverse effects of frivolity in such serious matters as love and marriage. In the year that passes before the second soirée, Lisis falls deathly ill. Even Juan recognizes that her illness is directly related to his treatment of her, for the principal narrator states, “Bien sentía el ingrato Juan ser él la causa de la enfermedad de Lisis, pues el frío de sus tibiezas eran [sic] la mayor calentura de la dama” (Desengaños 331). The figuring of Lisis's body as a text upon which the dangers of heterosexual love are inscribed provides the basis for the representation of the feminine body and self as violated throughout the Desengaños. Just as Lisis's sickness becomes critical, with the doctors administering last rites and her life all but lost to fever, so too do the novellas expose the crisis which threatens women's emotional and physical well being.

Once Lisis recovers with the help of her slave-friend Zelima, she agrees to proceed with her marriage to Diego, and so the second soirée is planned with the motive of celebrating the upcoming union. Although Lisis agrees out of obedience to her mother to marry Diego, she is not prepared to relinquish her autonomy entirely. Conscious of the detrimental effects of deceit on the body, Lisis mandates that women voice tales similar to her own, providing them with a safe space in which to expose the ways women are mistreated by men. With Lisis's own disillusionment cast in terms of illness, the female body is immediately figured as imperiled, and the stage is set for the exploration of the entire range of the ways in which masculine deceit and hypocrisy make themselves manifest at the expense of feminine safety and health.

When Lisis lays down the rules that only women may narrate and that they must tell true tales of masculine deceit, she engages in a multi-faceted act of vengeance. Most obviously, this move ensures that the men, and specifically Juan (who proved his resistance to feminine authority in the first soirée and caused Lisis extreme distress), will be silent. In fact, the principal narrator indicates that the men, who previously were allowed to participate as narrators of the Novelas amorosas, are unhappy with being relegated to silence: “[T]odos los hombres [estaban] mal contentos de que, por no serles concedido el novelar, no podían dar muestra de las intenciones” (Desengaños 334). With the men sitting in silence, the female characters are free to narrate myriad violations of the female body and self which result from the generalized oppression and mistreatment of women in love relationships.

By excluding men from the narrative act, the Desengaños amorosos seek to restore women's good name or fama which is described as “tan postrada y abatida por su mal juicio, que apenas hay quien hable bien de ellas” (Desengaños 333). Vengeance is sought not only in response to Juan's impertinent behavior, but also on a literary level: masculinist literature and anti-woman ideologies are criticized throughout the texts as the female characters speak out against the abuses suffered by women and the acceptance of such abuses within the cultural system and the dominant discourses. Like the focus on Lisis's body in the Introduction to the Desengaños, then, each of the ten desengaños narrates the effects of these abuses on the female body and self. From psychological terrorization (the wife in “Tarde llega el desengaño” is kept like a dog in a small room for years because her husband wrongly believes that she had an affair) to physical abuse (Queen Beatriz's eyes are gouged out at her husband's request) to torture (Inés is imprisoned for six years in a tiny space behind a wall), the novellas display the female body and the oppressed feminine self in order to underscore the message that women do indeed suffer at the hands of their male counterparts.

While no avenging female characters appear in the Desengaños amorosos, the woman-only structure of narration, the marginalization of men, and the emphasis on feminine biography mark a consolidated attempt to allow women's voices to be heard. The many displays of the bleeding, dying, crying, tortured, and festering female bodies focus and re-focus our attention on the need for social reform. When Lisis again takes the stage as the final narrator, it is no coincidence, then, that she returns to the discourse of the body in order to prefigure her decision to enter a convent rather than marry Diego. Underscoring the connection between the focus on the body in the novellas proper and the bodily discourse of the frame tale, Lisis phrases her decision to retreat to the feminine realm of the convent as evidence that she herself is the greatest desengaño of all. Before telling her tale, she states,

De manera, que aquí me he puesto a hablar sin engaño, y yo misma he de ser el mayor desengaño, porque sería morir del engaño y no vivir del aviso, si desengañando a todas, me dexase yo engañar.

(Desengaños 634, emphasis added)

This statement partially explains Lisis's motivation for the plot turn after the final tale: she chooses the convent over marriage in an effort to avoid hypocrisy and deceit. For, as she has learned from her own experiences with men and from the tales themselves, men constantly deceive, abuse, and victimize women.

Citing the predicaments of the women discussed in the novellas, Lisis summarizes her ideas about men:

Pues si una triste vidilla tiene tantos enemigos, y el mayor es un marido, ¿quién me ha de obligar a que entre yo en lid de que tantas han salido vencidas, y saldrán mientras durare el mundo, no siendo más valiente ni más dichosa?

(Desengaños 668)

Lisis thus figures her own body as “el mayor desengaño,” for she is keenly aware of the body as text. By promising to be the greatest disenchantment of all, she equates herself with the tales themselves, enticing the reader to “read” her for signs of disenchantment. Her surprise announcement made, Lisis departs for the convent holding Isabel and Estefanía's hands and leaving her fiance and the others shocked. Taking charge of her self, she escapes with her life and retreats with other women to the safety of the convent, thereby achieving a non-violent vengeance by taking control of her ailing body and turning herself into a text of feminine autonomy. With this final act, Lisis circumvents the marriage market and thereby exacts her vengeance on Juan, Diego, and, more generally, on a sexual economy that devalues women. In the end, her realization about the dangers of love is indeed in line with Joni Mitchell's lamentation that “sex kills”: Lisis recognizes that she is lucky to have come to understand the subjugation of the feminine body and self and uses this knowledge to preserve the integrity of her body and her self. Lisis refuses, in other words, to let sex kill her.


  1. Matthew Stroud's study on the uxoricide plays addresses the complexities of reading this disturbing sub-genre of comedias, concluding that questions of guilt and innocence are too problematic to arrive at any single epistemological approach through which the plays might be read.

  2. José Hesse and Agustín González de Amezúa are two in a long line of critics who take great liberties inventing assertions about Zayas's life and personality in order to fit their own interpretations of her writing and of her as an author. While Hesse laments the fact that Zayas “debió de ser también desgraciada” because she never married (19), Amezúa states that she must have been “poco agraciada” since no other poet lauds her beauty (quoted in Portal 12).

  3. All citations from Zayas are taken from María Martínez del Portal's edition of her Novelas completas. For clarity, I indicate in parentheses whether the quote is taken from the Novelas amorosas or the Desengaños amorosos.

Works Cited

Amezúa, Agustín G. de. Prólogo. Desengaños amorosos. Parte segunda del sarao y entretenimiento honesto. By María d Zayas y Sotomayor Madrid: RAE, 1950. vii-xxiv.

———. Prólogo. Novelas amorosas y ejemplares. By María de Zayas y Sotomayor. Madrid: RAE, 1948. vii-l.

Hesse, José. Introducción. Las novelas de María de Zayas. Madrid: Taurus, 1965.

Mitchell, Joni, Larry Klein and Michael Landau. “Sex Kills.” Turbulent Indigo. Crazy Cow Music, 1994.

Stroud, Matthew. Fatal Union: A Pluralistic Approach to the Wife-Murder Comedias. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1990.

Vigil, Mariló. La vida de las mujeres en los siglos XVI y XVII. Madrid: Siglo Veintiuno, 1986.

Zayas y Sotomayor, María de. Novelas completas. Ed. María Martínez del Portal. Barcelona: Bruguera, 1973.

Marina S. Brownlee (essay date 2000)

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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, “Epic and Novel”


The cultural function of the literary text, currently the focus of much theorizing, is as central to the formulations of postmodern theorists as it is to cultural historians of the early modern period. As noted in the first chapter, in a number of its primary concerns postmodern thought bears a striking congruence to the Baroque, the cultural climate in which Zayas produced her text. Self-reflexivity and paradox are two fundamental features shared by both cultural movements. Instability, introspection, and change—“change expressed both through acknowledgement and resistance,” in Edward Friedman's words—are essential features of the Baroque. He writes powerfully of the paradoxical nature of the Baroque—its status as “both a rewriting—a transformation and, ultimately, an undoing of the Renaissance, whose trace is always present.”1

This deconstruction of the Renaissance in the forging of modern thought and expression is identified by John Beverly as consumately modern: “The Baroque is, as Spengler argued, already partly Modern. The contemporary ‘man [sic] of letters’ and contemporary literatures are, in effect, carryovers from the Baroque into bourgeois-liberal culture.”2

The modernity of the Baroque and its conscious and problematic self-contradiction conforms strikingly to the paradoxical nature of the postmodern mentality. As Linda Hutcheon explains, “Postmodernism's distinctive character lies in this kind of wholesale ‘nudging’ commitment to doubleness or duplicity. In many ways it is an even-handed process because postmodernism ultimately manages to install and reinforce as much as undermine and subvert the conventions and presuppositions it appears to challenge.”3

The simultaneous subversion and reconfirmation of hegemonic discourses of thought and practice lead some to interpret a postmodern text as subversive, others to view it as a constructive force that acknowledges structures from the past, reappropriating them selectively in order to address contemporary history.4

Zayas' Novelas exhibit all the aforementioned features attributed by theoretical consensus to postmodern fiction. Her contradictions are designed to be foregrounded and insoluble. The close readings of Zayas from the perspectives of feminist thought and narratology reveal both the irreducible historical specificity of her literary enterprise and its resistance to easy systematization with regard to strategies of literary or ideological analysis.

It is instructive to suggest—in general terms and with a purposefully polemical slant—the usefulness of viewing the contrast between periods of literary or cultural history in terms of a contrast between privileged or dominant rhetorical figures. The cultural authority exerted by a given rhetorical figure varies markedly from one age to the next; witness, for instance, the twentieth-century fascination with metaphor. The bibliography devoted to this subject is voluminous. By contrast, interest in the exemplum, has largely been relegated to the periphery by modern criticism.5

More precisely, both the high Renaissance and high modernist culture privilege metaphor, while both Baroque and postmodern culture privilege metonymy—specifically, example. Roman Jakobson has argued persuasively for the “alternative predominance of one or the other of these two processes.”6 In the case of Baroque Spain, however, his distinction must be qualified, for a simultaneity is operative whereby metaphor is privileged in the realm of poetry and metonymy in the sphere of prose. Nonetheless, both figures are exploited in order to undermine logocentrism.

It is not simply a matter of aesthetic taste which accounts for such de-privileging of a particular rhetorical figure. Rather it is a phenomenological issue—namely, a given culture's perception of the cognitive process itself—that is at stake. As a result, it is not difficult to understand why example poses a threat to certain movements in intellectual history, as John D. Lyons observes:

For a positivist or a realist, the basis of all assertion is shaken when examples of laws and rules are revealed as discursive constructions like any other rhetorical figure. A more sophisticated approach of the deconstructionist type, however, might well be embarrassed by its need to use examples (if only in the form of textual reference) for the kind of appeal for support it requires from an “outside.” Every example can be deconstructed, and, in an approach that moves forward by selecting and deconstructing exemplary texts, the whole critical movement could be derailed by an excessive attention to its initial gestures.


Indeed, despite efforts to the contrary, we as literary critics cannot escape example. For when we write a critical essay that attempts to situate a literary text within a broader context (be it ideological, tropological, stylistic, etc.) we necessarily exploit this literature as example. In spite of such reluctance to consider example as an object of literary-critical study, recent interest in discourse analysis has led to a renewed interest in critical attention devoted to it. Among the results obtained by this methodological perspective is a realization that example often presents itself in a deceptively simple light. Although unlike metaphor it explicitly proclaims a particular pedagogical function, let the reader beware. Writers of exempla, during the Renaissance and particularly during the Baroque, exploited the exemplum as a metacritical tool to comment on the deceptive nature of language itself. We are coming to realize, as several early modern writers did, that exempla can be effectively exploited for their powerful “ability to … suspend the apparent speech acts that constitute their situation of enunciation” (Lyons, p. 25).

That the Baroque is a period consumed with epistemology, with the individual subject's self-reflective interrogation of his or her relationship to society, is borne out as much by social history as it is by literary history. Seventeenth-century Spain's obsession with the novel, with the novelistic form of the picaresque, with the novella, and with the first European novel, Don Quijote, attest to its fascination with epistemology per se. Alban Forcione crystallizes this idea when he describes Don Quixote's famous debate with the Canon of Toledo: “Don Quijote (here uncharacteristically speaking with the voice of a “modern”) defiantly responds to the Canon's neo-classical celebration of rationality, traditionality, and exemplarity in literary characterization with a compelling account of the intensities and pleasures of the private reading experience and the riches of the subjective order wherein literature reaches the sources of its greatest powers.”7 Or in broader terms, as Mikhail Bakhtin explains, “when the novel becomes the dominant genre, epistemology becomes the dominant discipline.”

The staging of problems of cognition, the subjective order of reality, is foremost in the literature of the era. And it is so because subjectivity (the definition and parameters of the individual, his or her place in society) was a prime concern of Baroque culture. The fascination with the picaresque in Spain during the seventeenth-century—as opposed to the sixteenth-century's fascination with romance—offers revealing testimony to literature's function as a forum for society, for a particular era and its unique obsessions.8

The numerous and popular fictional autobiographies of picaros relentlessly detail and dramatize the crisis of subjectivity. These are narratives of solitude, of the radical isolation felt by the protagonist, male or female. That subjectivity, even when the subject is a destitute, uneducated “nobody,” became a topic of passionate interest is aptly expressed by Marcos de Obregón, a picaro himself, when he remarks that “no hay vida de hombre ninguno de cuantos andan por el mundo de quien no se pueda escrebir una gran historia” [there is no life story of any man on earth that does not have the makings of a great story].9

The alienated individuals whose lives are chronicled in picaresque novels are an expression of the disaffection and dislocation experienced in Baroque society as a result of several interrelated factors that had been evolving over time. The imperial exploits of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries led to expansion, both spatial and economic, which, in turn, resulted in an unprecedented degree of social mobility; and eventually the rigidly defined privileged classes no longer functioned as such. A logical and inevitable by-product of this unprecedented social mobility was the growth of individualism. As José Antonio Maravall puts it, “expansion [technological, geographic, and economic], mobility, a loosening of bonds, and individualism constitute a chain of phenomena at the end of which appears the link of freedom.”10 Inevitably, however, as the trend toward expansion was replaced by economic downsizing and chaos, Spanish society experienced a crisis of massive proportions. Indeed, the second half of the sixteenth century saw a series of disastrous developments (political and natural phenomena) that led to an atrophying of the economy and a decay in social order. More precisely, as J. H. Elliott puts it, “if any one year marks the division between the triumphant Spain of the first two Hapsburgs and the defeatist, disillusioned Spain of their successors, that year is 1588.”11 The material defeat of the Spanish Armada by England was small in comparison with its psychological effects, dramatizing, as it were, the end of Spain's imperial grandeur. What ensued in the following decade made matters even worse. Another armada against the English, this time at Cádiz, was lost.

Yet of far greater implications was the fact that the economy had lost its momentum. Philip II's reign had been based on a Spanish-Atlantic revenue source that ceased to be a monopoly by the 1590s. Along with this setback, the New World itself suffered economically and otherwise: “The century that followed the great Indian epidemic of 1576-79 has been called ‘New Spain's century of depression’—a century of economic contraction, during the course of which the New World closed in on itself” (288). While Dutch and English aggression eroded Spain's domination of the New World, further disasters were generated closer to home. Plague and famine led to a depopulation in rural areas and a subsequent overpopulation of urban ones, with all its attendant problems, economic and social. As a result, the milieu of the picaro became a fact of life for a large segment of the population.

This state of general decline continued into the next century, although a new turn was taken by the arrival in 1621 of Philip IV and his influential royal favorite, the Count-Duke of Olivares. Charged with the restructuring of Spain's economy, Olivares implemented his task by centralizing bureaucratic power while reorganizing the social hierarchy (and mobility) operative during the previous century. New powers were granted to the upper classes, which, of course, led to inevitable tensions with those elements of society that suddenly saw themselves as dispossessed.

Repression based on race, religion, class, and gender was in evidence, and the goal was the security of the influential, the loss of strength of the bourgeoisie and the strengthening of the nobility. As Henry Kamen observes, “what seems to have concerned people the most was the mobility of the poor, the rising tide of beggary and vagrancy, which threatened to make poverty spill out of its old restricted channels and flood over so as to threaten the security of the upper classes.”12

Antonio Maravall offers one of the most ambitious accounts not only of the historical events that precipitated and characterized seventeenth-century Spanish history, but of Baroque culture as a whole. He is perceptive in discerning the “control mechanisms” that Clifford Geertz sees as the defining features of culture. Yet, while he articulates with great insight various social, economic, and historical factors and documents that went into the formation of Baroque culture, he misconstrues the function of artistic texts, viewing them somewhat reductively as political propaganda. Expanding upon an idea of Karl Vossler, he writes, for example:

Lope's most agreeable and familiar dramatic subject is showing us how humankind's natural instincts behave in the realm of providential and social bonds and dependencies, barriers and echelons. The description also applies to everyone else; all of Baroque art, from Lope's comedy to the novel of Mateo Alemán, to Zurbarán's paintings of saints, becomes a drama of the estates, the gesticulating submission of the individual to the confines of the social order. The same thematics underlie arguments that on the surface seem indifferent to the question, and in works of a very different nature—by Villemediana, Quevedo, Gracián, and others.


To give another example of Maravall's ideological, somewhat essentialist, appreciation of literature, he writes of Calderón as follows: “Calderón, coinciding with the general sense of Baroque comedia, gives us a clear example: according to him, ‘to offer obedience’ is one of the principal virtues—socially the most worthy of esteem—and, therefore, his virtuous character, representing the man who reaches a state of grace and salvation, is one who, although he agrees to make use of thought, has to be ‘bridling it, rein and bit, / with obedience.’” (32).

This equestrian imagery, however, brings to mind the opening moments of Calderón's Vida es sueño, a text which exposes the oversimplification Maravall tries to impose on the Calderonian corpus. Indeed, as his quotation above indicates, Maravall would extend this view to all literary and artistic production in the Baroque. Yet Calderón's play focuses with great intensity on human subjectivity—the degree to which an individual is able to determine his own destiny, and the relationship of his subjective desires to the body politic. By no means does Calderón wish to stage simple “gesticulating submission” to the State.

Speaking of subjectivity in a critique of Maravall, Anthony J. Cascardi writes convincingly of the unresolved tension (rather than ideological predictability) of this text's protagonist, Segismundo, and of Tirso de Molina's Don Juan as follows: “In Don Juan's case, as in Segismundo's, the psyche is better seen as internally split rather than underdeveloped: as divided historically between the seignorial values of nobility and prestige on the one hand and a newly mobile individualism on the other; as cleaved metaphysically between the attractions of the finite siglo and the moral threats of the everlasting world.”13

Maravall's interpretation of the literary text, like the artistic object, as an overdetermined function of ideology (both of which figure the individual as incapable of agency) reflects the basic premise of such theorists as Althusser and, to a large extent, also Foucault.14 Of late, however, this rather monolithic rendering of the human subject has been called into question because it constitutes a glaring oversimplification. As we know, and as Paul Smith lucidly explains, “a person is not simply determined and dominated by the ideological pressures of any overarching discourse or ideology but is also the agent of a certain discernment. A person is not simply the actor who follows ideological scripts, but is also an agent who reads them in order to insert him/herself into them—or not.”15

Smith elaborates the paramount importance of agency, defining the human agent as “the place from which resistance to the ideological is produced or played out, and thus not equivalent to either the ‘subject’ or the ‘individual.’” The individual, by contrast, is “the illusion of whole and coherent personal organization, or as the misleading description of the imaginary ground on which different subject-positions are colligated” (xxxv). Finally, subject in Smith's nomenclature is understood as “the term used to describe what is actually the series or the conglomeration of positions, subject-positions, provisional and not necessarily indefeasible, into which a person is called momentarily by the discourses and the world that he/she inhabits” (ibid.). In other words, any given individual inhabits multiple subject-positions. Smith stresses the fact that these multiple subject-positions never “cohere to form a complete and non-contradictory ‘individual’—let alone an ‘individual’ who determines the character or constitution of his/her own subjectivity” (xxxiv).

It is this unstable, dialectical notion of subjectivity—as an unpredictable, unresolved, and changing conglomeration of subject-positions—which is at the center of the most influential writers of the seventeenth century—Góngora, Quevedo, Cervantes, among others. And it is an equally complex appreciation of human subjectivity that reveals the full richness and subtlety of Zayas's text.

Since the pioneering work of Saussure, and more recently Lacan, subjectivity has come to be understood as an ever evolving and contradictory phenomenon. Rather than being a stable, coherent totality, the individual, for Lacan, is constituted by an unavoidable division and contradiction between the subject of an utterance (the “I” of the discourse) and the “I” who produces the utterance (the self which speaks, and which is only represented there in a fragmented way). Subjectivity is located in the gap created by this division, and it is constituted by a matrix of subject-positions which may be in conflict with one another, indeed, even radically contradictory of one another.16

The individual naturally tries to reconcile these inevitable contradictions in positions by seeking non-contradictory ones that will make for a more harmonious, less pressure-laden existence. Catherine Belsey identifies two primary responses of women coping with their contradictory subject-positions in present-day society:

The attempt to locate a single and coherent subject-position within these contradictory discourses, and in consequence to find a non-contradictory pattern of behavior, can create intolerable pressures. One way of responding to this situation is to retreat from the contradictions and from discourse itself, to become ‘sick’—more women than men are treated for mental illness. Another is to seek a resolution of the contradictions in the discourses of feminism.17

Of course, feminism in the twentieth century differs radically from the possibilities for alternative discourses envisioned in the seventeenth. Patriarchy was a foregone conclusion, as was the fact that the man in the family wielded the political, economic, and social power. We should also bear in mind, as Thomas Laqueur has documented in the social and scientific registers, that in the seventeenth century, “sex, or the body, must be understood as the epiphenomenon, while gender, what we would take to be a cultural category, was primary or ‘real.’ … Sex before the seventeenth century, in other words, was still a sociological category and not an ontological category.”18

Zayas was living in a turbulent but liminal period that was beginning to perceive sex, for the first time, as an ontological category—a potentially explosive one. Yet what still prevailed, as Constance Jordan points out, is a conception of the sex/gender dichotomy that differs substantially from our own modern appreciation. Renaissance humanists “understood that sexuality was a fact of life but they thought it related only to procreation. Gender was a far more comprehensive and significant category than was sex. For a man to be fully human meant that he had accepted his own obligations to cultivate the feminine virtues and recognized masculine virtues in women.”19 The conception of human nature was thus “androgynous”: “A person was biologically male or female, but behavioristically both masculine and feminine if virtuous; brutal and effeminate or cruel and vain if vicious. … Sexual difference and its effects on the human person was not normally a topic that Renaissance feminists addressed directly. (Discussions of wife beating and rape are exceptions)” (8).

In her writing Zayas explores these two philosophies of the sex/gender distinction which were coming into conflict for the first time in Western history. She reveals a new understanding of sex, gender, and their implications for subjectivity in a wealth of responses to the patriarchy and to its traditional prescriptions for acceptable female behavior. This chapter details some of the many subject-positions figured by her female protagonists (and male ones as well), revealing that it is not by any means an either/or proposition—either feminism or silence—in the case of the Novelas.


El prevenido engañado (I, 4) offers a stunning case in point, a display of surprising subject-positions in conflict with one another that are articulated by Zayas—here in an uncharacteristically humorous vein—which is, at the same time, infused by grotesque detail. The story is a miniature bildungsroman, in which an admirably idealistic youth named Fadrique undergoes a sentimental apprenticeship, based primarily on his successive infatuation first with a young woman named Serafina, thereafter with a widow named Beatriz, finally with the beautiful and urbane Violante. Beginning from the perspective of a starry-eyed youth, Fadrique learns that the choice of partner is not between women who represent respectively, sexual ignorance, beauty, and brains. As he will realize, such masculinist stereotyping of female identity is reductive, wholly inadequate to the representation of female gender and agency. He comes to appreciate the fact that diversity, not exclusion, is the issue.

In so doing, Zayas mirrors the trajectory that modern feminism has undergone in recent times—moving from a series of univocal assertions in the name of “woman” to a recognition that such totalizing views underrepresent the wide ranging fact of female desire and response. To a considerable degree, the essentialism exhibited by feminist scholarship at its incipient stages can be attributed to two factors. The first is an issue of rhetorical impetus. As a political ideal, feminism, like any other ideological movement, finds itself compelled to articulate a universalizing model whose global implications can be readily apprehended. In addition, feminism was first conceived of along the lines of the Enlightenment subject “Man,” which was assumed to represent all men and women. Yet as Laura Brown observes: “How can we use a feminism that comes out of imperialism?”20 Like current feminist thought, Zayas seeks to demythologize impoverishing depictions of women according to the limited categories operative in fairy tales—as either exclusively good or bad, as virtuous or depraved.

Introduced as a paragon of discretion and good judgment, the young Fadrique begins his sentimental journey by falling in love with an angelic beauty, “un serafín en belleza” (167) named, not by accident, Serafina. She reciprocates interest in him as well, although she is already being courted by another suitor named Vicente. Yet to Fadrique's surprise and delight, Vicente suddenly stops visiting Serafina, a change which he mistakenly interprets as her rejection of this suitor in favor of himself. She agrees to marry Fadrique, but no sooner has she done so than she falls ill for a period of several months, the result of an unspecified affliction that necessitates her seclusion. While keeping nightly vigil outside Serafina's house, Fadrique notices her hasty departure from it in the middle of one night. Puzzled by this suspicious behavior, he secretly follows her from her house to an abandoned building where she gives birth to a baby girl whom she immediately abandons, fleeing into the night.

These events overwhelm Fadrique, and all at once he comprehends that Vicente's disappearance resulted from Serafina's pregnancy, as obviously, did her sudden willingness to marry him instead. For his part Fadrique arranges for one of his relatives to care for the child (whom he names Gracia) until the age of three, at which time he stipulates that she will be raised in a convent—away from the corruptions of the world. In a pointedly worded sonnet Fadrique registers his bitter disillusionment toward the deceitful and desperate Serafina.21 We suddenly find her in a state of panic because she has just lost two suitors—the second an honorable one who had wanted to marry her—because her status as an unwed mother has been detected, and because she has been unable to learn any news about the newborn whom she abandoned on an empty lot. Thus we see her wanting and not wanting to be a mother, wanting and not wanting to be a respectably married woman. Wondering whether the baby has died of neglect or perhaps been “eaten by dogs,” Serafina tells her parents she wishes to become a nun, and so she enters a convent where, henceforth, she lives so devoutly that she is considered by the inhabitants of Granada to be a “saint.” In this way Zayas recalls for her reader the consummately Baroque topos of the deceptive nature of appearances—of epistemological ambiguity—rather than the ideological function Maravall posits.

