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|Author||Fernando de Rojas|
|Original title||'Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea'|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
La Celestina (often used as the title, synecdoche after a character of the same name), actually called Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea or Comedia de Calisto y Melibea, in English Tragicomedy of Calisto and Melibea and the old prostitute Celestina), is a work composed entirely in dialogue published by Fernando de Rojas in 1499. Rojas, a descendant of converted Jews, practiced law and, later in life, served as an alderman of Talavera de la Reina, an important commercial center near Toledo.
The book is considered to be one of the greatest works of Spanish literature, and traditionally marks the end of medieval literature and the beginning of the literary renaissance in Spain. Although usually considered a novel, it is written as a continuous concatenation of dialogues leading to interpretations of the work as a play, and has frequently been staged as such.
In the 15th century, the book was said to have been written as a criticism of the servants of the low nobility, advising us to beware their tricks and lies. However, it becomes a bitter critique against human nature and its miseries. The story tells of Calisto, who falls in love with Melibea, who at first seems to be a flawless courtly love, but as the drama advances, Calisto's true intentions turn out to be not so pure. Following the machinations of Celestina, their love has a tragic end after an accident in which Calisto dies in a fall. On seeing this, Melibea subsequently decides to jump from a tower to her death. The name Celestina has become synonymous with procuress—especially an old woman—dedicated to promoting the illegal engagement of a couple; and the literary archetype of this character (her masculine counterpart is Pandarus).
Upon meeting Melibea, Calisto falls madly in love with her. Melibea rejects Calisto immediately at his open pledge of his love for her, as is the custom in courtly love. Calisto becomes depressed and lovesick, so his servant, Sempronio, tells Calisto about Celestina, a procuress who owns a brothel with prostitutes, two of whom are Elicia and Areusa. Calisto accepts and asks Celestina for help, and Celestina and Sempronio plot to get as much money out of Calisto as possible. Another servant, Pármeno attempts to warn Calisto of Celestina's dishonorable reputation, but Calisto rejects him. Celestina convinces Pármeno not to warn him any longer, using Areusa, and to instead join with her and Sempronio in taking advantage of Calisto.
Celestina meets with Melibea and gives her a magic thread while telling her of the suffering of a man she knows whose only cure is the word and girdle of Melibea. They talk but when Celestina names Calisto, Melibea gets angry and tells Celestina to leave. Celestina is crafty though, and she finally manages to get Melibea to give up her girdle for Calisto. Melibea changes her mind and asks Celestina to come back and meet her secretly. Melibea suddenly finds herself madly in love with Calisto, and begs Celestina to arrange a meeting between her and her lover. Once this is done, Celestina informs Calisto and Calisto gives Celestina a gold chain. Celestina doesn't say anything to Sempronio and Pármeno, her partners in crime. When they go to Celestina's brothel and find out that Celestina has no intention of sharing her payment, they kill her. Afraid of being caught, they jump out the window, but one of the prostitutes, Sempronio's lover Elicia, sees them killing Celestina, and their broken bodies are executed.
Calisto gets to the gate in Melibea's house with his other two servants Sosia and Tristan. Elicia and Areusa, who were lovers of Sempronio and Pármeno, send two thugs; while Calisto is getting to Melibea's balcony with a ladder he hears Sosia and Tristan shouting. He runs to help them, but falls off the ladder and dies. Melibea sees Calisto dead, runs to the highest tower of her house and throws herself off after confessing her affair to her father.
La Celestina was written during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabelle, whose marriage takes place in 1469 and lasts until 1504, the year of Isabelle's death, which occupies the last phase of Pre-Renaissance for Spain. Three major events in the history of Spain took place during the union of the Castilla and Aragón kingdoms in 1492. These events were the discovery of the Americas, the conquering of Granada and the expulsion of the Jews. It is also the year that Antonio of Nebrija published the first grammar of the Spanish language, together with Nebrija's own teachings at the University of Salamanca, where Fernando de Rojas studied, favoring the emergence of Renaissance humanism in Spain. Thus, 1492 began the transition between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It is precisely in the 1490s when the first editions of Comedy of Calisto and Melibea began to appear.
