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Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos

The Problematic of Tragedy in Calderón's El médico de su honra


Author(s): HENRY W. SULLIVAN
Source: Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos, Vol. 5, No. 3, HOMENAJE A PEDRO
CALDERÓN DE LA BARCA (Primavera 1981), pp. 355-372
Published by: Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/27762126
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HENRY W. SULLIVAN

The Problematic of Tragedy in Calder6n's


El midico de su honra

Este articulo se enfrenta otra vez con la dificultosa problemdtica de la


tragedia de Calder6n, El medico de su honra. Ya en la historia de su recepcion
durante el siglo XIX fuera de Espana, result6 el final de dicha obra dificil de
aceptar para sus lectores. La critica academica ha venido poniendo infasis en
el cardcter ejemplar o no ejemplar del Rey Don Pedro quien, al parecer,
aprueba el crimen de Don Gutierre. Se propone mostrar aqui, partiendo de
las querellas doctrinales del siglo xvii entre te6logos "probabilistas" y
"rigoristas," que tanto Don Gutierre (rigorista) como Don Pedro (probabil
ista y laxista) yerran en sus presupuestos morales. Es en este juego de la
verdad con la apariencia, del acaso con la voluntad, y de la rigidez con el
laxismo que hay que buscar las causas de la inmolaci6n de Dona Mencia. El
porque ultimo de la tragedia de Calder6n obedece a su deseo (neocldsico) de
purgarle al auditorio los sentimientos de ldstima y de miedo, al mismo
tiempo que remite - en una "catarsis cristiana" (barroca) - a la necesidad del
sacrificio ritual en la sociedad humana. Tal sacrificio justifica los codigos
simb6licos que rigen la sociedad (Rene Girard), aunque producen horror en
el dramaturgo (Calder6n); en el juez justiciero (Don Pedro el Cruel); y en
nosotros (lectores y auditorio).

In this essay, I wish to discuss what is widely regarded as the most celebrated
tragedy of Don Pedro Calder6n de la Barca (i6oo-i68i), El medico de su
honra, in terms that do justice both to its formal elements as a dramatic
poem, but also the play's reception and history of effect. By "reception" I
mean in the first place its historical reception either in print, on the stage, or
among playgoers and critics as a series of recorded facts. In the second place,
and more importantly, I refer to its intended effect or "appeal structure" as a
work of art destined specifically for suitably receptive readers and spectators.
A suitably receptive audience would be that of a seventeenth-century
Spanish town, a group of modern Hispanists, or a cultured, North American
audience viewing a well-acted, competent translation today. The connection
between Calder6n's poetic drama and the powerful audience response it can
elicit situates us in the difficult area of speculation on the problematic of

12EVTSTA CANADTENSE DE ESTTTDTOS HTSPANTCOS Vol. V, No. 3 Primavera 1981

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356

tragedy itself, as the history of the play's reception points up only too
clearly. Secondly, in an attempt to view the play's moral presuppositions in a
more period-specific Calderonian light, I shall also place the tragic dilemma
against the seventeenth-century background of moral probabilism. Moral
probabilism and its attendant casuistry were virtually invented by Jesuit
theologians in the Golden Age, and Calder6n had been their pupil at the
Colegio Imperial in Madrid from his eighth to his fourteenth year. Finally, I
shall close with some broader speculations on what I have termed "Christian
catharsis" and Calder6n's understanding of the terrible sacrifices in human
happiness sometimes required by our fundamental need for social laws.
El midico de su honra, a sophisticated recasting of an earlier play of the
same title by Lope de Vega, was, according to Shergold and Varey, first
performed in Madrid on June io, 1635 by the troupe of Antonio de Prado; it
was published two years later in the Segunda parte of Calder6n's comedias
issued by his younger brother Josi.1 In Calder6n's version, Don Gutierre
Alfonso de Solis is a punctilious man of honor who, before the play's
opening, breaks off an engagement to his fiancee Leonor on the slimmest of
grounds, because he glimpsed a man leaving her house late at night. The
intruder Don Arias had, in fact, been clandestinely visiting Leonor's woman
companion. Unconvinced by Leonor's explanations, Gutierre subsequently
marries Dona Mencia. After a hunting accident - actually the play's opening
scene - which brings the unconscious Prince Enrique briefly into Mencia's
house, their mutual imprudences of word and action slowly arouse the
suspicions of Gutierre. He begins to imagine that his wife is having an affair
with this former admirer, the younger brother of King Pedro the Cruel of
Castile. In this Gutierre is entirely mistaken, but an unhappy accumulation
of circumstantial evidence and misleading appearances ultimately bring
Gutierre to the unshakeable conviction that his wife is an adulteress. He
instigates her death by blood-letting at the hands of a barber-surgeon, and
conceals this crime by pretending that the surgeon's bandage had slipped off
subsequent to treatment, thus causing the comatose Mencia to bleed to death
accidentally. He thus redeems his reputations as he sees it, becoming the
"Physician of his Honor" of the play's title. King Pedro, having heard the
surgeon's account of the case and having cross-examined the husband, metes
out no punishment to him for this deed, but largely endorses Gutierre's act,
marries him off to his former fiancee Dona Leonor, and lets him go free. This
ending has been a source of never-ending perplexity to critics, and my overall
purpose here is to shed some new light on this age-old problematic.
Calder6n's play was reprinted in 1686 and 1726, and reissued some eleven
times in Spain during the eighteenth century in the form of sueltas or single,
booklet-like play editions.2 It had no impact outside Spain, however, until
the German Romantics' apotheosis of Calder6n aroused the interest of Josef

