One of the pleasures of writing this blog is giving myself permission to take the time to read plays and do a little digging, and I enjoyed learning something of the history of the five historical playwrights chosen for the Alcyone festival.
They were all from the educated class, were celebrated in their time, and are largely but not completely forgotten today. What was interesting was that they had many things in common with contemporary playwrights and shared many of the same concerns and passions.
There is so much to say about them all and I don’t want to wear everybody out, so I’ll talk about Hrosvitha and Maria de Zayas y Sotomayor today and the rest tomorrow.
The works of Hrosvitha inspired EMLewis’s Strong Voice.
Hrosvitha, who lived from 935-1002, was a Benedictine canoness, born into German nobility, and highly educated. She studied the Greek and Roman classics; Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and Plautus, and wrote her six comedies as a Roman Catholic alternative to Terence. They seem to be closet dramas, to be read or perhaps listened to by a small group, and I couldn’t find any information about their being produced. (A nunnery is, of course, a captive audience.) I can relate to that, having a few plays that meet that category.
She hasn’t disappeared from contemporary consciousness. She is frequently referred to in John Kennedy Toole’s novel A Confederacy of Dunces, in which she is called Hroswitha. The Guerrilla Girls on Tour are keeping her name alive and in 2006 issued a First Annual Hrosvitha Challenge to any theater that scraps plans “of producing yet another production of a Greek tragedy and instead produces a play by Hrosvitha, the first female playwright.” I don’t know if they’ve awarded a prize to the Halcyon Theatre on not.
Maria de Zaya y Sotomayor’s La Traicion en la Amistad, was freely adapted by Caridad Svich and called A Little Betrayal Among Friends.
Maria de Zayas y Sotomayor of Madrid, Spain, also came from the aristocracy. She lived from 1590-1661 and wrote during the Spanish Inquisition. An early feminist, she describes the abuse of women and their inferior role in society, one determined by a paternalistic society and the Inquisition.
She considered women as intelligent and capable as men, and saw the convent as a haven for women’s independence. Perhaps, Hrosvitha shared that point of view. Like Hrosvitha, she was admired by her contemporaries, including Lope de Vega, but in the nineteenth century was censured for “perceived vulgarity,” and faded into obscurity.
Here’s a quote from one novel, The Enchantments of Love, translated by H. Patsy Boyer. (Thank you Wikipedia).
“Why vain legislators of the world, do you tie our hands so that we cannot take vengeance? Because of your mistaken ideas about us, you render us powerless and deny us access to pen and sword. Isn’t our soul the same as a man’s soul?…. [Later the husband listens her laments and approaches Laura] moving closer to her and incensed in an infernal rage, (Diego) began to beat her with his hands, so much so that the white pearls of her teeth, bathed in the blood shed by his angry hand, quickly took on the form of red coral.”
I don’t know if her language is vulgar but it is vivid. And pretty darn good.