This book explores the Spanish elite’s fixation on social and racial “passing” and “passers” as represented in a wide range of texts produced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It examines literary and non-literary works that express the dominant Spaniards’ anxiety that socially mobile New Christians could impersonate and pass as versions of themselves. Current scholarship has implicitly postulated that the social energy that led to the massive marginalization of New Christians and/or lowborns from central social spaces, and the marginals’ attempts to hide their true identity, had its roots in the elite’s rejection of sociocultural and genealogical heterogeneity, or “difference.” Christina Lee makes a key intervention in this discussion by proposing that there was a parallel phenomenon at play that might have been as resounding as an anxiety roused by the presence of those who were clearly different, a phenomenon she calls “the anxiety of sameness.” Lee argues that while conspicuous religious and socio-cultural difference was certainly perturbing and unsettling, in some ways, it was not as threatening to the dominant Spanish identity as the potential discovery of the arbitrariness that separated them from the undesirables of society. Students and seasoned scholars of Spanish history and literature will not only benefit from Lee’s arguments about the elite’s attempt to deny the fluidity of early modern identity, but also gain from her fresh readings of the works of Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Quevedo, as well as her analyses of lesser known works, such as joke books, treatises, genealogical catalogues, and documentary accounts.
applicable to earlymodernSpanish discourses is Douglas’s observation that
‘[i]t is only by exaggerating the difference between within and without, above
and below, male and female, with and against, that a semblance of order is created’.3 This exaggeration is, then, a means for preventing the subversion of the
established social order, but it is also a way to maintain the veneer of neatness
in cases in which the supposed polluter challenges their predetermined role.
My study further pursues the implications of circumstances when dirt, in its
dolorida: la metamorfosis de la mujer en hombre’, Actas del Tercer Coloquio Internacional de la Asociación de Cervantistas (Barcelona: Anthropos, 1993), pp. 463–72.
37 Cited in Kenneth Brown, ‘Context i text del Vexamen d’academia de Francesc Fontanella’, Llengua i Literatura , 2 (1987), 173–252, 231.
38 Brown, ‘Context i text del Vexamen d’academia de Francesc Fontanella’, 231. See also Sherry Velasco, ‘María de Zayas and lesbian desire in earlymodernSpain’, in Librada Hernandez and Susana Chavez-Silverman (eds
Desirable Moors and Moriscos in
The notion that the foreign Moor, a patently different individual in the context
of Old Christian society, was less threatening than the Morisco, an ambiguous
member of the Spanish body politic who embodied both Moorish and Old
Christian cultural marks, is represented in a number of literary works of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For the most part, earlymodernSpanish
prose and poetry depicts the Moor as a depraved, unscrupulous, and fundamentally unredeemable figure. There are a number of notable
for in the veins of the East
all the bloodlines run blue.
Because shepherds and kings
he puts on the same footing,
a mighty knight
is Don Dinero.16
The East and West Indies are not only the mythical locus of concentrated riches,
but also the place wherein low-borns sought to quickly accumulate wealth.
Quevedo is also satirising false nobles who claimed to come from remote
lands, because they could not substantiate that they had a noble ancestral home,
a solar conocido.The Orient was associated in the earlymodernSpanish imagination with savagery and paganism
precisely what kinds of conduct are likely to be mocked or despised’.4 In earlymodernSpain, gossip was often passed on through popular songs, anecdotes,
aphorisms, and jokes. These forms are powerful and potentially devastating
because it could be virtually impossible to suppress their circulation. A song,
edited in the 1570s by Sebastián de Horosco, echoes the sentiment expressed
in El libro de Aragón that good moral living entails endogamous relationships.
‘And it is considered good advice’, it says:
that in order to live happily
Expulsion of the Moriscos’, in Rhetoric and Reality in EarlyModernSpain. (Ed. Richard J. Pym
(London: Tamesis, 2006), 1–25).
43 ‘Este es el fin de la dispersion … Y que no teniendo pueblo circundante de los de su nación y
professión, con quien quiera ser honrados por Moros (como aora hacen) pretendan parecer
fieles, y leales a los Cristianos Viejos y ganar honra con ellos, y para esto dexen de hablar
Arábigo, y aborrezcan y olviden las ceremonias y costumbres, que los hacen conocidos, y
procuren encubrirse, y parecer Cristianos viejos’ (Valencia, Tratado
In the “Conclusion,” Lee posits two questions that arise from her study of early modern sameness but that fall outside the bounds of her book. The first concerns the reasons why New Christians and the underprivileged would attempt to subjugate others like themselves. Possible explanations might include a desire to prove his/her (either truthful or false) alliance to the dominant group, and the internalization of the dominant’s belief that his/her lineage and inherited culture is defective. Another inquiry that naturally emerges from Lee’s study is the substantial reduction in discourses that express the anxiety of sameness. She suggests that the decline could be the result of a decrease in the elite’s preoccupation with social infiltration due to the fact that in the 1700s the barriers to enter the nobility were substantially raised and commoners were less likely to pass into the hidalgo class.
In Chapter Three, Lee studies texts that convey the notion that if armed with knowledge about the distinguishing features of Conversos, Old Christians could become proficient at identifying even the most sophisticated veneer of sameness. Lee focuses on religious and medical treatises aimed at rendering the Converso body as subhuman and tainted. These prescriptive texts written by theologians Pedro Aznar Cardona, Vicente da Costa Matos, Francisco de Torrejoncillo, and the medical doctor Juan de Quiñones argued—making extensive references to biblical, classical, and scientific sources—that Jews and Conversos exhibited their sinfulness through physical signs, such as elongated rears, skin eruptions, and/or suffered from periodic anal bleedings. Lee also examines Libros verdes, anonymous genealogical catalogues aimed at exposing the hidden Converso taint in the ancestries of distinguished families.