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357

Schreyvogel (1768-1832), Secretary and later Director of the Viennese


Burgtheater, who wrote under the pseudonym C.A. West. He read
Calder6n's play in 1816 and wrote in his diary on October 8, with an
admiration bordering on disbelief: "What sort of people are littirateurs that
this play could remain unnoticed for 150 years ?"3 Schreyvogel was the first
person in Germany to recognize the power of Calder6n's Midico de su honra
and the first to translate it for a wider public. His five-act tragedy Don
Gutierre (Vienna, 1834) was first performed at the Burgtheater on January
18, 1818 and was a triumph.
The intensely Spanish character of the honor code in Calder6n and its
metaphysical justification gave Schreyvogel his knottiest problem. He
eventually hit on the idea of Don Gutierre's suicide as the solution, and
refashioned the play as a middle-class tragedy - according to the Aristotelean
definition of tragedy which he inherited from Lessing. The original conflict
became subjectivized and sentimentalized. In this conception of catharsis,
the essence of the tragic lay in the hero's being driven to a crime deemed
necessary at the moment of crisis, but later recognized by him as an error.
Schreyvogel sought to bring out the psychological conflict; he replaced
Gutierre's original motivation with ordinary feelings of suspicion and
jealousy. Like Othello (invoked as a parallel in Caroline Pichler's verse
prologue to the play), Gutierre is presented as acting out of blind passion and
jealousy, thus forming an absolute contrast to Calder6n's rational, cold, and
deliberate hero. The original ending - Schreyvogel thought it effective but
"Saracen" - gave place to an Othello-style situation in which Prince Enrique
attempts at the last moment to save Dona Mencia's life but fails, and the King
condemns Gutierre's crime passionnel as "unfeelingness" and "madness" -
thus reflecting Schreyvogel's own Enlightenment standards. Gutierre,
conscious now of his dreadful mistake, feels that no repentance can expiate
his crime, and, taking Enrique's dagger, stabs himself in the hope that
Mencia will forgive him.
This reworking inspired Baron von Zedlitz's Zwei Ndchte zu Valladolid
(Two Nights in Valladolid), performed at the Burgtheater on January 14,
1823, which also ends with the remorse-stricken suicide of the husband, Don
Garcia. But the philosopher Hegel, who saw Calder6n's companion honor
tragedy A secreto agravio, secreta venganza in Berlin in 1826, had deep
reservations about: "... the way in which the Spaniards treat the motive of
personal honour with the abstract severity of a logic, the brutality of which
outrages most deeply all our ideas and feelings. Let me recall," he continues,
"the attempt by our own theatrical management to bring upon the stage one
of the less famous plays of Calder6n entitled A secreto agravio, secreta
venganza, an attempt condemned to failure from the first on this ground."4
In the same passae,. Hegel commented on El m;dien de su honra: "Another

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358

tragedy, which on similar lines portrays a more profound human conflict, El


midico de su honra, under the changed title of "The Intrepid Prince," has
after some revision secured more leeway; but this, too, is handicapped by its
abstract and unyielding Catholic principle" (ibid., p. 24).
Adolf Wilbrandt (1837-1911), who took over the direction of the Vienna
Burgtheater for five years in i88i, was not daunted by the repellent
implications of the play's ending, however, and produced his fine, iambic
reworking of El midico in language more compatible with the Realist
expectations of his audience. The leading comic actor of the day Hugo
Thimig (1854-1944) played the role of the gracioso Coquin in Calder6n's
tragedy, of which H. Gl6cksmann once remarked that it was "for the sake of
Thimig's waggish, graceful and heartfelt Coquin alone a thing worth
seeing."5 Since 1821 thirty editions of the original Spanish play have
appeared in various countries. Since 1825 there have been eleven editions in
German translation by seven different translators; seven editions in French
translation; three in Italian; two in Polish; three in Russian; two in Czech,
and one in Hungarian (Reichenberger, pp. 359-63).
The critical history proper of Calder6n's play began in the 1880s with the
damning series of lectures given by Men6ndez y Pelayo in 1881 entitled
Calderdn y su teatro. Men6ndez Pelayo best represented what might be
called the traditional attitude towards "Calderonian honor" by declaring
such plays as A secreto agravio and El midico to be "radically immoral."6 In
this conception, the punctiliousness of Calder6n's heroes and the brutality of
the punishment inflicted on innocent women out of a mere suspicion were
equated not with the characters, but with Calder6n himself. Calder6n was
seriously viewed as a savage monster who both upheld the honor code and
condoned its excesses. This view was largely retained by Gerald Brenan who
wote in 1951: "The second objection I find to [El midico de su honra] is
Calder6n's clearly shown approval of Don Gutierre's action. This secret,
premeditated murder of an innocent wife is held up as a course to be
followed. It is for this reason that the murderer is not tried for his crime, but
on the contrary secures the king's approbation. Now this means that the play
is not a tragedy at all ... but a drama offering a moral example."7
Brenan's picture of a "revolting" or "neurotic and convention-ridden
country" was soundly refuted in 1952 by Edward M. Wilson. Pointing to the
King's traditionally cruel nature, Wilson observed: "No wonder, then, that
the King approves the subject's vengeance; it is 'in character' for Peter the
Cruel to do so. That does not necessarily mean that Calder6n too approved of
it ... Calder6n took the laws of honour and shewed their virtues and their
cruelty. He did not approve of Don Gutierre's rash deductions and savage
actions ... ."8 Wilson's seminal article consequently turned scholarship on El
midico in two new directions: to secure for the play the undoubted right to