Incredulous at the callousness and duplicity that this seeming “angel” could perpetrate, Fadrique decides to leave Granada for Seville, where he adopts the stance of a seasoned misogynist. Chastened by the example of Serafina, he denounces all women—a view which the narrator strenuously opposes: “Por ella ultraxaba a todas las demás mujeres, no haciendo excepción de ninguna, cosa contraria a su entendimiento, pues para una mala hay ciento buenas, y no todas lo son, ni es justo mezclando unas con otras, culparlas a todas” (173) [Because of her he railed against all women without exception. His generalizations go entirely contrary to the real nature of women because there are a hundred good women for each bad one; not all women are bad, and it isn't right to confuse the good with the bad and blame them all (120)].

This defense of womankind is voiced by Alonso, the narrator of the novela, not by a female narrator. Thus just as we detect a number of unanticipated and conflicting subject positions in Serafina (the abusive mother who is capable of maternal concern, and even putative saintliness), we witness the idealist turned misogynist who is admonished by another male—who happens to be an outspoken female apologist. Zayas thus resists gender typecasting—in this case on the level of her assembled narrators. A sustained reading of her Novelas reveals, moreover, that this important feature remains constant on both the diegetic and extradiegetic levels throughout her text.

Soon after arriving in Seville, Fadrique is smitten by a widow named Beatriz. And although he holds firm in his misogyny, he manages to fall in love with this lady, idealizing her as he did with Serafina. Here too, then, we see Zayas's interest in representing the impoverishing nature of traditional male typecasting, which can be as inadequate as the reductionist representation of women as chaste or fallen, beautiful or stupid. He wants to marry her, and goes about soliciting her consent, but Beatriz explains that she must wait an obligatory year before remarrying, in deference to the memory of her dead husband. This standard grieving practice and the delay it poses are construed as honorable by Fadrique so he spends more than six months waiting patiently, courting his lady as ardently as she permits. One night, however, he is horrified to discover that Beatriz has all the while been involved with another lover, a black slave, whose impending death she has brought about by her rapacious sexual demands.

Like Serafina, Beatriz is also described as having the appearance of an “angel” (although her behavior is perhaps even more reprehensible than that of her predecessor): “Pareciéndole a [Fadrique] en la hermosura, ella un ángel y él un fiero demonio” (183) [Her great beauty made her look like an angel ministering to a fierce devil (127)]. Yet in reality she is the diabolically abusive member of the pair. In etymological terms her name means “the blessed one”; thus here too Zayas is interested in dramatizing the distance separating word from deed, etymological association from its referent, and appearance from reality. Clearly, by the repeated “angelic” characterization we are also meant to compare this putative “angel” to Serafina in order to underscore the diversity of the female psyche, as well as the circumspection with which we should regard the narrator's evaluative judgments. At the same time, Zayas accomplishes an additional task—namely, that of reminding her readers of the fact that any narrator is bound by his or her subjective constraints. In this case it is a question of a racially prejudiced storyteller—Alonso.

The slave, Antonio, complains of her “vicious appetites” that have brought him to his untimely end:

—¿Qué me quieres señora? ¡Déxame ya, por Dios! ¿Qué es esto, que aun estando yo acabando la vida me persigues? No basta que tu viciosa condición me tiene como estoy, sino que quieres que cuando ya estoy en el fin de mi vida, acuda a cumplir tus viciosos apetitos. Cásate, señora, cásate, y déxame ya a mí, que ni te quiero ver, ni comer lo que me das; morir quiero, pues ya no estoy para otra cosa.


[What do you want of me, madam? Leave me alone, for the love of God! How can you pursue me even as I lay dying? Isn't it enough that your lasciviousness has brought me to this end? Even now you want me to satisfy your vicious appetities when I am breathing my last? Get yourself a husband, madam, marry, and leave me in peace. I never want to see you again! I won't touch the food you bring me; I want only to die, that's all I'm good for now.]


Sexual coercion such as Beatriz exerts is distasteful, to say the least. The fact that it comes as a result of class power—she is the master, he the slave (and a black)—compounds the transgression, and Fadrique is understandably repulsed by this disclosure of her behavior. What is important extradiegetically is Zayas's ability to represent the diversity of female response; a widow who is not simply having an illicit affair, but one where she derives the kind of pleasure resulting from the power that men frequently exert over the maids who work in their households. It is an example of female sexual excess, and it is an interracial one. By this disclosure Zayas indicates that the desire for sexual domination over another individual based on economic superiority, of lasciviousness even over a sick partner, and of interracial liaisons is potentially as compelling for a woman as it is for a man. In this episode, as in others across the hundreds of pages of the Novelas, the situation posited by Belsey (either silenced woman or feminist) is inadequate to Zayas's rich portrayal of the female subject. Female fantasy—and even facilitation—of transgressive desire is potentially as diverse for women as it is for men. There is not one exclusively gendered response for either sex in her writings.

Understandably alienated by Beatriz's activity, Fadrique leaves for Madrid, more convinced than ever of female duplicity. He stays with one of his uncles and his son, named Don Juan who is, like all young men, it seems, in love. Don Juan describes his beloved Ana and her cousin Violante who are as beautiful as they are witty, talented also in poetry and music: “Son las Sibilas de España, entrambas bellas, entrambas discretas, músicas, poetas. En fin, en las dos se halla lo que en razón de belleza y discreción está repartido en todas las mujeres del mundo” (187) [They are the sibyls of Spain: both are beautiful, witty, both are musicians and poets. In conclusion, these two women possess the sum of all the beauty and intelligence scattered among all other women in the world (130)].22

Discussing the accomplishments of these two cousins, Fadrique insists that he seeks instead to find an ignorant woman: “Ya son todas tan agudas, que no hay quien las alcance, todas saben amar y engañar; y así me tienen tan escarmentado las discretas, que deseo tener batalla con una boba” (191-92) [Nowadays women are all so sharp you can hardly keep up with them. They all know how to love and how to deceive, but clever women have taught me such a lesson that I want to win only an ignorant one (133)].

It is incongruous and ironic, given his name (and its legendary association with lasciviousness), that Don Juan takes issue with Fadrique here, arguing for the necessity of intelligence in a woman for her to be truly alluring: “No sé qué hombre apetece una mujer necia, no sólo para aficionarse, mas para comunicarla un cuarto de hora” (192) [I can't imagine any man wanting a foolish woman to talk with for fifteen minutes let alone to love!” (133)]. By this single stroke of her pen Zayas deftly undermines Spain's national myth of masculinity. Her characters and narrators, as well as the anonymous authorial voice that periodically intervenes in the text, provide this type of cultural commentary that has profound implications for Spanish society, its official myths, and its objective realities.

Once more in keeping with his previous contradictory behavior, Fadrique falls totally in love for a third time—now with Violante, wanting to marry her, although she finds the prospect of marriage to be abhorrent, a definitive loss of her freedom. Meanwhile, the relationship of Juan and Ana becomes complicated by the fact that she marries a jealous older man. Undaunted by this impediment, however, she cleverly plots a way to enjoy Juan's company, having some fun at the expense of the misogynistic Fadrique in the process. Juan convinces him that his depression is so extreme that he will kill himself unless Fadrique impersonates Ana in bed with her soundly sleeping husband. With great reluctance he accepts this challenge, becoming mortified as the “husband” (in reality the disguised Violante) fondles him, acting as though he were preparing to make love. Fadrique is understandably terrified at the implications for his life and honor, should the “husband” wake up, and equally repulsed by what he is convinced is a provocative homoerotic gesture.

Once the trick is revealed, Fadrique enjoys Violante's company for several months, yet, when he seems most confident of her fidelity, she suddenly becomes aloof. He discovers her with a young lover who picks up an incongruous weapon—a shoe—and pointing it directly at Fadrique, says he will shoot if he doesn't leave immediately, which he does. This evocation of shoes—a known figure for sexual activity exploited in such texts as the Lazarillo and El patrañuelo—is utilized creatively here as Zayas transforms the power of sexuality represented metaphorically by the shoe into a putatively literal gun.23 Violante and her new lover laugh uproariously, prompting Fadrique to strike her on the face, beating her until she screams, at which point he is forced to escape.

After this traumatic resolution the liaison he experiences more unexpected affairs, including one in which a woman, “for his sake,” murders her husband, stuffing the corpse into a sack, lugging it on her back down to the river, where she deposits it. The jarring contrast of levity and grotesque behavior—one which is rapidly executed and lacking commentary—is clearly meant to arouse readers' admiratio, to keep them on the edge of their seats.

Sixteen years of travel and adventures leave Fadrique convinced of the wisdom of his desire to find a wife who is totally ignorant of the world. As a result, he goes to the convent where Gracia, the infant girl he had rescued, has grown up, taking her for his wife after verifying that she is both beautiful and stupid. Having married her, Fadrique convinces Gracia that wifely duty consists of donning armor and keeping watch over the sleeping husband all night, after which the wife sleeps during daylight hours. Not knowing any better, Gracia complies with these instructions, although she understandably finds this nightly vigil to be tiresome. And as we might expect, her artificial environment of sexual deprivation is shattered when Fadrique goes away on a business trip and a suitor named Alonso confronts her.

Upon his return Fadrique understands that Gracia has become erotically enlightened and that he has been the architect of his own dishonor—a fool to presume that he could deny his wife her sexuality. Finally he learns the hard way that discreet women who are also virtuous are beyond all price. If they are not virtuous, the narrator adds, they should at least know how to dissemble: “que las mujeres discretas saben guardar las leyes del honor, y si alguna vez las rompen, callan su yerro” (215-16) [discreet women know how to keep the laws of honor and, if ever they break them, they know how to keep their error secret (152)].

In terms of subjectivity and its representation, El prevenido engañado is quite revealing of Zayas's technique. She turns the age-old debate about beautiful women with brains—whether these two attributes are attractive to men and whether such women are capable of fidelity—into a sexual and emotional odyssey for Fadrique. By the end of his adventures, he comes to realize that, in fact, intelligence and beauty are the most desirable combination of features a woman can possess. Beyond his personal enlightenment, of course, this belief lies at the core of Zayas's literary and intellectual project—to convince men that women should be allowed to cultivate their minds, and that it is an obvious asset rather than a threat to their masculinity.

We see, in addition, Zayas's capacity for constructing complex, unpredictable characters, both male and female, who are fraught with competing subject-positions. Fadrique, who is convinced that he must avoid intelligent beauties, time and again, is drawn to them. He is capable of brutality, as when he beats his paramour Violante, but not (surprisingly) when his familial honor has been stained by his own wife, Gracia, who suffers no punishment whatsoever. This outcome is especially striking given the gory consequences of adultery in seventeenth-century Spanish theater.24 Beatriz, who wants to project the role of the grieving widow wishing to marry an honorable suitor within a respectable time frame while concealing a black slave whom she sexually abuses, is the other most stunning example. This novela dramatically articulates the supremely unpredictable nature of the human subject.


The conciliatory tone of El prevenido engañado, as well as its occasional levity, makes it a tale of wife-testing that is uncharacteristic of the Novelas as a whole, particularly the second part, which reveals a fascination with violence overwhelmingly directed at women. Mal presagio casar lejos (II, 7) provides an equally original and unexpected exploration of subjectivity reflected in male-female relations (as well as an extreme example of the excessive violence that Zayas is capable of staging). Its view of female agency is quite alien to the creative expediency registered by all the women, without exception, of El prevenido engañado. It is diametrically opposed, in fact, since here the women are all victims of sadistic men. Angela Carter speaks of such predation in general terms, but her comments are relevant to the depiction of woman in this narrative. Carter writes of a world of male brutality in which women are transformed “from human beings into wounded creatures who were born to bleed.”25 Indeed, such intense victimization of women corresponds to the second part of Zayas's collection, the Desengaños, by contrast with the less macabre Maravillas of the first ten novellas, written a decade earlier.

Mal presagio casar lejos is a story of grotesque cruelty in which five children, one son and four daughters, lose their parents and all suffer great personal tragedies. In spite of their innocence, beauty, intellect, and nobility, however, each of the women is brutally murdered. The first, named Mayor, accompanied by her youngest sister, María, goes to Portugal when Mayor takes a Portuguese husband. In a totally feigned and unwarranted testing of his wife, this man writes her a love letter, pretending to be not her husband but a suitor. As she reads the letter, he rushes in, killing both her and the page who delivered his letter. Seeing this, the younger sister jumps out the window in an attempt to escape, breaking both legs as a consequence of her fall, an accident which leaves her an invalid for life. We are told in no uncertain terms that the Portuguese do not like Castilians, and that this is why Mayor lost her life in the unprovoked attack. We are also informed that María was rescued by some Castilians, who returned her in a permanently crippled state to the safety of her homeland.

In this way the topic of nationalism—especially the abuse of Spanish women abroad—is firmly established from the opening moments of the unfolding narrative, reinforced with each new casualty. The second sister of this unfortunate family, Leonor, marries an Italian by whom she has a son. When one day and without any ulterior motive she praises a Spanish captain within her husband's hearing, he strangles her with her hair, murdering their now four-year-old son as well. The third sister, Blanca, meanwhile marries a prince from Flanders who seems to her brother to be a suitable match. Yet as the narrator explains, if she had known the tragic fates of her three sisters, she would surely have chosen the convent instead of agreeing to any marriage.26

Still unaware of her sisters' deaths, Blanca agrees to this marriage of convenience on the condition that the prince come to Spain and court her for one year, a logical proviso intended to give her time to determine whether his love for her is genuine. They marry at the end of the year, and almost immediately thereafter Blanca learns of the violent ends which her sisters suffered. But now it is too late since she has officially become a commodity—her husband's property.

The issue of nationalism surfaces even more intensely since almost as soon as they leave Spain Blanca's husband begins to mistreat her, we are told, because Spanish women always suffer at the hands of foreign husbands. Of this lamentable custom the narrator pointedly asserts: “No sé qué desdicha tienen las españolas con los extranjeros, que jamás las estiman, antes se cansan a dos días y las tratan con desprecio” (273) [I don't understand the misfortune Spanish women have with foreign husbands, who never esteem them but instead tire of them in two days and treat them with contempt (286)]. Yet the misogyny extends beyond national boundaries. For even Marieta, the prince's sister, is hated by her husband, although he is not a foreigner.

By this discrepancy between the narrator's observation and the contradiction afforded by the text itself, Zayas underscores in yet a different way the need for her readers' active participation in analyzing the discourse and actions she presents. This need for skeptical analysis on the microtextual level becomes equally crucial for the macrotextual level as we are systematically confronted by a wealth of contradictory perspectives on gender, race, and class by characters and narrators alike.

As Mal presagio unfolds we learn that the prince's mistreatment of Blanca is nothing by comparison with that of her relentlessly cruel father-in-law. The day that the newlyweds arrive in Flanders, the prince's father, impatient at the one-year delay in the marriage, meets his daughter-in-law for the first time with the following words of abuse: “—¿Cuándo había de ser esta venida? Basta, que las españolas sois locas. No sé qué extranjero os apetece, si no es que esté desesperado” (273-74) [It's about time you got here. I can't understand why any foreigner would want you; he'd have to be desperate (287)]. This remark is indicative of his discourse with her, never treating her with anything other than rage and ridicule.

Why, then, does the prince marry Blanca in the first place, given the prejudice against Spaniards that he and especially his father feel? It would appear from the violent deaths of Blanca's three sisters, and from the equally vicious fate that Blanca will soon have, that Zayas constructs an exemplum of the perils involved for the woman who marries a foreigner. Yet other causes are suggested as well. Her sister-in-law Marieta, who is not married to a foreigner, is garrotted by her husband, either because she defended Blanca in an altercation she had with her husband, or because the husband was jealous of a servant, “un gentilhombre de la señora Marieta, que le daba la mano cuando salía fuera, mozo de mucha gala y nobleza” (281) [a young, elegant nobleman, the one who took her arm when she went out (295)]. It is never made clear whether this jealousy was justified—whether this gesture is based on courtesy or passion. Though this ambiguity is not resolved, Zayas communicates with devastating clarity the overwhelmingly misogynistic environment in the household of the prince and his father.

This tale progressively discloses that the brutal attitude toward women results less from nationalistic prejudice than from a homoerotic complication, a fact that Blanca herself realizes when she walks in on the prince as he is making love to his favorite page, Arnesto. Whereas Blanca had assumed that the prince's radical change in attitude toward her once he reached his home in Flanders was the consequence of a liaison with another woman, she is shocked to discover him in bed with another man instead:

Vió acostados en la cama a su esposo y a Arnesto, en deleites tan torpes y abominables, que es baxeza, no sólo decirlo, mas pensarlo. Que doña Blanca, a la vista de tan horrendo y sucio espectáculo, más difunta que cuando vió el cadáver de la señora Marieta, mas con más valor, pues apenas lo vió, cuando más apriesa que había ido, se volvió a salir, quedando ellos, no vergonzosos ni pesarosos de que los hubiese visto, sino más descompuestos de alegría, pues con gran risa dijeron:—Mosca lleva la española.


[In the bed she saw her husband and Arnesto engaged in such gross and abominable pleasures that it's obscene to think it, let alone say it. At the sight of such a horrendous and dirty spectacle, Doña Blanca was more stunned than when she beheld lady Marieta's corpse, but she was braver. The moment she set eyes upon them, she left more quickly than she had come. They weren't ashamed or embarrassed by her having seen them, instead they were amused and roared with laughter. One of them said: “That sure spooked the Spanish woman!”]


Finally, it would appear, we discover a motive for all the seemingly unwarranted and excessive barbarity against women that fills the pages of this narrative, namely, the fact that the prince, his father, and Arnesto form a fiercely loyal homosexual community. That Zayas would represent this possibility in an extended fashion in seventeenth-century Spain seems daring indeed. Even today many view this kind of topic as highly transgressive and controversial.

Yet this departure from the canon of “appropriate” themes corresponds to the new reading practices that Roger Chartier identifies with the privatization of reading. Silent reading created an air of intimacy that shut out the outside world, permitting the reader to indulge in all types of fantasies, including the voyeurism that Blanca—and later her sister—experience. And, while it is a wholly negative experience for her, the transgressive nature of its representation is titillating for the reader, representing as it does a forbidden activity in the context of early modern mainstream society. While it is not described in great detail, it borders on the pornographic, which private reading made possible in respectable circles for the first time. In effect, in the privacy of his or her own room, the reader is now offered the exciting prospect of becoming a voyeur.27

Even more remarkable than the treatment of a transgressive theme, Zayas offers a surprisingly complex, nuanced vision of homosexuality. For if we trace carefully the speech and actions of the prince, we see that he too reveals inconsistent and contradictory subject positions to a very dramatic degree. Paul Julian Smith writes insightfully of the male-female relations at issue in Mal presagio casar lejos, speaking of the “negative female exchange” as opposed to the “productive economy of men” embodied by the homosexual community of the prince, his father, and Arnesto. In so doing he affirms that “(according to Zayas and Irigaray) ‘hom(m)osexualité’ (sexual commerce between men) is the logical result of a system which persists in excluding women. In this ‘circulation of the same’ women can figure only as objects of exchange and can never transcend a state of permanent exile.”28

It is true that these women are forever silenced as a result of cruel and unwarranted male brutality, but the “productivity” of the male group is debatable. In addition, such a coherent presentation of the male community is called into question given that at several important junctures in the text the prince reveals himself to be conflicted about his sexuality and affective affiliations. Why did he seek a wife at all if he formed part of a productive and stable male community? Contradictions in his behavior surface from the inception of the one-year courtship stipulated by Blanca. When Blanca's trial period is criticized by many of her associates, among them her maid since childhood, she responds quite logically, saying:

—¿Y quienes son los necios, doña María—preguntó doña Blanca—que llaman locura a una razón fundada en buen discurso, de manera que sienten mejor de casarse una mujer con un hombre que jamás vió ni habló, y que suceda ser feo, o necio, o desabrido, o mal compuesto, y se halle después aborrecida y desesperada de haberse empleado mal, que no avisarse del caudal que lleva en su esposo? Todas cuantas cosas se compran se procuran ver, y que, vistas, agraden al gusto, como es un vestido, una joya. ¿Y un marido, que no se puede deshacer de él, como de la joya, y del vestido, ha de ser por el gusto ajeno?

(263; emphasis added)

[“Doña María, who is so unwise as to call foolishness something based on solid reason?” doña Blanca asked. “Is it better for a woman to marry a man she's never seen, never spoken to, who might be ugly, stupid, harsh, deformed, so that too late she may find herself despised and despairing because of her misjudgment in not ascertaining what kind of a man her husband was? Before you buy merchandise like a dress or a jewel, you always examine it first to determine in the examination whether it pleases your taste. A husband, who can't be gotten rid of like a dress or a jewel, should be selected by others?”]


Through Blanca, Zayas registers the historical fact of unfortunate betrothal practices, whereby women were promised in marriage with little or no consideration given to anything but the financial and social implications of the union. This socioeconomic perspective on marriage, of course, extended beyond the boundaries of Spain and was the standard view largely until the nineteenth century, when considerations of personal attraction began to enter into the picture. Nonetheless, Zayas has Spain in mind when she speaks through the voice of Blanca in order to decry this financial approach to courtship and marriage.

Zayas is even more pointed in her criticism of her homeland a few pages later, when she condemns the social pretentiousness inherent in the abusive appropriation of the term “Don.” In a lengthy excursus (only part of which is reproduced here) the narrator laments:

En aquellos países [Flandes], ni el Italia, ninguno se llama Don, sino los clérigos, porque nadie hace ostentación de los Dones como en España, y más el día de hoy, que han dado en una vanidad tan grande, que hasta los cocheros, lacayos y mozas de cocina le tienen.


[In those lands, as in Italy, they don't use the title “don,” except sometimes for priests, because nobody flaunts titles like “don” as much as in Spain. This is particularly true nowadays when vanity has reached such an extreme that even coachmen, lackeys, and kitchen maids use the title.]


Is this meditation on the vanity and abuse of the term “Don” inserted here in a somewhat disruptive way to indict (nonaristocratic) abusers of the title, or is it intended to signal the aristocracy's uneasiness in terms of its somewhat shaky existence vis-à-vis the lower classes? Perhaps both—it is ultimately left for the reader to decide, forging an interpretation that is no doubt heavily weighted according to his or her socioeconomic affiliations.

Returning to the thread of the narrative, we learn that the prince's father is furious at this obligatory year of courtship, yet his son seems not to be since, as the narrator points out, he wanted to “see Spain.” The extent of his affective commitment is thus uncertain from his response to the delay in marrying. We also learn from Blanca's faith in pure reason that she is unaware of the complexities of human subjectivity, that her testing of her future husband may well not disclose his true nature. In part Zayas underscores Blanca's blind faith in reason as a way of pointing to the unpredictable, labyrinthine possibilities of multiple subject-positions. At the same time, she is rejecting the reductive time-worn dualism that depicts the female psyche as sentiment and the male as reason.

Further ambiguous signals concerning the prince's sexual and affective identity are given by the narrator, and by Blanca's response to the prince as well. We learn from the narrator that the prince “se enamoró tanto de la hermosa doña Blanca, o lo fingió, que el corazón del hombre para todo tiene astucias” (266) [was so enamored of doña Blanca, or so he feigned to be, for a man's heart is fundamentally cunning (278)]. Blanca liked the prince, and he was undeniably in love with her; she liked him but did not want to become his wife; she regretted bitterly that the marriage must wait a whole year, and yet at the same time wished that the delay were longer(!).

Blanca's desperate unhappiness stems from the contradictory impulses at the thought that she must reluctantly marry (thus forfeiting her freedom) and her simultaneous love for the prince. This contradictory reaction, “tan diferentes efectos de amor y desamor” (271) [such contradictory effects of affection and disaffection (284)], is a hotly debated topic among the members of the sarao. Some say that Blanca was wise in making the prince pay full price for her beauty, while others claim that it was sheer madness since she already belonged to him. For his part, we are told that the prince is so despairing at the one-year delay that he would have returned to Flanders had it not been for Blanca's brother, and that his father, the elderly prince, had in fact ordered him to return home.

In any event, it is clear that the father construes the one-year testing period as an insult, which would account in part for his negative reception of Blanca upon her arrival in Flanders. What is left unsaid but becomes obvious is that, given his detestation of all women (evident from his murderous acts), he does not want his son to marry at all. Did he permit the marriage in order to keep up appearances? Or was he perhaps yielding reluctantly to a desire on the part of his son to assert himself against his father's will as bisexual or heterosexual? We are not told explicitly; instead Zayas leaves it up to the reader to judge. Again, the kind of ideological clarity Maravall assigns to the literary text seems remote indeed.

Even more telling and unanticipated in the prince is the fact that he reveals himself to be siding not with the men, but with the women of the group, especially his sister Marieta and wife, Blanca, at two key moments in the text. The first is when he discovers Marieta dead as a result of the garrotting administered by her husband (his cousin) and his own father. We are told that had he known their intentions, the prince would surely have prevented his sister's death, and that he was greatly grieved by the servant's death as well: “Vino el príncipe de fuera, que no se halló al lastimoso caso, ni le sabía; que fuera cierto no lo consintiera, o la salvara, porque amaba mucho a su hermana y no sabía si del [sic] que había sentido menos la muerte del gentilhombre” (282) [The prince hadn't been a party to the dreadful scene and indeed knew nothing of it or you can be sure he would never have allowed it. He would have saved his sister because he loved her dearly. Nobody knew how he felt about the death of her gentleman (296)].

Seeing his sister's battered corpse on one side and Blanca's fainted body on the other the prince laments with great passion to his father, saying: “—¿Que crueldades son estas, señor, o qué pretendes de esta triste española, que la has llamado para que vea tan lastimoso caso?” (282) [“What kind of cruelty is this, sir? What are you doing to this unfortunate Spanishwoman that you call her in to witness such a doleful spectacle?” (297)]. By way of answering this question, his father angrily dismisses him as a coward, at which point the prince helps bring Blanca to her senses, all the while grieving for his viciously murdered sister.

The other crucial moment at which the prince tries to defend a woman, it is Blanca herself, as his father and Arnesto reveal their sadistic intention to bleed her slowly to death. María helplessly witnesses this repulsive spectacle through a keyhole, while the prince begs his father not to go through with his plan: “Volviéndose a su padre con algunas señales piadosas en los ojos, le dixo: ‘—¡Ay señor, por Dios, que no pase adelante esta crueldad! Satisfecha puede estar con lo padecido vuestra ira y mi enojo. Porque os doy palabra que, cuanto ha que conozco a Blanca, no me ha parecido más linda que ahora. Por esta hermosura merece perdón su atrevimiento’” (289-90) [He turned to his father with tears of compassion in his eyes and said: “Alas, my lord, for God's sake, do not permit this cruel act to proceed. Your wrath and my anger should be satisfied with what she's suffered. I swear to you that as long as I've known Blanca she's never looked lovlier than she does now. If only because of her beauty, her audacity deserves pardon” (304)]. His father's only response is “Calla, cobarde, traidor, medio mujer” (290) [“Shut up, you womanish coward, you traitor!” (304)]. Following this exchange, we are told in no uncertain terms that it was Arnesto and his father who had created the animosity that the prince felt toward Blanca, which helps explain his increasingly alienated treatment of her.

