Mindy E. Badía Indiana Universit

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					Mindy E. Badía                                       Indiana University Southeast

           “Mirror, Mirror: Image and Authenticity in Los melindres de Belisa”

I have chosen to explore the metatheatrical aspects of Los melindres de Belisa and to
examine such instances of role-playing as they relate to genre, gender, race, and class.
Our discussion of Belisa’s melindres as fundamentally theatrical, as well as our
comments about the play’s ambiguous generic classification, have stimulated my
curiosity about visual representation as symbol of both accuracy and distortion. Within
this framework, I wish to analyze the specific references to mirrors in the play,
suggesting that they signify, paradoxically, both a desire for authenticity and recognition
of its elusiveness.

In this talk, I look at three specific exchanges in which the word “espejo” is mentioned.
Though other, less direct allusions to reflected images exist, I will only discuss these
specific examples, emphasizing some more than others, in order to respect the time limits
established by our group. With each example, I include a discussion of how the scenes
were performed in a 1987 production of Los melindres de Belisa, brought to the stage of
the Chamizal National Memorial by the Mexican theater group La columna de
Aguascalientes as part of the Chamizal’s annual Siglo de Oro drama festival.

The first mention of a mirror occurs early in the play, as Eliso and his servant Fabio
discuss Belisa’s reputation as the ultimate mujer esquiva. Among the various examples of
her unfounded rejection of various suitors appears the following anecdote:

Eli.   Mirando un novio muy galan un día,
       dijo, viéndole limpio como un espejo:
       <<Más que dormir con este mentecato,
       quiero comer, que es bueno para plato>>.

To this, Fabio replies:

       En Alcorón pudiera hacer Belisa
       un desposado, que es famoso el barro.

In this instance, the word “espejo,” which ought to suggest an immediate identification of
this gentleman as an ideal suitor, “limpio” and “galán,” actually blurs the image—
muddies it, if you will—revealing the gap separating the social ideal from the human
reality and exposing perception as perilously flawed. Belisa suggests that the gentleman
in question he makes her hungry because his mirror-like substance, as well as his
apparent cleanliness, would make a fine dish. The ambiguous meaning of the word plato,
which could be both the food and the plate on which it is served, brings to mind the
physical imperative for sustenance, reminding audiences that eating, like other bodily
operations, satisfies both a desire and a need. Fabio’s reply connects the attempts that
early modern women made to correspond to social ideals of beauty, ingesting mud in
order to ensure a fair-skinned image peering back from the mirror, to our Adamic origins
as creatures fashioned from earth, replacing the transparency of glass with the opacity of

The first reference to a mirror in the production occurs at the same point as in the text, in
which Fabio and Eliso discuss Belisa’s exaggerated insistence on the serious flaws of all
her suitors.


Here, the actors accentuate the theatrical character of Belisa’s scorn, adopting her stage
persona instead of simply reporting what she has said. In a sense, they reflect an image of
Belisa that distorts a distortion, augmenting the humor and encouraging spectators to
adopt their ridiculing stance. However, remembering that Fabio’s financial distress
creates the most obvious example of role-playing within roles, a metatheatrical recourse
that also enables Felisardo to escape justice for the murder he believes he has committed,
we must also judge Belisa’s histrionics within the context of a culture whose authenticity
is based on seeming rather than being.

Later, Celia (now disguised as the Moorish slave Zara) and don Juan engage in a lengthy
exchange that plays with the image of a mirror, and of sight in general, as the initial
stimulus of love. As Celia performs don Juan’s toilette, both she and audiences are aware
of the inappropriateness of such intimacies taking place between two noble characters,
yet in her role as Zara, Celia is obligated to perform these tasks, and indeed intends to
fetch a looking glass to ensure that she has performed convincingly as a servant:

Cel.           Porque el serviros obliga
               lo haré, pues os sirvo en ello.
               Pero ¿quién habrá que os diga,
               aunque yo acierte a ponello,
               si está el cuello bien o mal?
               Voy por espejo.