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359

be termed a tragedy, and to achieve this by a scrutiny of King Pedro's flawed


character. Sensing that the revisionist reaction against Pedro's cruelty had
gone too far, Anthony Irvine Watson argued in 1963 that Calder6n had
wished to present an entirely exemplary monarch.9 This position was
severely criticized in its turn by D. W. Cruickshank, who found that
Calder6n did not present Pedro in any exemplary light whatsoever.10 The
attempt to disassociate Calder6n morally from the events he dramatized in El
midico de su honra was made in various other ways by A.E. Sloman (1958),
A.A. Parker (1964), Daniel Rogers (1965), and Peter N. Dunn (1960)."
The play's status as a tragedy has therefore become inextricably linked
with what might be termed the play's traditional enigma: does the King
approve or not of Mencia's murder?'2 In an effort to transcend this issue,
A.A. Parker submitted the play to a brief analysis touching the character of
King Pedro in 1957.13 He developed the famous five structural principles first
described in that paper more fully in tragic plots of Calder6n related to real
life in 1962, and included El midico de su honra in this growing canon of
tragedies in 1975.14 There is not one plot in El midico but two, each of them
constructed and parallelistically developed around the main female charac
ters Dona Leonor and Dona Mencia: 1) Leonor is courted before the play
begins by Gutierre, but he marries Mencia. Mencia is courted before the play
begins by Prince Enrique but, obeying her father's wishes, she marries
Gutierre, 2) The Leonor-Gutierre relationship is ruptured by the appearance
of another man (Don Arias) in her house; the Mencia-Gutierre relationship
is threatened and finally ruptured in the course of the play by the appearance
of another man (Prince Enrique) in her house, 3) Leonor appeals for
restitution of her honour to the King; Gutierre appeals for redress against
Enrique's dishonorable conduct to the King, 4) Leonor is made to hide and
listen to Gutierre's explanation, and angrily vows her vengeance; Gutierre is
made to hide and listen to Enrique's explanation and becomes more deeply
convinced than ever of his innocent wife's guilt.
Parker argues that the two plots are, therefore, inseparably connected by
the structure of the action; the two initial events lead to the same catastrophe:
the fact that Gutierre had courted Leonor, and the fact that Enrique had
courted Mencia, both lead to the latter's death. What is more, her death leads
to the marriage of Leonor at the end, which the rupture of the courtship had
prevented at the beginning (p. 7). The causal structure, Parker would argue,
provides a convergence of the two strands as early as the opening of Act ri
and, from then on, the inevitability of the tragic action is self-evident. As in
other tragedies of Calder6n, there is a "collective responsibility" for the
disaster that overwhelms Mencia, by which a grimly ironical and inescapable
Nemesis seeks and finds a retribution for an earlier error out of all proportion
to the harm it originally caused. The fatal process is set in motion by two

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360

accidents: Gutierre seeing the well-meaning Arias emerge at night from


Leonor's house, and Enrique's happening to tumble from his horse near
Gutierre's house. There are four further accidents which decisively influence
the play's course of events, though all remaining actions are determined by
the characters themselves. As Parker observes: "All the acts that follow from
these accidents are voluntary acts; this intermingling of volition and accident
means that fate does not predetermine events, but it does constantly
frustrate the ends willed by men and [does] demand unexpected decisions"
(p. 13).
On the old question of whether Calder6n condoned Gutierre's action,
Parker denies that we must accept the King's approval as proof of this, since
there is supposedly no-one else in the play to act as Calder6n's mouthpiece
and tell us otherwise (p. i8). In my view there is indeed such a mouthpiece in
the person of the gracioso Coquin. For unsheathing his sword in the King's
presence in Act i Gutierre has been arrested, but persuades his jailor to
release him temporarily on parole. Rather than return to imprisonment and
face possible execution at the King's command, Coquin then suggests they
should break parole. The honorable Gutierre is horrified at this suggestion
and asks how Coquin will be able to face public opinion? Coquin's answer
puts honor in the perspective of common sense and he asks in his turn: " Y
heme de dejar morir / por solo bien parecer?" (11, 263-64).15 Life, he claims,
is like a gambling-game where if one stakes one's life and then loses, there
are no second chances. Gutierre offers no reply to Coquin's challenge, but it
remains a relevant question. Is honor to one's pledged word absolute, so that
one must proudly choose death rather than dishonor? Or does the
preservation of one's life annul this obligation? Can one really break a
solemn promise? (p. 21).
I feel that it is at this point that seventeenth-century moral probabilism
squarely enters the play. A sub-system of neo-Scholastic theology with the
purest Spanish pedigree, probabilism was an attempt to deal with cases of
conscience where a serious doubt existed over the applicability of a moral law
in a particular case. Canonical authorities tended to divide along opposing
lines: the "rigorist" school of moral theologians advocated the "safe"
opinion for law if there was the slightest doubt about the individual's right to
disobey that law. The "probabilists," on the other hand, argued that one
must decide in favor of freedom to break the law if there is a serious doubt
about the law's applicability. The probabilists originally invoked the
authority of Fray Bartolom6 de Medina, a Dominican, who in 1577 first
enunciated the principle that "if an opinion is probable it is lawful to follow it,
even though the opposing opinion is more probable."'6
Though not within the realm of moral theology, we may cite the current