The prince's displays of grief and compassion and the narrator's commentary make clear that much of the time the prince feels conflicted about the consequences of his male bonding. The story does not create the unproblematic, positive male community that Smith suggests. Nor is its female community as passive as he suggests. He claims of Blanca, for example, that “her one positive act is to burn the bed in which her husband and his page have made love, a symbolic rejection of desire in all its forms” (237). Yet the urge of a wife to burn her marital bed once it has been defiled by another coupling is clearly not “a symbolic rejection of desire in all its forms.” It is a sign of rage at the fact that she has been replaced, and by a union that writes her out of the economy of desire in absolute terms.

Beds function programmatically in this narrative. Blanca's bed-burning scene is the fourth reference to beds in this tale. The first refers to Blanca's sister María, who is crippled for life, hence bedridden, as she tries to elude the wrath of her brother-in-law; the second depicts Blanca while she is convalescing from the beating given her by the prince; the third is the scene revealing the prince making love with Arnesto. As a result, for Blanca beds are hateful reminders of physical pain inflicted by men on women or of her personal marital humiliation as a result of her husband's preference for men.

An additional and highly significant “positive act” is Blanca's disbursement of her jewels to her servants once she understands that her days are numbered as a result of her discovery of the affair between the prince and Arnesto. This type of bequest from one woman to another was a way by which the boundaries of the self could be affirmed by a woman in early modern Europe. As Natalie Zemon Davis explains, paradoxically: “A strategy for at least a thread of female autonomy may have been built precisely around [the] sense of being given away, that women sometimes turned the cultural formulation around, and gave themselves away. … The women's wills carefully describe the gifts—‘my fur-lined gray cape,’ ‘my third-best petticoat’—and the items are distributed according to the status and closeness of the recipients.”29 Moreover, this ritual of the bequest held true for poor women as well as affluent ones. It was a way of communicating and affirming their individuality, thereby also demonstrating the bond of the female community. In this way, during her last moments of life, Blanca finally attains a margin of autonomy that had been denied to her within the bonds of the marriage she initially believed would respect her individuality. It is a vivid testimony to Zayas's ability to understand and represent the possibility of radically conflicting subject-positions, and to the importance and unpredictability of agency. Her representation of homosexuality is dazzling not simply because she broaches a “forbidden” theme, but because of her subtle appreciation of this noncanonical sexuality. In addition, the sensitivity of the portrayal makes us wonder whether it stems from her own possibly lesbian relationship with another noblewoman.30


If the possibilities for female agency are presented as painfully limited in Mal presagio casar lejos, with Blanca's disbursement of her jewels as her only life-affirming act, Al fin se paga todo (I, 7) offers a radically different set of possibilities for its protagonist, Hipólita. She is fortunate and resourceful, constructing a positive existence for herself in the wake of multiple disasters.

The narrative opens by focusing on García, a gentleman residing in Valladolid, where Felipe III has temporarily moved the capital from Madrid. As he looks out his door, García sees a body being hurled violently from a house, and goes to verify what he has just witnessed. Shocked at the realization that the body is that of a badly beaten woman, he takes her to his lodgings, offering her food, shelter, and words of consolation. The woman in question is Hipólita, a twenty-four-year-old beauty who looks more like an “angel” than a woman, a fact which tempts him: “Casi se atreviera a ser Tarquino de tan divina Lucrecia; mas favoreciendo don García más a su nobleza que a su amor, a su recato que a su deseo, y a la razón más que a su apetito, procuró con muchas caricias el reposo de aquella hermosísima señora” (295-96) [If don García hadn't reminded himself of the faith she'd placed in him, he might have dared to play Tarquin to such a divine Lucrecia. Showing his nobility instead of his burning love, his sensibility more than his desire, his reason rather than his lust, with many gentle caresses he tried to make the lovely lady comfortable (217)].31

This analogy recalls (as did El prevenido engañado) the paradigmatic rape scene of the Roman heroine who took her own life shortly after her brother-in-law had raped her, feeling that she had stained her husband's honor beyond repair, although she had resisted Tarquin with all her strength. Yet with García the analogy is somewhat strained in that he is not Hipólita's brother-in-law. The suggestion that he might be tempted to rape her is intended presumably by the narrator of this tale, Miguel, to indicate the extent of García's passion, but also his noble resolve and self-control.

Rape by a brother-in-law is, however, the issue that results ultimately in the deaths of Hipólita's brother-in-law (Luis), her husband (Pedro), her former suitor (Gaspar), and his unnamed servant. It turns out that since her marriage eight years earlier Hipólita has had to deflect Luis's designs on her virtue. To deal with his unseemly advances she sometimes pretends not to understand them, sometimes admonishing him to respect his brother's honor and hers, even offering him (in a somewhat disconcertingly transactional manner most often employed by men) the opportunity to marry her cousin, whom Hipólita claims is more beautiful and wealthy than she.

This situation continues unchanged until one day Luis finds an opportunity to blackmail his sister-in-law. In spite of her loving husband, Hipólita falls in love with a Portuguese named Gaspar who pursues her ardently. So smitten is he that he dares to declare his love for her in church, and when Pedro is out of the house on a hunting trip Hipólita determines to entertain Gaspar in lavish fashion. Given the oppressive summer heat of Valladolid, she orders two satin mattresses placed in the garden beneath a lovely arbor, thus creating an idyllic setting in which to entertain her lover. Yet before Gaspar has a chance to experience Hipólita's bower of bliss, her husband returns unexpectedly. When Gaspar arrives at the house moments after Pedro, finding all the doors locked, he completely misreads the scene, assuming that Hipólita has deceived him by deciding to entertain some other suitor instead. We are told that “en siendo una mujer fácil, hasta con los mismos que la solicitan su facilidad se hace sospechosa” (306) [once a woman is easy, even the very man who caused her to err becomes suspicious of her (224)], thereby underscoring male—rather than the cliché female—inconstancy. Seeing a male figure lying next to Hipólita, Gaspar draws his dagger and is about to plunge it into the body when, at the last moment it rolls over, and he recognizes it to be her husband, Pedro.

Undaunted, Hipólita consults the next day with her resourceful maid who chides her for not taking a few risks, given how madly in love she claims to be. The maid recommends that Gaspar come before the doors are locked in the evening, offering to hide him in her own room until Pedro is asleep, at which point the lovers will finally be able to consummate their passion. This time the tryst is thwarted by a different unforeseen occurrence, namely a fire that engulfs the house. A number of servants die in the blaze, but the family escapes injury and, in the confusion, Gaspar manages to get away undetected. A third encounter is planned whereby Gaspar is to enter through a little window on the ground level. This meeting also fails to materialize as Gaspar (rather comically) becomes wedged in the window frame, unable to move either in or out. Using daggers and other tools, the servants manage to remove the frame from the wall, eventually permitting his escape.

Recognizing the significance of this architectural detail, Amy Williamsen points to the episode not only as the evocation of a powerful symbol of the feminine in Golden Age literature, but also as an example of Zayas's sense of humor: “In the Novelas, Zayas explores the comic possibilities of the architectural sign, at times demonstrating that the rigid imposition of the patriarchal order also restricts men.”32 Aware of the relentless polyvalence in Zayas's writing, however, she recognizes the sinister potential of architectural evocation in the Desengaños, where “the house serves as an instrument of torture employed against women” (144). She offers the example of Amar sólo por vencer (Love for the Sake of Conquest) (II, 6), where the father and uncle kill the protagonist by making a wall collapse on her. Yet the gesture is double-edged, for while the patriarchal architecture succeeds in destroying the young woman, its own self-destruction results as well (144).

A fourth encounter in Al fin se paga todo begins in a promising manner, but has fatal consequences. The next morning, after Pedro leaves the house, Hipólita summons Gaspar and embraces him at long last, this being only the second favor granted by her in their year-long relationship (the first one being the kiss he stole the night he almost killed Pedro by mistake). When Pedro returns once again unexpectedly, Hipólita instructs Gaspar to hide in her trunk, and he willingly complies. Pedro lingers, however, more than an hour and a half, at which point Hipólita opens the trunk and discovers Gaspar totally lifeless. Beside herself with sadness and panicked at the thought of a dead man's body in her bedroom, she begs Don Luis's help.

Realizing the potential for blackmail, he helps by taking Gaspar's corpse to a friend's house. In the process of transporting the body, he becomes aware that Gaspar is not in fact dead, and manages to revive him. Claiming to be an upstanding and outraged family member, Luis deceptively projects a concern for familial honor, telling Gaspar that he must never go near Hipólita again or he will kill him rather than allowing Don Pedro's honor to be called into question. Gaspar complies, after first informing her maid that he never wants to see her again, that he had never imagined that any woman could be as treacherous as she has been. For her part, Hipólita is disconsolate and falls ill as a result. Her husband is saddened to see her so depressed, while the perfidious Luis tries to extract payment from her in the form of sexual favors—pressures that lead Hipólita to contemplate suicide, despised and abandoned by the man she loves, pursued by the man she detests.

Aware that she will not submit willingly to his lust, Luis devises an audacious plan to rape Hipólita by tricking her into believing that he is her husband. Having cut a small door into the attic of his brother's adjoining house in order to facilitate his penetration, Luis enters it, releasing all the horses from the stable in order to create sufficient confusion to rouse Pedro from his marriage bed and send him out of the house. The release of the horses (traditionally, a symbol of male lust) is a device by which Zayas dehumanizes the perfidious brother-in-law still further. At this point Luis slips into bed with Hipólita, pretending to be Pedro, and disguises his voice so convincingly that he deceives her. Having satisfied his lust, Luis leaves, whereupon Pedro returns to his bed, and begins engaging in foreplay with his wife. Hipólita is taken aback at the timing of this second sexual encounter, coming so soon after the first, remarking to him: “—Válgame Dios, señor, y qué travieso que estáis esta noche, que no ha un instante que estuvistes aquí, y agora pretendéis lo mismo” (320) [“Good heavens, my dear, how mischievous you are this evening! Why you just finished and here you are again!” (235)]. Pedro tells his wife she must have been dreaming, at which point she understands that her brother-in-law has finally gotten his way.

Unlike the chaste Lucretia, who could not bear such dishonor, choosing suicide instead, the resilient and resourceful Hipólita plots her revenge in a cold-blooded, calculated manner. Passing carefully through that same attic door by which Luis had finally succeeded in causing her dishonor, she murders him in his sleep. Although the first dagger thrust kills him, Hipólita's wrath prompts her to stab him again and again. The savage nature of her repeated stabbings communicates the strength of her passionate hatred of Luis, and the indisputable fact that female agency can result in as much physical violence as male aggression.

Recalling the double references to Lucretia and Tarquin, one might be tempted to say that Hipólita is a “Lucretia made good,” in that she punishes the vile rapist rather than sacrificing her own life—a life which was totally without fault in terms of agency. Yet, of course, Zayas is not simply offering her reader an active, vengeful, “corrected” Lucretia—a more brave, empowered version of the Roman heroine. For Hipólita, we recall, is a very determined would-be adulteress. Zayas wishes to figure complication, the multiple subject-positions at issue in “real life”; she wants to demythologize, as it were, the artificiality by which legendary exemplars represent only one exclusive human impulse or personality trait. Hipólita loves her husband but is madly in love with Gaspar; she hates Luis, but when he dishonors her she kills him viciously rather than killing herself. She is a survivor.

Indeed, Zayas's interest in creating characters who represent many (frequently conflicting) subject-positions is nowhere more evident than in Don Pedro himself. As Hipólita finishes avenging herself, she replaces the bloody dagger in Pedro's sheath, and when Luis's body is discovered, the police take the blameless husband into custody since he is the owner of the murder weapon and because the maids testify to the police that Luis had been pursuing his wife relentlessly. Once Hipólita confesses to the crime, from the protected space of the convent where García has placed her for safekeeping, her husband is released, and she is declared innocent of any wrongdoing. And, though her kind and long-suffering husband begs her to return home, she refuses, saying that “honor con sospecha no podía criar perfeto amor ni conformes casados” (326) [suspicious love couldn't lead to perfect love or to conjugal harmony (239)]—reasoning that lingering suspicions will inevitably remain, not because of Don Luis (whose transgression she had already punished), but because of Don Gaspar's former love for her.

Of equal importance, of course, this reasoning may largely be construed as a pretext to protect her passionate love for García rather than as a desire to protect her husband's reputation. Hipólita's resourcefulness and agency show through once more here. And the fact that this tale is narrated by a male member of the group (Miguel) is even more striking. Far from disapproving of her behavior, he appears rather to revel in her resourcefulness. All she asks of her husband is that he support her in the convent, which he does liberally. Like Fadrique of El prevenido engañado, he is thus not predictably vengeful, like the husband of Calderonian honor plays, but rather a very understanding man. Not only is he willing to fund Hipólita's existence in the convent, he is so shaken and depressed by her absence that he falls terminally ill, dying within one year. Never having felt any animosity toward his wife, Pedro leaves her his entire estate, visiting her as often as possible until the day he dies.

His untimely death has beneficial consequences for Hipólita, who suddenly finds herself “libre, moza, y rica” (free, young, and wealthy), and with an adoring suitor whose love she reciprocates ardently. As a result, she marries García, has wonderful children by this marriage, and thanks heaven for their collective good fortune. Some time later we learn that Gaspar, who had beaten Hipólita so brutally when she sought refuge with him and who had, in addition, stolen her jewels on that occasion, has been murdered by one of his servants, who is about to be hanged.

The narrator, Miguel, claims that he heard these events recounted by the people who were directly involved in them, indicating also that he decided to tell this true history so that people will understand that everyone gets what is coming to them. To take this narrative as an unproblematic illustration of poetic justice is, however, a mistake. Luis and Gaspar are both murdered, the first by the woman whom he had raped, but the second by a greedy servant, in a peripheral, arbitrary manner that has nothing to do with either his adulterous machinations or his beating of Hipólita. It is, rather, a chance occurrence motivated by greed rather than justice. In ethical terms, García is not entirely worthy of the reward he receives, either—marriage to the woman of his dreams and lovely children by her as well. He has, after all, led to the breakup of her marriage and the death of her adoring husband. Likewise, Hipólita herself cannot be said to deserve the bliss she experiences with García, at the expense of Pedro, who dies a broken man as a result of her infidelity and ultimate rejection.

That Zayas questions the validity of the title of her seventh narrative is clearly suggested by an ambiguity Miguel generates in passing directly before he recounts it: “El mal jamás dexa de tener castigo ni el bien premio, pues cuando el mundo no la dé, le da el cielo” (292) [Evil always has its punishment just as good has its reward, if not in this world, then certainly in the next (214)].33 Yet Zayas cautions the reader not to expect simple equivalences and clear-cut exempla in her narratives, such as Al fin se paga todo. People tend not to behave as abstract virtues and vices in accord with the dictates of a literary or philosophical exemplum. Her appreciation of human nature, of subjectivity, is far too nuanced and labyrinthine for such simple solutions. And so is her understanding of the virtually infinite possibility for agency in both sexes.

From the analysis of Al fin se paga todo, with its built-in ambiguities in terms of female exemplarity, by contrast with the female victimization of Mal presagio casar lejos, we see also the danger involved in generalizing about Zayas's feminist project. While she has an enduring interest in defending the need for intellectual and affective equality of women and men, her total production cannot be reduced to a depiction of victimized females. Recent studies extrapolate from some of the more grisly stories, claiming, as Elizabeth Ordóñez does in her fine essay, that Zayas writes primarily about victimized females and victimizing patriarchies: “Women in the ‘novelas’ of María de Zayas are repeatedly victims of the misunderstanding of men: husbands, brothers, and women acting in collusion with men misread wives, sisters, mistresses, even friends. They are repeatedly too ready and too willing to believe false stories regarding their women, never checking the sources of the narrative, never doubting the reliability of the narrator.”34 Ordóñez accurately registers the often deadly power of gossip—that its sources and potential motivations usually go unexamined. Her suggestive insights hold true for many (though not all) of the narratives of part II, and still fewer of part I.35 For example, in four of the five tales discussed in this chapter, El prevenido engañado and Al fin se paga todo,La burlada Aminta y venganza del honor, and El juez de su causa, we witness resourceful women who take charge of their destinies precisely by manipulating the men around them.


La burlada Aminta y venganza del honor (I, 2) is a case in point, a tale, as the title suggests, composed in two parts. In fact, as Patsy Boyer insightfully observes, this double focus characterizes Zayas's writing: “Because the novellas tend to be bipartite rather than unitary, with two separate parts to the plot and at least two distinct messages (e.g., Disillusionment in Love and Virtue Rewarded), it is difficult to characterize them in simple terms” (xxii). This is a key observation about Zayas's desire to construct epistemologically intricate narratives rather than totalizing cautionary tales about severely disempowered females.

La burlada Aminta is a striking case in point, another example of female resourcefulness that triumphs over perfidious male (and female) behavior. Aminta is the hyperbolically depicted beauty at the center of this narrative: “de todos era llamada el milagro desta edad y la otava maravilla deste tiempo” (85) [everybody called her the miracle of the age and the eighth wonder of modern times (48)]. Considered to be a basilisk, the mythical serpent that can kill with its lethal gaze, because of her tremendous allure, she has transformed the nocturnal streets of Segovia into the mountains of Arcadia and the Jungle of Love.

As she is waiting to marry her cousin who is returning from a trip abroad, she is noticed by a dishonorable man who identifies himself as “Jacinto,” a man who, unbeknownst to her, has actually abandoned his wife, living instead with a concubine named Flora who is posing as his sister. Despite the delicate femininity suggested by her name, Flora is one of Zayas's most impressively despicable and dangerous women. Specifically, she is the type of female villain in Zayes's fiction whom Marcia Welles would aptly identify as pertaining to the category of the Terrible Mother. Drawing on the work of Erich Neumann, Welles explains that there exists the archetypal association of the Good Mother (associated with fecundity and birth), but also the ensnaring, destructive type of the Terrible Mother. Commenting on what she perceives to be a binary opposition operative in the Novelas, she explains that: “Characteristically in the tales of María de Zayas the negative Feminine is manifested in the figure of a sorceress, a seductress, or a wicked older woman; the positive Feminine is represented by a virginal figure who eventually consummates her holy matrimony, or instead, enters a convent to devote herself to the Church. This polarization corresponds to the opposition established in Christian mythology between the temptress Eve and the chaste Mary.”36

Welles's work is insightful in registering and attempting to account for the malevolent females who appear in a number of Zayas's stories, and who serve to interrogate uncomplicated, essentialist readings of her work along rigid lines of victimized females and predatory men. Yet this binary conception of good women versus explicitly evil ones should be emended to make room for those who do not fall into either extreme of such a polar opposition. Where, for example, do we locate someone like Hipólita from Al fin se paga todo? She is neither an exemplary wife and daughter of Mary, nor is she a seductress who tempts unsuspecting males. She is, rather, a woman who, after eight years of marriage to a loving but unexciting husband, is pursued by an extremely persistent and appealing lover to whom she yields. The fact that in the year-long courtship her suitor manages to steal only one kiss and that she was embraced by him just one time indicates that she does not fall into the extreme of the lascivious Terrible Mother, nor, of course, of the Good Mother. The same can be said of Ana and Violante, the two cousins of El prevenido engañado, as well as many others. Welles envisions this binary opposition in accord with her reading of the Novelas according to the play of Good versus Evil that is a defining feature of the romance genre. Of the romance—rather than novelistic—affiliation that she perceives at the root of the Novelas, she explains: “The novela cortesana can be understood only if examined within the nonrepresentational and idealized conventions of romance, which as defined by Northrop Frye corresponds to a specific structural principle of mythos, its core being an adventure proceeding in a dialectical pattern from a lower to a higher world, and must be considered a form of prose fiction distinct from the novel” (301; emphasis added). Yet the profusion of ambiguous characters, competing and unresolved discourses, and axiologically inconsistent narrators that inhabit Zayas's imaginary universe pertain to the world of the novel, not to the clarity of the romance world.37 Zayas insists very pointedly on the representational quality of her narratives, that they are, with the possible exception of I, 10 (El jardín engañoso), “true histories.”38 It is precisely the novelistic focus on subjectivity, on unresolved and shifting subject-positions in story after story, that defines her text and eludes ideological categorization.

Not functioning as part of the obscure “gray area” of novelistic discourse, Flora pertains to the sinister female type, a woman who admits to being less interested in jealousy than she is in idly amusing her paramour at the expense of another woman, an innocent one, namely Aminta. She willingly explains to Jacinto that she will lay out her snares (redes) and traps (tramoyas) (89) in order to capture the unsuspecting virgin for him. Once Aminta falls for Jacinto, Flora says that he will be able to pluck the flower of her virtue if he promises (deceitfully, of course) to marry her. If his passion persists beyond the moment of deflowering, he can then abduct her to a place where she is not known, and when he tires of her, he can abandon her in such a way that she will never know the author of her dishonor given that he travels under a pseudonym and false identity.

For her part, Flora views this vile deception which she proposes as nothing more than a game to amuse both Jacinto and herself. Deception and disguise, in this case cross-dressing, are central to her behavior, given also that she dresses in male attire in order to accompany Jacinto when he goes to serenade Aminta. Flora's ability to detach herself emotionally from the man with whom she cohabits is remarkable; she actually seems to be immune to jealousy, as she openly claims.

Yet Zayas suggests an even more unconventional, indeed transgressive dimension of Flora's personality in a fleeting suggestion of her bisexuality.39 Wanting Jacinto to linger in the presence of Aminta, Flora tells him “—Aguarda, hermano, no pasemos de aquí, que ya sabes que tengo el gusto y deseos más de galán que de dama, y donde las veo y más tan bellas, como esta hermosa señora, se me van los ojos tras ellas, y se me enternece el corazón” (94) [“Wait, brother, let's sit here. You know my tastes are more those of a gallant than of a lady, and wherever I see a lady, particularly one as beautiful as this lady, I can't take my eyes from her beauty and my heart grows tender” (55)].

While she does not dwell further on this aspect of Flora's sexuality, it is clear that, once again Zayas seeks to emphasize the possibility of multiple, simultaneous, and conflictual subject-positions in woman. Although momentary, the suggestion is nonetheless definitively established in the text. It seems likely, moreover, that this is the reason for Flora's otherwise inexplicable immunity to Jacinto's jealousy, and to her desire to get closer to Aminta even though it might jeopardize to a considerable extent her relationship to him. With remarkable insightfulness and candor concerning the intimacies of human sexuality, Zayas dramatizes the fact that the lesbian urge is as possible for a member of a primarily heterosexual relationship as is the homoeroticism within heterosexual wedlock that we find in Mal presagio casar lejos.40 This degree of perceptiveness and perspectivism on Zayas's part is stunning—programmatically postmodern and consummately Baroque in its conflictual nature.

By means of Flora's machinations and those of a well-paid go-between named Elena, Jacinto conquers Aminta's virtue as Flora and Elena voyeuristically witness the event:

Le dió la mano de esposo, con cuya seguridad gozó de algunos regalados y honestos favores, cogiendo flores y claveles del jardin, jamás tocado de persona nacida, que estaba reservado a su ausente primo. Solenizaban la fiesta Flora y doña Elena con mil donaires, viendo a don Jacinto tan atrevido, como Aminta vergonzosa.


[He gave her his hand in marriage. By virtue of this pledge, he enjoyed some free and delightful favors, gathering flowers and carnations in that garden untouched by human hand which had been reserved for her absent cousin. Flora and doña Elena witnessed these celebrations with a thousand jokes, watching don Jacinto act as bold as Aminta reacted with embarrassment.]


The narrator of the tale, Matilda, seizes this moment of Jacinto's triumph—brought about by Flora's cold-blooded deceitfulness—to rail against the dangers of evil women, judging from her unconscionable function as procuress for her own lover, that an evil woman in fact poses a much greater threat than an evil man:

¡Oh falsa Flora, en quien el cielo quiso criar la cifra de los engaños, castigo venga sobre ti! ¿de tu amante eres tercera? ¿habrá quien dé crédito a tal maldad? Sí, porque en siendo una mujer mala, lleva ventaja a todos los hombres. A don Jacinto disculpa amor, a la triste Aminta el engaño, mas para Flora no hay disculpa.

(98; emphasis added)

[Oh, false Flora! In you, heaven created the epitome of deceit! May punishment fall upon you, you who act as your lover's matchmaker. Can anyone imagine how evil you are? Terribly evil because as a woman who's evil, you have the advantage over men. Love excuses Don Jacinto, deception excuses the unfortunate Aminta, but for Flora there is no excuse.]

(59; emphasis added)

Not only does this passage reveal an amazing array of subject-position possibilities in one woman; Matilda's extradiegetic exclamation about the superior wickedness of evil women over evil men shows that female narrators can, at times, be much more critical of their own gender than men can. In fact, the excessiveness of Matilde's indictment here in combination with the preponderance of predatory men in the Novelas makes her remark seems incongruously unconvincing. If we think back also, for example, to Alonso's staunch pro-feminist defense in El prevenido engañado we note that this type of “same gender” critical detachment is a recurrent feature of Zayas's writing.

The situation begins to deteriorate when Jacinto's passion starts to wane as a result of capturing the prize of Aminta's virginity. This change is crystallized by an ominous moment wherein the instant the lovers clasp their hands together, the emerald ring she is wearing on her finger splits in half, as a piece of it flies up, striking Jacinto in the face. Aminta construes this incident as an ill omen whose importance Jacinto pretends to ignore. Given the fact that the flame of Jacinto's passion has now been extinguished, his thoughts turn to the reckless peril in which he has placed himself.41 Fearing that Elena might reveal his whereabouts, he cold-bloodedly shoots her dead with a bullet to the heart. Able to think of little else than his means of escape, Jacinto deposits Aminta in the house of a distant relative named Luisa, who lives with her gallant and noble son, Martín. Here the emotionally devastated Aminta remains, under the ironically conceived pseudonym of Doña Victoria.

Aminta learns from Luisa that not only is Jacinto married, but that his real name is Francisco, that he is a notorious liar living with a woman who is actually not his sister, but his mistress, having totally abandoned his wife. By eavesdropping through the keyhole to her room, Martín learns of Jacinto's betrayal of Aminta, a deception that leads her to the point of suicide. As Aminta is about to slash her wrists with a dagger, Martín rushes into her room to stop her, at which point she faints. When she revives from her swoon, she can think of only one thing, namely the deception perpetrated by Jacinto and Flora, and vows to avenge herself. Martín, passionately but honorably in love with Aminta, offers to help her in this dangerous enterprise.

