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Lope de Vega and The Martyrs of Japan in: A Companion to Early Modern Hispanic Theater

The article focuses on the adaptation strategies used by Lope de Vega in his play El Gran Duque de Moscovia y emperador perseguido This tragedy, built on material acquired from travelogues, represents the first depiction of the Russian Time of Troubles in fiction.

In doing this, Lope de Vega creates a fictional space filled with mystery and miracles, where Heavens can intervene and punish the guilty party, whereby restoring the original status quo.


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Key situations turn from illustrations of an alien world into much more general depictions, namely, that of a tyrant versus a legal monarch, and the will of a ruler versus the law. Raeff There were valid reasons, mostly political, for the development and popularization of the view that prior to Peter the Great, Russia had been a thing-in-itself; it had stewed in its own juice and tried to evade foreign influences from both the East and West.

This view was popular among the European scholars who settled in Russia and constituted a significant part of the then Academia. Petersburg in xxvii—xxx.

Meanwhile, if one were to inspect Critical Bibliographical Review of the Memoirs by travelers into Russia prior to Kritiko-literaturnoe obozrenie puteshestvennikov po Rossii do goda i ikh sochineniy by Friedrich Adelung which is not as popular in the present time , more than two hundred travel accounts can be found there. Moreover, Adelung was interested strictly in travel literature; his compendium does not include descriptions of Russia made by envoys, merchants, or captains in the form of official documents.

Despite the omissions, the book unambiguously shows that, at the turn of the seventeenth century, there was a burst of interest in Russia in Europe. In Russian historiography, this epoch is called the Time of Troubles. The turbulent period began in , following the death of Fedor Ryurikovich, the only child of Ivan the Terrible, who managed to outlive his father.

After having unintentionally murdered his own son — Ivan Ivanovich — his other son, Fedor, became the sole potential successor to the throne. The pious Fedor, albeit allegedly mentally ill, died leaving no heir. In , for the first time since the twelfth century, Muscovy faced a deep dynastic crisis. In the following decade, around a dozen persons would claim the title of Tzar of Muscovy. The last group of claimants — Vasili Shuisky, Marina Mniszek, Semiboyarshchin — had legitimacy, but achieved very little or no power.

The initial dynastic crisis developed into a civil war in which the neighbouring countries became involved. After Protestant Sweden and ethically Slavonic, yet Catholic, Rzeczpospolita had become belligerents in the Troubles, the conflict turned into a religious war with elements of a war for independence Shubin 34—37, —95, — The period ended in , when the members of Zemsky Sobor elected Mikhail Romanov, then aged 16, as the new Tzar. The turbulent epoch settled into the public mind, especially while it took place in the super-centralized and ultra-monarchist state.

The Time of Troubles was a part of both the European and Russian history. Europeans were no less intrigued in what had inspired and triggered the events and collisions of the time and how they came about at all. They even reached Italy and Spain — the European countries farthest away from Russia. Two such texts are especially significant for this paper. Although he did hit him with the end of a staff tipped with a steel point. In the absence of a legitimate heir, Boris Godunov, the father-in-law of the last tzar and a man without any legal claims for the throne, obtained power and became a ruler He was quite professional and successful in his rule, but due to the lack of legitimacy, he had to keep his subjects in fear; therefore, he was implicated in a number of assassinations and other crimes.

Some say that Boris was the author of his death. He is focused on Muscovy as such — its geography and nature, customs and religion, folk crafts, and history. The play was written in , at the height of the turbulent epoch in Russia, when it seemed likely that the country would convert to Catholicism, whether directly or in form of the Union. It is remarkable that the mutual interest between Russia and Spain existed both in the past the representatives of diplomatic missions visited Spain and Muscovy as well as in the later periods Bagno and Stepanyan The playwright keeps the names of the most significant figures of the Time of Troubles.

The spellings are slightly modified, but the characters are recognizable: Dmitry turns into Demetrio, Fedor into Teodoro, and Ivan becomes Juan. Ivan the Terrible is called Basilio, which comes from his patronymic, Vasilievich, used by the real-life tzar in his correspondence with European monarchs instead of his first name.

Interestingly, while de Vega keeps the names of the male protagonists, he creates fictional names for his female characters. Firstly, Teodoro obtains power, even though he is quite incapable of governing due to his mental condition:. Thirdly, Demetrio was a clever and quite noble man who tended to turn his enemies into friends:. In addition, the play contains certain non-trivial details that were quite disputable, such as Basilio becoming overcome with fury and slaughtering his son Juan with a staff.

