Subverted tradition and emotional impact: female characterization in the epic and the Romancero viejo
Carberry, Alison D.
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This dissertation studies the characterization of women in the Spanish epic and the Romancero viejo. Its purpose is three-fold: first, to show how the traditional ballads of the Romancero viejo were informed by, and later dealt with, various female characters that stem from epic and historical contexts. Their treatment of women like Dona Jimena, the wife of the Cid, and Dona Lambra of the Siete infantes de Lara continues an existing dualistic tradition, wherein the good woman is rewarded for her positive effect on the hero and the evil woman is punished for antagonizing him. This becomes complicated by the portrayal of certain strong female characters, which may explain, in some part, the apparent "contamination" in the ballads that feature Jimena and Lambra. Second, I propose that female characters seem to have been used in the ballads to provoke a positive or negative reaction in the medieval public. Focusing on the Frontier and Trastamaran ballads, I contend that the use of familiar archetypal figures aids in this objective, and that the authors made conscious, artistic decisions about female representation either to promote a political agenda and/or to entertain the audience more fully. Finally, I aim to contribute to the idea of a female "appropriation" of the ballads by showing how some women in the Romancera manage to subvert the gender expectations of their male-dominated society as they seek to exact vengeance. The medieval Spanish legal system excluded women from participating in the retribution process, and aggressive or violent women were condemned by their society in general, yet certain female figures in the ballads, under specific conditions, maintain a positive characterization even as they take up arms as avengers. This may suggest that some female singers used their role as transmitters and possible authors of the ballads to exert a freedom of expression and power normally denied to them. It may also suggest that the tastes of the medieval Spanish public were not as staunchly misogynistic as critics have assumed them to be.
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