This literal reference quickly takes on metaphorical significance, as don Juan employs a
familiar Petrarchan trope, comparing Celia’s eyes to a mirror:

D. Juan                        Eso no,
               porque no habrá espejo igual
               como ese rostro, en que yo
               miro tan limpio cristal.
               Retrátenme vuestras bellas
               niñas, que bien puedo en ellas
               decir que en el sol me vi.

Paradoxically, the mirror image of don Juan correctly clothed by Celia would constitute
proof of her skill as a servant, lending credibility to her acting abilities in the
metatheatrical role of Zara. At the same time, don Juan’s language elevates her humble
status, performing a courtship ritual that simply cannot take place between two people of
such unequal standing. The sparkle in her eye, her limpieza, and the very relationship that
he proposes would elevate Zara (falsely, of course) to his own social position, casting a
non-Christian salve in the role of potential mate. In this context, his words reveal both
deceit, since Celia’s performance as Zara tricks him, and truth, since in expressing his
initial interest in Zara, don Juan uses language more appropriate for courting a woman
like Celia.

Felisardo’s jealous reaction to Celia’s interactions with don Juan continues this interplay
of the metaphorical and literal use of the word espejo.

CEL.           Pues ¿es bien tartar en burlas
               en tiempo de tantas veras?
               Vuelve y mira dónde estamos,
               pues en nuestra misma tierra
               tú eres esclavo y yo esclava;
               que si de mi honor recelas,
               ofensa tuya es locura,
               y para mi honor la ofensa.
               Por ti, Felisardo mío,
               soy esclava, tus quimeras
               me trujeron a servir.
               Si sirvo, ¿de qué te quejas?

She reminds Felisardo that she is playing the role of servant precisely because of his plan
and, as such, her willingness to dress don Juan lends authenticity to the artifice that
Felisardo has created. Her first reaction inverts the metatheatrical construct of their roles
as Zara and Pedro, as she designates Felisardo’s genuine feelings of jealousy with
“burlas” and, at the same time, emphasizes the serious implications of their theatricality,
using the phrase “tantas veras” to refer to the peril in which the discovery of their true
identities would place them.

Celia explains her actions as Zara, providing information to which Felisardo was not
witness and emphasizing her unwillingness to serve don Juan in this capacity.

       Salí con otra criada
       a dar agua a quien quisiera
       dar veneno. Es hombre y mozo,
       dijome palabras tiernas,
       que es la ocasión ligera,
       pólvora el hombre y la mujer centella.
       Mandó que trujese el cuello,
       truje el cuello, até las trenzas,
       hízome espejo, fui espejo . . .
In these lines, Celia exposes a peril that she and Zara share, though the implications for
each woman are quite different. To an extent, both Zara and Celia are reduced to mere
objects of don Juan’s desire, which casts any woman as prey in an unrelenting amorous
hunt. Celia’s words also indicate that the very discourse of love forces these female
characters into an untenable position in which they are forced to respond to demands of
literary and social codes into which they are inscribed but in which they exhibit little
active participation. If don Juan reads Zara/Celia as a mirror, she is a mirror, which
suggests that by simply being, these women provoke the potentially transgressive sexual
acts that they are expect to prevent. Class distinctions do matter, however, both in terms
of the explicitness of don Juan’s demands and the powerlessness of Zara to deny his
wishes. At the very least, a woman like Celia could hope for reinscription into a socially
acceptable role as wife, an option simply not available to Zara.

Felisardo insists that he is correct in his jealousy, and Celia’s response offers yet another
instance of equating the mirror with her theatrical ruse.

FEL.           ¿Y eso no quieres que sienta?

CEL.           No, porque luego que entraste,
               como era vidrio y se quiebra,
               cesó el espejo.

These lines offer a reminder of the reality of their situation and of Celia’s loyalty to
Felisardo. The mirror, like their assumed identities, is easily broken by the appearance of
her beloved; the shards of glass illustrating her fragmented identity and, at the same time
her integrity as Felisardo’s intended. Not content with Celia’s profession of constancy,
Felisardo replies:

FEL.                           Mejor
               dijeras, Celia, por respuesta
               que la mujer es espejo,
               y que del dueño en ausencia
               hace la misma lisonja
               a cualquier rostro que le llega.