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361

debate concerning whether there is life on the planet Mars as a convenient


example in order to illustrate this distinction. Most competent and respected
scientific opinion believes that there is no life on Mars. Since a measure of
doubt still exists on this issue, however, and since some reputable authorities
maintain that life does or could exist there, the latter group subscribes to the
less probable opinion that life does exist on Mars, even though the opposing
opinion is more probable. That Calder6n was widely read in the probabilistic
literature of the Jesuits is shown by the inventory of his library at his death.17
In Calder6n's play, Gutierre is clearly the "rigorist" and Coquin the
"probabilist." Gutierre adheres rigidly to the code of honor, whatever the
cost, and Coquin pleads for the less probable opinion in favor of liberty,
despite the disapproval of gossiping tongues.
But the opposition between rigorism and probabilism runs far deeper in
this play than any critic has so far suggested. It is my opinion that we go a
long way towards resolving the problematic of this tragedy, if we recognize
that probabilism provides both the substance and the organic structure of the
dilemma. No-one, to my knowledge, has drawn attention to the obsessive
frequency with which the terms rigor and riguroso echo throughout the
play. A convenient list of the passages where those words occur is provided in
the Appendix. In almost all cases, rigor and riguroso are applied to Don
Gutierre directly, or to his situation. Often the term cruel is applied to him as
well. Now "rigorous" and "cruel" had legal connotations in the Golden Age,
as well as moral ones.'8 A "cruel" judge was one who exacted the maximum
penalties for the transgression of the law, thus severe or harsh, not necessarily
a man who was sadistic by nature. This legal use of the term "cruel" survives
even today in the American Constitution in the phrase "cruel and unusual
punishment." Riguroso was closely allied in meaning, as we have seen, and
implied the opposite of all leniency. The probabilists, however, favored
giving the benefit of the doubt in difficult or indifferently probable cases,
finding for the defendant in civil law, or absolving the sinner in auricular
confession if the probabilist was a priest.
Another important feature of Gutierre's rigorist personality is his craving
for absolute certainty. He goes to enormous lengths in the course of the play
to accumulate evidence of his wife's infidelity, debating with himself
constantly in an attempt to be sure beyond a shadow of a doubt of his ground.
The irony and tragedy of the play lie partly in this "evidence's" being merely
circumstantial. But the husband's desire for total certainty is thus exposed to
the audience as an impossible goal. Certainty is a projection of Gutierre's
own rigid and over-controlled imagination, as he himself indirectly confesses
to the King when asked what he had actually seen to arouse his suspicions?
Gutierre replies:

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362

Gutierre: Nada: que hombres como yo


no ven; basta que imaginen,
que sospechen, que prevengan,
que recelen, que adivinen,
que ... No s6 c6mo lo diga;
que no hay voz que signifique
una cosa, que no sea
un atomo indivisible. (III, 79-86)
A seventeenth-century audience steeped in these ecclesiastical modes of
thought would have had little difficulty identifying Gutierre's rigorism. He
is a man who strives to rid himself of all doubts concerning a question of fact
(his wife's adultery), who by virtue of the honor code's binding and
unequivocal laws cannot see any benign solution to his dilemma, and who
proceeds to exact the maximum penalty for transgression by murdering the
woman he loves. The probabilists, however, commonly agreed that absolute
certainty - given the imperfect state of human knowledge - is admittedly an
impossibility, and that God does not demand impossibilities. This probabilist
maxim is clearly alluded to by Mencia in her dying words, as overheard and
reported by the barber-surgeon Ludovico. She whispers faintly: "Inocente
muero; / el Cielo no te demande / mi muerte." (III, 640-42). She is obviously
addressing Gutierre, and pleading until the last that her husband not demand
of himself an even greater degree of moral rigor than that which God or
"Heaven" would exact.
But if Gutierre is the rigorist in the play, who is the probabilist? We have
mentioned Coquin's hints and the last words of Mencia, but I maintain that
the true probabilist in the tragedy is really King Pedro himself. This may
seem a surprising statement, inasmuch as critics have repeatedly stressed
Pedro's traditional soubriquet of "the Cruel" (el cruel) or "the Justicer" (el
justiciero). Indeed, there is much talk of this in the text, and the Fool's first
words to the King express fear that he may be hurled out of the window
owing to the sovereign's reputation for severity. The King never laughs,
explains Coquin, and hence will never need the services of a jester. Pedro
then makes a wager with him: for every time the fool makes the King laugh,
he will reward him with 1oo crowns; if after a month he has failed to do so, all
Coquin's teeth will be pulled out. Both Pedro and others throughout the play
mention the King's severity, his "cruelty" in both the moral and legal sense,
and his self-conscious pride in dispensing justice. But when Coquin loses his
wager, the King never exacts the gruesome penalty. He simply lets the
matter drop.
The truth is that Pedro's cruelty is mostly just talk. When we balance

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363

Pedro's words against his actions, all his bluster begins to ring hollow. As
D. W. Cruickshank has written in a recent article: "[Pedro's] tragedy is that
of a man who is dimly aware that he is unfitted for his task, but whose pride
will not let him confess it. "19 We meet him in Act i receiving petitions. He is
not merely lenient towards his petitioners, however, but rashly over
generous with them. To a common soldier merely requesting some small
favor, Pedro gives a fine steed from the royal stable. To an indigent old man
who begs alms, the King gives a diamond of great worth. To the last
petitioner Dona Leonor, piqued by her remark that the poor cannot expect
justice in the courts of a kingdom ruled by him, Pedro makes rash and
over-florid promises of legal restitution; he is a self-styled Atlante and
supports the entire weight of the law on his shoulders. But Gutierre is now
married and cannot satisfy Leonor's grievance via matrimony. The King
knows too that a lower court has tried Leonor's action for breach of promise,
and found in favor of Gutierre. And since she has not actually lost her honor,
how is Pedro supposed to restore it? What cause is he really going to take up,
beyond his parade of acting with lavish indulgence towards a subject who has
no legitimate case? He is not cruel and severe here at all, but lenient and
over-benign.
Pedro attempts to solve Gutierre's complaint against the Prince, his
brother, by hiding Gutierre behind an arras, and confronting Enrique with
the rumors of his assaults on the virtue of a married woman. He shows him
Enrique's own dagger which has been discovered in Gutierre's house. In this
he reenacts his policy towards Leonor of letting the injured party overhear
the accused's self-exoneration on the legal principle audiatur ac altera pars:
may both sides of the question be heard. But this is a dangerously over
generous action towards the injured party, as Pedro quickly realizes.
Enrique's words are damning in their implication; Pedro's desire to be fair -
to be a Justicer - has worsened matters. Finally, nicked on the hand by his
brother's dagger as he hands it back to him, Pedro suffers hallucinations of
assassination (actually justified by the events of Montiel in 1365), and in his
nervous agitation quite forgets to deal with Gutierre's complaint as he had
promised.
Probabilism in its over-lenient and degenerate form was known in the
seventeenth century as laxism. The climax of Pedro's laxism is also the
climax of the play: the scene where the King, knowing the true facts of the
case, allows Gutierre to explain the events leading up to the demise of
Mencia. He displays an altogether benign attitude towards the alleged
wrongdoings laid at Mencia's door by Gutierre, arguing always that the
wrongdoer be given the benefit of the doubt - another stock probabilist
maxim. Their culminating dialogue rns as follows:

