The Sensuality of Possession: Cañizares’s Marta la Romarantina

Susan Paun de García


Witchcraft, magic, and the occult were deeply embedded in early modern European culture, both popular and elite. As historians have shown, from an examination of the accounts of demonic possession and of the treatises on demonology we can learn much about both popular beliefs and elite preoccupations. The genre of the magic play (comedia de magia) provides a context that displays these beliefs, and in some of José de Cañizares’s plays, intimations of the “modern” woman as well. In El asombro de Francia, Marta la Romarantina, at issue is a conflict between good and evil, where the primary place of contention is the protagonist herself. Marta’s personal struggles have broad societal implications: freedom of action and thought, as well as independence and autonomy, which are in conflict with the hierarchical structure and customs of society. The play invites not merely a critical examination of the status quo but possibly even action to change it. In this examination of Marta la Romarantina, In discussing several aspects of the play, I will focus chiefly on the sensuality of possession—in its manifestation and its performance in psychological and theatrical contexts—and its relation and similarity to hysteria. Nevertheless, it is impossible to ignore importance of the voice: the conflicting performative utterances of cursing and exorcism, which involve voice and ventriloquism. As well, the post-modern audience of readers will hear various voices in the play that sound very much like some from our own social debates.