LOPE FELIX DE VEGA CARPIO – (1562 - 1635)
EL PERRO DEL HORTELANO [The Dog in the Manger]
DETAILED SUMMARY AND COMMENTARY
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
DIANA, Countess of Belflor
TEODORO, her secretary
OTAVIO, Diana’s major-domo (butler)
FABIO, Diana’s squire
TRISTÁN, servant to Teodoro
ANARDA, maid to Diana
MARCELA, maid to Diana
DOROTEA, maid to Diana
The action of the play takes place in Naples
In Spanish, we say that someone is like “the dog in the manger” when he or she acts like the character of the dog in the ancient fable by same name: The Dog In The Manger.
A dog lay in a manger, and by his growling and snapping prevented the oxen from eating the hay which had been placed for them. "What a selfish Dog!" said one of them to his companions; "he cannot eat the hay himself, and yet refuses to allow those to eat who can." http://www.2020site.org/aesop/story13.html >
SUMMARY AND COMMENTARY:
El perro del hortelano (written sometime between 1613 and 1616) is about texts. A text is an artificially structured entity created by a person to be an artefact. Texts, in other words, are never "natural" in the sense that they cannot evolve on their own out of nature. They must be created, and normally they are intentional and have a purpose. Their purpose can be to hide or to reveal, to promote artistic ends or to further natural inclinations, to obfuscate matters by fomenting what Plato referred to as Pistis ("opinion") or to clarify matters by fomenting Gnosis ("knowledge"), to cement rigid laws (what the Greeks called Nomos) or to liberate the individual's natural spirit (Physis).
The very title of El perro del hortelano is a text, for it derives from the proverb "El perro del hortelano ni come las berzas ni las deja comer a otro." It refers to the female protagonist of the play, Diana, Condesa de Belflor, one of Lope's most interesting psychological creations. When Diana comes on stage (she is the first person the spectator sees, since Teodoro and Tristán cross in the dark), she exhibits the characteristics of a rigid, angry, domineering Countess devoid of sympathy or warmth. the spectator soon learns that the Countess is indeed a Diana, for she has inexplicably shunned the advances of many men, refused to marry, and thereby put the noble patrimony of Belflor in jeopardy, She is, in other words, not a "natural" person, but adheres to structures and roles. Her title as Countess, her Diana personality, her austere treatment of her servants in other words, are all "texts" in that the are artificial social trappings which clothe the natural female personality. They are the “outside” which covers the “inside”. They are fictions which hide the woman's true nature.
Diana is the main character, and so the problem of her ability to function in society as a complete entity is the crux of the play. The male protagonist Teodoro is much less interesting simply because he is the object of Diana's story rather than the subject of his own. Teodoro is, in effect, a passive figure from the first scene, when Tristán protects Teodoro's identity by extinguishing the candle with his hat, to the very last scenes, when Teodoro becomes Count of Belflor, really does nothing to further his own cause. By presenting Teodoro as a passive figure, however, Lope achieves the maintenance of the young man's integrity. No one can accuse him of social climbing, or using illegal means, or manipulating the system, or seducing Diana in order to gain the title to Belflor. Teodoro, in other words, has to be passive so he can remain free of interest in the matter. By the same token, Act Three presents a totally passive Diana, for it would be equally unethical and collusive if she were to have a part in the manipulation of events in her favor.
Where Diana does indeed manipulate events in her favor is in the first two-thirds of the play, for she resorts to text after text to win the love of Teodoro. She has known the young man for years (he was raised in her house and is evidently much younger than she is), but--as Diana explains in the first of no less than nine sonnets in the play--she has never considered him in an amorous light because of the differences in social rank. the sonnet is clear about this:
Mil veces he advertido en la belleza,
gracia y entendimiento de Teodoro,
que a no ser desigual a mi decoro,
estimara su ingenio y gentileza.
Es el amor común naturaleza;
más yo tengo mi honor por más tesoro,
que los respetos de quien soy adoro
y aun el pensarlo tengo por bajeza.
[I too have often noted Teodoro’s handsome looks, his wit, his charm, and if my rank did not forbid it, I should hold him in the most dear esteem. Love is the common tongue that everyone understands. And yet, what can I do? For I hold the honor of my family above ther promptings of my heart.]
The conflict is between amor and honor. On the side of amor we find "[his] handsome looks, his wit, his charm". These are all natural attributes, advantages some lucky individuals are just born with. They belong to the common language of nature. Honor, on the other hand, is for Diana a matter of class, decorum and respect. She therefore decides (in the tercets that follow) not to pursue the matter further.
