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Myriad Gardens: Landscapes of the Baroque Spanish Stage

Maryrica Ortiz Lottman, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Fellow 2005/06

My book manuscript examines the symbolic use of gardens and landscapes in seventeenth-century Spanish theater. The project initially focused on gender and on the work of Tirso de Molina. But my experience at Dumbarton Oaks has broadened and thoroughly reshaped the project. Two chapters now discuss Tirso's best known Old Testament plays, The Revenge of Tamar (La venganza de Tamar) and The Woman Who Rules the Home (La mujer que manda en casa), but the remaining chapters are devoted to Lope de Vega, The New World Discovered by Christopher Columbus (El Nuevo Mundo descubierto por Cristóbal Colón); Calderón de la Barca, The Physician of His Honor (El médico de su honra); and Miguel de Cervantes, The Prisons of Algiers (Los baños de Argel). Thus my book examines several types of gardens located on three different continents.

The project also contributes to the current scholarly debate on the meaning and interpretations of gardens. On the Baroque Spanish stage a single garden could have multiple meanings, depending on the point of view of the character perceiving it. For example, in Calderón's The Physician of His Honor, four different characters see the same garden as an emblem of freedom, but their conflicting perceptions draw on four distinctly different garden traditions. The original audiences of this play, like the audiences of other masterpieces of Spanish classical theater, were expected to be so familiar with a variety of real and literary gardens and with gardens portrayed in the visual arts and on stage that they could readily identify the warring perceptions of individual characters as they explored these settings. Part of the enjoyment of participating in the performance as an active viewer must have been the effort to simultaneously apprehend the conflicting conceptions of the garden as the action was under way.

The project also explores the staging of gardens and landscapes, the use of costumes and stage props, and the probable postures of the actors in order to discover important visual allusions that have heretofore been neglected in critical discussions of these dramas. Spanish playwrights manipulated audience response by positioning characters against an often unnamed but always carefully selected backdrop of figures; these figures are drawn from the landscapes of biblical iconography, classical myths, popular legends and folk beliefs.

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