To underscore in yet another way the pervasive reality of competing subject-positions and the dark, unpredictable side of human nature, Zayas informs us that in spite of his correct behavior the narrator admits that he can appreciate Jacinto's impulse to take advantage of Aminta: “Concedió don Martín con todo, y no es mucho, pues que amaba y aventuraba el gozar tan hermosa dama, tanto que ya disculpaba a don Jacinto” (108) [Don Martín agreed to her conditions. That wasn't surprising because he was in love and would have done anything to enjoy such a beautiful woman; he could almost understand don Jacinto's deception (66)].

Carefully disguised as a male and bearing the name Jacinto, Aminta passes herself off as a servant, finding employment in the house where Jacinto and Flora reside. They do not recognize her at all. After serving as a page for one month, Aminta stabs both her perfidious seducer and Flora, not once but repeatedly, as they lie sleeping

Sacando la daga, se la metió al traidor don Jacinto por el corazón dos o tres veces, tanto que el quexarse y rendir el alma fue todo uno. Al ruido despertó Flora, y queriendo dar voces, no le dio lugar Aminta, que la hirió por la garganta, diciendo:—‘Traidora, Aminta te castiga y venga su deshonra.’”


[Aminta drew her dagger. Two or three times she plunged it into the treacherous Don Jacinto's heart, so sharply that his cry and his giving up the ghost were simultaneous. At the sound, Flora awoke and was about to scream but Aminta didn't give her time. She stabbed her in the throat uttering these words: “Traitor! Aminta punishes you and avenges her dishonor!”]


When servants discover the bloody corpses, the authorities look for a muleteer and a page (the disguises used by Martín and Aminta), but finding no one fitting that description, the case is closed. The secret of the murders never becomes known, in fact, except to the narrator, Matilda, who discloses it in order to show Aminta's great courage in avenging her dishonor. Aminta keeps the name Doña Victoria, which is now (finally) a meaningful appellation, marries her beloved Martín, and, we learn, lives happily with him and her mother-in-law in Madrid. The only thing that could have improved upon this situation, according to the narrator, would be the birth of children to this devoted couple.

Zayas may choose not to represent them as a nuclear family perhaps because it is the predictable cliché form of romance resolution or perhaps to underscore Aminta's “masculine” resolve rather than her childbearing potential, the other traditionally prized female quality along with chastity—which the raped Aminta did not possess when the informed Martín very willingly proposed marriage to her.42 Here too, then, we see some very unexpected resources of agency, with Flora's utterly perverse affect and Aminta's formidable courage in avenging her dishonor—a traditionally male activity, as the compellingly popular honor plays of the time attest. We also see atypical responses in the male register, with Martín's unexpected level of compassionate understanding regarding Aminta's defiled honor, his reluctant willingness to assume the more passive role by allowing her to execute the murders rather than doing so himself, and his exemplary love of her as his wife. These two characters, among many others who inhabit the pages of Zayas's Novelas, underscore the crucial importance of agency—its unpredictability whereby women can and do assume the role of male agents and men of women. Predictable gender typecasting runs contrary to Zayas's epistemological project.


While Zayas's experiment with temporary female cross-dressing permitted both Flora and Aminta to masquerade as Jacinto's pages in La burlada Aminta, her exploration of its possibilities yields extended and truly astounding effects in El juez de su causa (I, 9), straining the reader's credulity in the process with her tongue-in-cheek narrative.43 For in this tale the cross-dressed heroine's resourcefulness and daring seems to know no bounds as her admirable valor gets her appointed to the exalted position of viceroy by Charles V. Everyone is deceived about her sexual identity, believing her to be a man; and the misperception continues until the very moment when she decides to reveal her true identity.

This narrative is notable in the Zayesque repertoire, among other reasons, because it pertains to the tradition of the Moorish tale, the novela morisca, initiated in Spain with the Historia del Abencerraje y la hermosa Jarifa in the sixteenth century, a form that enjoyed tremendous popularity during that century and beyond, especially as a result of Cervantes' numerous exploitations of it.44

As a result of her choice of the novela morisca for her ninth tale of part I, Zayas uncharacteristically expands her narrative beyond the boundaries of Spain, across the Mediterranean to Morocco's inland city of Fez, and ultimately back to Spain. In so doing she produces an intriguing meditation not just on gender (especially female gender and the parameters of agency), but on race, religion, and class as well. It is axiomatic with all of the true lovers we encounter in the Novelas that the hero and heroine are beset by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and we soon learn that the paradigmatic couple of El juez de su causa is no exception. Estela, an inhabitant of Valencia, is beautiful, wealthy, and, indeed, a paragon of womanly virtues. She is the only child of loving parents, and she is courted by many suitors. Of all her admirers she favors one named Carlos, who possesses in the male register all the desirable qualities one could ever hope to encounter. The complication to their marriage comes first in the form of another woman named Claudia, who consults a crafty old former servant of Carlos, Claudio, who arranges for Claudia to enter the service of Carlos by posing as a page named “Claudio.” By this choice of pseudonym, and very close to the surface of the text, we see Zayas's interest in conflating female motivations and identities (in this case with the Claudia/Claudio correspondence) similar to the Jacinta/Jacinto association in La burlada Aminta. Claudia's reason for this cross-dressing is to win Carlos away from Estela by serving as the messenger of their courtship, which she hopes to end by her personal intervention. A further impediment arises when a wealthy Italian count falls in love with Estela as well. Both he and Carlos petition Estela's parents on the same day to marry her, as the parents opt for the count, given his social pedigree and financial means, informing Estela of this choice only after the papers have been signed.

Desperate at this news, the couple decides on the extreme plan of eloping to Barcelona where they can marry without the complications that exist in Valencia. Yet Claudia, inspired by a clever Moorish nobleman named Amete, manages to derail their plan. He himself is as in love with Estela as Claudia is with Carlos, proposing, therefore, a mutually advantageous plan whereby he will abduct Estela and take her to Fez, where his father is a wealthy and influential pasha. Presumably time and geographical distance will make Estela accept Amete, who reasons that if she converts, becoming a Muslim, he will marry her. By a similar line of reasoning, Amete convinces Claudia that Estela's definitive absence from Spain will permit her to win the heart of Carlos.

The perfidious Moor, however, abducts not only Estela but Claudia as well, thus foiling her plan entirely by reasoning to her that “por conseguir tu amor quitas a tu amante la vida, quitándole la presencia de su dama; pues a quien tal traición hace como dármela a mí por un vano antojo; ¿cómo quieres que me asegure de que luego no avisarás a la ciudad y saldrán tras mí, y me darán la muerte?” (380) [to gain your love, you have deprived your beloved of his very life by removing her from his presence. Well, what does the kind of person who'll do such a deed as to betray her beloved for a whim deserve? How can you expect me to be sure you wouldn't turn around and tell the whole city what happened to Estela; then they'd be after me and sentence me to death?” (279-80)].

In this same speech Amete hypocritically declares that “no es razón que ninguno se fíe del que no es leal a su misma nación y patria” (380) [“one should never trust a person who's not loyal and true to his own land and nation” (279)]. Ironically, while in the abstract these words ring true, Amete will lose his own life for not following this advice as he attempts to kill the prince of his own country. By making this remark, Zayas registers the potential chasm separating word from deed, appearance from reality. This capacity for verbal deception is insightfully acknowledged by Patsy Boyer as a general tendency of Zayesque narrative: “Words belie and lead astray within the stories just as the characters and the narrators use words to their own misleading ends.”45

His machinating cruelty persists and, when he sees that Estela will not yield to his lust as a result of his verbal pressure, he determines to use force instead, treating her as nothing but a slave: “Como Amete viese que por ruegos ni caricias podía vencerla, empezó a usar de la fuerza, procurando por malos tratamientos obligarla a querer por no padecer, tratándola como a una miserable esclava, mal comida y peor vestida, sirviéndole la casa, en la cual había su padre de Amete, cuatro mujeres con quien estaba casado, y otros dos hijos menores” (382) [When Amete realized that his kindness and cajoling wouldn't win Estela, he began to use force. He thought to obtain her favors by punishing her, so she could put a stop to her suffering only by being nice to him. He treated her like a wretched slave; he dressed her in rags; he gave her leftovers to eat and made her serve the entire household, which consisted of Amete's father, his four wives, and two other younger sons (281)].

The motif of Christian woman as slave (rather than a male slave) is unusual in the novela morisca tradition. By this gender reversal Zayas expands the possibilities for female experience still further here—as she will in the first tale of part II, La esclava de su amante (Her Lover's Slave), where a white Christian woman turns herself from a figurative “slave of passion” into a literal slave masquerading as a Moor.

While Carlos languishes in prison, where he has been consigned as a result of an incriminating love letter in which Estela confessed to her parents her intention to marry him, Estela suffers ever increasing grief and danger. After she has survived for over a year in the ignominious role of slave, Amete's patience runs out and he determines to rape her, aided in his evil plan by Claudia, who lies to Estela by telling her that she has planned their escape back to Spain. As Amete ties up and beats Estela mercilessly, she courageously fends him off until, utterly exhausted, she has no other defense left but to scream.

As luck would have it (and according to the impossibly felicitous coincidence that pervades such romance narratives), her screams are overheard by a noble Moor named Xacimín, the prince of Fez. Estela's good fortune is compounded by the fact that this prince is not only unwilling to permit any man to brutalize a woman, as Amete was doing, but he feels, in addition, a genuine affinity for Christians in spite of his own faith.46 By juxtaposing him both implicitly (and explicitly) with Amete—two Moorish noblemen who behave in totally opposed ways in terms of morals, social conventions, and religious tolerance, we see Zayas once again breaking down the possibility of constructing ironclad categories of race, gender, or class.47 Clearly, she effects a similar complication if we consider the noble, Christian, and female categories as they function in the diametrically opposed figures of Estela and the wicked Claudia.

Not only has Amete transgressed against Estela by his beating and attempted rape of her, he commits treason by attacking and attempting to kill Xacimín, his prince. For these crimes he and his accomplice Claudia are sentenced to death and shortly thereafter impaled. In retrospect, the considerable amount of money offered by Amete's father was obviously to no avail.

Here too, Zayas wants to offer a nuanced presentation of the Infidel and his system of justice. Whereas she often remarks on the power and protection exerted by money for Spanish nobles and aristocrats, of its abusive power in the judicial system, here she inverts the racial stereotype—offering an admirable portrayal of the Infidel, who is usually portrayed as lawless. In one and the same text, as with its prototype El abencerraje, we find the Moor presented both as the demonic Other and the idealized Other. Thus we see that even her position as a member of the aristocracy, and that of her storytellers as well, is compromised here as elsewhere.

Xacimín grants Estela's request that she be allowed to return to her own land, giving her, in addition, money, jewels, and a Christian slave to accompany her. Meanwhile, all of Estela's adventures have been unfolding at the time that Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, has been waging his famous offensive against Fredrick Barbarossa in Tunis. Aware of the presence of Spanish troops in North Africa, Estela decides to join the cause, cutting her hair and dressing as a man in order to enlist in the army. So consistently valiant is she in the operations in France and Italy that (using the name Fernando) she distinguishes herself especially one day when Charles's horse is killed, thus obliging him to fight on foot. Without hesitating Estela offers him her horse, thereafter fighting at his side until the king is safe. As a reward for this exemplary act of heroism the king bestows upon “Don Fernando” the prestigious Order of Santiago and the title of duke.

By one of those impossible coincidences that seem to motivate romance, Estela notices that her long-lost Carlos is among the soldiers in the army, and without disclosing her true identity, she takes on Carlos as her personal secretary, asking him about his background in order to determine whether he has remained faithful to her. He discloses that he spent two years in prison, accused of abducting, raping, and killing Estela, who seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. He explains further that he spent the entire year after his release from prison looking for her, but in vain.

Assured now of his fidelity, Estela vows to help Carlos, indicating that after the campaign is over she will convene a court that will definitively exonerate him of all the charges. And, in a stroke of unbelievable good fortune (another incredible coincidence), she is named viceroy of Valencia, where she is obliged to judge her own case as the very first order of business. After lengthy testimony is given, the viceroy concludes that the only way Carlos can be cleared of the death penalty is if Estela herself appears before the assembled citizens. The viceroy reveals that “he” is the woman in question, and everyone is astonished that the valorous soldier is, in fact, a woman. King Charles, we are told, is even more amazed, since he had witnessed the extraordinary valor repeatedly exhibited by “Don Fernando” on the field of battle.

In this way Zayas dramatizes the fact that in the last analysis, few things other than anatomical detail, distinguish the capacities of men and women. The king sends congratulations and jewels to mark the restoration of the deserving couple, reconfirming the estates he had previously awarded Estela, bestowing upon her the additional title of Princess of Buñol. Estela's habit of the Order of Santiago is officially transferred by the king to Carlos, who also assumes her former title as viceroy of Valencia. The final achievement recorded by the narrator occurs with the birth of the couple's beautiful and worthy heirs.

One final observation deserves mention regarding distinctions of gender and agency in this narrative; namely, the fact that this story is narrated by Juan, the most frivolous of the frame characters—and one whose name conjures up the relentless seducer of women (Don Juan) who has no interest or belief in their potential for valor—makes the outcome of El juez de su causa even more striking. It underscores once again that the subjective states of human nature are ultimately inscrutable, often shockingly so. In this context, Marcia Welles is right when she notes that each of the narrators is “indistinguishable from the other … functioning as a ‘second self’ of María de Zayas.”48 It must be added, however, that by the variety of positions these narrators represent, that Zayas's “second self” can only be characterized as an encyclopedia of possibilities for gender and agency.

The five stories considered within this discussion of subjectivity offer a representative sampling of the diversity at issue in the Novelas. Woman as wife, mother, daughter, sister, and mistress in a wide range of successful and unsuccessful familial relationships is fully articulated. Woman as helpless victim, as acquiescent partner, as playful adulteress, as sinister agent or as triumphant avenger are all portrayed here. And the possibilities for male agency are equally varied. To be sure, part II of the Novelas offers more victimized females, but there too we should not minimize the complex presentation of the female psyche that is constructed. After all, some of the most heinous deeds depicted in the second ten novelas are masterminded by women.

Zayas—as so many of her narratives attest—is not attempting to bring down the patriarchy but to endow it with a greater measure of gender equality. While some narrators are outspoken critics of men, finding no value in them, others (including a number of the women who narrate the desengaños of part II) do. Some of the male partygoers criticize other men for their injustices toward women, praising the women instead, and, as we have seen, women from the group are often critical of the actions of other women. The stories considered thus far reveal the infinitely more complex set of possibilities Zayas envisions. The remaining novelas further confirm her nuanced presentation.

At times (particularly in the second part) she is totally outspoken, advocating escape to the convent as the only logical solution for woman, yet it must be remembered that Zayas, as Paul Julian Smith notes, is unable (or unwilling) “to create an integrated female subject and a coherent female narrative.”49 Although he does not elaborate the idea of unintegrated female subjectivity (one lacking in coherent ideological views), Smith expresses the possibility of a choice on Zayas's part. Clearly there is value in refusing to figure woman according to one exclusive psychological or sociopolitical posture. Addressing this issue in the broader context of Europe as a whole, Traub, Kaplan, and Callaghan affirm that “the absence of investment in a fully articulated, coherent subject may have allowed for the establishment of subcommunities, pockets of resistance, and alliances between subordinated groups.” They make the additional—crucially important—point that “resistance” is a relative thing: “it is important look for resistance in relative terms, rather than to hold early modern women's words and actions up to post-Enlightenment standards of subjective self-consciousness.”50

Zayas is able but unwilling to construct a coherent female subject and female narrative. Her attainment of bestseller status was not the result of a monologic feminist discourse relentlessly aimed at exposing the evils of the patriarchy. She is aware of and accepts in principle (albeit reluctantly) the fact that the father has total control over his offspring, and the Zayesque heroines who avenge their honor do so within the dictates of that code. As so many of the novelas attest, she does not condemn the so-called honor code itself, but rather its illegitimate, hypocritical practitioners.51

The whole notion of the “gendered subject” is a problematic one for early modern literature, and for much later literature as well. As Carol Neely remarks a propos of feminist Shakespeare criticism, but with implications for feminist approaches to literature in general: “If feminist criticism abandons the notion of the subject, replacing it with the much more slippery concept of subject positions, and by so doing calls into question the notion of gendered subjects, gendered authors, gendered texts, the ground for its critique is eliminated.”52 Neely is clearly being polemical in this remark. In the final analysis, she is calling not for a rejection of feminist criticism but for a valorization of subject-positionality as a way of combatting the dangerous urge to be “monolithic, monological, monogendered, monomaniacal” (16).

Female perspectives are represented by Zayas in her characters and narrators, and they invite, indeed demand, analysis, especially since the prologues and extradiegetic interventions (particularly in part II of the Novelas) are so explicit. Yet, to view subjectivity as a necessarily gendered phenomenon is a recent development originating in large measure with historical changes in the domestic sphere, especially the intensified division of labor that resulted in the nineteenth century.

More important than distinctions based on gender in seventeenth-century Spain, it was instead the aristocracy's obsession with issues of lineage (blood purity) and the honor code that defined the subject's perception of him or herself. And, as George Mariscal writes, here too it is a question of contradictory subject-positions: “the aristocratic subject itself was the intersection of a variety of contradictory positions and … in concrete practice any single subject was simultaneously situated in a variety of ways. … The subject of Castilian legal discourse, for example, which invoked blood as the source of its authority, was distinctly opposed to the subject figured by religious writing, which cited virtue.”53

Mariscal's study of subjectivity does not attempt to deal with female writers. But his words of caution regarding class-based readings hold true as much for the female authors of the early modern period, as for the male. The idea of the bourgeois individual and the bourgeois family are concepts unfamiliar to the seventeenth century, although they are—anachronistically—of crucial importance in most twentieth-century psychoanalytical readings of early modern literature. As a result, we must strive to recognize other forms of subjectivity and social behavior that result from cultural formations which may be quite alien to our own. We should refrain from misrepresenting the Baroque period's epistemological concern with multiple subject-positions by reducing it to the status of predictable ideology. While exploring the female psyche represented by Zayas, we should resist the ever present temptation to turn early modern Spanish culture into a reflection of our own cultural preoccupations. Paradoxically, as Amy Katz Kaminsky notes, the same jewels which are used by Zayas's women to gain a measure of autonomy from men are also designed to attract them.54 The ambiguities and contradictions figured by Zayas's characters and the imaginary universe they populate are paradigmatically Baroque subjects.


  1. Edward H. Friedman, The Antiheroine's Voice, pp. 213, 5.

  2. John Beverley, “On the Concept of the Spanish Literary Baroque,” p. 227.

  3. Linda Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism, pp. 1-2.

  4. For additional reflections on the postmodern mentality and its expression see Charles Jencks, The Language of Postmodern Architecture (London: Academy, 1977).

  5. John D. Lyons, Exemplum: The Rhetoric of Example (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989), p. 3.

  6. Roman Jakobson, “The Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles,” in Fundamentals of Language, ed. Morris Halle (Paris: Mouton, 1971), p. 92.

  7. Alban K. Forcione, “Afterword: Exemplarity, Modernity, and the Discriminating Games of Reading,” in Cervantes's “Examplary Novels” and the Adventure of Writing, ed. Michael Nerlich and Nicholas Spadaccini (Minneapolis: Prisma, 1989), p. 333.

  8. For two interesting publications on the picaresque and its impact, see Peter N. Dunn, Spanish Picaresque Fiction: A New Literary History (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), and Giancarlo Maiorino, ed., The Picaresque: Tradition and Displacement (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).

  9. Vicente Espinel, Marcós de Obregón, 2 vols., ed. María S. Carrasco Urgoti (Madrid: Castalia, 1972), 1: 230.

  10. José Antonio Maravall, “From the Renaissance to the Baroque,” p. 23.

  11. Elliott, Imperial Spain, pp. 254-55. See also his “Self-Perception and Decline in Early Seventeenth-Century Spain,” Past and Present: A Journal of Historical Studies 20 (1961): 41-61.

  12. Henry Kamen, The Iron Century (New York: Praeger, 1971), p. 389.

  13. Anthony J. Cascardi, “The Subject of Control,” in Culture and Control in Counter-Reformation Spain, p. 246.

  14. Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Toward an Investigation),” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971); and Michel Foucault, “The Subject of Power,” in Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation, ed. Brian Wallis (New York: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1984), pp. 417-32.

  15. Paul Smith, Discerning the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), p. xxxv.

  16. See Anika Lemaire, ed., Jacques Lacan, trans. David Macey (London: Routledge, 1977).

  17. Catherine Belsey, “Constructing the Subject,” in Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism, ed. Robyn R. Warhol and Diane Price Herndl (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1991), p. 598.

  18. Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), p. 8.

  19. On the parameters of feminism in the European Renaissance, see Constance Jordan, Renaissance Feminism: Literary Texts and Political Models (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990), p. 9.

  20. Laura Brown, “Amazons and Africans: Gender, Race and Empire in Daniel Defoe,” in Women, “Race,” and Writing in the Early Modern Period, ed. Margo Hendricks and Patricia Parker (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 136.

  21. Zayas's short prose is punctuated by intercalated verse at numerous junctures in the text. And in this mixture of prose and verse she is representative of a whole vein of Spanish novela corta writing. The effect of the prosimetrum form is to distance the reader from the diegetic level of the text, to create a distance by which the text functions as stylized artifact. In an observation made with reference to Menippean satire, but equally applicable to novelistic prose of the kind Zayas produces, Julia Kristeva notes the distancing effect caused by the multiple styles, tones, and axiologies that come into conflict when a writer mixes verse with prose. See her Desire in Language, trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), p. 83. It is also worth noting that by mixing prose and verse, Zayas further blurs the claim to the unadorned “historical accuracy” of her narratives.

  22. Not only Zayas but her personal friend, the equally celebrated writer Ana Caro, was referred to as a literary “sibyl.” In La garduña de Sevilla Alonso de Castillo Solórzano conveys the association of these women—as friends and outstanding authors: “En estos tiempos luce y campea con felices lauros el ingenio de doña María de Zayas y Sotomayor, que con justo título ha merecido el nombre de Sibila de Mardid, adquirido por sus admirables versos, por su felice ingenio y gran prudencia, habiendo sacado de la estampa un libro de diez novelas, que son diez asombros para los que escriben deste género, pues la meditada prosa, el artificio dellas y los versos que interpola, es todo tan admirable, que acobarda las más valientes plumas de nuestra España. Acompáñala en Madrid doña Ana Caro de Mallén, dama de nuestra Sevilla, a quien se deben no menores alabanzas, pues con sus dulces y bien pensados versos suspende y deleita a quien los oye y lee” (66-67). Because of the coincidence of the name Ana in addition to the sybilline association, it seems plausible to read the Ana and Violante of this tale as versions of Caro and Zayas.

  23. For a discussion of shoes as sexual experience (referring mainly to Lazarillo de Tormes's fourth tratado), see Harry Sieber, Language and Society in “La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes” (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), pp. 45-58; and Janis A. Tomlinson and Marcia Welles, “Picturing the Picaresque: Lazarillo and Murillo's Four Figures on a Step,” in The Picaresque: Tradition and Displacement, pp. 66-85.

  24. Indeed, the goriness was so predictable and powerful that this body of plays led to historical distortion whereby “a handful of seventeenth-century wife-murder plays used to be taken as evidence that wife-murder was the common pastime of real-life Spanish husbands obsessed with a barbaric honor code, and then read back as dramatic propaganda for the code” (McKendrick, Women and Society, p. 200).

  25. Angela Carter writes about victimized females, and sensationalist violence against them in relation to the Marquis de Sade, yet in a way that illuminates a reading of Zayas. See her The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography (New York: Pantheon, 1979), p. 23. Her rewriting of classic fairy tales from a feminist perspective that takes into account the diversity of female agency is also relevant in connection with Zayas's enterprise. See The Bloody Chamber (New York: Penguin, 1992).

  26. For a discussion of convent life see Electra Arenal and Stacey Schlau, Untold Stories: Hispanic Nuns in Their Own Works, trans. Amanda Powell (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989); and Mariló Vigil, “Conformismo y rebeldía en los conventos femeninos de los siglos XVI y XVII,” in Religiosidad feminina: Expectativas y realidades (ss. VIII-XVIII) (Madrid: Asociación Cultural Al-Mudayna, 1991), pp. 165-85.

  27. To be sure, voyeurism is not an invention of the early modern period, nor is its literary representation. Such moments find expression in earlier literature, for example in the Decameron (II, 9), or in the various accounts of the fairy Mélusine who becomes victimized by her husband's forbidden gaze. But unlike the type of public reading entailed by the Boccaccian text or the medieval romance, Zayas's stories are intended for individual, private reading, despite the frame narrative. The effect of the voyeuristic environment becomes much more transgressive as one individual (the reader) personally spies on another.

  28. Paul Julian Smith, “Writing Women in Golden Age Spain: Saint Teresa and María de Zayas,” Modern Language Notes 102 (1987): 238.

  29. Natalie Zemon Davis, “Boundaries and the Sense of Self in Sixteenth-Century France,” in Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought, ed. Thomas C. Heller, Morton Sosna, and David Wellberry (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1986), p. 61.

  30. Margarita Nelken, for example, writes of the friendship of Caro and Zayas that: “A doña Ana Caro dióle fama, tanto como su talento, su amistad con doña María de Zayas y Sotomayor.” See Las escritoras españolas (Barcelona: Labor, 1930), p. 151.

  31. Not only is this the third description of woman as an “angel” in a Zayasian catalogue which includes many more references, but it constitutes a topos along with the polar opposite image of woman as a demonic creature. Speaking of this polarity in the context of female authorship in general, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar ask a probing question that has considerable relevance for all women authors: “If the vexed and vexing polarities of angel and monster, sweet dumb Snow White and fierce mad Queen, are major images literary tradition offers women, how does such imagery influence the ways in which women attempt the pen?” (Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic [New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979], p. 46).

  32. Amy R. Williamsen, “Challenging the Code: Honor in María de Zayas,” in María de Zayas: The Dynamics of Discourse, p. 143.

  33. According to Yllera (61), only II, 1, bore a title at the time of the initial publication of Part II in 1647. The remaining desengaños were not assigned titles until the 1734 Barcelona edition, which means that the titles should not be ascribed to Zayas, and that they may not necessarily foreground the dimensions of the text that Zayas intended.

  34. Elizabeth Ordóñez, “Woman and Her Text,” p. 4.

  35. Amy Katz Kaminsky notes the need to distinguish the Maravillas of part 1 from the Desengaños of part II. If the two parts are read as one integral work, the power of part II is diminished. “Dress and Redress: Clothing in the Desengaños amorosas of María de Zayas y Sotomayor,” Romanic Review 79 (1988): 377-91.

