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The novels of Francisco de Lugo y Davila : a critical study of the Teatro Popular Morson, Caroline Mary


Lugo y Davila's Teatro popular was one of a large body of collections of novels which appeared in the years following the publication of Cervantes' Novelas ejemplares in 1613. Lugo y Davila has been labelled an imitator of Cervantes; in addition he used the narrative framework of Boccaccio's Decameron as a model for his own collection, and several of his plots are inspired by Italian novelle. This study intends to show that Lugo y Davila, though inspired by Cervantes and familiar with Italian models, was independent of them and was a novelist of worth in his own right. The novel at the time was caught in a double dilemma. On the one hand it had no theory of its own and was expected to obey the laws of traditional literary theory, which demanded an imitation of nature according to a specific classification of styles. A serious subject containing the "ideal" should be treated in the tragic mode, but everyday life in a "low" style, or comic mode. On the other hand the Counter-Reformation Church demanded that literature be morally responsible and deal with the actual problems of real life. The novel was expected to be both entertaining, and of spiritual benefit. This study demonstrates how Lugo y Davila approaches the above problem. Having implied a belief in the therapeutic value of entertainment, Lugo y Davila uses his narrative framework to create an illusion of distance between reader and narrative. This distance is designed to encourage his reader to appreciate the content of the novels on a level other than that of superficial entertainment, and see the more serious implications therein. In a manner reminiscent of the Spanish comedia, Lugo y Davila combines moral responsibility with entertainment value, and produces a "tragicomic" narrative which treats everyday life in a serious way. The eight novels of the Teatro popular are analysed according to criteria generally accepted as valid indicators of realism. The analyses reveal the most outstanding feature of the novels in their perception of human nature which is focussed on one particular figure who stood out in contemporary society - that of the caballero discreto. European society was then preoccupied with the refinement of man's social behaviour, and the concept of the "ideal" man, which was first developed fully by Castiglione in Il Cortegiano, and soon spread throughout the continent. The Spanish version of the cortegiano was the discreto. Lugo y Davila paints a realistic portrait of his characteristics: he emphasises his lack of moral sensibility and basic ignorance, which make him no different from the traditionally inferior vulgo. In gently exposing the discreto, and the motives of those around him, Lugo y Davila subtly challenges the reader to moral reform. Like Cervantes, but in his own distinctive way, Lugo y Davila attempts to break down the barriers between tragic and comic styles, and shows the first signs of "realism" in his novels. He presents a truthful and understanding vision of the individual in a pagan world, while retaining his concern for Christian values.

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