“Solmira as ‘La última goda,’ or How to Swordfight in a Skirt”
As I have discussed elsewhere, swords and swordplay played an integral part in Golden Age society and theater.1 The sword was the weapon par excellence of the knight and the classic symbol of the gentleman. Covarrubias writes that the sword is “La común arma de que se usa, y los hombres la traen de ordinario ceñida, para defensa y para ornato y demostración de que lo son” (549). The right to wear it and the accompanying responsibilities were earned, frequently, upon a man’s commission to one of the Spanish military orders. As a result, the sword came to serve as an immediate visual distinction of a particular social class. The Comendador in Lope’s Fuenteovejuna, insulted upon his arrival by the absence of the young Maestre de Calatrava, remarks:
La obligación de la espada
para aprender cortesía. (act I, cuadro 1, v. 32-36)
Furthermore, the shape and purpose of the sword, as a phallic instrument of war, have associated the weapon with masculinity and power.
However, Golden Age playwrights have also put swords in the hands of women. With the symbolism and iconography of the sword so firmly established in the Spanish collective consciousness, what dramatic function did female swordplay serve on the comedia stage? This paper will examine the treatment of swords and swordplay on the Spanish stage in the hands of female characters including Doña Leonor in Valor, agravio y mujer, Doña Juana in Don Gil de las calzas verdes, and Rosaura in La vida es sueño. Most intriguing, however, is the case of Solmira, in Lope de Vega’s El ultimo godo, who, unlike Leonor, Juana and Rosaura, is not dressed as a man, and who, unlike the other three, actually makes use of the blade, successfully battling her way out of captivity dressed as herself.
1 Laura Vidler, “Entre la espada y el escenario: The Presence, Absence and Manipulation of Stage Properties in Lope’s El caballero de Olmedo.” Comedia Performance, 2004 Spring; 1(1): 95-125.