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364

Gutierre: Senor, escuchad aparte


disculpas.
Rey: Son excusadas.
Cuiles son?
Gutierre: Si vuelvo a verme
en desdichas tan extranas
que de noche halle embozado
a vuestro hermano en mi casa ...?
Rey: No dar cr6dito a sospechas.
Gutierre: Y si detris de mi cama
hallase tal vez, senor,
de Don Enrique la daga?
Rey: Presumir que hay en el mundo
mil sobornadas criadas
y apelar a la cordura.
Gutierre: A veces, senor, no basta.
Si veo rondar despu6s
de noche y de dia mi casa?
Rey: Quejirseme a mi.
Gutierre: i Y si cuando
llego a quejarme, me aguarda
mayor desdicha escuchando?
Rey: Qu6 importa, si 6l desengana,
que fue siempre su hermosura
una constante muralla
de los vientos defendida?
Gutierre: Y si volviendo a mi casa
hallo alg6n papel que pide
que el Infante no se vaya?
Rey: Para todo habr6 remedio.
Gutierre: Posible es que a esto le haya?
Rey: Si, Gutierre.
Gutierre: Cuil, senor?
Rey: Uno vuestro.
Gutierre: Qu6 es?
Rey: Sangrarla. (III, 852-81)

Faced with the fait accompli of Mencia's death, K


probabilistic benignity to the malefactor himsel
possible (probable) one, he says, in the light of
made Mencia's guilt seem so certain in the mind
element of doubt and giving Gutierre the benefit

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365

raised to a doubt of law), the King then absolves Gutierre of his crime, so
appearing to condone it. This is out-and-out laxism and clearly not intended
to convey Calder6n's own point of view, as Wilson and others - for differing
reasons - have always maintained. Both men are egregiously mistaken in
their actions (by reason of their different flaws of character, carefully
developed in the play), but the richness of Calder6n's critique lies in his
portrayal of the exculpation of a moral rigorist by a moral laxist. This sinister
combination of extremes leads to the murder of an innocent woman and its
shocking lack of retribution. In this situation, Calder6n condemns excessive
rigor and excessive clemency equally, and forces the playgoer himself to
speculate as to where the prudent middle ground might lie.
This oblique dialectic, it seems to me, gives a clue to the nature of tragic
effect in Calder6n and the link between poetic drama and the audience's
receptivity. Parker admits that: "A 'tragic structure,' however well planned
and wrought, cannot by itself provide a tragedy" (loc. cit., p. 13). Unlike
Parker, however, I do not feel that modern definitions of tragedy by critics
such as Geoffrey Brereton et al. are likely to be of much help in discussing
tragic effect in a writer like Calder6n. It is true that since Hegel,
Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, modern thinkers have come to believe that
there is an intrinsically tragic fact in life which the tragic poem imitates. This
"tragic sense of life" was discussed by Kierkegaard, Unamuno, and others.
Aristotle, on the contrary, regarded tragedy only as the passage in human
affairs from happiness to misery. He did not view life as a tragic fact in itself.
To apply the post-Romantic theories to Calder6n would involve us then in
the absurdity of supposing that because Calder6n wrote tragedies he had a
tragic conception of life; that because he wrote comedies he had a comic sense
of life; that because he wrote autos sacramentales he had an allegorical sense
of life, and that because he dramatized Greek myths he had a mythological
sense of life.
I believe we can be spared both these anachronisms, as well as the cardinal
blunder of measuring Calderonian tragedy according to formal neo
Aristotelean standards, by invoking a theory of what I have termed Christian
"catharsis." Naturally, in view of the long history of the term "catharsis,"
we must be cautious in applying it to the seventeenth century. Its
etymological meaning was purgation; but it became a technical term in
Greek religion meaning religious purification rather than just physical
purgation (although a ritual cleansing was also achieved by the use of
laxative purges). In Section v1 of the Poetics, Aristotle said that tragic
representations excited the emotions of pity and fear and thereby effected the
purgation (or catharsis) of these emotions. The Spanish dramatists have left
us no written evidence that they strove to turn this dictum into a dramatic
law for their own times. Aristotle's eternal insight is, however, a statement