Lastly, Teodoro is not just a mentally ill person; he is too pious to be a tzar, and dreams of being a monk:.

Lope de Vega probably considered the text of the Papal legate in Muscovy and the member of the Jesuit Order to bear much more authority than that of the French captain. Hence, in the instances when the two sources contradict each other, de Vega prefers the information provided by Possevino. In writing his drama, Lope de Vega maintains a large number of factual details. Nevertheless, did he actually gather them from different travel sources or has he simply incorporated the already existing narratives into his play?

The playwright changes the tone present in the source texts while providing these details. Namely, what were once seen as malicious facts in the travel literature now turn into collisions and actions, as seen in the case of arson in Moscow:. Margeret Lope de Vega makes them come to life, and thus transforms them from historical persons into literary figures of his own play. The adherence to history as such is no longer an indisputable dominant. The playwright shapes his Demetrio as a positive character.

Meanwhile, in the eyes of everybody, this character has a significant flaw; he comes into power with foreign, namely Polish, support and maintains his strong ties with the foreign Court.

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Thus, next to the real set of situations, the playwright creates a new one — his own interpretation of what took place in Muscovy. All these instances of bloodshed, cowardice, treachery, and crime result from orientalism and the Western perception of the East as a place of cruelty. Sadly or luckily, gladly or unfortunately, it does not. Russia has never been fed by any of those roots that fed Europe. Despite the bicentennial attempts of Russian officials to become a European empire and to imitate the foreign policy of the most influential European states, the oriental strata in the interpretation of relations between Russia and Europe has the right of existence and was suggested by N.

Vzglyad na russkuyu istoriyu ne s Zapada, a s Vostoka. At that time, Russia, as a state that competed against the strongest countries of the world, established its own colonies in North America, or on shores of the Pacific, and played its own game in Central Asia, did not exist. Immediately after the Time of Troubles, Muscovy lost access to the sea and some provinces, and had great difficulty in persuading Sweden to return Novgorod, the first Russian capital. Thus, when Lope de Vega portrays his Basilio as the murderer of his son and daughter-in-law, or depicts Boris Godunov as the arsonist of his own capital, or points to Orofrisa as the poisoner of her own son and the sole heir of the state, the playwright could have coloured Muscovy with the colours of the Orient.

A world of exemplary persons?

First and foremost, we are given an insight into a purely Catholic world, where Muscovite rulers appeal to the Pope and the Emperor:. By adding these episodes, the playwright makes a dramatic shift in relation to history.

PHOENIX OF SPAIN (LOPE DE VEGA)

The Russians follow the Greek religion. In transferring the events into the fictional, Catholic Muscovy, Lope de Vega brings the plot as close to his audience as possible. In fact, the tzars of Muscovy and the members of their Courts freely cite Latin philosophers and poets, and draw parallels between current events and ancient history. Conversely, travel literature of the time reveals the shortage of knowledge on European literature, arts, and sciences in Muscovy:. They have only a handful of schools where boys are taught to read and write from the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, their native Chronicles, certain homilies.

Anyone who appears trying to aim higher in his studies or to acquire other skills falls under suspicion and runs into difficulties. Possevino 49, In Russian churches they never preach; instead, at some holy days they have certain lessons which they read from some chapters of the Bible or New Testament. Indeed, one may say that ignorance is the mother of their devotion. Lope de Vega primarily tells a story written in the genre of Spanish tragedy Brody That is why the reader is provided not with the factual Russia, but with a Baroque discourse that requires mystery and recognizes miracles, where Heavens can intervene and punish the guilty party, whereby restoring the original status quo:.

Clearly, the factual Muscovy is missing from his verses, which ignore the premise of the Troubles. The text now speaks primarily to the Spanish audience. Key situations turn from illustrations of an alien world into much more general depictions, namely, that of a tyrant versus a legal monarch, and the will of a ruler versus the law:. For sixteen years now have I been holding the reins of Moscow. Boris is quite a clever and profound person. He tries to protect his loyal subjects and, in general, is a successful ruler. Perhaps due to the socio-psychological and political climate of the time, and due in part to Lope's personal experiences, this play, while ostensibly giving lip service to the prevailing traditional values of lineage and honor, also questions them.

The traditional values were inherently static: a man was the sum total of his inherited past and acted accordingly. In La vitoria de la honra the power the individual exhibits is due to his active discretion. The play's last scene demonstrates that honor depends on a continuing process of self-development.

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