Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

Romance Languages and Literatures: Latin American and Iberian Literatures (Hispanic Literature)

Author's Department/Program

Romance Languages and Literatures: Latin American and Iberian Literatures (Hispanic Literature)


English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Nina Davis


In this dissertation I examine the relationship between early modern Jesuit theater and the construction of religious practice in the Spanish Empire. I focus upon plays that reinterpret the Biblical Parable of the Prodigal Son to argue that the Society of Jesus utilized the stage to acquire religious authority over the domestic sphere and to promote paradigms of masculinity that would halt imperial decline. Chapter One sets forth a theoretical framework for this discussion by employing performance theory to establish that theatrical productions often dialogue with the social issues of their day. It reviews the historical context of Jesuit theater to assert that these plays emphasized the benefits of sincere religious devotion, a goal important to the Society and to Tridentine Catholicism. The second chapter examines the prodigal figure's journey in Pedro Pablo de Acevedo's Comedia Caropo: Seville, 1565) and Comedia Filauto: Seville, 1565), Juan de Cigorondo's Tragedia intitulada Oçio: Puebla, 1586), and Pedro de Salas's Coloquio de la Escolástica triunfante y la nueva Babilonia: Soria, 1611). These plays characterize this journey as a spatialized rejection of virtuous paternal authority, after which the prodigals are adrift in a morally contested social sphere. The representation of public space as morally dangerous communicates a need for youth to obey pious elders. Onstage, this includes obedience to a counselor figure who mediates the son's return home. In Chapter Three, I argue that the counselor's performed moral superiority works to legitimate the Society's religious authority over the domestic sphere. Chapters Three and Four then explore the corrective advice offered by counselor figures as they mediate the prodigals' repentance. I conclude that Acevedo's plays encourage noble youth to steward their patrimonies well by guarding them from lower-class parasites. Cigorondo's work addresses the historical concern for idle Creole youth by depicting diligent study and economic productivity as requisites of male virtue in colonial New Spain. In Castile, Salas's work critiques the decadence associated with Philip III's court and posits membership in the Society of Jesus as a fulfilling alternative for youth seeking to realize a virtuous masculinity. By interrogating the construction of religious virtue in these distinct texts, I ascertained that this group of plays reworks the Parable of the Prodigal Son in order to address the immediate concerns of the Society of Jesus. Through the counselor figure these works strive to acquire clerical authority over the domestic sphere, and through the corrective advice offered to prodigal figures these plays seek to shape male behavior in a way that will advance the interests of both Church and Empire.


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