  36. Marcia L. Welles, “María de Zayas y Sotomayor and Her ‘Novela Cortesana,’” p. 307.

  37. That Zayas offers us a novelistic world is clear from all the competing discourses which lack resolution in her work. As such, she projects the same type of “transcendental homelessness” which Anthony Cascardi names as the literary environment projected by Don Quijote. He writes: “Lukács places the origins of the novel in Cervantes' Don Quijote on the edge of a great upheaval of values. On the one hand, Cervantes appears as the faithful Christian and loyal patriot, a steadfast believer in the values of traditional society; yet on the other hand his protagonist is set in a world that no longer recognizes the purpose of heroic action and that has come to doubt the value of literature as a source of ethical instruction and cultural renewal” (The Subject of Modernity [Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992], pp. 72-73). For the parameters of romance see Northrop Frye, The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976); and Romance: Generic Transformation from Chrétien de Troyes to Cervantes, ed. Kevin Brownlee and Marina S. Brownlee.

  38. For the importance of claiming historical veracity, see Henry Ettinghausen, “The Illustrated Spanish News: Text and Image in the Seventeenth-Century Press,” in Art and Literature in Spain: 1600-1800. Studies in Honor of Nigel Glendinning, ed. Charles Davis and Paul Julian Smith (London: Tamesis, 1993), pp. 117-33.

    On the importance of projecting the appearance of truth see also John D. Lyons, “Belief and Representation in a Renaissance Novella,” in The Dialectics of Discovery: Essays on the Teaching and Interpretation of Literature Presented to Lawrence Harvey, ed. John D. Lyons and Nancy J. Vickers (Lexington, Ky.: French Forum, 1984), pp. 83-92; and William Nelson, Fact or Fiction? The Dilemma of the Renaissance Storyteller (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973).

  39. On the representation of lesbian desire in the early modern period see Valerie Traub, “The (In)Significance of ‘Lesbian’ Desire in Early Modern England,” in Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage, ed. Susan Zimmerman (New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 150-69.

  40. See the discussion of Mal presagio above, pp. 42-52.

  41. This behavior corroborates Goytisolo's observation that in Zayas “se ama lo que no se posee; una vez obtenido el ser amado, el amor, inevitablemente se desvanece” (Juan Goytisolo, “El mundo erótico de María de Zayas,” in Cuadernos de Ruedo Ibérico, 39-40 [1972], p. 73).

  42. In “La visión artística de María de Zayas,” (Estudios sobre el siglo de oro en homenaje a Raymond R. MacCurdy, ed. Alfred Rodríguez [Madrid: Cátedra, 1983], pp. 253-63), Patsy Boyer suggests that Aminta and other avenging females are punished for their male pattern vengeance by the incapacity to bear children.

  43. This story is a rewriting of Lope's Las fortunas de Diana, one of his four Novelas a Marcia Leonarda. See the comparative analysis of the two stories by Ricardo Senabre Sempere, “La fuente de una novela de doña María de Zayas,” Revista de filología española (1963): 163-72.

  44. As Marcel Bataillon observes: “[Cervantes] había descubierto veneros típicamente españoles de la novela corta: uno de ellos, el de la vida picaresca o apicarada contemplada con indulgente sonrisa (Rinconete, La ilustre fregona); otro, el de las aventuras de cristianos entre los turcos (El Cautivo del Quijote, El amante liberal” (“La desdicha por la honra: Génesis y sentido de una novela de Lope,” Nueva Revista de filología hispánica 1 [1947]: 16).

    La gran sultana and Los baños de Argel (two of Cervantes' Ocho comedias inéditas, published in 1614) further illustrate his enduring fascination with the novela morisca, as does the Quijote, part 1, chapter 5, where Don Quixote imagines himself to be the Abencerraje, and Dulcinea la hermosa Jarifa.

  45. Patsy Boyer, “Toward a Baroque Reading,” p. 55.

  46. “Era el príncipe de hasta veinte años, y de más de ser muy galán, tan noble de condición y tan agradable en las palabras, que por esto, y por ser muy valiente y dadivoso, era muy amado de todos sus vasallos. Era ansimismo tan aficionado a favorecer a los cristianos, que si sabía que alguno los maltrataba, los castigaba muy severamente” (386) [The prince was twenty, a very gallant, noble, and softspoken man. He was well loved by all his subjects because of these fine qualities and because of his courage and generosity. Xacimín also tended to favor Christians and, when he found out that they were being mistreated, he would punish them severely (284)].

  47. On the extreme presentation of the Moor in literature either as idealized or demonic Other, see Israel Burshatin, “The Moor in the Text: Metaphor, Emblem, and Silence,” Critical Inquiry 12 (1985): 98-118, and “The Docile Image: The Moor as a Figure of Force, Subservience, and Nobility in the Poema de Mio Cid,Romance Qurterly 31 (1984): 269-80.

  48. “María de Zayas y Sotomayor and Her Novela Cortesana,” p. 302.

  49. “Writing Women in Golden Age Spain,” p. 237.

  50. Valerie Traub, M. Lindsay Kaplan, and Dympna Callaghan, eds., Feminist Readings of Early Modern Culture (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press), p. 6.

  51. On the status quo of patriarchal rule, see A. Domínguez Ortiz, El antiguo régimen: Los reyes católicos y los Austrias (Madrid: Alianza, 1973), p. 195.

  52. Carol Neeley, “Constructing the Subject: Feminist Practice and the New Renaissance Discourses,” English Literary Studies 18 (1988): 13.

  53. George Mariscal, Contradictory Subjects: Quevedo, Cervantes, and Seventeenth-Century Spanish Culture (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 32-33.

  54. Jewels are a medium of both autonomy and attraction, as Amy Katz Kaminsky notes in her insightful study “Dress and Redress: Clothing in the Desengaños amorosos of María de Zayas y Sotomayor.”

Note to epigraph: Mikhail Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel” in The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), p. 15.


Primary Sources

Zayas y Sotomayor, María de. The Disenchantments of Love. Trans. H. Patsy Boyer. Binghamton: State University of New York Press, 1997.

———. The Enchantments of Love: Amorous and Exemplary Novels. Trans. H. Patsy Boyer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

———. Novelas completas. Ed. María Martínez del Portal. Barcelona: Bruguera, 1973.

———. Novelas amorosas y ejemplares. Ed. Pedro Esquer. Zaragoza: Mercadores del Libro, 1637.

———. Novelas amorosas y ejemplares and Desengaños amorosos. 2 vols. Agustín de Amezúa. Madrid: Aldus, 1948, 1950.

———. Novelas amorosas y ejemplares o “Decameron” español. Ed. Eduardo Rincón. Madrid: Alianza, 1980.

———. Parte segunda del sarao y entretenimiento honesto. Ed. Alicia Yllera. Madrid: Cátedra, 1983.

Secondary Sources

Beverley, John. “On the Concept of the Spanish Literary Baroque.” In Culture and Control in Counter-Reformation Spain. Ed. Anne J. Cruz and Mary Elizabeth Perry. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992, pp. 216-35.

Boyer, H. Patsy. “Toward a Baroque Reading of ‘El verdugo de su esposa.’” In María de Zayas: The Dynamics of Discourse. Ed. Amy R. Williamsen and Judith A. Whitenack. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995, pp. 52-71.

Brownlee, Kevin, and Marina S. Brownlee. Romance: Generic Transformation from Chrétien de Troyes to Cervantes. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1985.

Cascardi, Anthony J. “The Subject of Control.” In Culture and Control in Counter-Reformation Spain. Ed. Anne J. Cruz and Mary Elizabeth Perry. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992, pp. 231-54.

Elliott, J. H. Imperial Spain, 1469-1717. New York: New American Library, 1966.

Friedman, Edward H. The Antiheroine's Voice: Narrative Discourse and the Transformations of the Picaresque. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987.

Goytisolo, Juan. “El mundo erótico de María de Zayas.” Cuadernos de Ruedo Ibérico 39-40 (1972): pp. 63-115.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism. New York: Routledge, 1988.

Katz Kaminsky, Amy. “Dress and Redress: Clothing in the Desengaños amorosos of María de Zayas y Sotomayor.” Romanic Review 79 (1988): 377-91.

McKendrick, Melveena. Woman and Society in the Spanish Drama of the Golden Age. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1974.

Maravall, José Antonio. “From the Renaissance to the Baroque: The Diphasic Schema of a Social Crisis.” In Literature among Discourses. Ed. Wlad Godzich and Nicholas Spadaccini. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986, pp. 3-40.

Ordóñez, Elizabeth. “Woman and Her Text in the Works of María de Zayas and Ana Caro.” Revista de estudios hispánicos 19 (1985): 3-15.

Tomlinson, Janis A., and Marcia Welles. “Picturing the Picaresque: Lazarillo and Murillo's Four Figures on a Step.” In The Picaresque: Tradition and Displacement. Ed. Giancarlo Maiorino. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996, pp. 66-85.

Williamsen, Amy R. “Challenging the Code: Honor in María de Zayas.” In María de Zayas: The Dynamics of Discourse. Ed. Amy R. Williamsen and Judith A. Whitenack. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995, pp. 133-51.

Yolanda Gamboa (essay date 2000)

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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 time, Maria de Zayas. I propose that these constraints take effect thanks to the operation of certain social codes (which I call ‘discursive practices’), namely the discourse of Honour, the discourse of the Normative Woman, and the discourse of Enclosure into private spaces. I suggest that such gendercodes were (and still are today) expressed, maintained and transmitted by the church, the state and the family. However, I reveal that despite censorship, strategies for change are formulated, often by voices which are veiled by irony, voices like that of de Zayas, which lay bare the purposes of social codes used to confine and disempower women.

The parallels between the operation of these gender codes in seventeenth Spain and in contemporary South Africa are striking. The discourse of Honour is matched by the code of masculine strength and mastery so prevalent in traditional society, and both depend in large measure for their definition on the complementary code of feminine subservience and dependence, which is a part of the discourse of the Normative Woman. Evident in the institutions of both seventeenth Spain and contemporary South Africa (and indeed any patriarchy) is a set of prescriptions as to what is becoming for a woman, what her proper character and sanctioned behaviour are, and what the appropriate place for womanly activities is, viz., the home. The last discourse, that of Enclosure, has been extensively discussed in feminist theory in the form of the damaging and disempowering (to women) public/private dichotomy, gendered as public—masculine, private—feminine. Social codes regarding women are still maintained through church and state, and the family has gained new significance in this role via television and the media. There are thus lessons to be learned from early modern Spain, and applied in our present society.

The early modern world and particularly early modern Spain was a period of social transformation where the discursive practices of the Church and State competed for hegemony against dissenting voices. On the one hand, the Catholic Church, at this time involved in the process of Counter-Reformation, was reviving dogma and helping to spread it by means of educational religious literature. On the other hand, the early modern state, in its process of transformation, was modifying the concept of secular authority from that of absolute monarchy to one of monarchic-seigniorial alliance, enabling it to become stronger while gaining acceptance by a wider sector of the population.

Based on modern arguments regarding the architecture of gender, like those of Mark Wigley, and studies on the social discourses of the Renaissance, like the work of Peter Stallybrass, one could say that the means of achieving the social transformation required on both fronts was the encouragement of the ‘discourse of honour’ which relied heavily on the ‘Law of the Father’, on a ‘normative concept of Woman’, on the ‘generic division of space’, and also on ‘architecture’. Peter Stallybrass, commenting on the social practices of the Renaissance and aware that, in the Renaissance, the family was thought to be a microcosm of the State, and the house, the means of controlling what was regarded as ‘uncontrollable’ women's nature, has observed: ‘the normative Woman could become the emblem of the perfect and impermeable container, and hence a map of the integrity of the State’ (Stallybrass, 1986:129).

This apparently harmonic, hegemonic discourse had a number of fissures which were revealed, on occasion, by a few dissenting voices. At a time when censorship was strict, though, such voices are to be found often veiled by irony or by the language of the marginalized of the time.

One of these dissenting voices is that of Spanish seventeenth century woman writer Maria de Zayas who was a popular and prolific writer. Her two volumes each comprising 10 short novels (or ‘novellas’) within a frame narrative in the tradition of the Italian Decameron, namely, Novelas amorosas y ejemplares (Amorous and Exemplary Novels) and Desengaños amorosos (Amorous Deceits), were published in 1637 and 1647 respectively. And in general there is a significant difference between the two volumes: the short novels contained in the second volume, published ten years after the first, are richer, more complex, more modern, and more relevant for the situation of women in today's world. That is the volume 1 will more often address.


In a number of her short novels Zayas portrays heroines imprisoned in space. However, as Amy Williamsen (1991) has mentioned, there is a marked difference between the first volume, where ‘Zayas explores the comic possibilities of this architectural sign (being, the house)’ and the second volume, where she ‘portrays the house as an instrument of torture employed against women’ (ibid.:646). Examples of a space that contributes to women's torture abound. Among them are: the enclosure of women in a small room before raping or killing them; the creation of an artificial, unlivable entrapment to punish women; and last but not least, the creation of a fortress-like house which is yet unable to deny access to tragedy.

Both Marcia Welles (1978) and Elizabeth Ordóñez (1985) have suggested in their different ways that Zayas' preoccupation with enclosures anticipates Gilbert and Gubar's assertions regarding the 18th century Gothic Fiction: for Gilbert and Gubar ‘the house becomes a sign for the ‘architecture of patriarchy’ which represents the entrapment of women by male-dominated social institutions’ (Williamsen, 1991:646). Welles has concentrated on the grotesque aspects of Zayas' fiction whereas Ordóñez has alluded to the symbolic entrapment in male-dominated institutions. On the one hand, commenting on the grotesque aspects of Zayas' narrative, Welles notes a similarity between Zayas' techniques and those sought in the Gothic novel which she expresses in the following terms: ‘If at the aesthetic level the intent was the elevation of the spirit through amazement and terror, at the psychological level such chilling details, which prefigure the effects sought in the Gothic novel of the late eighteenth century, provided for the description of intense bodily sensations’ (1978:304). On the other hand, Ordóñez's concern that the lives of the characters in a female-authored text usually offer a commentary about the writer's own relationship with the text, has led her to affirm that ‘anxieties about spatial confinement may encode, then, anxieties about authorship in textual traditions similarly restrictive to women’ (1985:5).

However, in her stories, Zayas does more than note that the house is a sign of patriarchy. She goes on to reveal the fissures of the house, and consequently of the discourses that have constantly ‘housed’ women, and thus she questions the discursive practices of both Church and State. But before we get to her stories we shall have to observe how they relate to the discourses of her time, namely, to the honour code, the normative concept of ‘Woman’, the generic division of space and architecture.


The ‘honour code’ was a strict social code which regulated not only societal relationships but also the intimate relationships between men and women. According to Gustavo Correa (1958) honour was a twofold concept which included both a vertical and a horizontal dimension. The ‘vertical’ concept of honour implied a stratification of society and was inherent in the position of an individual on the social scale. The highest social classes were therefore the ones with the most honour even from birth. The ‘horizontal’ concept of honour, on the contrary, was based on the complex social relationships among the members of a given community and therefore used to rest on the opinion people had of a person. The horizontal concept of honour ended up representing fundamental values of Spanish culture. A man's value was directly related to his ‘manliness’ (‘hombŕia’) (ibid.:103). Signs of his manliness were his ability to get women, as well as the perpetuation of himself as husband and head of the household, which assured the integrity of the family.

What Correa is referring to here is none other than the ‘Law of the Father’ to which Wigley refers in the following terms: according to him the primary role of the house, and of architecture, is the control of woman's sexuality. Its role therefore ‘is to protect the father's genealogical claims by isolating women from other men. Reproduction is understood as reproduction of the father. The law of the house is undoubtedly no more than the law of the father. The physical house is the possibility of the patriarchal order that appears to be applied to it’ (Wigley, 1992:336).

However, necessary for the man's ‘manliness’ was the woman's ‘virtue’, ‘which refers to the purity and morality of her conduct’ (Correa, 1958:103; note that due to the unavailability of translations, all quotes in English from Correa, De León and Zayas are my own). Female virtue also assumes the ‘normative Woman’. The lack of virtue in a woman would threaten the integrity of the family in revealing the lack of manliness on the man's part. The same way a wife's conduct would attest the husband's lack of manliness, a daughter or a sister's conduct threatened to disintegrate the purity of the caste and the moral integrity of the family. Consequently, during the Renaissance, ‘the virtue of chastity was assured by the woman's being closed off, immured in her house, while the open door and the open mouth were taken to signify sexual incontinence’ (Scolnicov, 1994:7).

Given the prevalence of the ‘honour code’ in the community, a literary genre emerged, that of the ‘Wife-Murder Comedia’, a theme also found in narrative, although less often. The most popular exponent of this genre is sixteenth century dramatist Calderon de la Barca. His El médico de su honra (‘The doctor of his own honour’) portrays the husband, who suspects his wife of adultery, killing her by letting her bleed to death (sangría), a procedure often found in the literary works of the period. An example of a wife-murder story which presents a number of parallels with Calderon's play is also present among the short novels contained in Zayas' second volume, Desengaños. It is the third novel of the volume and is entitled El verdugo de su esposa (‘His wife's executioner’).

Another example of an honour story is Zayas' chilling eighth story, ‘El traidor contra su sangre’ (‘Traitor against his own blood’) where the heroine's brother, in their father's absence, takes more than the usual responsibility for his sister's honour. A brief summary is in order. The sister has a suitor of whom her father does not approve because, despite his money, his family is descended from the peasantry (this, by the way, illustrates ‘vertical’ honour, and alludes also to ‘horizontal honour’ or the possibility of transcending social class by merit in a mobile society). She continues seeing him, especially at night through the window, and hopes eventually to marry him. Her father and brother plan to send her to a convent in order to pay less dowry for her. The brother, especially, fears that if she were to marry, his inheritance would diminish. Consequently, when their father is away and having found that his sister keeps on seeing the gentleman, he takes her to a ‘retrete’, an isolated room within the house, stabs her to death, locks the room and escapes.

The action is excessive not only because wishing to marry does not involve offence on the sister's side, but because the brother acts in the father's absence and without his consent. The presence of the ‘retrete’, the room where the action is executed, which would later be known as a ‘closet’, associates with it the man's space since that room, initially no more than a writing desk where the man kept all family and crucial documents, according to Wigley (1992), was created as the first masculine private space: ‘The first truly private space was the man's study, a small locked room off his bedroom which no one else ever enters, an intellectual space beyond that of sexuality’ (1992:347). From a different perspective, though, it could be read as a statement of the brother's anger because the sister, in trying to arrange her own marriage, had transgressed her brother's power and therefore his space, in venturing into the public sphere. Moreover, locking her up in that room, when the lock and the key are symbolic in themselves (‘male control is expressed by the physical oppression of lock and key’—Scolnicov, 1994:69) means to ‘literally closet away the abject domain from the spatial representation of pure order’ (Wigley, 1992:344).


However, for the honour code to work discursively it had to rely on a normative concept of woman. The idea of the ‘Normative Woman’ was provided for sixteenth century Spain by its educational religious literature. I mentioned in my introduction the Church's reformative efforts at that time, but I will now be more specific.

Following the meeting of the Council of Trent, where the Catholic Church defined its dogma, the publication of religious books proliferated in Spain. This took place mainly during the sixteenth century, giving way to a proliferation of profane literature (Zayas among them) at the end of the sixteenth century and into the seventeenth. According to R.O. Jones, the Counter Reformation corresponded to the intent of reviving the traditional culture by a Church intent on moulding and directing such culture in all its aspects. The teachings of humanism were incorporated and education was considered vital for the task the Church had set itself (Jones, 1983:123). Representative authors of this tendency were: Pedro Malón de Chaide, whose Conversion of Mary Magdalene (1588) presented a moral alternative to the profane books written in his time; St. Theresa (1515-1582) whose religious books of a didactic nature explain the way of virtue and prayer by means of her own mystic visionary experiences; St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) who expresses personal mystical experiences in his poetry, and Fray Luis de León (1527-1591), whose book La perfecta casada, an educational manual for the married woman, deserves especial attention.

La perfecta casada (‘The perfect married woman’ and by extension ‘The perfect woman’) is, I believe, the best source of the concept of Normative Woman of the time. First published in 1583, it was intended as a biblical comment on the poem of Solomon and, on another level, inscribed within the tradition of Renaissance conduct books and specifically marriage books. It attempted to regulate all spheres of a (married) woman's life, indicating what the ‘perfect’ (understood as normative) woman at all times should be. The justifications for all the conclusions regarding women proposed in this book are undebatable; they are either examples taken from literature or the Bible as if they reflected reality, or they are premises sanctioned by reference to God, nature or ‘what is natural’. One of these ‘natural’ arguments is the explanation of the ‘Law of the Father’: ‘It is true that nature ordered men to marry not only so that their names and lineage be perpetuated in their descendants but also so that they themselves were preserved through them’ (de León, 1992:93).


The ‘Normative Woman’, says Stallybrass, is like Bakhtin's classical body: ‘her signs are the enclosed body, the closed mouth, the locked house’ (Stallybrass, 1986:127). Therefore it is not surprising that the discourse on this theme devotes attention to the three elements: body, mouth and house. I propose a comparison between La perfecta casada and Stallybrass' article regarding ‘the woman as body enclosed’. A contraposition of a few quotes relative to those three focal points of attention will reveal that De León's discourse follows the traditional arguments regarding women.

Linked to the idea of the ‘enclosed body’ is that of measure, a way of controlling the uncontrollable. It is derived, says Stallybrass, from ‘the assumption that woman's body, unlike the prince's, is naturally grotesque. It must be subjected to constant surveillance precisely because, as Bahktin says of the grotesque body, it is ‘unfinished, outgrows itself, transgresses its own limits’ (Stallybrass, 1986:126). De León constantly alludes to the fact that women are more frail and more prone to go astray. For instance, in the following passage, he believes work is the solution for them: ‘since woman is more inclined to pleasure and more easily softens and falls prey to idleness, then work is more convenient to her’ (ibid.: 125). On other occasions Fray Luis de León notes the inferiority of the woman and her need to behave accordingly: ‘woman's class, in comparison to her husband's, is humble, and measure and modesty are woman's natural talents’ (De León, 1992:176). Similarly, and quoting a Renaissance book of good conduct by William Whately, Stallybrass notes that woman's obedience is necessary, her duties being: ‘first to acknowledge her inferiority: the next to carry her selfe as inferior’ (Stallybrass, 1986:126).

Wigley also relates the origins of these arguments by mentioning the long-held ideas that the woman ‘on the outside’ is considered implicitly sexually mobile and more dangerously feminine; and that women lack internal self-control, internal boundaries and therefore ‘must be controlled by being bounded. Marriage, understood as the domestication of a wild animal, is instituted to effect this control. As the mechanism of, rather than simply the scene for, this control, the house is involved in the production of the gender division it appears to secure’ (Wigley, 1992:335-336).

The idea of the ‘closed mouth’ is represented in the constant insistence on the need for women to be silent. Again, De León justifies this on the basis of nature: ‘nature did not make the good and honest woman either for the study of the sciences or for difficult businesses but for one and only one simple and domestic business, thus it limited her understanding and, consequently her words and reasoning’ (De León, 1992:176). Stallybrass provides the reasons behind this statement: ‘Silence, the closed mouth, is made a sign of chastity. And silence and chastity are, in turn, homologous to women's enclosure within the house’ (Stallybrass, 1986:127).

‘The locked house’ is justified by De León as a divine mandate, saying that ‘the end for which God ordered the woman and gave her as company to the husband was so that she kept his house’ (De León, 1992:180). He also justifies woman's need to stay enclosed based on her nature, saying that God provided women with little strength so that they stayed in their corner (ibid.:181). He is very specific regarding the space allowed to women, which is tremendously limited, as will be clear from the following quote: ‘When telling the woman to go around her house he wants to show her the space where she should move her feet and, also the length of her steps, (which is to say, figuratively, the scope of her life) which should be restricted to her own house and neither the streets, nor the squares, nor the orchards, nor other people's homes’ (ibid.:180). The requirement that a woman be present at her house at all times, in all its corners, implies that the only task allocated to her is that of surveillance of the house, meaning not only the building but all the servants and inhabitants within it. Moreover, although De León wants the surveillance task to appear as her duty, the reality is, as Wigley notes, that ‘the house is literally understood as a mechanism for the domestication of (delicately minded and pathologically embodied) women’ (Wigley, 1992:332). In enclosure, the woman is the one exposed to surveillance mechanisms rather than the one effecting them.

Both the honour code and the normative concept of woman relied on a generic division of space where its monument, the house, as mentioned previously, would ensure ‘The Law of the Father’ and thus ‘the father's genealogical claims’(Wigley, 1992:336). ‘The generic division of space’ which separates by means of opposing terms, the house from the non-house and thus the private from the public, is at once ancestral and an ongoing phenomenon in Western culture, and its origins can be found in Hellenic culture. Hellenic culture associated the inside of the house with the quiet goddess Hestia (and therefore venerated it) and the outside entrance with the mobile God Hermes. According to Scolnicov (1994:6): ‘the structural division of space into the interior and the exterior of the house carries with it social and cultural implications. Gender roles are spatially defined in relation to the inside and the outside of this house’. However, according to Wigley ‘opposing male mobility in the exterior to female stasis in the interior […] at once naturalizes and spatializes gender’ (1992:334). Moreover, he claims that ‘the spaces literally produce the effect of gender, transforming the mental and physical character of those who occupy the wrong place’. Wigley's original thought consists in reversing the usual parallel between gender and architecture, proposing on the other hand that a different division of space could have produced a different gender, that is to say, that space is a product of gender as much as gender is a product of space.


Zayas who, like Wigley, also questioned the establishment, reveals, to put it metaphorically, the ‘fissures’ of the house and the discourses housed within it. On a number of occasions Zayas' stories illustrate the lack of security of the house, given the invasions effected on women by both outsiders and insiders. The security of the house walls is particularly questioned in the fifth and sixth stories of her second volume. In the fifth story, ‘La inocencia castigada’ (‘Innocence punished’) the protagonist, Inés, enchanted by a diabolic magician, leaves her house at night, unlocking it herself, in order to keep tryst with a man who is in love with her. In the sixth story, ‘Amar sólo por vencer’ (‘To love in order to win’), a man, dressed as a woman and pretending to be a maid, manages to enter the house and eventually win the favours of the youngest daughter, who decides to escape with him, only to be later abandoned.

These two occasions are testimony to the fact that, as Wigley suggests, space itself is insufficient since ‘boundaries are only established by the intersection between a walled space and a system of surveillance which monitors all the openings in the walls’ (1992:338). Moreover, aware that their surveillance mechanisms have failed, the male protagonists of both stories take drastic measures: in the fifth story, the protagonist's husband and sister-in-law devise a small chimney-type structure where the protagonist, by way of punishment, is made to live standing up for ten years until she is eventually rescued. In the sixth story the father, angry at his daughter's usurpation of his honour and ‘genealogical claims’ (Wigley, 1992:336) constructs a wall that falls on her head and instantly kills her. Having the wall, a symbol of the house's boundaries, fall on the head of the protagonist, which is the most important element of the body, constitutes a manifestation of anger which, ironically, takes the form of the failed surveillance mechanism. The father, thus, admits his failure and ‘the text seems to suggest that such extreme implementations of the honour code may lead to the erosion of the social structure itself’ (Williamsen, 1991:646).