It is not surprising that Lope uses a sonnet to express Diana's inner thoughts. the Petrarchan sonnet's function in all Golden Age theater is to illuminate the true interior ruminations of the human mind. Its use is so ubiquitous that when spectators hear a sonnet they know that the words are a monologue from the heart. The sonnet, in other words, is the consummate dramatic "text": an artificial device with a specific function that is not part of the natural flow of language and action. We should assume, therefore, that Diana knows what she is saying in this sonnet, yet in the very next scene she approaches Teodoro with another sonnet which expresses precisely the opposite desires as the earlier one: "I must love for I want to be loved”. Moreover, this second sonnet is a triply contrived "text." Diana tells Teodoro it was written by her for a friend, but since she knows nothing of love she wants Teodoro to rewrite it. Teodoro (after four separate prompting to textualize the poem: "Read, read") then reads the sonnet aloud. So we have a poem written by Diana for an unknown friend (Diana herself, but directed at Teodoro), read by Teodoro (for whom it was really written) to Diana (the hidden authoress of the sonnet). And it is this contrived poem hidden behind the multiple artificialities that actually expresses the true nature of Diana's feelings, which she could not express even to herself in the first sonnet. Hidden from her true feelings by decorum and honor, by her status as Countess, by her emotional blockage as a chaste Diana averse to marriage, the woman inside must resort to multilayered texts to express her emotions. She must go to Art to bridge the chasm between Nomos and Physis, between honor and amor.
Lope follows this scene with the introduction of Diana's other suitors, those from the artificial world of status and decorum. As the spectators would anticipate in a comedia, they are rigid, foppish, overdressed dolts who speak in an artificial baroque language in striking contrast to the lyrical dialogues between Diana and Teodoro that follow. They are Nomos personified, the direct opposite of Teodoro, who, in his sonnet "text" response to Diana's sonnet "text" urges her to speak her mind.
This moment is followed by a long soliloquy by Teodoro, who attempts to decipher the many texts which Diana has presented him: the sonnet, enigmatic remarks, blushes, nervous laughter. Teodoro has no answer for this inside / outside, enamored woman / haughty Countess dichotomy: "Can there be truth in what I thought I saw–and heard? If not, then I am mad". Believing the latter, Teodoro renews his courtship of the servant Marcela, only to be interrupted by Diana. She returns to her "text" of the friend in love, clarifying now that the beloved is a man of humble origin, and asking Teodoro's advice. Getting nowhere, she finally resorts to a physical "text" by pretending to trip and fall beside Teodoro (who respectfully catches her fall with his cape rather than his bare hands). The Act ends with yet another sonnet that highlights the dentro / fuera nature of Diana's amor / honor conflict, for Teodoro remarks that her blushes and her trembling body revealed her true nature beneath the exterior decorum.
In summary, Act One establishes a pattern of events in which the female protagonist, multiply hidden from her interior nature by layers of social and cultural artifacts, begins to experience natural love. Unable to express it directly because of the exterior rigidities of decorum and honor, she resorts to a series of artifices, or "texts," to transmit her messages to the young man. Act Two in many ways repeats the events in Act One, carrying them to their logical conclusion. Diana, frustrated by the conflicts between her interior emotions (expressed in more sonnets, theatrical exhibitions and letters) and her exterior decorum (expressed in her actions as the "dog in the manger"), becomes so enraged when Teodoro refers to her as such that she scratches his face and covers his lace collar with blood, only to return and take the collar from him, declaring "this blood in mine."
This is the climax of the play, for it is the culmination of Diana's transformation from a rigid Nomos figure chained to society's notions of honor and decorum through a Diana stage as a woman incapable of loving (a "dog in the manger") to the natural state of true womanhood. the problem for Diana--and Teodoro--essentially concerns blood: Blue Blood versus Red Blood. Diana now realizes that she wants the Red Blood, the real incarnate person and not the status and social structures.
With this realization, her individual "play" is over. she has become a mujer, as she will state various times in Act three; so she has completed her interior transformation. Furthermore, she and Teodoro now know they love each other soul to soul. But clearly the drama is not over, because Nomos, the artificial social norms, still stand in their way. And while Diana could resort to multiple artistic "texts" to win Teodoro, she cannot do the same to eliminate the social barriers because it would demean her personal honesty, her inner nature as a whole person with integrity. she therefore assumes with Teodoro a passive posture in which the two become onlookers to the resolution to their problems by Tristán, the play's funnyman (gracioso), who now takes over the textualization of the text by rewriting the play so natural Physis, with the air of Art, can overcome artificial Nomos.
Act Three thus becomes a play-within-a-play, for Tristán (the lowliest and socially most demeaned character in the play) takes over the role of creator from Lope de Vega and writes a text which permits Teodoro to be a noble person equal in decorum and honor to Diana, adjusting thereby the natural abilities of the two lovers to their social exigencies. Tristán does it by resorting to the time-honored literary texts of the byzantine novel, a highly popular genre that involved adventurous episodes and hair’s-breadth escapes, dramas of honor, and the triumph of the hero, who rescues and redeems weaker figures around him. Craftily he imposes that text on old Count Ludovico, who conveniently had a son named Teodoro whom he lost to pirates during a voyage at sea twenty years earlier. Moreover, Count Ludovico happens to come on stage discussing the pressing problem of his succession and his constant preoccupation with his son's loss.
