Prof. Shifra Armon used her 2012 Rothman Faculty Summer Fellowship to complete a chapter of her second book-length manuscript, A Compass for Conduct: Performing Masculinity in Early Modern Spain. Although previous scholarship has asserted that the seventeenth-century decline of the Spanish Empire precipitated a crisis of masculinity, this manuscript challenges that view by separating the narrative of Spain’s fall from its predominance as an imperial power from the emergence of a gender order better suited to this period of rapid change.
In these readings, Prof. Armon argues that the masculine subject in Spain changed along three axes: becoming progressively more dissimulating, more adaptive to changing circumstances, and more desirous of achieving singularity or eminence. She brings particular attention to bear on how Spain’s ideal masculine subject was re-envisioned across multiples genres: didactic treatises, works of moral and political philosophy, emblem books, poetry, drama, and fiction. In the chapter that she completed this summer, she analyzes the contested notion of adaptability as it unhinged itself from the stigma of inconstancy in Lope de Vega’s El perro del hortelano (The Dog in the Manger) of 1618. Cervantes’s Coloquio de los Perros or Dogs’ Colloquy of 1613, which transposes the conventions of the picaresque novel onto the lives of two dogs, provides a second important proof-text for this argument. Here, adaptability is equated with survival and the search for identity in a hostile and morally ambiguous world.
Prof. Armon concludes that the available literature testifies that Spain’s decline as a world power energized rather than enfeebled efforts to envision the ideal male subject to the faltering state. This manuscript contributes to a better understanding of the cultural contributions that literature makes in reconfiguring gender norms, especially in the context of changing political conditions. Furthermore, it shows that literature and the ideal behaviors it describes can be an active force in shaping how societies react to political change and challenge.
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