Here, Felisardo takes advantage of the literal and symbolic meaning of the looking glass,
suggesting that, like a mirror, an unaccompanied woman reflects the desires of any
gentleman who gazes upon her. Unaware of the irony of his metaphor, for surely the
mirror is a passive object and does not engage in any actual looking, this imagery
underscores the vulnerable position of women in early modern poetic discourse and
offers, for careful readers and spectators, a view of male desire as the true stimulus of
Juan’s fears.
The image of a mirror also figures prominently in the verbal exchanges between
Pedro/Felisardo and Zara/Celia as they are performed in the Mexican staging, with much
the same effect as in the text.


As is the case throughout the production, the scene in which don Juan asks Zara to dress
him opens with the sounds of Middle Eastern music, and the lights illuminate a set
decorated with Oriental rugs. These exra-textual enhancements accentuate cultural and
racial difference between and intensify the distortions inherent in the image of Zara
projected by don Juan’s advances; the Moorish subtext asserts itself, even as don Juan’s
amorous rhetoric would presumably undermine racial and social inequality. The
aggressive manner in which don Juan “excuses” Flora and draws Zara to him underscores
the fundamental inequality of the social positions that servant and master occupy,
offering a physical demonstration of Juan’s dominance and Zara’s powerlessness to
refuse. Later, when Felisardo rebukes Celia for the intimacies in which she has engaged
with don Juan, Felisardo distances himself from Celia as he resorts to the all too familiar
trope of woman’s inconstancy. As the two argue, their words emphasize the ambivalence
of the looking glass as a signifier, an object that, for Felisardo, reveals Celia’s “true”
nature as fickle but that, for Celia, symbolizes the artifice in which her genuine love for
Felisardo has obliged her to engage. The pair’s embrace that closes the scene reassures
audiences that Felisardo and Celia have been reinscribed within a discursive framework
in which the depth and truth of their love excuses the shallowness and deceit of their plot.

Within this context, it is little wonder that Belisa opts to exclude herself from such
exchanges, preferring, instead, to interpret literally, hyperbolically, and, in many
instances, hilariously, the common tropes used to describe the dynamic of amorous
desire. In a lengthy soliloquy, Belisa explains her melindres, blaming her eccentricities
on her wealth and her upbringing. She notes the difference between her childhood and
that of her brother, observing that don Juan, as a student, had money for tutors, pages,
and books. Belisa, on the other hand, spent her parents’ sizable fortune on “espejos,
pastillas and guantes,” items that, along with her wealth, made her too arrogant to accept
any of her suitors. Curiously, Belisa’s soul-baring moment of truth offers yet another
example of artifice, insofar as the that beauty she sees when she gazes in the mirror is the
result of cosmetics and clothing, material goods to which her inheritance as granted her

Audiences become suspicious of Belisa’s apparent recourse to reason near the end of this
same speech as she intensifies her odd behavior to the point of violence. When Belisa
sees her amorous intentions towards Pedro/Felisardo thwarted, she resolves to kill
herself. After Flora reminds her of the eternal consequences of such an act, Belisa opts to
follow her servant’s advice, demanding that Pedro/Felisardo be branded on the face so
that he will not run away. This command reiterates Belisa’s stubborn insistence on
literality, in that she requires a physical mark to show that Pedro/Felisardo really belongs
to her, both as a slave and as her love.
BEL.                  Esa razón
               sola vence la pasión
               con que desprecio el vivir.
               Quiero tomar tu consejo
               y hacer a este esclavo herrar,
               como quien quiere quebrar,
               por no mirarse, el espejo.

With these words, Belisa not only undermines her previous rejection of her eccentric
nature, but also demonstrates the exaggerated lengths of her capriciousness. In a sense,
“breaking the mirror” refers destroying the theatrical illusion of her melindres by her
insistence on a physical manifestation of her possession of Pedro, an act that would move
her excesses from the comic realm and, were it not for Tiberio’s intervention, place them
perilously close to the realm of tragedy.

