Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Start Free Trial

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Drama Analysis

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

In the exaltation of reason, clarity, and decorum that dominated the eighteenth century, there was a strong reaction against the Baroque, and indeed Baroque literature fell into virtual oblivion. Toward the beginning of the twentieth century, however, interest in the Baroque began to stir, and it is thus that not only the literature of the Baroque Spanish masters but also Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s contribution to the field have again been brought to light and appreciated.

All of Sor Juana’s drama is written in verse. She used a multiplicity of verse forms, exploiting them in order to set an effective tone for a particular character or scene. Relative to content, it is important to note that at the end of the seventeenth century, the Catholic Church and Sor Juana, especially through her theater, tried to make the dogma of the Eucharist dynamic. Sor Juana sought to unveil the Mysteries of Christ; obviously the most difficult part was how to make the invisible visible. She attempted to achieve this through allegory, myth, and metaphor; her intent was didacticism through entertainment, and even her secular plays reveal the influence of religious drama. Like Calderón, she used carts to represent different scenes, and her dramas include music and singing, as well as one or more choruses—which, as in Greek literature, serve to emphasize ideas presented through the plays.

Sor Juana used the dramatic props of her time for her writings. For the reader who can enter imaginatively into that distant period, her plays will come alive. Further, her variation in verse form not only displays her skill in handling many types but also provides interest and dispels monotony. Finally, one must marvel at her knowledge of both biblical and historical events as she weaves these into her plots. The combination of history, mythology, and religion must have produced a wonderfully exhilarating effect on audiences in her day, and it is still capable of engaging readers centuries later.

The collected dramatic output of Sor Juana consists of two comedies of intrigue, A Household Plagued by Love and Amor es más laberinto (love is a greater labyrinth); three autos sacramentales, The Divine Narcissus, El mártir del Sacramento, San Hermenegildo (the martyr of the Sacrament, Saint Hermenegildo), and El cetro de José (Joseph’s scepter); two sainetes; and eighteen loas.

An auto sacramental is a one-act play concerning the Sacrament; a loa is a one-act play, usually quite short, which is generally allegorical and supports the Eucharist. A loa preceded each of Sor Juana’s autos. Her sacramental plays and comedias are similar in form and style to those of the Calderón school. In fact, one of Calderón’s plays is entitled “Los empeños de un acaso” (wr. 1639), and a few lines are identical to those that Sor Juana penned in her A Household Plagued by Love. This does not mean that Sor Juana was a plagiarist. Her independent attitude and thirst for knowledge caused her to read voraciously, and she synthesized what she learned into her own expression. Religion was the basis for what she wrote; her prime topics throughout her works were love and the Eucharist.

A Household Plagued by Love and Amor es más laberinto

The } longer plays of Sor Juana can be divided into two types: the secular and religious. Her two secular plays, A Household Plagued by Love and Amor es más laberinto, are probably the most appealing to present-day audiences. Each of these three-act plays formed the greater part of a festejo, an evening of entertainment. A festejo usually honored one...

(This entire section contains 1982 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

or more noted individuals.

The festejo of A Household Plagued by Love consisted of the three-act play, preceded by a loa. Intercalated between the acts were two sainetes and three songs praising the honored guests. The play concluded with a sarao, a brief play praising the viceroy and his family in music and dancing. The sainetes, or farces in this festejo, end in song, or song and hisses. The first of these poked fun at women; the second made jest of the play being staged. The entire festejo of A Household Plagued by Love required more than two hours to be performed.

Amor es más laberinto was also a three-act play; act 2, however, was written by Juan de Guevara, a well-known figure who had come from the Royal Court of Madrid to Mexico City and may have been Sor Juana’s cousin. This play is also preceded by a loa.

These two plays have similar themes: noble people in love, disguised characters who appear or hide in inhospitable surroundings, mistaken identity, and repetition of situations. This mix-up of identities in semidarkness may seem improbable to present-day readers; this type of plot, however, was customary in seventeenth century drama. As usual during this period, the protagonists will marry happily—“All’s well that ends well.”

The locale of A Household Plagued by Love is Toledo, Spain. Pedro loves Leonor, and Pedro’s sister Ana loves Carlos; Leonor and Carlos, however, love each other—thus the familiar triangle. After a series of intertwined events—an attempt at eloping, a sword fight, sanctuary requested and granted in the “enemy’s” house, and mistaken identity because of disguised characters in the night—Leonor and Carlos are allowed to marry, and Ana will marry her promised lover, Juan. Each is happy with the marriage partner designated for him or her; the servants also marry.

The theme of Amor es más laberinto is based on the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur of Crete; the setting is Crete. Again, unrequited love enters when Theseus, who was brought as a captive to Crete to die by being sacrificed to the Minotaur in the Labyrinth, falls in love with Fedra, not with her sister Ariadne, who loved him and had also saved his life. Various intrigues surface among the characters, assisted by the servants, but again in the end the lovers, as well as two pairs of servants, are promised to each other in harmonious union. The title of the play derives from the conceit that the labyrinth of love is greater than that of Crete. As noted previously, the second act of this play was not written by Sor Juana; one wonders why.

