Edition and notes by David T. Gies
Madrid: Clásicos Castalia. 2016, 268 pp.
Rereading David Gies’s critical edition of Don Juan Tenorio brings back many memories. I first read José Zorrilla’s immortal play in an undergraduate survey course taught by Sam Amago at the University of Notre Dame. At the time, I did not appreciate that the book I had dutifully bought for class, edited by a David T. Gies, was written by an eminent scholar. Rather, with the infinite wisdom of a college junior, I had very little intention of reading the introduction —but did judge the footnotes rather helpful. Having not yet considered graduate school, I could never have guessed that the man smiling out at me from the back cover would one day figure so prominently in my own formation as a teacher and scholar. Yet three short years later, I found myself at the University of Virginia scouring the previously-ignored introduction in frantic preparation for comprehensive exams, thankful even in my panicked state for the clarity with which it was written. With graduate school behind me, I still find the footnotes extremely useful, because they consistently enhance meaning rather than distract from it, clarifying issues of meter and vocabulary or illuminating fascinating intertextualities. Nevertheless, it is Gies’s critical introduction to what is one of Spain’s most significant and influential plays that represents this edition’s greatest contribution to the field.
The merits of Gies’s introduction to Don Juan Tenorio (1844) explain in large part the success of the edition, which since its publication by Clásicos Castalia in 1994 was reprinted in 2002 and revised and reissued in 2016. The most recent edition features a modern typeset and style, newly expanded bibliography and revisions that are mostly annotative in nature, reflecting Gies’s intimate knowledge of the dynamic field of nineteenth-century Spanish studies. The first section of the introduction provides an overview of the playwright and his works while the second part offers a brief but useful commentary on Zorrilla’s legacy as poet. The final section offers a detailed examination of four seemingly disparate components of the play: its female characters; the work’s magical elements; its fire imagery; and the eponymous protagonist himself. Each brilliantly argued analysis demonstrates in turn the underlying thesis girding the entirety of the introduction: that Don Juan Tenorio represents a radical break with Spain’s subversive romantic tradition by heralding the domestic and religious ideologies of the ascendant Spanish bourgeois class.
In addition to providing valuable background information, both the biographical segment and the section on Zorrilla’s poetry expertly anticipate the arguments put forth in the analytical portion of the introduction. In the “esbozo biográfico,” for example, Gies cites a childhood anecdote from Zorrilla’s memoirs that anticipates his later analysis of the work’s magical elements. These draw from Spain’s popular comedia de magia tradition, as Gies asserts, forming “un nuevo híbrido teatral: la comedia de magia romántica” (34). In the second section on Zorrilla’s poetic voice, meanwhile, Gies reminds readers that unlike many of Zorrilla’s contemporaries who drew inspiration from the late neoclassical style, Zorrilla “se formó leyendo a Rivas y a Espronceda” (21). By underlining the vibrant Spanish Romantic tradition inherited by the poet-playwright, Gies lays the groundwork for his argument that, despite some commonalities, Zorrilla’s don Juan Tenorio ultimately breaks with the prototypical model of the Spanish Romantic hero.
The edition’s most important contribution is, however, its mesmerizing analytical section.
Through detailed close readings, Gies demonstrates that Don Juan Tenorio signals an ideological shift toward the bourgeois values that will define Spanish culture in the second half of the nineteenth century. In doing so, he argues, Zorrilla “cambia el trayecto del romanticismo en España” (64). Gies reveals how Zorrilla’s text adapts magical and pyrotechnic imagery from a variety of theatrical traditions to the particular demands of his time. Thus, at the end of the play “las llamas eróticas…se transforman en llamas divinas” (53): don Juan no longer burns with infernal passion but rather ascends with Inés to heaven as a flame, redeemed. Zorrilla’s use of magic in the play, meanwhile, “muestra el poder sobrenatural del poder divino” (34). In both cases, such imagery not only subverts audience expectations but also reinforces the primacy — and attainability— of Catholic deliverance. In an inversion of the romantic hero paradigm epitomized by el Duque de Rivas’s Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino (1835), don Juan Tenorio finds salvation through his embrace of the twin institutions of family and faith, “los dos principios fundamentales de la ideología burguesa” (53). This comforting message of redemption, so different from the diablo mundo of the Spanish romantics, further transforms the bourgeois woman into spiritual angel. She becomes the abnegated ángel del hogar epitomized by doña Inés, who offers “un servicio espiritual” to her husband (26).
