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Comic Motifs in Romances of Chivalry of Spanish Golden Age

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CoMoRoC (Comic Motifs in Romances of Chivalry of Spanish Golden Age)

Reporting period: 2018-10-01 to 2020-09-30

In the last few years, critical studies on chivalric romances of Spanish Golden Age have stressed the importance of the uniformity of this corpus, which involves a great deal of stereotyping of the same situations, contexts, characters, even episodes, which became common motifs and recognizable formulas for the readers of the time. Repetitions (of content and form) are now considered signs that identify a specific structure and style, creating a canon that defines a literary genre where every romance has characteristics that outline its own autonomy and identity, and other characteristics that refer to a broader paradigm, so that every novel can be read as its own, but also as a literary expression of chivalric culture and tradition. The problem being addressed in the project is the identification of specific patterns in the expression of comic situations and characters, following the methodological approach employed by Stith Thompson in the study of folkloric literary forms, where motifs are defined as a central concept.

The study of motifs is significant for its persistence across different cultures and different ages; moreover, motifs represent a permeable structure that is applied to different semiotic languages: the repetition and persistence of certain patterns is one of the links that connect all artistic manifestations, such as literature, visual arts, cinema, theatre, embracing also folkloric tradition, from popular ceremonies and festivities to the ancient oral tradition of short tales and exemplary stories or anecdotes. The study of motifs is therefore important to discover the roots of common images that are still part of today’s culture, art and literature.

The overall objective of the project is the study of those motifs that are related to comic situations to find some categories that are frequently related to laughter in the genre of romances of chivalry; this study follows through an investigation in the poetic and rhetorical treaties written in Italy and Spain during the XVI and XVII centuries; this step is necessary to understand what was actually considered comic at the time and to define the main point of the comic theory of the time from a theoretical perspective.
From the beginning of the project, several literary areas have been identified as especially linked to comic motifs in the romances of chivalry. These areas and inspirations have been explored in published works (or articles currently in press) that have been presented during international congresses. The main general areas that have been investigated are:

- comic motifs related to eroticism (the novel Tirante el Blanco is one of the most prolific in this field, that helped sets the tone of how eroticism is presented in chivalric literature through the prism of comedy and laughter);
- comic motifs related to female characters: the analysis of what female characters find humorous led to the identification of two topics that women in romances of chivalry usually jest about: 1. physical beauty and ugliness and 2. romantic relationships;
- the comparison between comic motifs in the Spanish cycle of the Palmerines novels and the comic motifs identified in the Italian cycle written by Mambrino Roseo as sequels or prequels; the main areas analyzed have been comic situations related to female characters. This has led to interesting results in identifying a specific comic tone in the Italian novels, that can be set apart from the humour displayed in the Spanish cycle, due to the influence of a different cultural setting;
- comic motifs related to violence (especially in the identification of examples in Don Quijote that can be linked to a folkloric tradition).

These results have been presented in several conferences and in peer-reviewed scientific publications, both in miscellaneous volumes and in scientific journals.
The study of poetic and rhetorical treaties written in Italy and Spain during the XVI and XVII centuries has resulted in the publication of a book that will be issued the next year by the publishing house of the University of Zaragoza. Some of the treaties that have been examined are Spanish works such as M. Sánchez de Lima, El arte poética en romance castellano (1580); A. López Pinciano, Philosophia antigua poética (1596); L.A. de Carvallo, Cisne de Apolo (1602); L. Carrillo y Sotomayor Libro de la erudición poética (1611); F. Cascales, Tablas poéticas (1617) and Italian works such as V. Maggi, De ridiculis (1550); A.S. Minturno, L’arte poetica (1564); L. Castelvetro, Poetica d’Aristotele volgarizzata et sposta (1570); A. Piccolomini, Le annotazioni alla poetica di Aristotele (1575); A. Riccoboni, De re comica ex Aristotelis doctrina (1579); T. Tasso, Discorsi dell’arte poetica e del poema eroico (1587), to name a few of the most important ones.
The book explores several aspect of comic theory:

- the main elements of comic expression that have been traditionally identified by theorists;
- the expected reaction of the recipient: the development of comedy has been a defining factor in determining the function of the recipient and the expected reaction that comic occurrences were supposed to cause. Moreover, the study explores how the reception of extended works in prose has been influenced by the reception of theater works when facing comical occurrences during the time where the very same concept of novel was born and developed;
- the physical reaction that comic situations, in representation or narration, stimulates, through the study of early works on physiology and physiognomy.
The categorization of comic motifs seems to be possible and achievable in a broader time frame in order to include the results in an online catalogue that follows the example of MOMFER, a search engine of Thompson’s Motif-Index of Folk Literature, created by Folgert Karsdorp to disclose the index digitally. The main impact will be to allow users to search the catalogue for semantic concepts. To reach the full potential of the project, my work is being developed in coordination with other research groups that are interested in the study of motifs in romances of chivalry, especially the Progetto Mambrino of the University of Verona, which is also oriented towards the creation of an online catalogue.
Given that the building of a website with an online catalogue is one of the long-term goals of the project, no website has been developed yet.