Theatre in 18th century Spain was guided by a desire for beauty found in truth. Ignacio de Luzán’s work La Poética (“Poetics”), published in the author’s home city of Zaragoza in 1737, guided Spanish literature for decades. Rooted in Neo-Aristotelian thought:
- Literature was asserted to have the same role as moral philosophy … making virtue attractive and vice abhorrent. However, in addition to being socially useful, literature must provide pleasure. For Luzán, quoting Horace in support, the pleasure derives from the combination of beauty and sweetness (dulzura), sweetness being essential in order to influence the reader or spectator. Truth is the basis of beauty but can be what is real as well as what is thought believable (Deacon 308).
Heeding Luzán’s guidance, the Viceregal censor of New Spain, Father Ramón Fernandez de Rincón deemed theatre as foremost a tool of social education.
During the 1790s, the civil and enlightened censorship was under the direction of a cleric, Father Rincón [who] openly stated that his role was to be the watchdog of good taste for the cultivated public:
- “Because we do not have enough good plays to convert the theatre into an entertaining school of private and social virtues, at least the presentation of monstrous plays that do not improve mores, but only serve to bring taste into the gutters can be stopped” (Viqueira Albán 77).
Mexico City, 18 March 1790
From the Censor, Ramón Fernández del Rincón:
It being the intention of His Excellency the Viceroy, that works worthy of the attention of a civilized discourse be represented in the theater of this city, in which there are many individuals who, by their fine education and a discreet use of the world, know how to correctly judge the shows that are offered to them, I do not find it appropriate to produce the comedy entitled, Astucias por heredar un sobrino a un tío, for various defects from which it suffers.
The greatest is not the improbability that the events of the action could happen within the space of two and a half hours, when within this time period they can barely be read by scanning quickly. This, as I say, is not a defect so great that it cannot be remedied, by saying that what happened between the characters, happened in a little less than a day, verisimilitude is created and the unity of time verified.
There are other errors that are more shocking and more irremediable.
The first is the insolence with which the maid Luisa [sic] treats her master Lucas, loading him with expletives and the most insulting jokes, and, consequently, the most repugnant to good reason, since one cannot conceive that there is such a master so phlegmatic that he would suffer without correction a hail of insults, and a servant so reckless that she dares to utter them without any personal motive, especially when, as she says, she hopes that Don Lucas will reward her services with a substantial legacy.
The second is the rude artifice that the servant Crispín attempts so that Don Lucas will take him for his [niece], dressing as a woman, because no matter how many details and skirts he wears, his voice, his beard, in addition to how he presents as a mature widower, the bulging of the members and the roughness of the features must betray the disguise and discover the lie, not only to Don Lucas who would see him in broad daylight, but to a blind man with just hearing and feeling him.
The third is the other scheme, with which Crispín himself tries to deceive the scribes before whom he dictates the testament. How is it possible that notaries of Madrid, hearing the voice of a healthy man, persuade themselves that it is a sick old man, about to die, who is talking? And how is it possible that, having enough light to write, they don’t have enough to see that the testator who calls himself Lucas is the same servant who called for them earlier? Such farces can only happen in the entre’actes, in which the work to make people laugh takes ridiculousness to excess, but they are not tolerable in the comedia, which, in essence, is an imitation of human actions.
The fourth is the discrepancy evident between the testament and its copy: the original was dictated in verse and the testimony came out in prose, and prose very badly forged, lacking the consistency that according to art should be in the words, in the same way as in the customs.
The fifth is the first scene of the second day, in which Lucia tells Crispin about the marriage of Don Lucas, his determination to make a will, the heir he wants to install, and the legacies he has to leave to his niece and nephew, all which has already happened on the first day, and which, with its repetition, spectators are bothered by hearing the same thing twice, in this failing one of the most important precepts.
The sixth is the introduction of the apothecary, in the second act. This is a totally useless character, because he does not serve to initiate an action nor to lead it and finish it, and only appears to rail against to Don Lucas, to complain about doctors and to speak disgusting words; And so, this actor is for the comedia what an apothecary patch is for a human body, which although it adds bulk, it also deforms and disfigures.
The seventh is the entwining and confusion of places that is seen in the third act. At the end of the third scene Don Pedro says that he goes to the house of Doña Teresa, to hide some valuable documents that he has extracted from among his uncle’s papers, and he leaves the two servants talking to each other; These also exit and the fourth scene begins, in which Don Pedro, Doña Teresa and her daughter enter, already speaking about concealing the documents, which leads us to believe that the three of them are in Doña Teresa’s house, where Pedro said he was going to take care this business; remaining in place, the fifth scene follows, with Crispín appearing to say that Don Lucas is coming there to that room, who de facto appears and continues in there until the end of the piece.
Here the thought leaps, that if the room to which, according to Crispín’s warning, Don Lucas arrives, is in the house of Doña Teresa, then this is a trademark lack of verisimilitude, because it is implausible that a dying old man who has just suffered a deep paroxysm, can go out into the street and walk some distance; and if it is Don Lucas’s house, how were Doña Teresa and her daughter present when Crispín arrived to give them the warning, when there is no antecedent to infer that these actresses had returned there, when the two of them and Don Pedro were speaking about the concealment of the documents, which according to Don Pedro himself had to be done in the house of Doña Teresa and not in his uncle’s, from which he had left just for this purpose?
This is a confusing mess that would spoil a composition better worked. All of these defects are very visible, and as on the other hand no fineness is found, because in this comedia no purity of language, nor sweetness of meter, nor brilliance of concepts, nor opportunity in its action, nor other recommendable merit can be seen, I am of the feeling that the V.S. must deny the license to represent the comedia, Astucias para [sic] heredar un sobrino a un tío, and send it back to its owner, so that if he wants he may correct and amend it.
De Reygadas, Fermín. Astucias por Heredar un Sobrino a un Tío. Edited by Pedro García-Caro, Arte Público Press, 2018
Deacon, Philip. “Eighteenth-Century Neoclassicism.” The Cambridge History of Spanish Literature, edited by David T. Gies, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005, pp. 307–313
Viqueira Albán, Juan Pedro, et al. Propriety and Permissiveness in Bourbon Mexico. Scholarly Resources, 1999