Tristán's long Greek romance is an hilarious parody of the Byzantine narrative at its most artificial, and only the most credulous of individuals could ever believe it. Yet Ludovico exclaims of the story "Oh, heaven! The truth you speak strikes me to the heart. Already my beard is wet with tears of joy." And, even more ludicrous, when the old man finally goes to meet Teodoro he doesn't even recognize him until Diana introduces him, yet expounds: "Were I not certain, I should know it just by looking at you. You are exactly as I was at your age (. . .) No, no my son, do not speak, say nothing. I am beside myself! Oh, how handsome you are! God bless you. What a royal presence! How truly nature stamped your face with your nobility".
These casual encounters and serendipitous coincidences give all of Art Three a highly artificial tone. the spectators are thus over-informed by Lope that the resolution of this play is artistic and not natural, as they are over-informed of the comic blindness of the play's old people and nobles to the true nature of events. Ludovico's unwavering acceptance of Teodoro as his son, despite the obvious disparities in Tristán's text and in Teodoro's physical appearance, for example, are complemented by the pretenders' ridiculous belief that Tristán could possibly be a ferocious assassin, and Ludovico's acceptance of Tristán as a Greek merchant. The audience is made to realize, in other words, that this is an artefact they are watching, a text in which Art comes to the aid of Nature to assure that Nature achieve the necessary outcomes for proper conformities. Because of Art's intervention, everyone is happy at the end: Ludovico has a successor to his title, the pretenders have the assurance of continuity in the Belflor line, all the servants marry, and Diana has Teodoro. It is truly a fairy tale ending, something like a male Cinderella story.
The artificial nature of this happy ending clearly belongs only to the world of texts, and the audience is coerced into seeing it as a text and not life as they live it. So El perro del hortelano is not about social problems of status and rank, but it is indeed about the role of Art in one's life. Nomos does impose rigid unnatural strictures on the individual, who, as a natural being, is ever ready to burst the confines imposed by society, but rarely succeeds. Society with its artificial constructions of politics, parents, etiquette, rank, etc., ever attempts to keep a firm hand on nature's reigns. To slip them, the individual has no recourse but to seek the aid of art, the bridge between Nomos and Physis. With Art, properly utilized, one's true nature can be brought into conformity with one's social decorum.
Such is the outcome Lope creates for Teodoro and Diana. After two brilliantly operatic moments in which they declare their true love for each other, Teodoro tells diana the truth about himself:
Soy hijo de la tierra,
y no he conocido padre
más que mi ingenio, mis letras
y mi pluma. El Conde cree
que lo soy; y aunque pudiera
ser tu marido, y tener
tanta dicha y tal grandeza,
mi nobleza natural
que te engañe no me deja,
porque soy naturalmente
hombre que verdad profesa.
[I, that am son only of the earth, that have never known any father other than my own wits, my reading, and my pen! The Count believes the story, and although I might be your husband and own much happiness and great riches, my conscience will not allow me to deceive you, for I am by nature a man that professes the truth.]
Here is a truly noble person, with natural nobility. Here is a truly natural person, "son only of the earth." Here is a person endowed exclusively with natural advantages, "my own wits, my reading, and my pen" (an author, a Lope de Vega). Here is a man naturally wedded to truth, "by nature a man that professes the truth". This totally natural man has achieved all the artificial advantages in life; and, Lope leads us to believe, he has achieved them because he is a totally natural man and therefore deserving of them.
Diana understands this, and tells Teodoro in her response:
Discreto y necio has andado:
discreto en que tu nobleza
me has mostrado en declararte;
necio en pensar que lo sea
en dejarme de casar,
pues he hallado en tu bajeza
el color que yo quería;
que el gusto no está en grandezas,
sino en ajustarse al alma
aquello que se desea.
[Teodoro, you show yourself both wise and foolish! Wise in that you have demonstrated your nobility in your declaration, foolish to think that I would not wish to marry you, when I have found in your humility the very quality I desire. For pleasure is not in greatness, but rather in the fitness of what is desired by the loving soul.]
This is Diana's epiphany. She realizes that nobility is an interior quality. she realizes that pleasure is an interior quality. She realizes that conformity must be between the soul and what one desires. Social nobility, acquired grandeur, and exterior pleasures are Pistis, just opinions on the surface of life. The former qualities are Gnosis, true knowledge.
The outcome, then, is a proper adjustment of these people's interior natural selves to the outer world of social artifice in which they have to live. It is accomplished by Art, and the outcome is far better than any other one possible: who would prefer one of the pretenders as Count of Belflor, or Ludovico to die without succession, or Diana to remain a chaste domineering Countess, or Teodoro to marry Marcela? It is an artificial fair tale ending, to be sure, but the spectators can be happy with the outcome, and even dream about similar ones for the texts that inscribe their lives.