Fiction, deceit and morality in the plays of Juan Ruiz de Alarcón, 1580-1639
Alarcón was writing at a time when Spaniards increasingly came to perceive Spain as a nation in decline, and to seek the remedy for their country's malaise in a whole series of economic, political, social, and, in particular, moral reforms. One consequence of this was to intensify the debate concerning effect of the theatre on the moral values of the young, another was to stimulate a renewed interest in the art of war and the martial virtues which were held to have been the source of earlier glories, and yet another was to impel political philosophers and theologians alike to consider anew how the necessities of government in this uncertain political and economic climate might be reconciled with the ethical principles promoted by the Catholic Church. This study contends that both the style and the content of his plays show Alarcón to have been both well-informed and keenly interested in such matters, and indicate that, whilst he concurs with many contemporary moralists in identifying the source of the national malaise as a self-indulgent obsession with sensual pleasure and social posturing, and in suggesting that the cure lies in an adoption of a moral code based upon stoic self-discipline and other such virtues, he makes it clear that the implementation of these virtues in the complex situations encountered in everyday life depends to a large extent upon the prudent use of deception. Thus, in his work, Alarcón presents two principal forms of deception: the lies, slanders, illusions, and acts of imposture of those who seek the illicit gratification of their worldly desires; and the cautious equivocation, concealments, disguises, and stratagems of those who know that appearances deceive and who seek to ensure the reputation, integrity and safety of their compatriots and co-religionists. I also maintain that this is a distinction which applies to the comedia as much as to the world which it portrays, and that Alarcón is critical of the indecorous actions and the ornate language, music and spectacle of the comedia as popularised by Lope, and develops a dramatic technique which requires the spectator to submit his initial emotional and imaginative response to the drama to the scrutiny of reason if he is to understand the play. In this way, Alarcón's own creative technique proves to be yet another example of the prudent use of deception illustrated in his plays.