No puede ser el guarder una mujer
Agustín Moreto

Act One (up to the finale):

The play opens with a high-spirited discussion between Félix and Tarugo (master and man), en route to a meeting of Ana Pacheco’s famous academia. They’re agreed that Ana is an exemplary woman – beautiful, rich, and brimming with ingenio. But Tarugo tries to prove that amassing wealth and writing (dramatic) poetry can’t coexist, until Félix demolishes his argument with a host of counterexamples (classical and contemporary).

At the meeting of the academia, participants present poems. Alberto (a mature, live-in kinsman of Pedro Pacheco and his sister Inés) kicks off the proceedings with a sonnet on love. Diego (a distant friend of Pedro’s, and a sort of a suitor of his sister Inés) comes next, with a glosa on the line “Para fines males, cuándo.” Diego’s poem mentions Inés by name, despondently. Pedro (Ana’s cousin and fiancé) then contributes una octava about a lion springing gloriously into attack. Félix contributes a décima that carefully defines how a man pursuing a desire can become blessed and cursed at the same time. Ana finally stops the show with an enigma about a carefully banked fire that cannot be contained – “que guardar no puede ser.”

Only Félix sees the solution to Ana’s riddle – “la mujer enamorada / … / que cuando la mujer quiere, / si de su honor no hace aprecio, / guardarla no puede ser, / y es disparate emprenderlo.”

Pedro vigorously objects. Keeping a woman under wraps against her will, he claims, not only isn’t impossible, it’s necessary: “que el hombre honrado y discreto, / ha de prevenirlo todo … .”

Ana intervenes to keep Félix and Pedro from drawing swords over a disagreement that quickly escalates, and in which she actively participates. Pedro goes home in a huff. Alberto and Diego follow to soothe.

Then Ana tells Félix that she’s delaying her marriage to Pedro, due to her desire to “desengañarle / de tan loco pensamiento” first. She wonders if Félix might help her, by laying siege to Pedro’s sister Inés – so attractive, so unreasonably kept out of circulation, so perfectly placed to provide Pedro with an object lesson in the impossibility of restraining a woman against her will.

Félix not only rises to the challenge, but offers the ideal agent for covertly penetrating Pedro’s guard: Tarugo, a servant of superlative ingenio “con quien Merlín supo menos.” Summoned into a council of war, assured that there will be funds aplenty and gratitude tangibly expressed, Tarugo eagerly assumes the role of alcahuete.

Asked how he’ll breach Pedro’s defenses, Tarugo sketches a sample of the dramatic possibilities at his disposal: “¿No entiendes? / Yo pudo ser zapatero, / sastre, hilo portugués, / o mujer que quita vello; / porque el alcahuete tiene / bula de mudar el sexo. / ¿Entendéislo ahora?”

Then the scene shifts to Pedro’s, where big brother is making the Pacheco home into a castle, commandeering every kinsman as a watchman …

… and the finale of act one begins.


The characters enjoy speaking language that is clear and quick-moving, anchored in recurring images. Families of words rooted in guarda, riesgo, and ingenio are particularly notable.

The contrast between Ana and Inés is marked – Ana clearly in charge of her own destiny, Inés decidedly under her brother’s thumb. (In act three, Pedro insists that he stands in loco parentis to Inés, and that she therefore has no claim to libre albedrío in choosing a marriage-partner. She counters, “Our father is in heaven – you’re too much mozo to be making yourself so macho!”) One unifying thread in the play is the development of character in Inés.

In addition to one strong woman and another one growing stronger, the play offers interesting takes on girly men. The second English translator of the play – John Crown in Sir Courtly Nice (1685) – reads Diego’s conflicted courtship of Inés as an indication of foppery, and puts Diego’s flamboyance at the center of his translation. Could Tarugo’s mention of gender-bending as a strategy for arranging facetime with Inés set the stage for a very girly tailor’s assistant? (The first English translator of the play – Thomas St. Serfe in Targuo’s Wiles (1668) – makes Tarugo’s ingenio the spine of the play.)