Death's Heads and Death Masks: History as Absence in Juan de la Cueva's Tragedia de los siete infantes de Lara

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Abstract

Whereas modern critics have considered Juan de la Cueva's Tragedia de los siete infantes de Lara (1579) unappealing compared to Lope's 1612 version of the story and discussed the Sevillian playwright's misguided use of classical tragic genre conventions, the present essay proposes a framework for understanding the play that is neither Lopean nor classicist. Arguing that the heart of Infantes is a pervading sense of metaphysical absence, it suggests that the play can be meaningfully construed as an early example of the "mourning play," or that mixture of history play and tragedy which the German philosopher-critic Walter Benjamin presented as the central late-Renaissance aesthetic form of historical contemplation in his Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (1925; The Origin of German Tragic Drama). Cueva's history of the House of Lara can be construed, that is, as a play which is concerned not so much with this or that historical person or event as with—unideal, broken, amputated—history itself.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHispanic Review
Volume88
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)265-288
ISSN0018-2176
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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