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“How Can You Be a Witch? You Are Not Old”: Women, Society and Spectacle in the Spanish Golden Age Theater

Glenda Yael Nieto Cuebas, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The trials of the Basque witches conducted during the 16th and early 17th centuries had a significant effect on the development of Golden Age Spanish Literature. Taunts and jests alluding to the punishment and humiliation of witches abound throughout many texts, as do scenes where characters are questioned about family histories that include connections to witchcraft; all this at a time when state and church authorities took the matter very seriously. In spite of this, many characters in the Spanish literature of the period were directly associated to magic. The most famous and imitated of these is la Celestina, who helped shape many subsequent female characters that exhibited magical abilities. Although magical characters are fairly abundant in the literature, witches per se, who would be portrayed as characters that violate Christian dogma or renege on their faith and engage in a pact with the devil, were not often seen in Golden Age Theater. This project will study a number of plays known today that feature witches; among them, Entremés famoso de las brujas (1675) by Agustín Moreto, Las brujas fingidas y berza en boca (late 17th century), an anonymous work, and Amazona en las Indias (1635) by Tirso de Molina. A fourth play will also be studied, Entremés de las brujas (1742) by Francisco de Castro. Although this fourth play was published in the 18th century, it makes use of the aquelarre as a narrative element, as seen in the work of Moreto and in Las brujas fingidas. Having selected these works, this project will focus on the socio-historical context under which they existed in order to determine if the witches they portray violate established social norms or if, on the contrary, they help preserve and strengthen them. We also seek to determine whether they uphold or challenge the perceived need to eliminate and/or punish social disorder. To answer these and other questions, we will study how beliefs and myths about witches are incorporated into these plays, how witches and witch-like characters interact with other dramatic personae, and how given social norms are inverted, especially when practices forbidden or regulated by the Spanish Inquisition are concerned. Lastly, this dissertation analyzes the social paradox that emerges from the portrayal of female characters associated with witchcraft in these four theatrical works. These characters are framed as contradictory figures that correspond, in one way or another, with the contrasting cultural forces of the era. Their presence on stage communicates the crisis of the baroque, under which the plot aligns with the mechanisms of control of patriarchal culture. To this end, we analyze the representation of witches not only as sources of divergent discourse, but also as a means of disseminating mainstream discourse and propaganda; since the portrayal of these women highlights their identity as “the other” to an audience that at the same time applauds them.

Subject Area

Romance literature|Theater History

Recommended Citation

Nieto Cuebas, Glenda Yael, "“How Can You Be a Witch? You Are Not Old”: Women, Society and Spectacle in the Spanish Golden Age Theater" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3498363.