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366

about the psychological connection between the poetic drama and the
powerful audience response it can elicit. It is an observation about human
substance, not structural organization. In this sense, the essence of tragedy
lies not in any formal considerations, but in the emotional effect upon the
spectator. If deep, painful, compelling and terrifying emotions well up in us
as the consequence of watching the acting out of a dramatic poem, then the
tragic poet has achieved his aim. The means used to secure this effect are
immaterial. Poetic means are beauty which dodge in under the social censor
like a perfectly aimed sword and pierce us to the heart. This is what we mean
by a great tragic poet, and Pedro Calder6n was one in a sublime degree.
But the question now arises: did a Christian poet like Calder6n envision
such effects consciously? And if so, how did he conceive their ultimate
purpose? The deist and enlightened Lessing denied that there could be
Christian tragedy at all, in part because of the promise of Christian salvation
held out for the dying hero or heroine. Yet Calder6n wrote religious plays
and the Eucharistic autos sacramentales, and he also wrote tragedies. But as
studies by Curtius, Seznec, Sebastian Neumeister and others have shown,
the Christian and Classical traditions in art lived side by side in the
Renaissance/Baroque eras and exerted a continuous syncretic effect one
upon the other.2O Many popular books in Spain, for example, strove to
extract Christian meanings and allegories from Ancient works, especially
from Greek mythology.2' In my view, Calder6n intuited a Christian
catharsis which aimed at the arousal of emotions akin to pity and fear,the
goal of which was not mere pagan purgation, but the achievement of
religious knowledge. This was heightened knowledge, via poetic means, of
God's ways to men, with an accompanying understanding of the necessity
for submission to social and religious law.
In El medico de su honra, some eighty lines from the end of the play,
Gutierre pulls aside a curtain to reveal the bloodied corpse of Mencia lying on
a couch, in full view of the protagonists and of the audience. This gruesome
spectacle arouses the following reaction in the King, who says:

Rey: Cubrid ese horror que asombra,


ese prodigio que espanta,
espectaculo que admira,
simbolo de la desgracia. (III, 828-31)

Now these words are clearly in the realm of pity and fear, th
characteristically charged with the Baroque love of spine-chilling horro
a sense of stunning shock to the eyes. In the endings of other tragic p
Calder6n actually used the term ldstima meaning "pity" or "hurt." But
precisely this extra effect of wonderment, in my view, which is Calde

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367

special contribution to tragic effect as a whole. The audience feels not merely
pity and fear, but awe and amazement. The mind is puzzled and dumbfoun
ded; it struggles to grasp and understand the catastrophe. Emotions are not
only purged, but the reason is called upon to fathom the tragedy which the
eyes and ears have witnessed.
But what is the mystery or unfathomable disaster which Calder6n's
Christian audience was being required to make sense of ? Towards what is the
dramatist's discourse moving? On what does he wish us to reflect? I submit
that the answer is what must be done in nomine Patris: in the name-of-the
father, that is to say as the price of psychic and social law. Christ dying on the
cross is the Ur-symbol of Christian tragedy: the image elicits pity for His
suffering (i. e. Christ's Passion) and fear of a Father who would require the
sacrifice of His only begotten Son - but for what?
The best answer to this question that I know has been provided by the
contemporary French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901- ).22 The "Law
of the Name of the Father" (la loi du nom-du-pere) is actually a fundamental
concept in Lacan's idiosyncratic Freud-derived psychoanalytic system. The
structure of the relationship of children to their parents is the essential tragic
trap. There is no way out of being the son or daughter of the parents who
bore you. Even after their natural deaths, their internalized images still live
on in the psyche. The dilemma lies in the fact that one begins by loving one's
parents; children generally love their mother first, and she creates the core of
the infantile psyche by her language and nurture. In this stage of specular
symbiosis, from the first six to eighteen months of life (Lacan's celebrated
stade du miroir or "mirror-stage"), the foundation of the personality or moi
is formed. If there is loving care, this is a paradise period of god-like power
and contentment for the infant. The formation of Lacan's je begins after the
perceived intervention of the father, at roughly the same time that the child
learns to speak. His dividing presence breaks up the symbiotic dyad of
mother and infant, reclaims the mother's attentions for himself, and imposes
his symbolic authority on the infant revealing its separateness from its own
mother. He thereby conveys to the child difference, individuation, renuncia
tion, and law. His "name" thus becomes identified with social power and
spells an end to the paradise of primeval union. Through language and
authority, the child begins to compromise, repress early desires, postpone
gratification, and learn the codes of society. The moi is repressed as the
unconscious subject of perception, according to Lacan, and the emerging,
socialized ego, Lacan's je, must grapple with the realm which he terms the
Symbolic order.
The relationship of Lacan's system to tragedy is that this repression and
submission to the "law of the name-of-the-father" is not achieved without

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368

ceases to yearn for paradise and on occasion to commit anti-social and


irrational acts. Love, moreover, will always spring from that glowing source
of psychic energy, not from the obedient, socialized persona. But adult
society needs suffering and repression if it is to function in sanity. The
Eucharist symbolizes this in Christian terms when by taking Communion,
grown persons ritually ingest the symbolically transfigured body of the
sacrificed Son. Tragedy tries to say this as well, thus explaining the historical
closeness of tragedy to religious festivals, the scapegoat, blood sacrifice, the
suffering of the noblest and the best, and so on.23 Tragedy is the attempt in
dramatic poetry to account for our psychic pain.
And so it is with Calder6n. However we may analyze the tragic process by
which Mencia is made to die, the mystery remains of how such a thing could
happen? We have tried to show that a mingling of accident and volition play a
role in this; we have stressed the subtle dialectic of rigorism and probabilism
in the play, and stressed Calder6n's consummate skill in constructing a
double plot that finally melds into an action of tragic inevitability. Yet for all
these magnificently handled formal techniques, the spectator at the end is
shocked, horrified and perplexed. This, as I noted at the beginning, has been
the universal impression created by the play on those who have studied it.
And yet, I submit, this was precisely the effect that Calder6n intended. He
meant to arouse our pity and fear, to harrow our emotions in the Greek
tradition. But he also wished our reason to be dumbfounded, to send us
searching for the higher meaning of tragedy. He wished to show in a
Christian catharsis that for the sake of codes of law, for the maintenance of
social cohesion, for the sake of Symbolic orders and conventions such as the
Spanish honor system, for the very privilege of existing in sanity in our
world, the most dreadful sacrifices must sometimes be rendered up to the
psychic gods of society.

