Dorotea Strikes Back!

Possessing a clear understanding of her partner’s subjectivities, Dorotea appeals to the traditional social codes of blood and lineage (Fernando is an Old Christian noble) in order to remind him of his social and religious obligations and to persuade him to fulfill them. She also employs legal codes pertaining to nobility and the male blood line to reassure him that her own lack of nobility–according to the traditional social structure and its discourses–cannot change or negate his nobility. In a typical performative move, however, Dorotea immediately displaces this argument (and her lack, both of nobility and chastity) with the contestatory code of virtue-as-work (and, therefore, Fernando’s lack of nobility and virtue). According to these incipient discursive norms, if the nobleman does not uphold his part of the contract, Dorotea, due to her works will be more noble than Fernando, as he can only claim lineage (they both can claim blood). According to this new social order, what counts as nobility is good works (and not only in the sense of a moral good), and it is now up to Fernando to demonstrate his worth.

In a final move, Dorotea ends her appeal on a legal note. If her wifely love does not move him, or if he does not value his own nobility, there is a simple and undeniable juridical reason that both assures her chastity and his sacred and legal role as her husband: Dorotea is–and was at the time of their sexual encounter–Fernando’s wife, and she has not only heavenly and earthly witnesses, but his signature to prove it. As Cruz astutely observes: “In a genial stroke of rhetorical irony and feminine vindication, Dorotea singles out her agency through her statement, ‘yo soy tu esposa,’ at the same time that […] her spoken words abidingly unite the couple into one indissoluble being” (629-30). Paradoxically, it is the patriarchal role of wife that opens a space for Dorotea’s subjectivity and grants her the right to pursue Fernando and to make use of the privileges inherent in the subject position of wife. Dorotea’s final performance as the perfect wife is once again endorsed by all those present, including the curate, who counsels Fernando on Dorotea’s behalf to acquiesce and recognize her as both his wife and his social equal. The labradora’s superb performance narrows Fernando’s options to one: “en fin, […] se ablando y se dejo vencer de la verdad” (1.36:382).

In the end, Dorotea’s performance of the discourses that were circulating in the economic, legal, and moral treatises of the day succeeds in constructing a viable subject position for the doncella enganada. In fact, her performance is sufficient to enable her to threaten Don Fernando with an intolerable subject position should he refuse her. Throughout her performances in the Sierra Morena and at Juan Palomeque’s inn, Dorotea deftly selects, combines, and recombines available discourses in order to resist her marginalized status as both a deceived woman and a member of the emergent middle class, the rich peasants who were buying their way into Spain’s titled class. A key component of her success is her self-fashioning as a member of this new productive class that arbitristas such as Cellorigo, Gutierrez de los Rios, and Guzman were advocating as Spain’s salvation from economic and political ruin. In this way, Dorotea embraces a symbolic national role and illustrates a strategy to redeem the nation’s idle noblemen. Her genius is that she manages the redemption of both self and nation without replicating the conduct manuals’ traditional limitations on women. By suggesting that it is this new productive class that will reform Spain, Dorotea constructs a female subjectivity that is based more on the contestatory virtue of works than the traditional virtue of chastity. This new model of feminine virtue allows women limited mobility in multiple modalities and is recognized by both the noblemen and the clergy present at the inn: Dorotea is ultimately celebrated for her wit, her words, and her works rather than her virginity.

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