Tirso de Molina's Marta the Divine (c. 1614-15) is a spirited comedy about an ingenious young woman who fakes religious piety in order to avoid an arranged marriage imposed upon her by her father. Marta's false religiosity becomes a cover for sneaking her boyfriend into her house and, to all intents and purposes, having a sexual relationship with him without her credulous father suspecting a thing. The stakes involved in this risky gambit are particularly high because her boyfriend, Felipe, is also the man who has killed her brother. In this fast-moving play that celebrates the victory of youth over age, of love over revenge, little is held sacred, as circumstances spiral to the point of outrageousness. Not surprisingly, Marta has been a controversial play over the years, condemned for immorality and salaciousness by some, championed as an anticlerical tract by others. Readers and audience members over the years have puzzled as to what Tirso wants us to make of the title character and her behaviour. Is she a cautionary example, a sly hypocrite, whom we are to hold at a critical distance? Or she is a sympathetic comic heroine, even a proto-feminist, whose cause we are to embrace?
No matter one's perspective, Marta is memorable because of the audaciousness and resourcefulness of the title character. Marta is a great stage creation, and the plot Tirso builds around this trickster has the feel of the archetypal, transcending the time and place of its creation. At the same time, Marta is a surprisingly comprehensive satire of the Spanish empire of its day. Through a variety of subtle touches, Tirso paints a picture of an imperial capital plagued by avarice and hypocrisy. The play has some puzzling elements or 'problems' from a technical point of view, but the irresistible force of its comic energy has appealed to readers and audiences for nearly 400 years.
This edition presents the play for the first time ever in English translation. The translation is accompanied by the Spanish text, translators' note and a substantial introduction.
September 12, 2012