As the curtain opens to reveal the first scene of the second act in the Mexican staging,
audiences witness a changed Belisa. The coincidence of plot and structure—the fact that
the new Belisa first appears at a point of transition in the organization of the production--
emphasizes the transformation that takes place in Belisa (without suggesting that she has
abandoned her former excesses altogether.)


The alteration in Belisa’s demeanor is noteworthy, since somber sincerity replaces the
humorous, self-conscious exaggeration that characterized her earlier episodes. By using
Middle Eastern music and Oriental rugs as a backdrop throughout the adaptation, the
Mexican staging exposes the contradictions of a culture that insists on ethnic and
religious homogeneity and exhibits an excessive fear of miscegenation; visual and aural
images appear to echo Belisa’s criticism of the social conventions that prevent her
relationship with Pedro. What at first appears as a reasoned, eloquent affirmation of
equality, however, quickly degenerates into a ruthless display of the power that Belisa
enjoys precisely because of the very social conventions that, just a few lines earlier, she
so vehemently criticized.

Looking at the relationships between these three exchanges illuminates the ways in which
the characters reflect images of one another other, their very interactions functioning as
mirrors. Fabio and Eliso show caricature of Belisa as she perceived by her peers. Zara,
don Juan and Felisardo exhibit the sort of role-playing in which Belisa simply refuses to
participate since her melindres remove her from the equally ludicrous excesses of
amorous discourse. In the last example, Belisa’s references to the looking glass reveal the
mutability of her self-image, as well as her ambivalent relationship with the powers that
attempt to confine her.
Indeed, what I hope to have shown with my observations about both the text and
spectacle of Los melindres de Belisa is that in many respects, this play engages audiences
because it leaves us with more questions than answers. As Belisa confounds audience
expectations, at least those of today’s spectators, she problematizes facile generic
classifications. An atypical mujer esquiva, perhaps a distant cousin in the figurón family,
Belisa’s recognition and rejection of her melindres seems, at best, half hearted, and her
eventual acceptance of love’s power occurs with a man with whom she cannot possibly
expect to forge a socially acceptable bond. Lisarda’s simultaneous infatuation with Pedro
provokes similar skepticism as it exposes the uncertainties of limpieza de sangre, begging
the familiar question posed in the Caribbean cultural context when people express pride
in their exclusively European origins: ¿Y tu abuela, dónde está?”

Today’s audiences would do well to remember that Lope’s own understanding of the
Comedia, upon which he elaborates in his Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en nuestro
tiempo, borrows a phrase from Cicero in describing the genre as an “espejo de las
costumbres, y una viva imagen de la verdad.” Cervantes would use this same Ciceronian
sentence to condemn Lope’s theater in Don Quijote (Pt. I,Ch. 48), when the priest and the
canon rail against its lack of verosimilitud, “habiendo de ser la comedia, según le parece
a Tulio, espejo de la vida humana, ejemplo de las costumbres y imagen de la verdad las
que ahora se representan son espejos de disparates, ejemplos de necedades e imágenes de
lascivia. Porque ¿qué mayor disparate puede ser en el sujeto que tratamos que salir un
niño en mantillas en la primera scena del primer acto y en la segunda salir ya hecho
hombre barbado?” What we have here, I would submit, are two constructions of truth.
Yes, there is a profound authenticity in Lope’s theater, even when we consider it from the
ridiculing perspective of Cervantes’s text. Who has not gazed upon a beloved child, now
grown, and marveled at the speed with which time has passed? Who has not been startled
by the unrecognizability of his own reflection and humbled by the gap separating his self-
image from the image gazing back from the looking glass? In Los melindres de Belisa,
references to mirrors offer characters a glimpse of their own wishes and anxieties, which
necessarily implies distortion. Confronting their fear of emotional attachment, social and
familial instability, aging, and death compels them to seek faith, however futile, in a truth
that would somehow overcome these threats. The play offers spectators this same view,
casting back a disfigured image of the audience’s own desires and fears.