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Du nom au genre

Florence D’Artois


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1Lope de Vega (1562-1635) wrote six works which he called tragedias and some thirty other tragicomedias, at a time when custom demanded that all works be assigned a super-generic label, namely comedia. Given the heterogeneity of this group of works, the difficulty of classifying them with Lope’s other comedias, and above all the lack of a theoretical system with which to correlate them, any attempt at a systematic approach—especially poetic—to these works appeared to present something of a conundrum. In acknowledging the discursive rather than purely textual nature of this production, what this article proposes is a pragmatics of Lope’s tragedia. What does it mean for Lope to style a work a tragedia? Where do Lope’s plays stand in relation to the particularly unstable field of genre conventions of the time? In bringing out the tensions between the places allotted to genre denominations deriving from different instances of enunciation and textual levels, analysis of the workings of genre labelling lead one to speculate on the linkage between “author-oriented genre” and “reader-oriented genre” in these works—if Lope actually decided to write these tragedias, were they received as such, or more precisely could they have been? For it requires certain abilities to recognise genres, and this can only be done through prior training. In fact, the Spanish context is untypical in this respect. Aristotle’s Poetics and the ancient models which, first in Italy then later in France, inspired a return to the genre had a scant and very poor reception. Thus, before Lope, tragedy in Spain was known for a genre stillborn, lacking any real substance, beyond an elite circle of erudition foreign to the world of commercial theatres—the corrales de comedias. In such conditions, how could a notion of tragedy be formed that was solid enough to operate in the mechanics of composition and reception of Lope’s plays?

2This book thus begins by exploring the emergence of an ability to appreciate genre among the audiences of the corral before the appearance of Lope’s tragedies, based on two groups of plays: Philippine tragedy, comprising tragic plays written between 1575 and 1585, late in the reign of Philip II, and another comprising tragic comedias written at the turn of the century, when the Comedia Nueva was becoming the rage. To what extent is it true, as most critics agree, that the tragedies of the Philippine era were “not fit for performance”? What then became of tragedy in the age of the Comedia Nueva? Was the public still able to recognise it as such in the mix of tragi-comedy? Here the book returns to Lope’s tragedies proper, depicting a genre caught between two ages. Carrying on the work of adaptation that playwrights and stage directors had devoted to the genre from its beginnings to render it more intelligible and more pleasing to the corral, the pressure of the political/cultural ambience of the 1620s persuaded Lope to establish an association between the image of tragedy and that of “grandeur”, which he had gone some way to deconstructing at the beginning of the century. But like the tragic terribilitas that preceded it, this lyricised grandeur was but one facet of a tragic formula that Lope utilised effortlessly to seduce various types of audience, manipulating plasticity and polyphony in a way that—precisely because there are no rules—can readily be adapted ad hoc.

© Casa de Velázquez, 2017

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