Appointed As

College of Letters, Arts and Sciences


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


University of Southern California

PhD Field of Study

PhD, Hispanic Literatures and Languages, University of California, Los Angeles

Dissertation Abstract

"Communities of Playmaking: Guillén de Castro in the Development of the Comedia"

Communities of Playmaking: Guillén de Castro in the Development of the Comedia examines the development of the Spanish comedia through the works of Valencian playwright Guillén de Castro, whose trajectory from a provincial kingdom to the center of the Spanish empire at the turn of the seventeenth century demonstrates how social, political, and regional realities of the Peninsula affected and influenced early modern Spanish theater. Although recent studies have begun to challenge the narrow conception of theatrical production in the seventeenth century as relying almost entirely on the genius of Lope de Vega for its creation and development, they have yet to seriously problematize the conception of comedia in the seventeenth century as stemming entirely from Madrid. This view often ignores the consistently inventive and original contributions of less prolific playwrights, especially those from outside of Madrid, such as Guillén de Castro. My work provides a model for how to recuperate voices overshadowed by more canonical texts and authors, in this case revisiting Castro’s plays which have garnered less critical attention in the past and examining them in their own right. My first chapter examines the social milieu in which Guillén de Castro was trained as a playwright, the theatrical traditions of Valencia, and the way these influenced early theater beyond Valencia. In Chapter 2, I explore how major historical events at the end of the sixteenth century fed Valencian anxieties over a shifting political relationship with the Spanish crown. Chapter 3 analyzes Lope de Vega’s own Valencian plays, exploring how the city is conceived of in the cultural and theatrical imaginary of contemporary audiences across Spain. The project closes with a more detailed examination of networks of literary creation at the time and how Castro engages in them, focusing particularly on his theatricalization of Miguel de Cervantes’s prose works.
This dissertation thus offers a more nuanced understanding of the contributions of a central figure in the Valencian dramatic tradition, exploring Castro’s representation of power, authority, and identity, and argues that playwrights from the peripheries of the empire need serious reconsideration on their own terms. To this end, I explore how the specific experiences and treatment of Valencia’s geographic, political, and social landscape fostered Castro’s unique voice, and how he in turn affected the development of a genre which has largely been attributed to the singular genius of the playwright Lope de Vega. My exploration of comedia functions on two levels: the first, which organizes the dissertation from chapter to chapter, posits that theater developed in early modern Spain not on the basis of a singular genius, or even as a sequence of theatrical modes (Pre-Lopean, Lopean, and Calderonian), but rather as a continuum of playmaking that arose from contact, collaboration, experimentation, borrowing, and adaptation among theater practitioners and other writers throughout the Peninsula. Within each chapter, the level of analysis becomes more specifically focused on Guillén de Castro and Valencia as the lens through which to examine how an individual playwright operated within this broader network of creators, shifting the focus from whether a play or a playwright fits within the generic categories set out and established by centuries of scholarship, to how plays were informed by the specificity of their peripheral location and their relationship to Madrid. What social and political anxieties might we find staged in the work of a Valencian playwright whose works have often been cast as good but not great attempts at the comedia nueva, as determined by Lope de Vega in his Arte nuevo? What solutions might these same plays rehearse for how to deal with abuses of power in the specific relationship between Castile and its peripheral kingdoms? What might we learn about theatrical experimentation from a play denigrated as Pre-Lopean, or about expanding commercial markets from an adaptation pronounced as derivative? These questions inform the analysis of plays and their contexts within each chapter, as I expand the canon of comedia research and performance to include works that challenge established ideas of what early modern Spanish theater is or does.