The security offered by the house walls is even more questionable when invasions of women's space are caused by some of the insiders themselves and sometimes even by very close friends or relatives. The first and last stories, placed not surprisingly in the most significant positions of a volume, are a case in point. In the first story, ‘La esclava de su amante’ (‘Her lover's slave’), the respected son of a family who lives in the same house as that of the protagonist, makes her enter his room in order to rape her. The event is described in the following terms: the protagonist, Isabel, is walking towards the room of the gentleman's sister who is a very good friend of hers, in order to get dressed for a Carnival party. She never manages to reach that room though, because as she enters the corridor, the man, waiting at the door of his own bedroom, greets her and shortly after pushes her inside. The rest is left for the imagination of the reader, although its symbolic description, I believe, makes it clear: ‘He pushed me inside and locked the door with the key. I know not what happened to me since the shock deprived me of my senses in a deadly swoon’ (Zayas, 1983:137). The presence of the Carnival alludes to the masking of the public space, the space in which the private and subjective have no room (Wigley, 1992:377). The lock is itself symbolic of male oppression but also of the sexual act. Moreover, the fact that the event renders her speechless, given what we now know of rape cases, is very telling in itself.

The last story, ‘Estragos que causa el vicio’ (‘The ravages of vice’), is an exaggerated version of the ‘invasion by the insider’ theme. In this story, a man has built a fortress-type house where he keeps all his household members locked up (and they include his wife, his wife's sister and a number of both black and white servants). When the circumstances of his love life get out of control (he is emotionally involved with both sisters) his rage makes him kill all of the household members except the protagonist, who manages to escape to tell the story. Whereas such situations are crude in other stories, in this ‘house of horrors’, given its magnitude, the situation is ironic. It manifests that a woman is never safe from her lovers, brothers or other relatives, not even inside the supposedly secure structure of the house. It notes, as Wigley does, that ‘architecture is precisely not about the transparency it advertises’ (Wigley, 1992:379) and it certainly leaves the reader with the question of whom does the house protect.

I believe economic motives dictated the enclosure of women in seventeenth century Spain. An empire that had been decaying for two centuries, it required the presence of men in a variety of wars started against neighbouring European countries. A country progressively losing its male force required women permanently enclosed in the home for the procreation and raising of the men to be employed in the needed political enterprises. However, as Zayas's stories reveal, the discursive practices of the Church and State, given the insecurity of the house (and therefore of the discourses which housed it) proved insufficient. The family was unable to reproduce the mechanisms set in place for the modern state. One wonders if the surveillance methods did not function or if they were questionable from the start.


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De León, Fray Luis. 1992. La perfecta casada. (Ed. Javier San José Lera). 13th ed. Madrid: Espasa Calpe.

Jones, R. O. 1983. Siglo de Oro: Prosa y poeśia. Historia de la literatura española, vol.2. Barcelona: Ariel.

Ordóñez, E. 1985. ‘Woman and her Text in the Works of María de Zayas and Ana Caro’ in Revista de estudios hispánicos, 19, 1, 3-15.

Scolnicov, H. 1994. Women's Theatrical Space. Cambridge: Cambridge U P.

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Zayas, M. 1983. Desengaños amorosos. (Ed. Alicia Yllera). Madrid: Cátedra.

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

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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 in the period of the three carnivalesque days preceding Ash Wednesday, that is, in the “mundo al revés” [world upside-down] of disguises, crossdressing, and unexpected happenings, the Desengaños look forward both to a lenten period of mortification of the flesh and to the prospect of rebirth and resurrection. This cycle of carnival/lent/resurrection, and Zayas's contemporary society, gain admittance to the feminine space Zayas has demarcated for her aristocratic cast of female narrators. Both worlds—the ascetic and the patriarchal—provide a background relevant to the women's storytelling and, at times, a complex set of competing ideologies. The reason is that the cycle of carnival/lent/resurrection creates a sacred hiatus within the profane world of male/female relations in the Desengaños, effecting a space wherein the contemporary relations of power can be reversed and where discursive positions can be negotiated. Gender issues, so often highlighted in the Desengaños, then, must be understood in relation to contemporary symbolic orders of class, race, and religion.

Our model seeks to address the cultural context of Zayas's text without ignoring the complex and controversial issue of how Zayas's positioning of women relates her to contemporary debates on pornography and the sadomasochistic dynamic. The discursive practices of Zayas's society and of the class from whence she speaks are always already present in the production and the reception of her tales. The present essay contends that Zayas is appellated by these conservative discourses, that she makes them functional as sites of contestation and negotiation, and that, in at least one instance, that of the tradition of hagiography, they are used to enable her commentary. In this way she conceals the operations of power in the text.

Zayas conflates class and virtue, naturalizing in Mal presagio casar lejos (# 7) [Marriage Abroad: Portent of Doom], for example, “la hermosura y virtudes que se puede creer tendrían tan grandes señoras” (338) [“as beautiful and virtuous as you would imagine such great ladies to be” (243)]. She essentializes gender in Tarde llega el desengaño (#4) [Too Late Undeceived]: Filis the narrator reminds her audience of “el imperio que naturaleza les otorgó (a los hombres) en serlo” [“men enjoy all the powers nature has endowed on them as men” (140)], because “(e)llos nacieron con la libertad de hombres, y ellas con recato de mujeres” (228) [“Men are born with all the freedoms men enjoy, and women with all the modesty proper to women” (140)]. Women's stress on external beauty is explained as the cause rather than the effect of their powerlessness. If women “no se dieran tanto a la compostura afeminándose más que naturaleza las afeminó,” she has her narrator assert, “ya pudiera ser que pasaran en todo a los hombres” (228) [“if women didn't devote themselves to their appearance, making themselves more feminine than nature intended, … it might well be that they would excel men in every way” (140)] Tarde llega el desengaño (# 4). In El verdugo de su esposa [His Wife's Executioner], women are blamed for their ill repute with men because of “tantas libertades como el día de hoy (ellas) profesan” (200) [“all the freedoms we enjoy in this day and age”) (113)], and essentialized into good and bad women according to their adherence to or deviation from societally-sanctioned behavior. The Desengaños perpetuate dominant views of women as natural enemies, as monstrous tías [aunts], suegras [mothers-in-law], madrastras [stepmothers], and cuñadas [sisters-in-law]. They normalize patterns of sexual domination and naturalize images of men as perpetrators and women as victims.

The conservative discursive formations of Zayas's class also permeate the text's construction of an alterity crucial to the maintenance of dominant categories of race and nationalism. It is an alterity that is taken for granted by Zayas's aristocratic storytellers. In fact, according to Henry Lea, the occult arts that circulated everywhere in Spain at the time were always associated with Arabic authors (4:180). Consequently, moors are depicted as evil necromancers for whom all is possible because of the “apremios que hacen al demonio” (276) [“don't hesitate to press the devil into service” (186)] (La inocencia castigada (# 5)) and as dirty and lecherous: “en todas las tierras donde tienen trato tienen mujeres y hijos” (160) [“Wherever Moors have business, they keep wives and children” (75)] (La esclava de su amante (# 1) [Slave to Her Own Lover]. Xenophobia valorizes Spaniards over “treacherous” Flemings, Italians, Portuguese in Mal presagio casar lejos (# 7). Servants are consistently spoken of with disdain throughout the tales. Racist caricatures of the black slave in Tarde llega el desengaño (#4) become signifying practices (Kaminsky). And women in the Desengaños seem to be fetishized into mere systems of exchange. It little matters, for example, if it is Doña Inés, or the prostitute, or the zombie in La inocencia castigada (#5) [Innocence Punished] who becomes don Diego's possession, so long as he has access to her various simulacra. The same scenario prevails in the easy exchange of Lucrecia for Elena in Tarde llega el desengaño (#4), and of Camila for Octavia in La más infame venganza (# 2) [Most Infamous Revenge]. Juan “propuso quitarle el honor a Camila,” the narrator tells us in the latter tale, “como él (Carlos) se le había quitado a él (Juan) con Octavia” (190) [“Don Juan decided to ruin Carlos's honor through his wife Camila, the way Carlos had ruined his honor through Octavia” (104)]. Both white mistress and black slave become equally dispensable in Tarde llega el desengaño (# 4) as Elena's husband casually announces to the two guests: “antes que Elena acabe, la he de quitar a ella [la esclava negra] también la vida” (249) [“I intend to put her to death before Elena's life ends” (158)]. Social structures that validate class, nationalism, and race seem unchallenged in the conservative agenda Zayas espouses in the Desengaños.

The issue of sexuality, however, is problematized. Zayas's female characters are contextualized within truth categories that lay claim to their integrity, virtue, and endurance. Focus on the corporeal in the Desengaños acquires several meanings. At times, it gives way to an eroticism that suffuses the tales, at others to an objectification of the female body that is disquieting. To the latter issue we shall return shortly. The eroticism Zayas liberates in the tales is a subtle homeroticism that weakens the hegemonic centrism of heterosexuality in the service of a feminine communitas (Victor Turner). In the Desengaños, homoeroticism is used to foreground female bondings in La esclava de su amante (#1) as a sick and brokenhearted Lisis, discarded by Don Juan, recovers through the love of the disguised Isabel/Zulima: “Con esta hermosa mora se alegró tanto Lisis, que gozándose con sus habilidades y agrados, casi se olvidaba de la enfermedad …” (117) [“This beautiful slave so delighted Lisis that in the enjoyment of her talents and charms Lisis almost forgot about her illness” (36-37)]. In Amar sólo por vencer (#6) [Love for the Sake of Conquest], transvestism is made to function in this way. Esteban, disguised as a woman, loves Laurela. But Laurela's father also loves the disguised Esteban. When Esteban/Estefanía in the guise of a woman seduces Laurela, thereby effecting the latter's dishonor and death at her father's and her uncle's hands, the women—the servant, the mother, and the sisters—all bond in defense. Homoeroticism is not camouflaged in these tales. The disguised Isabel/Zulima in La esclava de su amante (# 1) spends her days and nights with Leonisa, a maiden in the house of her masters who: “me quería con tanto extremo, que (yo) comía y dormía con ella (Leonisa) en su misma cama” (154) [“loved me so much that I always ate with her and even slept in her bed” (68)]. In Mal presagio casar lejos (#7), doña Blanca and señora Marieta, “cobrándose las dos tanto amor, que si no era para dormir, no se dividía la una de la otra …” (350) [“and the two came to love each other so much that they were never apart except when they went to bed” (255)]. In Amar sólo por vencer (#6), Esteban disguised as Estefanía announces: “estoy tan enamorada (poco digo: tan perdida), que maldigo mi mala suerte en no haberme hecho hombre” (306) [“I was so enchanted [indeed, so madly in love] that I curse the fate that did not make me a man” (214)].

Homoeroticism is also made to foreground the marginalization/victimization of women. In Mal presagio casar lejos (#7), for example, Blanca witnesses her husband in bed with his young page. What becomes central in this scene is not the sexual act between men, but their contemptuous exclusion of the woman regardless of class. Although Blanca herself repudiates the act, she receives from the men so engaged no expression of shame. Instead the lovers, her prince-husband and her page-servant, are amused at the expression of shock on the face of the “Españoleta” (351) [“that ‘Spanish woman’” (256)], as they mockingly label her. The scene constitutes a literal demonstration of the “hom(m)o-sexuality” Luce Irigaray sees as endemic in patriarchal society, and the “benefits” Simone de Beauvoir objects to as normalized in oppressive societies. Irigaray points out that though western patriarchal/heterosexist society prohibits the practice of homosexuality, the reality of male bonding to the exclusion of women permeates the culture. As a result, “hom(m)o-sexuality is played out through the bodies of women, matter, or sign,” Irigaray explains, “and heterosexuality has been up to now just an alibi for the smooth workings of man's relations with himself, of relations among men” (172). Simone de Beauvoir, also theorizing male/female relations in western patriarchal society, does not focus on the exclusion of women, as Irigaray does, but on their denigration in a culture wherein “the most humble among them (men) is made to feel superior.” She adds, “thus a “poor white” in the South can console himself with the thought that he is not a “dirty nigger”—and the more prosperous whites cleverly exploit this pride. Similarly the most mediocre of males feels himself a demigod as compared with women” (51: emphasis hers). Ironically, Zayas's normalizing of masculinist clichés of male dominance often reify women into the object positions Irigaray and Beauvoir reject and that feminists decry as pornographic.

It is common knowledge that the discourse of violence, what José Antonio Maravall has aptly called “la estética de la crueldad” [the aesthetic of cruelty] permeates seventeenth-century texts, letters, and anecdotes (332-335). Still, because the violence in the Desengaños is allowed to be perpetrated primarily on women, by a female author, and in tales supposedly designated for a female audience, it is necessary to ask two questions: First: what position is the female audience within the text and the female reader of the Desengaños made to occupy? Second: is Zayas's objectification of her female characters in these scenes pornographic or is another dynamic at work in the production of meaning? Analyses of film and theater critics concerned with the process of viewer identification are helpful in this regard. In his discussion of cinematic viewing and the effect of strong images on the spectator, Christian Metz, followed by Laura Mulvey, warns that structures of signification in film (and we apply this to all “texts”) cannot be understood empirically, that spectators make meanings and that these meanings need to be analyzed and conceptualized. Metz mobilizes Lacanian theory in order to show how the “imaginary signifier” of the mirror image is actually reproduced in the images portrayed by offering “ego-ideals” to the audience, that is, images with which they often identify and in the process “misrecognize” themselves (Mulvey 18). Jill Dolan, in the form of query, raises a similar issue vis-á-vis Marsha Norman's images of women in ‘Night, mother. Dolan asks whether the literary simulation of violence to women—for whatever end—actually risks the danger of “misrecognition” for the female spectator. In Dolan's words: “If feminist … (works) are defined as those that show women in the painful, difficult process of becoming full human beings,” how can we then reconcile the inevitability of their torture/murder with a genuine “consideration of women?” (Dolan 336).2 Mary Ann Doane in her analysis of Hollywood melodrama of the 1940s (which includes the film noir, gothic or horror film (68)) also asks how female fantasies can be said to include the persecution and torture to which the female protagonists are systematically subjected in these generic scenes. She, however, attempts an answer and theorizes, citing Freud's essay “A Child is Being Beaten,” that such masochistic fantasies are not internalized by the female viewer but actually desexualized by her (77). “By de-eroticizing the gaze,” Doane explains, “these films in effect disembody their spectator—the cinema, a mirror of control to the man, reflects nothing for the woman, or rather, it denies the imaginary identification which, uniting body and identity, supports discursive mastery” (79).3

In the Desengaños, however, far from denying imaginative identification between the exemplum and its audience, it is made clear that: “nuestra intención no es de sólo divertir, sino de aconsejar a las mujeres” (200) [“Our intention is not simply to entertain but also to counsel women” (113)] (El verdugo de su esposa #3). Such scenes of violence enable Zayas's commentary. It is through them that her conservative repertoire of discursive practices become functional. They remind the reader of the limitations and pressures inherent in the culture and class from whence she speaks and of Zayas's creative efforts, despite these cultural limitations, to have her narrators speak with a woman's voice. In this way they demonstrate how culture impinges on identity and how identity becomes inscribed through the cultural codes available at given historical moments. In other words, Zayas's negotiation for meaning, given the discursive formation available to her, contributes to the understanding of historical agency by providing insight into the scope of creativity and constraint in social action.

We will focus now on how Zayas deconstructs the discourse through which violence to women is spoken and reconstructs it in a way that masks the control over meaning at stake in her tales. In his analysis of the effectiveness of societal norms in the social formation of subjects, Raymond Williams provides insights helpful to this discussion. He reminds us that ideologies never enjoy total hegemony, that dynamic interrelations always vie, in practice, with dominant norms. These interrelations he describes as twofold: “residual” elements which, though formed in the past, still constitute “an effective element of the present” (122) and “emergent” ones by which “new meanings and values, new practices, new relationships and kinds of relationship are continually being created” (123). Zayas's deconstruction of the discourse of violence in the Desengaños is best understood in reference to these categories.

Zayas deliberately avoids the danger of perpetuating violence to women in two ways: the Boccaccian frame of the tale is first redeployed in order to have each narrator explicitly condemn the violence about to be depicted. After its depiction it is made to create spaces of discussion wherein the narrated violence is distanced from the corporeal and subjected to evaluation and judgment. Second, Zayas renders the scenes of violence graphic and abhorrent and disengages them from the area of the profane, re-situating them within the sacred. Her representations thus become allied to the “holy masochism” of the imitatio Christi. We must keep in mind, as Kaja Silverman reminds us, that all masochism is as much a “product of the existing symbolic order as a reaction against it” (1988, 62). It is the conservative hagiographic tradition of her society that enables Zayas deftly to move the Desengaños from a reflection model of storytelling to a mediation model. That is, instead of being a narrative in which the cultural production of violence is represented, each tale becomes one in which Zayas makes violence meaningful. Cruelty and violence to women are thereby displaced within a discourse where they can be mastered, controlled, and directed. The discourse of hagiography becomes a potent factor in wresting authority from the controlling voices of Zayas's patriarchal society and in revalorizing dominant formations, thereby concealing the operations of power at play in the Desengaños.

The misogynistic and masculinist clichés we have described are redeployed to produce new meaning as traditional psychomachia within the vita sancti. The cliché of good/bad women (the Madonna/Whore binarism) is a telling example. Through a mechanism of splitting and doubling, the half sisters Florentina and Magdalena in Estragos que causa el vicio (#10) [The Ravages of Vice], are positioned in this way. The lustful Florentina succumbs to a “deshonesto apetito” (498) [“lascivious appetites” (394)] which results in the innocent Magdalena's dying in her “puro y casto lecho” (496) [“pure, chaste bed” (392)]. In a similar manner, the honest Doña Inés in La inocencia castigada (#5) is split into her surrogate, the prostitute doña Inés (271) who dons the outfit usually worn by Doña Inés, and into her diabolical simulacrum who, except for size, is her identical copy. In each case the “evil” woman is made to win. In this dominant order of masculinist clichés, another once dominant tradition serves as residual contestation, constituting “an effective element of the present” (Williams 122). The “good” woman's experiences become reinscribed within the Christian narrative of martyrdom (“martyr”: from “bearing witness”), making her superior in this life and guaranteeing spiritual victory in the next.4 On both the diegetic and the mimetic levels, the women's suffering is pinpointed as redounding to their immortal glory. We are told that Elena's “dilatado martirio” (255) (“tortured martyrdom” [164]) in Tarde llega el desengaño (#4), Camila's “martirios” (195) (“martyrdom” [108]) in La más infame venganza (#2), Doña Inés's torment in La inocencia castigada (#5), Roseleta's and Elena's sufferings in El verdugo de su esposa (#3) and in Tarde llega el desengaño (#4) all attest to their immortal glory. Of each woman's torment, the narrator tells us, it is heaven that has ordained it: “para darle [a ella] en el cielo el premio de ellos” [sus sufrimientos]” (195) (“so that she could receive her reward in heaven” [108] [La más infame venganza (#2)]; “a Roseleta le había dado Dios el cielo padeciendo aquel martirio, porque la debió de hallar en tiempo de merecerle” (223) [“God had rewarded Roseleta's martyrdom with heavenly glory because she was worthy” (136)] (El verdugo de su esposa [#3]); “ya que había dado … el premio a Elena de tanto padecer” (250) [“rewarded Elena for her terrible suffering” (159)] (Tarde llega el desengaño [#4]); “para meríto suyo” (283) [“because of her own merit” (193)] (La inocencia castigada [#5]). We see them become like angels in death and granted incorruptibility—the ultimate victory over partition and death (Mal presagio casar lejos (#7), 365 [269]; El traidor contra su sangre (#8) [Traitor to His Own Blood], 398 (299).

The masculinist positioning of woman as spectacle is also redeployed in the interest of Zayas's own hagiographic formation—this time of classist hegemony. Consequently, the sartorial is conflated with privilege in the most supernatural of representations. In La perseguida triunfante (#9) [Triumph Over Persecution], for example, when Beatriz is represented as the queen or when she is favored by the Virgin Mary, she is transformed into a sumptuously dressed woman. Her aristocratic importance and her privileged status are foregrounded. This overdetermined emphasis on appearance forms a signifying practice within the conventional hagiographic tradition. In the early Middle Ages, Augustine had explicitly preached the maintenance of earthly rank and hierarchy for the blessed in heaven (Bynum 1995, 100 n.153). So had Jerome. Referencing Elizabeth Clark's studies, Caroline Walker Bynum reminds us of Jerome's conviction that both gender inequality and social hierarchy persist for the blessed (1995, 91). The conviction was popularly materialized in many iconographical representations of the resurrected body. A telling example is the Judgment scene on the central tympanum of the west portal of Saint Stephen's Church at Bourges (ca. 1240). Among the souls rising from the dead, gender and social hierarchy are clearly marked (Bynum 1995, Plate 33). In Zayas's own century the same class-marked portrayals can be found in Zurbarán's portraits of saints in sumptuous clothes: “Aquella vestimenta,” José Antonio Maravall points out in his discussion of Zurbarán's portraits, “alude al rango de las santas en lo espiritual, pero a la vez confirma el rango espiritual que en el régimen vigente se pretende que se siga reconociendo a la aristocracia” (300) [That apparel alludes to the spiritual rank of the saints, but at the same time it confirms the spiritual rank that the current regime wants to continue associating with the aristocracy].5 Zayas simply perpetuates the signifying practice to enable her meaning.

Within the cycle of carnival/lent/resurrection in the Desengaños, carnivalesque elements of disguise, masks, crossdressing and homoerotic genderbending foreground the tales' symbols as polysemic and the concept of gender as performance. The audience within the text, and the reader outside the text, are thereby conditioned to expect the unexpected. The polysemy of symbols gives women ultimate victory and agency in everyday reality as well as sub specie aeternitatis. It makes possible the reversal of gendered relations of power and of dominant matrices causing a “gender trouble” that mobilizes “subversive confusion and proliferation of those constitutive categories that [have sought] to keep gender in its place” (Butler 33-34). In La esclava de su amante (#1), for example, a disguised Isabel, preparing herself for the Mardi Gras festivities, is raped by Manuel (137) [52], but it is in disguise as a Moorish slave that Isabel avenges herself and regains her honor. In La más infame venganza (#2), Octavia's use of make-believe foils the plan of the duplicitous Carlos, and the narrator approvingly comments: “si todas vengaran las ofensas que reciben, como Octavia hizo, no hubiera tantas burladas y ofendidas” (189) [“if all women avenged the offenses done to them as Octavia in this case, there wouldn't be so many women who get seduced and end up aggrieved” (102)]. They make possible the reversal of past relations in the masquerade of power through which the black slave governs the white mistress in Tarde llega el desengaño (#4). They raise the natural world to a supernatural order in La perseguida triunfante (#9), as the victimized Beatriz in disguise transforms the evil acts of her brother-in-law and his demonic assistant into good. In this instance, it is the Virgin Mary who makes her unrecognizable. Carnivalesque elements, then, are made to de-naturalize the signifying practices of Zayas's society precipitating a deliberate “crisis of categories” (Garber), and to blur profane and sacred levels thereby supernaturalizing these same practices. As a result Zayas creates genuine “metaphoric space(s)” of possibility (Garber 17) and “space(s) of contradiction” whereby issues important to Zayas and to her female narrators can “destabilize and finally alter the meaning of (conventional) … representations” (de Lauretis 7).

We return now to Zayas's propensity to objectify the female body. Zayas's women are maimed, raped, strangled, bled to death, primarily by men and in scenes where men observe their denigration. As we have suggested, this objectification of the female body to the voyeuristic gaze has often been equated with pornography. No scopophilic pleasure, however, is allowed in the scenes' imaginary identification. In the few instances of voyeurism staged, visibly absent is the obsessive desire to look. The reason is that the intense anxiety the denigration elicits is not associated with sexual orgasm but with pathos and sympathetic identification, and the focus on the female body, and “voyeuristic” response to that body, is inscribed with different cultural meanings. But even though Zayas's scenes of violence are devoid of titillation or calculated eroticism, the problem of analogy with pornography cannot be dismissed so readily.

Manipulated, passive, inert, semi-naked (Tarde llega el desengaño (#4), La inocencia castigada (#5), women's bodies become objectified signs of otherness in Zayas's tales. The repulsiveness of the portrayal may distance it from sexual arousal, but its objectification approximates it to how images mean in pornography.6 Anti-pornography ordinances, especially those adopted in Minneapolis and in Indianapolis, downplay sex, in fact, and foreground the denigration of women as the central issue in pornography. In the controversial “Dworkin-MacKinnon Antipornography Civil Rights Ordinance” (Minneapolis), for example, pornography is defined as the enacting of scenes in which “women are presented in scenarios of degradation, injury, abasement, torture, shown as filthy or inferior, bleeding, bruised, or hurt in a context that makes these conditions sexual” (qtd. Bornstein 18). With the exception of the word “sexual” these descriptions fit Zayas's images of women.

In his analysis of the affinities hagiographic representations have with pornographic ones, Daniel Bornstein emphasizes their sharing a similar narrative problem and adopting a similar strategy. The creators of both representations need to recount stories that are inherently implausible. For the pornographer, it means constructing an impossible world “in which all women are instantly available and all men are perpetually erect” (21). Similarly distanced from everyday reality are the miracles of walking-deads, supernatural voices, and incorruptible bodies found in Zayas's tales and in the hagiographic tradition. Sharing a similar narrative problem, hagiographer and pornographer resort to a similar strategy by presenting their material with deliberate artlessness and ingenuousness. In this way, they reinforce their claim that “things are what they are; what is being depicted is plain reality” (Bornstein 22). Zayas's tales abound in such contrived reportorial ingenuousness, often referred to by critics as her penchant for realism. Her narrators are coy about naming cities or surnames lest they be recognized (La inocencia castigada [#5], La esclava de su amante [#1]), or disclosing contents of letters because they have no access to such intimate information [La más infame venganza (#2)]. The very awkwardness in reporting proves that the narrators are not omniscient. They are simply reporting on life as it is. If we are to contend, and we do, that the analogy between Zayas's scenarios and pornography is only superficial despite such similarites, our contention warrants more careful elaboration.