University of Ottawa

APPENDIX: Table of terms related to Rigorism in El midico de su honra

1 Mencia: i Oh au6 tales sois los hombres!


(to Gutierre) Hoy olvido, ayer amor,
ayer gusto, y hoy rigor! (I, 517-19)
2 Mencia: La mano a Gutierre di
(to Jacinta) volvi6 Enrique, y en rigor
tuve amor, y tengo honor.
Esto es cuanto s6 de mi. (I, 571-74)

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369

Gutierre: Leonor. mal aconseiada


(to Kine) (aue no la aconseia bien
quien destruye su opini6n),
pleitos intent6 poner
a mi desposorio, donde
el mds riguroso juez
no hall6 causa contra mi,
aunque ella dice que fue
diligencia del favor. (I, 857-65)
4 Gutierre: No siento en desdicha tal
(Asidel ver riQuroso v cruel
al Rey; s6lo siento que hoy,
Mencia, no te he de ver. (I, 997-1000)
5 Coquin: Mucho el Rev me quiere; pero
(to Mencia) si el rigor pasa adelante,
mi amo sera muerto andante,
pues ird con escudero. (II, 215-18)
6 Mencia: ;Ou6 riQor
(Aside) Si es aue con 6l ha tonado.
ay de mi! (11, 305-07)
Mencia: ; Tente, senor!
(to Gutierre) ;Tn la daga nara mi?
En mi vida te ofendi,
det6n la mano al rigor, (II, 361-65)
det6n...

8 Gutierre: Esta noche ir6 a mi casa,


(Soliloauv) de secreto entrar6 en ella
por ver qu6 malicia tiene
el mal; y hasta apurar 6sta,
disimular6, si puedo,
esta desdicha, esta pena,
este rigor, este agravio
este dolor, esta ofensa... (1r, 671-78)
a Arias: En mi vida he ennneido
(to Leonor) galin necio, escrupuloso
y con extremo celoso,
que en llegando a ser marido
no le castiguen los cielos. (11, 793-97)
10 Gutierre: (RiQuroso
(Aside) es el dolor de aeravios;
mas con celos ningunos fueron sabios.) (II, 996

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370

11 Gutierre: Y mas cuando a decir voy


(to Kina) que fue vuestro hermano Enriaue,
contra quien pido se aplique
desta justicia el rigor:
no porque sepa, senor,
que el poder mi honor contrasta
pero imaginarlo basta
quien sabe que tiene honor. (m11, 33-40)
12 Gutierre: voroue si en rigor tan fiero
(to King) malicia en el mal hubiera,
junta de agravios hiciera,
a mi honor desahuciara,
con la sangre le lavara,
con la tierra le cubriera. (m11, 45-50)
n i Gutierre: Quien hace
(to Ludovico) por consejos rigurosos
mayores temeridades,
darte la muerte sabri. (m11, 549-52)

NOTES

i For a thorough discussion of Lope de Vega's earlier version and the Calderonian ref undi
cidn, see Albert E. Sloman, The Dramatic Craftsmanship of Calder6n (Oxford, 1958), pp.
18-58. For performance details of El mddico, cf. N.D. Shergold & J.E. Varey, "Some early
Calder6n dates," BHS, 38 (1961), 274-86, especially p. 281.
2 Cf. Kurt & Roswitha Reichenberger, Henry W. Sullivan et al. compilers, Bibliographis
ches Handbuch der Calder6n-Forschung (Cassel, 1979), vol. I, pp. 355-57.
3 See Karl Glossy ed., Josef Schreyvogels Tagebacher 1810-1823, Schriften der Gesellschaft
fur Theatergeschichte, vols. n & in (Berlin, 1903), vol. II, p. 209. See also the disserta
tion of Uta Maley, "Schreyvogel und Calder6n: Ein Beitrag zur Erforschung der oester
reichischen Calder6n-Rezeption im xix Jahrhundert," Diss. Innsbruck, 1976, and Henry
W. Sullivan, Calder6n in Germany, 1654-1974: His Reception on the German Stage
and Influence on the Theory and Practice of German Dramatic Poetry (Cambridge: Cam
bridge Univ. Press, in preparation), chapter 9, the section "Schreyvogel and the Vien
nese Tradition."
4 Quoted from Anne & Henry Paolucci eds., Hegel on Tragedy (New York, etc., 1962;
Torchbook rpt. 1975), p. 24. All references are to the reprint of 1975. Though Lord
Macaulay read many Calder6n plays in the Keil edition during a stay in India in
1835-1836 and largely condemned them, he was impressed by El midico de su honra.
He appended a long, laudatory footnote on the last page of the text, and even
bothered to pass a few remarks on the role and function of Dona Leonor, the first critic
ever to do so. See Henry W. Sullivan, "Lord Macaulay and Calder6n," RomN, 16
(1975), 1-5, especially p. 4.
5 Quoted from Heinz Kindermann, Theatergeschichte Europas, vol. vii "Realismus"
(Salzburg, 1965), p. 187.
6 Cf. Marcelino Men6ndez y Pelayo, Calder6n y su teatro (Madrid, 3rd ed. 1884), p.
279.

