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Rock Street, San Francisco
Rock Street, San Francisco

With the recent revival of Golden Age plays as performance texts, there has been much debate about whether these plays are richer as reading texts or performance texts. The two different mediums through which to show the author’s art give the audience or reader completely different experiences. Calderi?? n’s El mi?? dico de su honra is no exception. As a play to be read it has clear advantages and disadvantages. The complexity of the plot and inherent contradictions of Calderi?? n’s play allow the reader a depth of analysis that the audience cannot access.

These contradictions occur chiefly in the portrayal of the play’s protagonist, el mi??n as a tragic hero, much like Othello. The tragic hero, built on Greek and Roman epic models has a fatal flaw which inevitably fashions the chain of events leading to final tragedy. Calderi?? n gives Gutierre the flaw of his pride in terms of honour, displayed in the way that society traps and silences him. Gutierre cannot say what he wants to in the play; when he mentions ‘celos’ in a moment of emotional weakness he immediately wants the words back ‘celos, celos dije’. Gutierre’s way is ‘sentir y callar’, in one way showing noble control over his emotions.

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He is also a victim of higher powers in Leonor’s curse ‘El mismo dolor sientas que siento’. Calderi?? n evokes pathos for his protagonist ‘no hay un rayo para un triste’. However, in another reading of the same play, Gutierre appears a different character who totally lacks humanity. Whilst Enrique is youthful and lively, Gutierre uses forced rhetoric, even when talking to Mencia about his love for her ‘eschuchame un argumento’. He tries to stop his emotion ‘cese el sentimiento’, unable to cope with even the slightest lack of control, wishing his words to ‘vuelva al aire’ when he utters them without thought.

This Gutierre invents the metaphor of ‘el medico’ which enables him to kill his wife in the end of the play, having become ‘el mi?? dico’, as a way of curing her. Gutierre’s inhumanity in this reading of the play is particularly supported by the way in which he appears in his scene with Ludovico – ‘Que la sangres, y la dejes… hasta que por breve herida ella expire’. Isaac Benabu explores the difficulties in analysing Gutierre, commenting this ‘cold, calculating Gutierre… is contained within a parenthesis on either side of which Calderi?? n shows us a Gutierre who invites pathos.

‘ The contradictions that Calderi?? n presents in the play appear differently on stage than on the page. Whilst reading, in a ‘private transaction between reader and text’ (Dawn L. Smith) you can appreciate the different strands of the characters and different possible interpretations of the play. However, in a performance, many of the interpretational decisions available to the reader have already been made, by either director or cast. Amy R. Williamsen comments ‘No one analysis can encompass all the possible interpretations of a play and their performative permutations’.

Contradictions are resolved as the director goes down a certain route to show his vision of Calderi?? n’s work, a work that to a large extent relies on the variety of interpretation and meaning that it presents to the audience or reader. Although the variety of interpretations of the play is compromised by theatre convention, there are clearly many advantages to showing El mi?? dico de su honra in the theatre, ‘the medium for which they (Golden Age plays) were written’ (Dawn L. Smith). The various uses of imagery throughout the play do not make their mark on the printed page.

Blood is a powerful image in the play that comes to signify guilt. Whilst Gutierre’s bloody hands at the end of the play are obviously a sign of his own guilt in the murdering of his wife, Calderi?? n also makes subtler suggestions of guilt using blood. Leonor’s hands are bloodied at the close of the play, having taken some blood from Gutierre’s hand in accepting his marriage proposal, suggesting that she too is involved in the tragic death of Mencia. Earlier in the play Pedro too has been tainted by blood from the same sword that in the end Gutierre uses to kill Mencia.

Mencia however, when dead, is ‘desangrada’. Without blood, without guilt, in terms of the imagery she is the victim, with Gutierre, Leonor and Pedro classed as guilty. Blood is also used with another meaning. When Gutierre marks the doorpost of Mencia’s house Calderi?? n brings into the audience’s mind the biblical reference to the angel of death passing over the houses of the first-born Egyptian sons to mark them for death. Gutierre is thus portrayed as playing god and stepping above his human role. On stage, Calderi?? n can provoke thought in his audience through the use of powerful imagery.

The curtain plays a large part in Calderi?? n’s play on-stage. His characters hide behind it to spy on scenes that they are not meant to see or hear. The physical curtain becomes a symbol of silence and concealment, reflecting the codes of society in which silence prevailed at all costs to protect honour. Whilst this is easily depicted on stage, especially in the last scene when the curtain is swept back to reveal Mencia’s corpse, and the tragic results of the mistreatment of the silent code of honour, in a book the curtain is not so important.

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