In these two plays, Sor Juana portrays various types of love, but never does improper or immoral love enter. She carries out the Golden Age principle of honor in a delightful manner; no woman’s honor is sacrificed. Amor es más laberinto has an added dimension because of its basis in mythology, which allows Sor Juana to demonstrate her knowledge of Greek legend.

The Divine Narcissus

All three of Sor Juana’s autos center on the Eucharist. Of the three, The Divine Narcissus is by far the best known and is considered the best of the many mythological autos written during this period. Divine Narcissus (Christ) is enamored of Human Nature and is dying of love for her. Echo is envious of this love and is filled with hate. Narcissus looks into the water—Christ seeking his image in Human Nature—and becomes the flower that bears his name; Christ’s presence in the flower is the Host. Echo is an important figure, at times almost lovable. There are long speeches of familiar biblical stories, including Christ’s temptation and passion. Echo and others echo, repeating only the last word of Narcissus’s speeches; the composite of these words, repeated together, results in fascinating Baroque verses. The play is acknowledged as an unrivaled metamorphosis of the mythological to the theological. There are many carts with elaborate decor. Biblical events are paraded by almost endlessly, especially those of Christ’s crucifixion and the ensuing natural events.

El cetro de José

El cetro de José is also an allegory. Joseph’s story as told in the Old Testament is recounted: his being sold into slavery, the temptation with Potiphar’s wife, supplying grain to his family through his brothers, the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream, and so on. The brothers’ reference to bread clearly means the Bread of Christ. Joseph is Christ; the bread and wheat refer to the Eucharist. Prophecy has an important role throughout the play, and at the end when the Chalice and Host are displayed, the Sacrament is praised while two choruses sing joyfully.

El mártir del Sacramento, San Hermenegildo

El mártir del Sacramento, San Hermenegildo is religious but has an interwoven secular vein. It is based on the historical conflict between adherents of the Arian heresy and the orthodoxy of the established Church. Hermenegildo, now an orthodox believer, is the son of a committed heretic. He is captured by his father, and although his brother (who would inherit the throne should Hermenegildo be put to death) pleads for him, the father decides that he must at least test him: A heretical bishop offers Hermenegildo the Sacrament. When Hermenegildo refuses to accept it, his father has him executed, and the play ends. Sor Juana, incidentally, has been criticized for this ending, because, according to Catholic canon law, Hermenegildo could have accepted Communion from this bishop, despite the bishop’s heresy, and thus could have avoided death.

The Loas

Each of the three autos described above has an introductory loa. That of The Divine Narcissus is noteworthy because it combines Aztec religious rites with Christian dogma. America and Occident, who represent the Aztec religion, inform Religion that they have a ritual similar to the Christian Eucharist; they make reference to a custom that does not appear in detail in the loa. In this rite, a statue of Huitzilopochtli (the Mexican god of war) was made of grain mixed with blood, which represented the death of their god. This mixture was distributed in a ceremony resembling the communal meal of the Eucharist. In the loa, Religion hopes to convince them that they should turn to the True Religion; she plans to do this through the auto which follows.

The loa which introduces El cetro de José is similar in theme to that of The Divine Narcissus. It is considered better than those of Calderón for it has no unjustified fantasies. Faith and the Law of Grace have convinced Natural Law and Nature of the superiority of the Eucharist over indigenous human sacrifice. Idolatry enters and provides through her speeches the depth of native reasoning for their ritual. Faith argues for the Christian belief until Idolatry eagerly awaits the forthcoming play to see the proof. It is a twin of the loa introducing The Divine Narcissus.

The loa preceding El mártir del Sacramento, San Hermenegildo introduces a discussion among two students and their teacher concerning the finezas (favors) of Christ—which is the greatest. Unique to this loa is a play-within-a-play. Hercules plants his famous pillars and then declares: “Non plus ultra,” but Columbus sets out into the deep, finds the New World and returns with his plus ultra. The loa concludes that the death of Christ may seem unsurpassable, but in the elements of the Last Supper, Christ exceeds that love, and the Eucharist triumphs.

Of the other thirteen loas, all of which are independent, one is sacred, while the remaining are secular. Five of the secular ones are written in praise of Carlos II, the inglorious Spanish king reigning in the latter half of the seventeenth century. There is a delightful and happy mixture of the elements of earth, fire, air, and water with time, celestial bodies, and so on. They all create hymns praising him. There is one loa each to the queen and queen mother, and the Marqueses de Laguna (the viceroy of Mexico and his wife), who were such faithful patrons for Sor Juana, as well as their family, are celebrated in loas presented on their birthdays or other occasions.


Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Poetry: World Poets Analysis