University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > CRASSH > Negotiating social and political righteousness through the myth of Don Juan in early twentieth-century Spain

Negotiating social and political righteousness through the myth of Don Juan in early twentieth-century Spain

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Since the première and publication of Tirso de Molina’s seventeenth-century play El burlador de Sevilla, the story of Don Juan has been the object of multiple adaptations, the most famous ones being Molière’s Dom Juan and Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. Thanks to these and many other works, Don Juan has been able to convey a great variety of values and meanings to many audiences across different times and places, and has helped to articulate diverse social and political discourses. In Spain, since Zorrilla wrote his own adaptation in the mid-nineteenth century, the Don Juan myth has become the object of an intense intellectual investment. Spanish thinkers have situated Don Juan at the centre of heated debates on the health of the nation, and used it as the prism through which to observe and tackle the ‘ills’ of Spain. The numerous writings published since the 1920s by the prominent doctor Gregorio Marañon constitute a case in point.

In this seminar, however, I would like to focus attention on the role played by the many parodies of Don Juan that were premièred every year in theatres all around Spain during the weeks following All Saints day. As I shall argue, those parodies gave visibility, in a humorous and seemingly unproblematic way, to a series of social and political dilemmas that found a more thorough and preoccupied expression in the writings of the aforementioned intellectuals. In particular, I shall focus on parodies premièred between 1900 and 1910, in order to analyse how they anticipated some of the questions that the aforementioned Marañón would later make widely known and, at the same time, how they echoed the concerns raised by other intellectuals at the turn of the twentieth century. Those questions and concerns have to do with the definition of gender identities and behaviours, in a time when colonial losses and other ‘disasters’ were being explained as the result of gender confusion and, more particularly, a perceived loss of collective virility.

Through techniques proper to parody, such as transvestism and gender inversion, the works analysed were able to tackle those problematics and reach out to audiences which largely outnumbered the readership of Spanish intellectuals. Such is the case, for example, of Tenorio feminista (1907), in which a female Doña Juana Tenorio substitutes her male counterpart and assumes attributes then considered unfeminine. I shall as well focus on El Trust de los Tenorios (1910), since the attendance of king Alfonso XIII brings into the present discussion historical perceptions of the Spanish monarchy, an institution which, since the reign of Isabel II (1833-1968), had started to be regarded as “effeminate” and decadent. This paper discusses the nature and effects of parody, which, to some extent, helped to legitimise social donjuanismo by deflecting ongoing debates on the Don Juan myth from their moral focus and drawing them towards questions of gender. This apparent contradiction finds explanation in Linda Hutcheon’s description of parody as a genre that performs, at the same time, a subversive and a conservative form of criticism.

This talk is part of the CRASSH series.

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