In the exaltation of reason, clarity, and decorum that dominated the eighteenth century, there was a strong reaction against the Baroque, and indeed Baroque literature fell into virtual oblivion. Toward the beginning of the twentieth century, however, interest in the Baroque began to stir, and it is thus that not only the literature of the Baroque Spanish masters but also Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s contribution to the field have again been brought to light and appreciated.
All of Sor Juana’s drama is written in verse. She used a multiplicity of verse forms, exploiting them in order to set an effective tone for a particular character or scene. Relative to content, it is important to note that at the end of the seventeenth century, the Catholic Church and Sor Juana, especially through her theater, tried to make the dogma of the Eucharist dynamic. Sor Juana sought to unveil the Mysteries of Christ; obviously the most difficult part was how to make the invisible visible. She attempted to achieve this through allegory, myth, and metaphor; her intent was didacticism through entertainment, and even her secular plays reveal the influence of religious drama. Like Calderón, she used carts to represent different scenes, and her dramas include music and singing, as well as one or more choruses—which, as in Greek literature, serve to emphasize ideas presented through the plays.
Sor Juana used the dramatic props of her time for her writings. For the reader who can enter imaginatively into that distant period, her plays will come alive. Further, her variation in verse form not only displays her skill in handling many types but also provides interest and dispels monotony. Finally, one must marvel at her knowledge of both biblical and historical events as she weaves these into her plots. The combination of history, mythology, and religion must have produced a wonderfully exhilarating effect on audiences in her day, and it is still capable of engaging readers centuries later.
The collected dramatic output of Sor Juana consists of two comedies of intrigue, A Household Plagued by Love and Amor es más laberinto (love is a greater labyrinth); three autos sacramentales, The Divine Narcissus, El mártir del Sacramento, San Hermenegildo (the martyr of the Sacrament, Saint Hermenegildo), and El cetro de José (Joseph’s scepter); two sainetes; and eighteen loas.
An auto sacramental is a one-act play concerning the Sacrament; a loa is a one-act play, usually quite short, which is generally allegorical and supports the Eucharist. A loa preceded each of Sor Juana’s autos. Her sacramental plays and comedias are similar in form and style to those of the Calderón school. In fact, one of Calderón’s plays is entitled “Los empeños de un acaso” (wr. 1639), and a few lines are identical to those that Sor Juana penned in her A Household Plagued by Love. This does not mean that Sor Juana was a plagiarist. Her independent attitude and thirst for knowledge caused her to read voraciously, and she synthesized what she learned into her own expression. Religion was the basis for what she wrote; her prime topics throughout her works were love and the Eucharist.
A Household Plagued by Love and Amor es más laberinto
The } longer plays of Sor Juana can be divided into two types: the secular and religious. Her two secular plays, A Household Plagued by Love and Amor es más laberinto, are probably the most appealing to present-day audiences. Each of these three-act plays formed the greater part of a festejo, an evening of entertainment. A festejo usually honored one or more noted individuals.
The festejo of A Household Plagued by Love consisted of the three-act play, preceded by a loa. Intercalated between the acts were two sainetes and three songs praising the honored guests. The play concluded with a sarao, a brief play praising the viceroy and his family in music and dancing. The sainetes, or farces in this festejo, end in song, or song and hisses. The first of these poked fun at women; the second made jest of the play being staged. The entire festejo of A Household Plagued by Love required more than two hours to be performed.
Amor es más laberinto was also a three-act play; act 2, however, was written by Juan de Guevara, a well-known figure who had come from the Royal Court of Madrid to Mexico City and may have been Sor Juana’s cousin. This play is also preceded by a loa.
These two plays have similar themes: noble people in love, disguised characters who appear or hide in inhospitable surroundings, mistaken identity, and...
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Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz lived a life without fear regarding the social criticisms of her writing and she wrote to influence change regarding the educational stereotypes made by the men of her era. Sor Juana worked diligently to educate herself continuously throughout her life in order to reach a level of sophistication that no man could contest. The educational life of Sor Juana started at the age of three in 1651, when she convinced her sister’s professor to teach her how to read.