The 2016 edition of Zorrilla’s work attests to the enduring nature of Gies’s critical reading, which continues to represent the prevailing scholarly interpretation of the play. Rather than a failed romantic drama with a bombastic, irrational ending that reeks of cursilería, as some critics have argued, Gies demonstrates how Zorrilla’s play is both revolutionary in its break with Romantic paradigms and representative of its particular sociohistorical moment. In this sense, Don Juan Tenorio exemplifies Gies’s argument in The Theatre in Nineteenth Century Spain (1994) that “[t]heatre is both a reflection and an agent of social/cultural shifts in the nineteenth century” (2). Throughout his introduction Gies also consistently grounds both playwright and drama in their literary and sociohistorical contexts. For example, he includes lists of Spanish romantic plays and playwrights for the uninitiated reader, grounds his reading in sociocultural shiftstaking place in Spain at midcentury and even explicitly ties the play to Spain’s two most iconic realist novels. As Gies insists in The Theatre, “I believe there is an author behind the text… to study dramatic literature in nineteenth-century Spain totally removed from its personal, ideological, economic and social context would be interesting, perhaps, but pointless” (2, his emphasis). While Gies’s privileging of the importance of historical and cultural context may seem unremarkable in today’s age of cultural studies, this insight largely accounts for the continued relevance and perdurability of his critical edition.
Moreover, Gies’s critical edition of Don Juan Tenorio has stimulated fruitful scholarship of works inspired by the play. Writing in 1994, Gies observes that, “se ha fijado muy poco en el Tenorio como fuente de otras obras decimonónicas. La obra de Zorrilla no fue tanto ‘fuente’ sino catarata que inspiró a docenas de autores dramáticos” (9). The 2016 edition, however, cites various critics who over the course of more than two decades have pursued this avenue of research, which remains a productive field (10). Gies’s insistence on the critical importance of Don Juan Tenorio’s multiple “imitaciones, continuaciones y parodias” (10) stems, I think, from two sources: his will in the 1990s to incorporate specialists in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Spanish literature into the nascent field of Spanish cultural studies; and his fervent belief in the value of non-canonical literature as an indicator of a society’s socio-cultural moment. This conviction was palpable in every course I took with Gies, whether we read every theater review —every article, really— written by Larra, or a panoply of one-act plays that borrowed from or alluded to Don Juan Tenorio. Of these, the two I most vividly recall are Doña Juana Tenorio (1876), by Rafael María Liern, whose formidable heroine threatens to kill the man she loves if he does not marry her —nuptials ensue—and Una apuesta en la velada de San Juan (1865), by Natividad de Rojas, whose would-be don Juan has lost his touch due to his advancing age. After that particular course, which focused on the representation of women in nineteenth-century Spanish theater, my peers and I were left in no doubt that Zorrilla’s masterpiece had indeed engendered —and continues to inspire— a veritable “waterfall” of cultural production.
The scholarship advanced in Gies’s critical edition of Don Juan Tenorio is evidently exemplary, as relevant today as it was a quarter century ago. It is a crucial resource for both students and scholars, a gateway for novice readers of the play that simultaneously pushes experts to pursue new avenues of research. As with so much of what David Gies has taught me, I continue to find his edition indispensable both for my scholarship and in the classroom. And it is always with great nostalgia that I recommend that my students read the introduction.
No existen comentarios para la entrada.