As he reads the reader’s mind is not continually assaulted by the physical brutality of the corpse’s position on stage, thus reducing tension and emotion. The most important speech in the play is Gutierre’s soliloquy in which he invents the metaphor of being a ‘mi?? dico’ and finding a ‘receta’ to cure his honour. The speech functions as a confessional and in it Gutierre expresses himself with a freedom that the audience has not before experienced; ‘Ya estoy solo, ya bien puedo hablar. ‘ Calderi??
n presents the workings of Gutierre’s mind in the speech, letting his character, alone on the stage, connect directly to the audience. The art of soliloquy however is diminished on the page as instead of being an intense, fast-moving experience, the words on the page stay there to be analysed and taken apart. This is true too of the play as a whole. The play is written within the conventions of the unities of time and space to appear real and increase the intensity of the experience for the audience. A. A.
Parker concurs that the play is ‘essentially a drama of action and not of characterisation’. Calderi?? n’s play is meant to take place over three days, to move quickly from one scene to another until it reaches its tragic denouement. A reading of the play shifts this original focus on action and drama, to deep analysis and characterisation. Isaac Benabu sees the play as only working as a tragedy in which the chief aspects are ‘sufrir y callar’, the tragic conclusions resulting from the silent suffering that Gutierre has undergone due to the honour code that governed society.
As a tragedy, one of the key elements, taken from Greek and Roman models of tragedies, is catharsis. The emotional cleansing of the audience through watching a performance of the play was inherent in a tragedy. The path of the audience through stages of this emotional cleansing however only works whilst watching the play on stage. Calderi?? n takes his audience through each stage of tragedy, heightening tension and emotion until its climax. In Calderi?? n’s continuing imagery, the contrast between light and dark is essential to the play, signifying both mental and physical seeing.
Gutierre compares honour to light and dishonour to a dark cloud showing the tainting of Mencia as ‘al sol una nube negra’. At the end of the play Gutierre shows his crime and dishonesty in killing Mencia ‘dos veces ciego’ – ‘llego sin luz y sin razi?? n’. Mencia is referred to as light through much of the play, with many images of her as ‘el sol’, and her death referred to as the extinction of a light ‘expiri??… y en este instante el hombre mati?? la luz’.
These contrasts are reflected too in the physical light of day and night, according to when actions occur in the play. In the intrigue in the beginning, Enrique can escape because of the night and Gutierre’s fumbling with his torch; not only the night but also the dishonesty of Enrique stops Gutierre seeing. Benabu comments ‘Gutierre goes on the evidence of what he sees’. Had Gutierre asked Leonor about the man he saw in her house during their engagement, he could have prevented the tragic unfolding of events perhaps started by Leonor’s curse.
However, he doesn’t ask, merely sees, and then reacts to this seeing. Just as Gutierre, the audience in a performance of the play only sees, blind to certain intricacies of character or plot without the time to fully analyse the characters. Like Gutierre, the audience sees only one point of view and one vision of the play. This makes the experience more vivid, being able to live through the eyes of the protagonist without an overview that could be gained from a reading of the play. If Calderi??
n’s play is seen as a social critique on the role of women in society at that time, or on aristocratic hierarchy, the reader who fully analysed all the nuances and subtleties hidden within the dialogue would gain more from it than the audience who do not have the luxury of time for such analysis. However, if the play is taken as a tragedy, and within that genre a cathartic release of emotions, it needs to be seen in performance to generate the height of intensity and emotion required. Dawn L.
Smith highlights the importance of the play’s visual requirements ‘the murdering husband is the one to engage the spectator’s attention, both visually and emotionally’, suggesting that in a reading of the play there would exist neither the visual attraction nor the emotion. To fully appreciate the play in its depth and performance art the modern reader needs to consider the play as both a reading and performance text. In this way the reader is both taken into Calderon’s world by the performance, undergoing what audiences of the time experienced, and distanced from it on the page, able to see the play in its social and political context.