From that day forward, she continued striving to educate herself further. She did so by reading books out of her grandfather’s library until she had finally read them all. Sor Juana was born in San Miguel Mepantla, Mexico in 1648. She was born into a Catholic family during a time where the education of women was next to non-existent; therefore, her passion to learn was not socially accepted. Sor Juana was raised partially by her mother but predominately by her grandfather without the help of her maternal father.
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Somewhere between 1654 and 1658 Sor Juana heard of the University of Mexico, and her desire to attend was so strong that she dressed and acted like a boy in order to enroll, but her mother would not allow it. By the age of eight Sor Juana composed a Loa, which is a short dramatic poem in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. By the age of eleven Sor Juana’s knowledge and memory were so vast and keen that she was considered to be a young prodigy.
In 1659 Sor Juana was sent to Mexico City in order to study under a priest named Martin de Olivar, who was completely amazed with the level of intelligence Sor Juana had already achieved, and at how quickly she continued to learn. In 1664 the rumors of her intelligence had spread so widely that eventually Sor Juana was presented at the court of a new viceregal couple in front of Antonio Sebastian de Toledo (the Marquis de Mancera) and Leonor Carreto, where her intelligence was ultimately tested.
Sor Juana was examined by a court of theologians, philosophers, mathematicians, historians, poets, and other specialists who sought to prove that Sor Juana was not the educated individual rumors had portrayed her to be by asking her a wide variety of questions over a diverse range of subjects, which she passed handily. Sor Juana was so dedicated to educating herself, almost obsessively so, that if she felt she was not learning rapidly enough, she would cut her hair as punishment.
She believed in education so thoroughly and reading and writing were her great passion, which was considered entirely unorthodox for women, and thus she used her religion as a gateway into a career that would allow her to fulfill these ambitions and she became a nun at the age of sixteen. In 1667 Sor Juana entered the Convent of the Discalced Carmelites of St. Joseph, but grew dissatisfied by all of their rules and regulations and left within the same year. Two years later in 1669 Sor Juana joined the Convent of the Order of St.
Jerome, which she was a very solid fit for her and she continued to practice her faith and lived in community with them for the rest of her life. By entering the convent Sor Juana was completely liberated and she had the ability to maintain her own library, teach music and drama to children, and most importantly continuously write her inspirational poetry and other literary works freely. The only down side to her life’s work was that later in life many men of the church were unhappy with her expressing some of her feminist views to the public.
Sor Juana’s incredible body of work includes her outstanding written works that explored such different forms such as loas, plays, comedies, historical vignettes and imaginative tales of mythology. Sor Juana was leading feminist of her time and it was later discovered that she was actually not as religious a person as she professed to be, but had been using her convent as a platform in order to influence society’s views about feminism and attempt to influence feminist views in the church.
Sor Juana used her writing to defend the educational rights of women and their intellectual abilities, and she also believed that educating women could be used to advance the service of God. Sor Juana’s willingness to write her true sentiments led to one of her more controversial works in 1690 that criticized a forty year old sermon by a well-established Portuguese Jesuit, Antonio de Vieira. Sor Juana never intended this letter to be published. She sent this letter to one of her long time good friends Bishop of Puebla, who took it into his own hands and published the letter behind Sor Juana’s back.
Her criticism of the church predominantly attacked the fact that the church persisted in only educating males. After this event Sor Juana was asked to stop writing and reading, and be more of a traditional, reverent nun, which lead her to respond to these comments with more letters in 1691. In her following letters she defended herself by writing about the culture of the Mexican women, and how totally one-sided and biased the educational system was, which was counterproductive and that all people should have the right to an education.
The major issue and proclamation that soon followed in 1693 was that the church censored all of Sor Juana’s writing in order to prevent her from writing anything that could be considered anti-religious or feministic. Shortly after her final few letters, she dedicated herself to self-sacrifice by leaving her reading and writing behind and helping the impoverished during the last four years of her life. In 1695 Sor Juana died doing just that. She died from a plague after taking care of fellow nuns who had already been infected.