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371

7 See Gerald Brenan, The literature of the Spanish people from Roman times to the
present day (Cambridge, 1951), pp. 280 et seq. The quotations here are from p. 284.
8 Edward M. Wilson, "Gerald Brenan's Calder6n," BCom, 4 (1952), 6-8. Cf. p. 7,
column b.
9 Anthony I. Watson, "Peter the Cruel or Peter the Just? A Reappraisal of the Role
Played by King Peter in Calder6n's El midico de su honra," RJ, 14 (1963), 322-46.
10 D.W. Cruickshank, "Calder6n's King Pedro: just or unjust?" Spanische Forschungen
der Goerres-Gesellschaft, 25 (1970), 113-32.
11 See Sloman, op. cit., pp. 18-58; A.A. Parker, "Metifora y simbolo en la interpretaci6n
de Calder6n," Actas del Primer Congreso Internacional de Hispanistas (Oxford, 1964),
144-51; Daniel Rogers, "'Tienen los celos pasos de ladrones': Silence in Calder6n's
El medico de su honra," HR, 33 (1965); P.N. Dunn, "Honour and the Christian
Background in Calder6n," BHS, 37 (1960), 75-105.
12 For Frank P. Casa, Pedro makes contradictory statements on this subject, finding the
murder both repugnant and justifiable. See his "Crime and Responsibility in 'El medico
de su honra'," Homenaje a William L. Fichter, ed. A. David Kossoff & Jos6 Amor y
Visquez (Madrid, 1971), pp. 127-37.
13 See A.A. Parker, The Approach to the Spanish Drama of the Golden Age, Diamante vi
(London, 1957; rpt. 1962, 1964, 1967), pp. 4-5.
14 See A.A. Parker, "Towards a Definition of Calderonian Tragedy," BHS, 39 (1962), 222
37; also his "El medico de su honra as Tragedy," Hispan6fila especial, no. 2 (1975), 3-23.
I have made this latter article the main point of departure for the present discussion.
15 The edition of the play cited throughout is that of Angel Valbuena Briones, Dramas de
honor II: El medico de su honra y El pintor de su deshonra, Clisicios castellanos
(Madrid, 1956). This edition differs only in small details and in some line-numbering from
the edition of C.A. Jones, El midico de su honra (Oxford, 1961).
16 See Henry W. Sullivan, Tirso de Molina & the Drama of the Counter Reformation
(Amsterdam, 1976), especially pp. 40-51, for a fuller discussion of moral probabilism
and casuistry in their application to the comedia.
17 We learn from Calder6n's will (1681) that he owned a set of the works of the Sicilian
Theatine probabilist P. Antonino Diana, the Resolutiones morales. He specifies:
"Item: es mi voluntad que los libros del Padre Diana se den y entreguen a Ger6nimo
Penarrosa." See C. Perez Pastor, Documentos para la biografia de Calder6n (Mad
rid, 1905), p. 387. On my own treatment of probabilism in Tirso de Molina etc., Dr.
Nigel Griffin comments: "Possibly the most telling section here is that (pp. 40-51)
which analyses the potential for moral anarchy which resulted from the advocacy of
probable (i.e. provable) opinions - no matter how heterodox - as equally permissi
ble to more conventional (or more probable) ones. [Sullivan] is right to assume that
Jesuit influence was critical here, although perhaps more importance might have
been attached to the formative influence of Jesuit teaching methods (especially the
classes of cases of conscience) and slightly less to the nature of the opinions them
selves." Cf. MLR, 73 (1978), 676-78, at p. 676.
18 See the entries rigor and riguroso in Sebastian Covarrubias y Orozco, Tesoro de la lengua
castellana o espanola (1611), ed. Martin de Riquer (Barcelona, 1943); the Diccionario
de Autoridades ... (Madrid, 1732); and Joan Corominas, Diccionario critico etimol6gico de
la lengua castellana (Berne, 1954).
19 See D.W. Cruickshank, "'Pongo mi mano en sangre banada a la puerta': Adultery in 'El
medico de su honra'," Studies in Spanish Literature of the Golden Age Presented to
Edward M. Wilson, ed. R.O. Jones (London, 1973), pp. 54-62, at p. 61.
20 Cf. Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, tr. Willard

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372

R. Trask (Princeton, 1953); Jean Seznec, La Survivance des dieux antiques (London,
1940); Gilbert Highet, The Classical Tradition: Greek and Roman Influences on
Western Literature (Oxford, 1949; rpt. 1967); Sebastian Neumeister, Mythos und
Reprusentation: die mythologischen Festspiele Calder6ns (Munich, 1978).
21 One of the best examples of this syncresis is P6rez de Moya's Filosofia secreta (Madrid,
1585), which systematically Christianizes the myths of Greco-latin antiquity. Fran
cisco Sanchez "el Brocense" also suggested in his translation of Epictetus (Madrid, 1612)
that if the Ancient philosopher ceased to speak of the gods in the plural, he could be
regarded as an orthodox prophet or an apostle. In Camoes' epic poem Os Lusiadas, pagan
deities, the Christian God and the Virgin Mary coexist side by side.
22 The best introduction to Lacan's loi du nom-du-pere in English may be read in the forth
coming book of Prof. Mary E. Ragland-Sullivan, Jacques Lacan: An Introduction for
Literary Critics (to be submitted to Cornell University Press, 1980), chapter 5 entitled
"The Oedipal Structure." See also Jacques Lacan, "Of a question preliminary to any
possible treatment of psychosis (1955)," in Ecrits: A Selection, tr. Alan Sheridan (New
York, 1977), 179-225.
23 Ren6 Girard believes that "victimage" and sacrifice are the necessary propelling mechan
isms of all religious and cultural institutions. See his La Violence et le sacre (Paris,
1972), translated by Patrick Gregory as Violence and the Sacred (Baltimore, 1977). In the
special issue of Diacritics on the work of Ren6 Girard (Spring, 1978), there is a review
by Ciriaco Mor6n-Arroyo of C6sar Bandera's book Mimesis conflictiva: ficcidn literaria y
violencia en Cervantes y Calderdn (Madrid, 1975). Mor6n-Arroyo writes: "At no
moment has ... Gutierre's honor been endangered. His resolution to kill Mencia is a
hasty and criminal conclusion, and Mencia becomes a tragic victim of a logical subtlety.
I think that these structures, no less human and no less true than the scapegoat mechan
ism, account for the core of Calder6n's work better than Girard's system" (p. 78).

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