In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Freud naturalizes male sadism by asserting that “the sexuality of most male human beings contains an element of aggressiveness—a desire to subjugate” (157). He distinguishes, however, among three forms of masochism: erotogenic, feminine, and moral, and makes erotogenic masochism (defined as “pleasure in pain”) the basis for both feminine and moral masochism. Feminine masochism Freud associates with “feminized” rather than exclusively “female” fantasies of being bound and beaten, and moral masochism with the guilty ego's need to be punished by virtue of its transgressive Oedipal desire. In “The Economic Problem of Masochism,” Freud situates “true” masochism within a Christian framework asserting that the “true” masochist is one who “always turns his cheek whenever he has a chance of receiving a blow.” (165)

In Masochism in Sex and Society and in Masochism in Modern Man, Theodor Reik develops Freud's views on masochism and characterizes three elements essential to it: the place of phantasy that replaces material satisfaction by the pleasure anticipated in imagination, its correlate—the element of suspense entailed in the prolongation of delayed gratification—and exhibitionism or masochism's “demonstrative feature,” which for Reik is as essential to sexual masochism as it is to what he calls the “sublimated form of masochistic feeling” “… in no case of masochism can the fact be overlooked that the suffering, discomfort, humiliation and disgrace are being shown and so to speak put on display … One feels induced to assume a constant connection between masochism and exhibitionism” (Reik 1962, 72). Part of the fantasy that substitutes material satisfaction for anticipated pleasure Reik sees as the desire for reward that lies at the heart of masochism, albeit as an unconscious project (1941, 352-359). In applying these characteristics of masochism in sexual instances to Christian masochism, Reik makes modifications that are essential to our argument. He reminds us that the Christian masochist's “fantasy” is of course the figure of the bleeding, suffering, crucified Christ, that the suspense is in the service of imitatio Christi, that is, present torment anticipates the joy of sitting at the right hand of the Father. The emphasis on graphic corporeal suffering, the “exhibitionism” characteristic of masochism, is also necessary. Such scenes are edificatory and fellow Christians are strengthened through such exempla. Reik does not hesitate to remind us, however, that masochism constitutes a strategy, that victims are also victors (1941, 348). Christ's “rebellious daring” and his resistance to the values of his contemporary society were purposeful—to bring forth a new cultural order. His actions were “not meant to display a dying ember, but to kindle a new flame from the ashes” (1941, 344, 346). Kaja Silverman, like Reik, also focuses on the “strong heterocosmic impulse” of the Christian masochist “to forge a different cultural order” (1992, 198). She goes further than Freud and Reik, however, and asserts that the Christian emphasis on suffering and endurance actually “redefines the paternal legacy,” that if the exemplary model the Christian masochist seeks is the suffering Christ, then “[i]nsofar as such an identification implies the complete and utter negation of all phallic values, Christian masochism has radically emasculating implications, and is in its purest forms intrinsically incompatible with the pretensions of masculinity” (1992, 198). This, we submit, is the residual discursive formation that Zayas uses to conceal the operations of power in her tales.

To summarize: the ingenious way in which Zayas makes the conservative discursive formations of the vita sancti vie for mastery over those of her patriarchal society is processual. She reifies the women into religious metaphors. She revalorizes traditional meanings by making symbols polysemic, reinscribes misogynistic formations with new meaning, and disengages the tales from the arena of the profane in order to situate them within the sacred.7 A brief comparison between Zayas's tales and selected male-authored texts should be illuminating in this regard.

When a text like the Desengaños is held beside texts like Calderón's El médico de su honra [The Surgeon of His Honor] and El pintor de su deshonra [The Painter of His Dishonor] and Lope's El castigo sin venganza [Punishment Without Revenge], thrown into relief is a patriarchal history of literary selection that conceals its ideological background of cultural power by aestheticizing the representation of violence to women. The societal honor code is the same in both male- and female-authored texts. That is, the discursive formations, based on a “reasoning” process of self-justification, motivates the “righteous slaughter” (Katz ch. 1) of a wife who has transgressed the norms of society's most powerful institutions—the state and the church. What the honor code does not explain or stipulate, however, is how the killing is to be accomplished. Put very simply, it gives us the why, but not the how. Zayas fills in the lacuna in two ways. She foregrounds the bodily reality of violence to women, and makes of violence a signifying practice within the carnival/lent/resurrection cycle that frames the Desengaños. As a result, violence is made both abhorrent and instructive.

In El médico de su honra,8 Doña Mencía's death is stylized. She is first described as an “estatua viva” [living statue] after she has fainted (3.413), and then as a funerary statue lying in state, with candles on either side of her body and a crucifix in front of her (3.527-34). In a subsequent discovery scene she appears dead in her bed (3.823-24). The only sign that she is human rather than mineral is her blood, but even this is petrified and turned into art, metaphorized into the aristocratic escutcheon of honor the bloodied handprint on the door is meant to signify (3.885-90). In El pintor de su deshonra,9 a similar aesthetic distancing characterizes the death scene. The aggrieved husband Don Juan, an accomplished painter, is commissioned to do a portrait of his wife Serafina. Compelled to kill her and her abductor, he explains the scene in terms of a portrait effected in blood (“que / pinté con su rojo esmalte” (which I painted with its red enamel) [3.1017-18]). In Lope's El castigo sin venganza,10 although theater rather than the visual or plastic arts provides the artistic inscription of the death scene, the same aestheticizing of violence is effected. The Duke of Ferrara, whose wife and illegitimate son have become lovers in his absence, writes, stages and directs a play of “righteous slaughter” of the unfaithful wife. The Duke commands his son to slay the bound and covered figure of an alleged traitor, actually his young stepmother and lover. The Duke watches the crime from the doorway (3.2951-53) and subsequently denounces his son as the murderer. The death of the woman is accomplished at a distance, the Duke's own hands are not bloodied, and the deed is enacted in Calderón's and Lope's plays with a coldness, mastery, and precise beauty that succeeds in “killing them into art” (Hart 3).11 The victims become abstract entities, spectacles viewed through the frame of a door or window. The husbands/executioners, in turn, become spectators of victims they do not touch even at the moment of death, and whose death always occurs off-stage.

Zayas re-appropriates the tradition effecting three important variations. First, there is no controlling gaze in Zayas's scenes. Instead a range of possibilities is offered to the spectator/reader, in which the meaning produced by the violence is prioritized. Second, contextualized within the sacred tradition of the vita sancti, and devoid of the coldness and mastery of Calderón's and Lope's stagings, Zayas's graphic scenes elicit pathos and effect communitas among the audience, the reader, and the suffering women. Third, Zayas's redeployment of the conventional voyeuristic identification of spectator and object in such scenes foregrounds the women's subjectivity rather than their object position.

Zayas adopts the Calderonian topos of blood-letting a “guilty” wife in two of her tales—El verdugo de su esposa (#3) [His Wife's Executioner] and Mal presagio casar lejos (#7). A quite different scenario, however, emerges in these tales from the Calderonian representation: the saintly transformation of the martyred body familiar in the hagiographic tradition. The women are sanctified by suffering. The dead body of Roseleta in El verdugo de su esposa (#3), for example, is made to acquire supernatural beauty: “la más bella cosa que los ojos humanos habían visto,” (221) [“the loveliest sight human eyes have ever seen” (134)] the narrator tells us. In Mal presagio casar lejos (#7), the main protagonist, Doña Blanca, is bled to death. Similar to the death scene in El médico de su honra, the staging is more elaborate and purposeful. Both husband and father-in-law are present in the room, as is the husband's homosexual lover. Her exposed face, compared to a “deshojada azucena” (363) [“stripped lily (267)] suffuses the scene with pathos. Even the aggrieved husband is moved to tears before her imminent death. The sacrificial ritual is made clear in the metaphor of the victim as an alter Christus, an “inocente corderilla” (363) [“innocent lamb” (267)], by the silver bowls in which her innocent blood is poured, and by the fact that her body is miraculously preserved months after her death, remaining “tan lindo como si entonces acabara de morir (señal de la gloria que goza el alma)” (365) [“She was as lovely as at the moment of her death [a sign that her soul enjoyed heavenly bliss]” (269)]. Zayas deftly produces her own meaning in this scene of violence, locating redemption precisely “where ultimate horror (had) reside(d)—in pain, mutilation, death, and decay” (Bynum 1995, 343). The vitae abound with such exempla. In his Life of Macrina, Gregory of Nyssa describes his saintly sister as being so beautiful in death that she becomes “a memorial of the divine intervention.” Throughout the middle ages, theologians took for granted the conviction that the bodies of ascetics and of those who had endured suffering would reflect, as does Blanca's (#7), the beauty and goodness of their souls in death (Bynum 1995, 86, 222). In fact, the incorruptibility of a saint after burial, especially a woman, was an important miracle for proving sancity (Thurston 246-52).

The second way in which Zayas's tales differ from the aestheticizing penchant of Calderón's and Lope's scenes of violence is in her graphic descriptions. Kitsch-like aestheticizing penchants give way to dreadful scenes of bodily partition and mutilation. In Mal presagio casar lejos (#7), all of the four recently-orphaned sisters in the tale suffer terrible fates. When the blameless oldest sister is stabbed by her husband, her terrified younger sister leaps from a window and breaks both her legs, remaining bedridden for her few remaining years. The husband of another sister, Leonor, enters her private chamber while she is washing her hair, with it ties a knot around her neck, and drowns her. Doña Blanca is slowly bled to death. In Tarde llega el desengaño (#4), startled visitors watch as a beautiful, though very thin woman enters from a small doorway, fit for dogs. Her hair (golden), skin (fair), and clothing (rough sackcloth) are described as she crawls under the dining table, carrying a skull in her hands. Bones and scraps are tossed to her, “que aun para los perros no eran buenos” (237) [“not fit even for a dog” (147)], and so starved is she that “los roía como si fuera uno de ellos” (237) [“she gnawed at them as if she were a dog” (147)]. The blameless victim is kept in a cubicle in which she cannot stand, and sleeps on straw (249) (158). She dies after hearing her husband tell strangers that her protracted death is deliberate, “porque una muerte breve es pequeño castigo para quien hizo tal maldad” (249) [“because a quick death is small punishment for one who committed such a crime” (158)]. In La inocencia castigada (#5), Doña Inés, immured at 24 years of age by her sadist jailers in a space too small even for her to sit, emerges at age 30. Standing in the stench of her own excrement, her hair crawling with vermin, and blind as a result of her ordeal, she is described as decaying in life: “que de los excrementos de su cuerpo, como no tenía dónde echarlos, no sólo se habían consumido, mas la propia carne comida hasta los muslos de llagas y gusanos, de que estaba lleno el hediondo lugar” (287) [“because her body wastes, which she couldn't dispose of, had consumed the flesh of her legs up to her thighs which were covered with sores and worms that swarmed in that gross place” (196)]. As abhorrent as these protracted deaths appear in the profane order of things, Zayas renders them significant within a sacred perspective. The women are martyrs, and it is precisely as a result of their “dilatado martirio” (255) [“tortured martyrdom” (164)] that they become like angels in death. Unlike the distancing optic of the male authors, the focus for Zayas's hagiographic discourse as for the pornographic discourse is at close range on a female body that is debased and tortured, whose boundaries are not closed but spewing forth tears, blood, excrement, and pus. Instead of presenting an aestheticized and artificial body, Zayas presents what Elin Diamond calls an “orificial” one, wholly open in its suffering and pain (264).12 No longer mystified, it becomes mystical in imitatio Christi.

It is necessary to emphasize that we are dealing with different cultural meanings of the body and of bodily humiliation when we compare corporeal portrayals in seventeenth-century texts and texts of our own twentieth century. This is especially apt in two ways relevant to Zayas's tales. First: the correlation of pornography with the infliction of bodily pain in the Dworkin-MacKinnon ordinance is a phenomenon that is fairly recent. It dates to the eighteenth century. To cite Karen Halttunen, “the traditional social policy of pain was yielding to modern pornography of pain, the social theater of public punishment gave way to a solitary fantasy theater, which staged private, interior scenarios of cruelty; legitimate spectatorship was replaced by furtive voyeurism” (334). Second: the hagiographic tradition which Zayas reappropriates has always been articultated in corporeal terms since the sine que non of its representations is imitation of the bleeding, lacerated, pierced body of the crucified Christ.

The third way in which Zayas reverses the generic tradition of male-authored texts is in the specular economy of her scenes. It is common knowledge that voyeurism, coded as a male activity, has been associated with aggression within western culture. Zayas redeploys the convention making the female usurp the traditionally-male position, and changing the voyeuristic identification from a sadistic to a masochistic one. It is, in fact, in the subject positioning of the derivative scenes that the difference between the Desengaños and the male-authored texts of Calderón and Lope becomes most significant.

Voyeuristic identification gives way, instead, to sympathetic identification—pathos replaces eros—and the objectification of women gives way to the presentation of woman's subjectivity, emphasizing her fears, pain, and helplessness, and her superior courage of endurance. In other words, the women enacting these spectacles become exempla. Three scenes in Mal presagio casar lejos (#7) are indicative in this regard. Zayas first positions the female audience of the tale within the Desengaños as participant observers of Blanca's innocent sister-in-law's murder. They “hear” ominous sounds before they “see” the staged murder of the sister-in-law, Marieta. The narrator first has the fictional audience participate acoustically: “se oyó por un espacio llorar a la señora Marieta,” then visually: “Y fue que, a lo que después se vio, tenían atado al espaldar de una silla un palo, y haciéndola sentar en ella, su propio marido, delante de su padre, la dio garrote” (356) [“for a long time Lady Marieta was heard weeping … What must have happened, from what people could tell later, was they'd rigged a stake to the back of a chair, then they made Lady Marieta sit down and her own husband, in the presence of her father, garroted her” (261)]. She then positions Doña Blanca as the spectator of what the audience has just seen. As a result “como vio [Blanca] el triste cadáver [de Marieta] diciendo, ‘¡Jesús sea conmigo!’, cayó de un mortal desmayo” (357) [“When doña Blanca beheld the sad cadaver, she cried out ‘God help me!’ and fell into a mortal swoon” (262)]. A female solidarity is immediately effected among the victimized Marieta, the terrified Blanca, the sympathetic fictional female audience, and the female reader.

A more complicated staging is enacted in the second scene. The ill-fated and neglected wife Doña Blanca secretly penetrates locked, private quarters and gazes upon her husband and his homosexual partner/page engaged in “deleites tan torpes y abominables, que es bajeza no sólo decirlo, mas pensarlo” (360) [“in such gross and abominable pleasures that it's obscene to think it, let alone say it” (265)]. In the third scene, it is not Blanca but Doña María, Blanca's maid-in-waiting, who gazes helplessly through a keyhole as her beloved mistress is being bled to death: “por el hueco de la llave, miraba [Doña María], en lágrimas bañada, tan triste espectáculo” [“watched the sad spectacle through the keyhole” (267)]—Blanca “sacrificada en el rigor de tan crueles enemigos” (363) [“sacrificed to the cruelty of such harsh enemies” (267)].

In these three scenes, sadism and masculinity are made subordinate to the suffering of the onlooking women. The helpless Blanca watches her beloved Marieta betrayed by a husband and father who have put her to death, and her (Blanca's) own betrayal in the homosexual relationship between her beloved husband and the servant. In turn, Doña María, Blanca's maid-in-waiting, must also watch the betrayal of her beloved mistress who is bled to death in the presence of her husband, her father-in-law, and the servant/page. Such triadic relationships and situations can certainly be said to replay primal-scene scenarios (which to the child constitute a violent assault upon the woman and which have been related to a sado-masochistic sexual orientation (Arlow 519-21). Doña Blanca is, in fact, made to replay some of the typical psychological reactions of the child in the primal scene—a deep sense of betrayal, rejection, mortification, and a determination to wreak revenge sexual attention and at the same time is her servant. In her rage, Blanca “mandó sacar la cama al patio y quemarla” (361) [“ordered them to carry the bed into the courtyard and set it aflame” (266)], and when asked by the page why she was doing something so outrageous, responds aggressively that “la causa era su gusto” (361) [“it was her pleasure” (266)]. The effect of the fire, however, also constitutes a signifying practice within the hagiographic tradition. At one level the fire is cleansing. As in the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah, it is also appropriate to the culturally determined sin of homosexuality. Fire is associated with the symbolic nexus of passion and sexuality. Doña Blanca's need for revenge includes the extinction of the bed, an act sanctioned by Catholic morality as the traditional locus of sexual passion, be it homosexual or heterosexual.

What is significant is the deftness with which Zayas uses the most conservative of discursive formations, hagiography, in order to move the Desengaños from a reflection model of storytelling to a mediation model that contests the dominant meanings of her honor code society. The aggression normally associated with gaze theory is displaced in Zayas's tales and appears elsewhere. To cite Kaja Silverman in another context, the aggression in this scene from Mal presagio casar lejos (#7) does not lie with the voyeuristic sadist but is instead “concentrated in the figure of the punishing father-surrogate. Like the child in the primal scene, the shadowy onlooker [in the Desengaños it is the fictional female audience, Blanca, and María] is more mastered than mastering” (Silverman 50). Through hagiography, then, Zayas has displaced the effect of violence from eros to pathos in order to bring about a sympathetic female communitas—a bonding among the victimized women, the fictional audience, and the female reader—thereby reversing the relationships of power in the sado-masochistic dynamic.

Contemporary theorists of everyday masochism also emphasize the psychological power with which Zayas endows the masochist's position. The sociologist Lynn Chancer, for example, contends that “just as the sadist's best-kept secret from self and other is extreme dependency hidden behind a front of apparent independence and strength, the masochist's analogous secret is far greater relative strength and independence … hidden behind a front of apparent and extreme dependency” (59). Chancer theorizes that the sadomasochistic dynamic originates in the effort “to exert control from a powerless position” (59). In Masochism in Sex and Society, Theodor Reik had been even more forceful. Speaking of the Christian masochist, he says that “the lambskin he wears hides a wolf” (qtd. Silverman 44).

It is interesting to note that, totally distancing himself from the psychoanalytic context, the cultural historian Michel de Certeau uses similar terminology in his narrative of power relations in society. Certeau distinguishes two positionalities in everyday life. He associates “strategies” with the postulation of power and power relationships, and “tactics” with its absence. Although tactics are the “art of the weak,” he reminds us, they “gain validity in relation to the pertinence they lend to time—to the circumstances which the precise instant of an intervention transforms into a favorable situation” (38). The most effective of these interventions Certeau associates with marvelous happenings. “Wondrous tales, he points out, “frequently reverse the relationships of power and, like the stories of miracles, ensure the victory of the unfortunate in a fabulous Utopian space” (23). It is Certeau who illuminates Zayas's most original strategy—the use of wondrous tales to reverse the relationships of power in the Desengaños.

The late psychoanalyst Gilles Deleuze reminds us that all masochism ultimately derives “historical and cultural confirmation in mystical or idealistic initiation rites” (21). It is this always already residual repertoire, recognizable and legitimated by the fictional protagonists and readers in the frame story, as well as by the contemporary readers outside of the Desengaños, that enables Zayas's representations. Her text allies itself with the authoritative teachings of pristine Christianity and with their perpetuation through the fathers of the Church. In words similar to Zayas's protagonists, St. Cyprian had encouraged the early Christians to endure their suffering. Speaking of their interminable torments, he had assured them: “Your praises are as numerous as the days [of your suffering for] as the months roll onward your merits increase” (qtd. Reik 356). Tertullian had reminded them of both their immense power and the privileged communitas they would join through such suffering. Though “exceedingly painful,” he tells them, similar sufferings “have been calmly endured by many and have been eagerly desired for the sake of fame and glory” (qtd. Reik 357). In the Desengaños, this is the glory anticipated as reward for the women's “dilatado martirio” (“tortured martyrdom”).

Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse address themselves to exactly this issue in their discussion of Jane Eyre. They point out that the superiority of Bronte's eponymous heroine is actually effected through her abnegation and suffering and allied to her moral endurance. As with Zayas's female protagonists, when Jane Eyre is “confined to a room, kept at the bottom of a social hierarchy, silenced, or humiliated, something larger than its container emerges, grander than any social role, more eloquent for all its honesty than those who presume to speak for it, and noble beyond their ken” (6). It is this power that “holy masochism” is made to wield in the Desengaños. The exemplarity of the women's endurance effects solidarity with Christ's via crucis and communitas with fellow-sufferers in the vitae. It does one more thing. It liberates the women for a a spiritual rebirth, for a new life that negates “phallic values” (Silverman).

It is appropriate to emphasize at this point the cultural politics involved in Zayas's deployment of “holy masochism,” and for this we turn to Deleuze's distinction between sadism and masochism. Deleuze associates the former with the father, the latter with “an intermaternal order” (63), with a world in which “the father will have no part” and in which “mother images dwell” (66). On the psychological level, then, masochism is seen as negating paternal power and the paternal legacy. On the theological level, “holy masochism” also allies itself symbolically with the feminine and with the maternal. Caroline Bynum, in Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages, emphasizes the prevalence of iconographic and literary images of the consoling and maternal Christ. She shows how, following upon the evangelist Matthew and his description of Jesus as a hen gathering her chicks under her wing (23:37), hagiography popularized the image of Jesus as Mother, presenting a suffering, lactating Christ whose blood nourishes and saves souls and to whom the desolate turn for comfort. In the Desengaños, the new order of the cloister for whom the women renounce the world at the end of their storytelling, is systematically equated with this protective, loving, and forgiving maternal bridegroom—with a “verdadero Esposo” (195) [“true Spouse” (109)] (La más infame venganza #2) who awaits with “los brazos abiertos para recibirme” (167) [“with his arms open to receive me” (81)] (La esclava de su amante [# 1]), who responds to “la más mínima lágrima” [“my first tear” (198)], who never punishes the repentent sinner [La inocencia castigada (# 5) 289 (198)], and to whom Lisis goes at the end of the tales, “por amparo” [“refuge” (403)] and in communitas with her beloved Doña Isabel (Estragos que causa el vicio (# 10), 509 [The Ravages of Vice, 403].

This representation of God as Mother in the hagiographic tradition is never part of the Judgment scene or of the castigation of sinners. Reference is made instead to communitas, to a fellowship of souls bonded in love and renouncing the world for a “feminized” God. Speaking of one of these depictions in the vitae, that of Aelred of Rievaulx's image of the crucified Christ feeding souls with milk, Bynum explains that it “couples virginity (renunciation of the world), the motherhood of Christ, and the union of virgin souls in love not only with Christ but also with each other” (1982, 164-165). This is precisely the meaning that “holy masochism” is made to produce at the end of the Desengaños.

The emergent order that closes the text radically reverses the heterosexual matrix that the carnivalesque elements had already weakened through crossdressing, disguise, and genderbending in order to subordinate the law of the Father and “to remake the world in another image altogether, to forge a different cultural order” (Silverman 44).13 The new woman-identified order, which had merely been glimpsed in Amar sólo por vencer (#6) [Love for the Sake of Conquest] as the two remaining daughters and their mother enter the convent, is now fully realized, Zayas suggests. This ending—the loving female bonding of mother/daughter pairs (Laura/Lisis; mother/Isabel) within the cloister—is characterized as follows: “No es trágico fin, sino el más felice que se pudo dar” (510) [“This end is not tragic but rather the happiest one you can imagine” (405)].


  1. All references to the Desengaños amorosos are to the edition of Alicia Yllera (Madrid: Cátedra, 1993). English translations are from H. Patsy Boyer's The Disenchantments of Love. All other translations are our own.

  2. Jill Dolan quotes from her review of 'Night, mother, which appeared in Women & Performance Journal 1, no. 1 (1983): 79.

  3. See also E. Ann Kaplan in her chapter titled “Is the gaze male?”. For Kaplan, women simply do not own the gaze in such scenes (26). Of course we do not know enough about the reception of these texts in the seventeenth century or the differences between the reactions of male and female readers to Zayas's tales. Zayas may have been more concerned with throwing these scenes in the face of the male reader than convincing women of their reality, but since the violence focuses on the women, the issue of female spectatorship and of reader positionality in the Desengaños must be addressed.

  4. In La inocencia castigada (#5), however, the splitting, when accomplished by means of black magic, is not entirely successful. The innocent Inés and the zombie simulacrum meet in disturbed and disturbing dreams, and the former's “pensamientos ilícitos” (278) [“dreadful thoughts” (188)] trouble her conscience. The only permanent effect of Inés's subsequent torture and ordeal is her blindness. Is it perhaps a disquieting reminder of a vaguely intuited transgressive desire during the illicit sexual adventure? Our appreciation to Kathryn Wunsche for the observation that the splitting corresponds to the archetypal polarization between asexual Mary/sexual Eve (course paper presented to Welles, Spring, 1996).

  5. See Cristina Enríquez de Salamanca who also equates clothing in Zayas with specific social types—with their superior or inferior status (241-42), and Caroline Walker Bynum who shows how resurrected souls in Western art are “particularized by haircolor, sex age, and (when clothed) by raiment that expresses details of worldly rank and power” (1995, 308).

  6. We are grateful to María Esposito Frank for calling our attention to Daniel Bornstein's fine analysis of pornography and hagiography, and to him for permission to cite his unpublished paper.

  7. The relationship between Zayas's representation of her female protagonists' suffering and religious hagiography has been commented upon previously, though it has not been linked to masochism and pornography. See, in particular, the articles of Margarita Levisi who points to contemporary paintings of martyrs, Patricia Grieve who posits a subversion of hagiographic ideology within the secular sphere of the tales, and Cristina Enríquez de Salamanca who, focusing on Tarde llega el desengaño, considers its hagiographic motif “a parodic update of the heroic Christian model prescribed for women” (240). For Enríquez, the parody in Tarde is created by the disparate juxtaposition of the supernatural plane of the model and the realistic narrative context (241). “This inadequacy,” she writes, is reinforced in the text by means of the accumulation of rhetorical devices in the physical description of Elena and in the depiction of cruelty inflicted upon her, devices whose effects range from the ironic to the grotesque (241). In her analysis Enríquez does not take into account the fact that the grotesque is part and parcel of hagiography (a point stressed, in fact, by Grieve [92;103]), nor that the protagonist's suffering is actually presented as exemplary, a reward and gift of God. If the intent were, indeed, to subvert hagiography through parody, why would the protagonists of the Desengaños voluntarily choose the convent and the abrogation of will (in the vow of obedience), of personal love (in the vow of chastity), of material comforts (in the vow of poverty) that the hagiographic tradition valorizes so highly?

  8. All quotations are from the Clásicos Castellanos edition of Angel Valbuena Briones, cited by act and verse numbers.

  9. All citations are to the Clásicos Castellanos edition of Angel Valbuena Briones, cited by act and verse numbers.

  10. All quotations refer to the Cátedra edition of Antonio Carreño, cited by act and verse numbers.

  11. Lynda Hart quotes from Sandra Gilbert's and Susan Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic (New Haven: Yale UP, 1979), p. 17.

  12. These scenes also offer no “misrecognition” for the contemporary female reader of Zayas or for the fictional female audience within the tales. They form part of the recognizable repertoire of popular vitae: of Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda aurea with its emphasis on the bodily mutilation of such saints as Juliana, Eugenia, and Vincent especially (Bynum 1995, 310 n.112), of Ignatius of Antioch who prayed that “fire and cross, and packs of wild beasts, the wrenching of bones, the mangling of limbs, the grinding of my whole body … come upon me, only that I may attain Jesus Christ” (130-33), and so on. What they do effect is to move the women from an object to a subject position where their innocent suffering and goodness can be valorized and “understood” by the contemporary audience/reader. Patricia E. Grieve discusses the sublimation of violence against women in her comparison of Zayas and Cervantes, and refers to Zurbarán's portrait series of female martyrs, so elegant and removed from their bodily agonies. Grieve's position, however, contrary to the one we have taken, is that Zayas subverts hagiography. We argue instead that hagiography enables Zayas's tales.

