Freedom and constraint in transnational.comedy
The ‘jest unseen’ of love letters in Two Gentlemen of Verona and El perro del
in Transnational connections in early modern theatre
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This chapter explores the transnational use of a theatregram in an English and a Spanish play, in which a woman of higher rank instructs her ‘servant’ to write a love letter for her which she in fact intends for the writer himself, unbeknownst to him. Through this ruse, Silvia (of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, c. 1593) and Diana (of Lope de Vega’s El perro del hortelano, c. 1615) get around the limitations that should prevent them, as women of high rank, from courting men of lower standing. This essay looks at the way such a theatrical scenario transports within its own structure and aesthetic logic a disruption to the play’s aristocratic hierarchy, and argues that a parallel critique of social hierarchy, aristocratic distinction, and of ‘hierarchical service’ (Schalkwyk) is embedded in the theatregram. This theatrical dynamic suggests a different way in which radical political ideas may have travelled in early modern Europe through dramatic scenarios. This transnational theatre practice also challenges notions of the purity of national literary traditions, and suggests that the canons of Spanish, English or European drama in this period cannot be truly separable or national.

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