  13. Gilles Deleuze goes on to explain that the desexualization inherent in masochism provokes in the masochist a two-fold effect: either of functional disturbance, or of “a sublimation of the instincts whereby pleasure is transcended in favor of gratifications of a different kind” (116). This, we argue, is the case in the Desengaños.

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Freud, Sigmund. 1961. “The Economic Problem of Masochism.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works. Translated by James Strachey in collaboration with Anna Freud. 24 vols. London: Hogarth P, 1953-74. 19: 159-70.

———. 1962. “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.” Translated by James Strachey. New York: Basic Books.

Garber, Marjorie. 1992. Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing & Cultural Anxiety. New York: Routledge.

Grieve, Patricia E. 1991. “Embroidering with Saintly Threads: María de Zayas Challenges Cervantes and the Church.” Renaissance Quarterly 44.1-2: 86-106.

Halttunen, Karen. 1995. “Humanitarianism and the Pornography of Pain in Anglo-American Culture,” American Histrorical Review 100: 303-334.

Hart, Lynda. 1989. “Introduction: Performing Feminism.” Making a Spectacle: Feminist Essays on Contemporary Women's Theatre. Edited by Lynda Hart. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan P, 1-21.

Irigaray, Luce. 1977. “Women on the Market.” This Sex Which Is Not One. Translated by Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985. 170-91.

Kaminsky, Amy Katz. 1988. “Dress and Redress: Clothing in the Desengaños amorosos of María de Zayas y Sotomayor.” Romanic Review 79.2: 377-91.

Kaplan, E. Ann. 1983. Woman and Film: Both Sides of the Camera. New York: Methuen.

Katz, Jack. 1988. Seductions of Crime: Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Evil. New York: Basic Books.

Lea, Henry C. 1966. A History of the Inquisition of Spain. 4 vols. New York: AMS P.

Levisi, Margarita. 1974. “La crueldad en los Desengaños amorosos de María de Zayas.” Estudios literarios de hispanistas norteamericanos dedicados a Helmut Hatzfeld con motivo de su 80 aniversario. Edited by Josep Sola-Solé, Alessandro Crisafulli, and Bruno Damiani. Barcelona: Ediciones Hispam, 447-56.

Maravall, José Antonio. 1975. La cultura del Barroco. Barcelona: Ariel.

Metz, Christian. 1982. The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema. Translated by Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster, and Alfred Guzzetti. Bloomington: Indiana UP.

Mulvey, Laura. 1989. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in Visual and Other Pleasures. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 14-26.

Reik, Theodor. 1941. Masochism in Modern Man. Translated by Margaret H. Beigel and Gertrud M. Kurth. New York: Farrar, Straus.

———. 1962. Masochism in Sex and Society. Translated by Margaret H. Beigel and Gertrud M. Kurth. New York: Grove Press.

Silverman, Kaja. 1992. “Masochism and Male Subjectivity.” Camera Obscura 17 (May 1988): 31-67. Expanded to Chapter 5 in Male Subjectivity at the Margins. New York and London: Routledge, 185-213.

Thurston, Herbert. 1952. The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism. Chicago. Henry Regnery.

Turner, Victor. 1969. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Ithaca: Cornell UP.

Vega Carpio, Lope de. 1990. El castigo sin venganza. Edited by Antonio Carreño. Madrid: Cátedra.

Voragine, Jacobus de. 1969. The Golden Legend. Translated by Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger. New York: Arnow P.

Williams, Raymond. 1977. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP.

Zayas y Sotomayor, María de. 1993. Desengaños amorosos. Edited by Alicia Yllera. Madrid: Cátedra.

———. The Disenchantments of Love. 1997. Translated by H. Patsy Boyer. New York: State University of New York P.

Yolanda Gamboa (essay date spring 2003)

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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 [Amorous and Exemplary Novels] (1637), and Desengaños amorosos [The Disenchantments of Love] (1647), especially regarding the metaphor of the house. According to Amy Williamsen, while “in Novelas Amorosas Zayas explores the comic possibilities of this architectural sign, at times demonstrating that the rigid imposition of patriarchal order also restricts men … Desengaños, on the other hand, portrays the house as an instrument of torture employed against women” (646). Rather than viewing the house as metafiction of the struggle for female authorship, I purport to formulate the house in terms of the mapping of social relations.1 I propose that the representation of the house, space of the emerging modern family and microcosm of the State, is equivalent to the individual's representation within the contemporary social reality.

I will read the house, the “architecture of patriarchy” (Williamsen 646), within the larger context of the cartographic efforts of the seventeenth century, to concentrate later on the Spanish house endorsed by the Christian treatises for women. Regarding the house, women's private life, as part of the public sphere—the larger social context—allows for the conceptualization of the space of the family and of woman's development. This is necessary, according to Capel and Ortega, if we are to analyze feminine experience in a preindustrial society, and I would add, if we are to historicize the concept of patriarchy in the particular scenario of seventeenth-century Spain.

Moreover, I believe that Zayas's work makes it apparent that defining “woman-as-housed” (337), in Mark Wigley's words, is a cartographic exercise that maps the woman's body, and that defines propriety at the same time it maps the identity of the emerging nation-state.2 The constant emphasis on the house and the family in Zayas's stories is thus a necessary reference to women's social positioning and identity amidst changing times. Therefore it may be that the difference underlying the ten years distance between the two volumes underscores Zayas's views on the progressive artificiality of systems of social and generic control such as that of the house.

The renewed interest in space by postmodern social and architectural theorists, as well as by contemporary feminists and geographers, is due to the fact that it reveals more about power relations than time or history, concepts that were the focus of sociological studies until the seventies (Soja 4-6). It has become apparent that the interrelation between space and the social or generic identity, what Edward Soja names “the spatiality of social life” (44), is never innocent since class, gender, and race are inscribed everywhere as spatial metaphors. Contemporary feminists propose, moreover, that knowledge itself is embodied, so to speak, it is engendered and embedded in the material context of place (Duncan 1). However, space also affects the way gender is constructed and understood to the point that spatiality and identity can be regarded as interrelated (Massey 179). Consequently, if we think that, contrary to time, the idea of space is encoded as feminine, then we will agree with Doreen Massey that the exercise of rescuing it from passivity, stasis, and depoliticization, connects with the philosophical debate regarding the construction of the dichotomies of gender relations (6-7). In other words, questioning the way space is conceptualized implies challenging the definitions and borders characteristic of a masculinist epistemology. Particularly, architecture's interrogation of the house and its implications may contribute to the understanding of what Massey refers to as the “power geometry” (265), that is, the inscription of power in the intricate map of social relations. The interrogation of the Zayas's house, likewise, may aid in the understanding of Baroque epistemology, a stepping stone to understanding Spanish literature and culture of the Golden Age.

Following the expansion of the sixteenth century, the Baroque or seventeenth century is described by José Antonio Maravall as a time “marked by recession, regression and conflict” where the privileged increased their control measures aiming to avoid a social integration they regarded as disorder (7). The significant transition from a feudal to a capitalist order, a European phenomenon as well, was exacerbated in Spain, according to Anthony Cascardi, because the entrenchment of the social values of caste produced a “resistance to the culture of modernity” (20).

I propose we regard this “patriarchy in crisis” (Perry, Gender 13) as a period of crisis of social identity in the face of multiplicity, which is to say, a crisis within the context of the normalizing process deemed necessary for the formation of an homogeneous modern and Catholic State. The perception of disorder, “the conception of some unrepresentable (imaginary) global social totality” (Jameson 356), stimulated the project that Fredrick Jameson refers to as cognitive mapping. In a time of population displacement from the countryside to the urban centers, and of the emergence of a new merchant class, assigning social categories became increasingly difficult. Maps were needed to conceptualize the new social territory and to fix a scenario in a time of flux. Therefore, in an epistemological exercise similar to that of cartography, individuals were assigned to their social or generic roles, and care was taken to keep those categories clearly distinct. This “normalizing” process, the distribution of individuals according to a norm in order to classify and control anomalies in the social body, is one of the mechanisms of control of the Modern State intent on achieving the project of a homogeneous, and therefore more easily manageable, social environment.

Cartography, a developing science in the Renaissance and consolidated during the Enlightenment, was the expression of a new epistemology, of a new way of seeing and knowing. According to Kathleen Kirby it configured the new dominant space, “an atemporal, objective, transparent space” (47), by emphasizing boundaries, ownership, propriety and standardization (45-46). Standards were applied as if they were universal in order to erase otherness and “subjects, like places, were homogenized in favour of the generic” (46). This cartographical science influenced the epistemology emerging in seventeenth century (Olson xvii). Perceiving reality as an object to be measured and represented by an objective and disinterested observer contributed to the proliferation of maps and of landscape art, both being the representation of reality onto paper (201-03). In fact, the certainty of this representation becomes an important means of control. That is why cartographies, as attempts to map individuals, assigning them a place according to gender and class, were established everywhere in Spain in this period of “heightened anxiety about order and gender” (Perry, Gender 6).

On the one hand, the inside/outside duality, characteristic of the new epistemology, would seem to constitute the spatial law of citizenship in early modernity. The expulsion of Moors and Jews in 1492, and of the moriscos, individuals of Moorish descent, in 1609, emphasized the boundaries of a map that had to be constantly policed.3 Without doubt, the Inquisition played an important role in keeping up the appearance of strict enforcement, particularly with the sambenito, the tunic that the condemned had to wear publicly, and the autos de fe, the public hearings. Further, one should neither disregard the effect of the royal decrees on dress code in defining the relationship between dress and social or racial status and mapping a national identity, nor the influential city planning that from the fifteenth century relegated certain groups outside the boundaries of the cities.4 Treatises of behavior like “El galateo español” by Gracián Dantisco are social maps, attempts to represent on paper the social reality of aristocracy so that it may serve as a model.

On the other hand, the inside/outside duality of the house endorsed by the Christian treatises purported to represent gender order whereas it represented a specific class order as well. The Spanish Christian manuals for women, such as influential Fray Luis de León's La perfecta casada [The Perfectly Married Woman] (1583) or Juan Luis Vives's Instrucción de la mujer cristiana [The Education of the Christian Woman] (1524) prescribed that women remain in the house, the former by defining woman's role as “guarda de casa” (180) [keeper of the house], and the latter by warning women of the dangers outside. Intending to establish boundaries, these Christian treatises attempted to assign a particular meaning of “woman” in the face of the reality of a progressively more mobile woman (Perry, Gender 16-17). Motivated by Erasmian works on women's education, these treatises proliferated throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and I believe were indeed gender maps.

The architectural rhetoric of the State reflected in the continuous reiteration of boundaries suggests that both the exclusion of the social other and the enclosure of women constituted the foundation of the hegemonic state itself. This domestic regime enabled metaphors of containment to slide between the concepts of woman-home-state while fostering notions of privacy, safety, security and, ultimately, interiorization. Peter Stallybrass links architecture and gender to the production and maintenance of state structures. He suggests that “the normative woman could become the emblem of the perfect and impermeable container and hence a map of the integrity of the state” (129). The private house endorsed by the treatises contained the “normative woman” whereas three other institutions controlled the threat of unchaste women, according to Mary Elizabeth Perry: the brothel, the magdalen house, and the prison (“Magdalens” 125). They became an important mechanism by which the State attempted to order and discipline the heterogeneous social body.

The normative house of the Christian treatises functioned as a spatial metaphor because it defined the virtuous, industrious woman (inside the house) in contrast with the evil one (outside the house). The belief that the woman on the outside was “implicitly sexually mobile” (Wigley 335), did not relate only to gender but also to class. In fact, the virtuous woman described by Vives and De León, occupied with embroidery or sewing within the house, was an idealized vision, or rather prescription, for the higher class woman. Real economic conditions forced the majority of women to work outside their own homes, and often in the streets (Perry, Gender 16). The identification between woman and house was so prevalent at the time that the ideal feminine body was the “enclosed body,” given the association between open windows and doors and the orifices of the feminine body. In a culture that valued female chastity over all other female virtues, the house was considered the means of imposing the internal boundaries of identity that a woman was not deemed able to maintain (Wigley 335). Vives expresses the commonly held belief that “el ánimo de la mujer es ligero” (72) [woman's will is weak], meaning that, unlike men, women can not impose self-control on their sexuality, whereas in Zayas's novels it is more often men who do not impose self-restraint on theirs. It is now believed, moreover, as Zayas seems to suggest in her stories, that architecture does not contain but produces the subject (Colomina 250). That is to say, by enclosing women and by limiting their participation in the public sphere, the house is involved in progressively producing the docile, domesticated woman prescribed by the treatises, to the point that the prescription may be indistinguishable from a description.

The rise of male dominance in the beginning of capitalist society, a time when the spheres of work and home are increasingly kept apart, brings about the reduction of the feminine to the familial fields (Cascardi 166-67), which Zayas portrays symbolically with the progressive enclosures of female characters. The modern family, a concept that emerged gradually from the fifteenth century, becomes prominent precisely in the seventeenth century when the woman is to be regarded as the value, property, and visible measure of the man's honor. The family is viewed as a microcosm of the State and the head of the household acts like a “domestic monarch” (Ariès 356), having a right to life or death over his subjects. Thus Spanish writings on marriage help underscore the correlation among familial, monarchical, and divine order (Perry, Gender 60). However, underneath the masquerade of order, lies the need to preserve private property in a time of nation formation.

It is my contention that the house described by Zayas in the Desengaños is “open and porous,” to use Massey's description of the social space (5). It is porous because it does not acquire its particular identity by its boundaries, like the normative house, but precisely through its interconnectedness to the other which lies “beyond.” It is also open because boundaries do not prevent women's exposure by their gender, or simply as properties of the domestic monarch, and therefore the house described by Zayas can never be the paradigm of security. Heroines are exposed to danger from within the house itself, raped by family friends or killed by male relatives. Thus Zayas reveals that architecture is not as transparent as the house portrayed in the treatises would lead one to believe, since it serves the purpose of classifying women while masking itself as order in its attempt to prevent imminent social change.

With her constant representations of the house, Zayas alludes to the interrelation among vision, the construction of space, and the construction of gender. For Zayas, it is the house itself, which organizes women by gender as well as by class, that creates them. In other words, women are exposed and entrapped by a system of classification, rather than by walls alone. At a symbolic level, though, women enclosed in their homes are often entrapped by the building in the Desengaños. Isabel, in “La esclava de su amante” [“Slave to Her Own Lover”], describes this entrapment in these words: “salí a ver, y vi, y fui vista. Mas no estuvo en esto mi pérdida, que dentro de mi casa estaba el incendio, pues sin salir me había ya visto mi desventura.” (130) [I went out to see the city and I saw and I was seen. This, however, was not what caused my downfall, for the fire was within my own house. Even if I'd never gone out my misfortune had already spied me out]. In Zayas's novels, as the plot of “La esclava de su amante” will reveal, the woman's danger does not reside in venturing outside the house or in going to parties to be seen, as Vives warns in a passage which closely resembles Zayas's with “vienen por mirar y por ser miradas” (105) [they come by to see and to be seen] but within the house itself.

Isabel, who has recently moved to Zaragoza, lives in the same house with her family, as well as a widow and her children, Manuel and Eufrasia. However, the house cannot protect her from being raped by Manuel while inside the house. The event is described as follows (137): “tiró de mí, y sin poder ser parte a hacerme fuerte, me entró dentro, cerrando la puerta con llave. Yo no sé lo que me sucedió, porque del susto me privó el sentido un mortal desmayo” (137) [He pulled me in such a way that I couldn't resist and he jerked me inside and locked the door with the key. I don't know what he did to me; my fright brought me on a mortal swoon that deprived me of my senses].5 Even though the act is not explicitly mentioned, it is significantly alluded to by the lock and by the heroine's fainting, a convention of Golden Age literature (Whitenack 176). Imprisonment under lock and key, symbolic of “male control” (Scolnicov 69) as well as of the sexual act, not surprisingly precedes the representation of rape. If the pure body and spirit are to be kept locked for the human or divine husband, as Vives relates (36), by having Isabel forced into the room and locking her up Zayas alludes to the prescription that “the virtue of chastity was assured by the woman's being closed off, immured in her house, while the open door and the open mouth were taken to signify sexual incontinence” (Scolnicov 7). In fact, Zayas problematizes the privacy and familiarity attributed to the house when the family's function, supporting a traditional patriarchal structure, is to control and displace women. Architecture, an accomplice in the exercise of patriarchal authority, serves to reinforce society's double sexual standard: the house becomes a public space, insofar as it serves to monitor woman's sexuality, while men's acts remain private.

Moreover, since the house is also involved in the construction of class, “La esclava de su amante” devotes attention to the differentiation among the social backgrounds of the characters. On the one hand, Isabel describes herself in these words: “hija de padres católicos y de los más principales de la ciudad de Murcia” (127) [daughter of Catholic parents who belong to one of the most prominent families in the city of Murcia] whereas Manuel's mother is described as “una señora viuda, muy principal y medianamente rica” (130) [a highly respected and moderately well-to-do widow]. On the other hand, Isabel's father serves the king directly during Cataluña's uprising, whereas Manuel becomes “gentilhombre” (149) of Sicily's viceroy: gentleman-in-waiting however pompous the expression may sound. In a time when urban planning displaced certain groups outside the boundaries of the city, the interrelation between Isabel and Manuel, and Zayas's house in general, reveal that city officials can create an illusion of order for the higher classes but cannot grant them true enclosures because just as personal identities are multiple, Massey argues, so are the identities of place (7). Places are made of networks of dynamic social relations, in continuous change, and therefore any view of place is an attempt to articulate those relations in a particular moment in time. The novel highlights the porousness of the house, that is, boundaries may signal private property but cannot divide a space that exists in a continuum. Boundaries, the ordering lines of culture, cannot prevent the human flux that characterizes this period. Therefore, contrary to the house described in the treatises whose identity derives from its boundaries, the identity of Zayas's house, derives precisely from its fluidity, from what Massey describes as “the specificity of its interactions with the outside” (169). Moreover, given that the house is regarded as the microcosm of the State, Zayas proposes that social identity, in the process of transformation, is becoming as unmappable as feminine subjectivity.

Architecture, as artifice, is a masquerade which indeed plays a strategic role in the operation of other discourses, as Wigley claims (329), and this is particularly true of seventeenth-century Spain. Cascardi reflects on the “quasi-aesthetic power effects” (87) of the modern absolutist State in Zayas's time, on the “artificial origins and historical contingency it attempts at the same time to conceal” (87). The unreality of the public appearances of the Habsburg monarchs, their ceremonious behavior and excess of servants described by John Elliot as “illusionistic tricks that are essential to the process of image building” (163), are an attempt to hide the shortcomings of a decaying empire. Also within image building is the construction of pieces of architecture like el Palacio del Retiro during the reign of Philip IV. Architecture plays a significant role in the construction of subjectivity. It produces the illusion of order by means of a central subjectivity which controls visibility from the inside (Wigley 386-87), an illusion that the modern monarchs use to their advantage.

Recent theorists, though, have attempted to decentralize such masculine subjectivity and have proposed that it is never as innocent, objective, and transparent as it claims to be. In particular, contemporary feminist discourse has demonstrated that the political is to be found precisely within socially constructed mechanisms of representation. As we will see below, the excessive spaces of torture of Zayas's heroines in “La inocencia castigada” [“Innocence Punished”] and “El traidor contra su sangre” [“Traitor to His Own Blood”], in which the head of the household effects a central control, are an implicit critique of the “power effects” of the modern absolutist State.

In “La inocencia castigada” [“Innocence Punished”], the protagonist Inés, accused of adultery, is placed in a chimney hole that is then covered with plaster. She is imprisoned within the chimney in the most remote room in the house, which in turn is locked. The different levels of enclosure symbolize the different compartments of society which, according to Mary Douglas, can be conceived of as Chinese boxes. This corresponds to an idea of the social environment as individuals linked by lines that need to be respected (138). As Inés does not respect them, she is progressively excluded from all social spaces until she is forcefully immobilized. Her body is regarded as dangerous and polluting, pollution being “the reaction which condemns any object or idea likely to confuse or contradict cherished classifications” (Douglas 36), and therefore a threat to the social order. Inés is first enclosed, put aside from view, and then she is left to disintegrate following the two stages of the process of imposition of order described by Douglas. Exaggerated, though not unlike the way the State operates regarding its exclusion of the social others, Inés's husband exerts the right given to him as “domestic monarch” and attempts to preserve the illusion of social order.

Zayas often transforms theatrical conventions for her own purposes. For example, the retrete [closet] serves as a hiding place in the comedia, the popular dramatic genre in Zayas's time, whereas in Zayas's stories, an isolated room within the house is the place where women are often murdered.6 In “El traidor contra su sangre” [“Traitor to His Own Blood”], upon learning that Mencía intends to marry a suitor of peasant origins, her brother Alonso locks her up in a closet. The action he undertakes is in line with the social change that, according to Norbert Elias, takes place from the seventeenth century onwards: it corresponds to the progressive control of the body and to the gradual exclusion and privatization of bodily functions.7 Therefore, Alonso's desire to privatize Mencía's body reflects his need to draw the line between what he believes are the hierarchies of propriety. The social conflicts emerging as a result of the transition from a feudal to a capitalist order, as described by Cascardi, are revealed in this story. Alonso does not accept that he lives in a changing world, where an enriched peasant can become a bourgeois. He holds on to an idea of class based on inheritance and honor which allows him an idle existence. Alonso, the embodiment of the old order, closets away Mencía, embodiment of the new order. He takes her to the retrete, stabs her, and keeps her locked up. However, instead of decomposing, Mencía's body continues to bleed. The unstoppable bleeding symbolizes the impossibility of designating boundaries on continuity, on a natural flux such as that of the changing social scenario of seventeenth-century Spain, and would make one believe that Zayas hereby espouses the new social order.8

The closet, the first masculine private space according to Wigley, initially was no more than a writing desk where the man of the house kept all important familial documents (347). It marked the limit of the woman's authority in the house. The division between the masculine and feminine spaces, which highlights that the house is not in itself a feminine place, exceeds the confines of the house spilling out into public arenas, forcing an awareness of the political and cultural investments inherent in normative places. Such was the case with the corrales, the locations were the comedias were represented for the public, and which assigned women to the upper floor and men to the ground floor. The dominant dualistic thinking which correlates woman/ private/secure space, and man/ public/dangerous space, as promoted by the Christian treatises for women, is revealed as illusory. The house, while private, is never a secure space in Zayas's novels where allusions to De León and Vives abound. The only truly secure and feminine space is that of the convent.9

A change has taken place from the 1637 publication of the Novelas to the 1647 Desengaños: the progressive settlement of the modern State and of its intent to order a heterogeneous society by means of parameters, modeled on cartography, which are increasingly divorced from reality. Zayas's reaction against the imposed cartographies is evidence of the enormous social changes that occurred in Spain in the ten years between the two volumes. With its destabilization of the social and gender maps, and indeed of the epistemology that supports their existence, undoubtedly, the impact of Desengaños is stronger than that of the Novelas.

Far from being the realm of stasis and security, the spaces and the spatial of Zayas's stories are also implicated, to use Massey's terms, “in the production of history—and thus, potentially, in politics” (254). The house of the Desengaños, where the outside is part of the inside, reveals that neither space, nor identity are static since they are comprised of social relations that are forever changing. The house as a paradigm of security proposed by the Christian treatises, an ideological attempt at closure in view of a changing reality, is destabilized in Zayas's stories. In fact, Desengaños mocks the prescriptions enforced on women in view of the double standard and the husband's increasingly prominent role in the house, the family, and therefore society. It also questions the apparently timeless notions of gender and class identity by revealing that social relations are inseparable from spatial ones and that, due to a distinction between the public and the private which is historically and ideologically constructed (Barrett 90), women and the lower classes have been imprisoned in the private sphere. In other words, Zayas's vision of space maintains that both gender and class are always already inscribed in space by means of the cartography characteristic of the dominant epistemology.


  1. In her now canonical article, Ordóñez expressed the idea of the house as metafiction.

  2. See Welles's introduction to Perspehone's Girdle, particularly pages 24-26, regarding the relation between the woman's body and the State proposed by Peter Stallybrass and present in Spanish Early Modern treatises. See also Gamboa's discussion of Stallybrass's “normative woman” in those same treatises.

  3. Measures had to be taken to control the mobility of the peninsular moriscos, as well as to safeguard the coastline and prevent attacks from exiled morisco pirates (Domínguez Ortiz 66).

  4. See Shemek regarding prostitutes and Caro Baroja regarding Jews.

  5. All of Zayas's translations into English are Boyer's.

  6. Another instance of the “retrete” takes place in Calderón's La dama duende.

  7. Thus the retrete, initially meaning an excluded room within the house, will end up signifying water closet.

  8. The stark contrast between the ideas expressed in this article regarding the fluctuation of social boundaries and those of Deanna Mihaly support Brownlee's view of Zayas's discourse as paradoxical or “labyrinthine” (xvi).

  9. I do not want to expand on the convent, which is beyond the scope of the present essay, though I would like to direct the reader to the interpretations of the Zayas's convent by Greer and Velasco.

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Barrett, Michèlle, and Mary McIntosh. The Antisocial Family. London: Verso, 1991.

Brownlee, Marina S. The Cultural Labyrinth of María de Zayas. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2000.

Calderón de la Barca, Pedro. La dama duende. Ed. Ángel Valbuena Briones. Madrid: Cátedra, 1987.

Capel, Rosa M., and Margarita Ortega. “Textos para la historia de las mujeres en la Edad Moderna.” In Textos para la historia de las mujeres en España. Ed. Ana Aguado, et al. Madrid: Cátedra, 1994. 223-317.

Caro Baroja, Julio. Los judíos en la España moderna y contemporánea. Madrid: Istmo, 1986.

Cascardi, Anthony. Ideologies of History in the Spanish Golden Age. University Park: The Pennsylvania State UP, 1997.

Colomina, Beatriz. Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture and Mass Media. Cambridge: The MIT P, 1994.

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Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. London: Ark, 1984.

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Elias, Norbert. The Civilizing Process: The History of Manners. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. New York: Pantheon, 1978.

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Gracián Dantisco, Lucas. Galateo español. Ed. Margherita Morreale. Madrid: Clásicos Hispánicos, 1968.

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Zayas, María de. Desengaños amorosos. Ed. Alicia Yllera. Madrid: Cátedra, 1983.

———. Novelas amorosas y ejemplares. Ed. Julián Olivares. Madrid: Cátedra, 2000.

———. The Disenchantments of Love: A Translation of the Desengaños amorosos by H. Patsy Boyer. Albany: SUNY P, 1997.


Principal Works


Further Reading