The unification of all the territories on the Iberian peninsula, except Portugal, under one king and one religion, Christianity, took place in this period. Claudio Sánchez Albornoz highlighted the importance of being Christian in a society that has warned against members of other religions, such as Jews and Muslims, and even came to outright rejection. Society was suspicious of converts, such as Christians who were Jews before or had Jewish ancestry, and those who had to hide their conditions. Finally, those of other religions were expelled from the kingdom and the Inquisition would enforce orthodoxy among those who professed the Catholic faith.
There are two versions of the play. One is called a Comedy and has 16 acts; the other is considered a Tragic Comedy and has 21 acts.
Although most scholars admit that an earlier version by an unknown author already existed, the first known edition is credited to be the Comedy published in Burgos by printer Fadrique Aleman in 1499 with the title Comedia de Calisto y Melibea (Comedy of Calisto and Melibea). It is preserved in the Hispanic Society of New York. On its first page it states: "nuevamente revista y enmendada con la adición de los argumentos de cada un auto en principio", alluding to a Prínceps Edition prior to 1499.
Some scholars wish to explain this discrepancy about the 1499 date, considering the version published in 1500 in Toledo to be the first edition; however, there is no positive proof of this, and there are some contradictions:
- 1. Acrostic verses are not in themselves proof enough that the 16th century edition is the "Prínceps Edition".
- 2.If the 1499 version was published after the Toledo version, it should contain as stated, additional material, whereas some of the verses are actually omitted.
- 3.The phrase “fernando de royas acabo la comedia” means that a previous version existed and that Fernando de Rojas completed it by adding additional material.
The Toledo 1500 edition contains 16 acts, and also some stanzas with acrostic verses such as “el bachjller fernando de royas acabo la comedia de calysto y melybea y fve nascjdo en la puebla de montalvan”, which means “the graduate Fernando de Rojas finished the Comedy of Calisto and Melibea and was born in the city of Montalbán.” (This is the reason it is believed that Rojas was the original author of the play.)
A similar edition appeared with minor changes "Comedia de Calisto y Melibea", Sevilla, 1501
A new edition entitled Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea (Tragic Comedy of Calisto and Melibea) (Sevilla: Jacobo Cromberger) appeared in 1502. This version contained 5 additional acts, bringing the total to 21.
Another edition with the title Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea (Tragic Comedy of Calisto and Melibea) (Valencia: ) appeared in 1514. This version contained those 5 additional acts, with the total of 21.
In 1526 a version was published in Toledo that included an extra act called the Acto de Traso, named after one of the characters who appears in that act. It became Act XIX of the work, bring the total number of acts to 22. According to the 1965 edition of the play edited by M. Criado de Val and G.D. Trotter, "Its literary value does not have the intensity necessary to grant it a permanent place in the structure of the book, although various ancient editions of the play include it." 
Rojas makes a powerful impression with his characters, who appear before the reader full of life and psychological depth; they are human beings with an exceptional internal characterization, which moves away from the usual archetypes of medieval literature.
Some critics see them as allegories. The literary critic Stephen Gilman has come to deny the possibility of analyzing them as characters, based on the belief that Rojas limited dialogue in which interlocutors respond to a given situation, so that the sociological depth can thus be argued only on extratextual elements.
Lida de Malkiel, another critic, speaks of objectivity, whereby different characters are judged in different manners. Thus, the contradictory behavior of characters would be a result of Rojas humanizing his characters.
One common feature of all of the characters (in the world of nobles as well as servants) is their individualism, their egoism, and their lack of altruism. The theme of greed is explained by Francisco José Herrera in an article about envy in La Celestina and related literature (meaning imitations, continuations, etc.), where he explained the motive of the gossipers and servants to be “greed and robbery,” respectively, in the face of the motives of the nobles, which are raging lust and the defense of social and family honor. The private benefit of the lower-class characters forms a substitute for the love/lust present for the upper class.
Fernando de Rojas liked to create characters in pairs, to help build character development through relationships between complementary or opposing characters. In the play in general there are two opposite groups of characters, the servants and the nobles, and within each group are characters divided into pairs: Pármeno and Sempronio, Tristán and Sosia, Elicia and Areusa, in the group of servants, and Calisto and Melibea, Pleberio and Alisa, in the group of nobles. Only Celestina and Lucrecia do not have a corresponding character, but this is because they perform opposite roles in the plot: Celestina is the element that catalyzes the tragedy, and represents a life lived with wild abandon, while Lucrecia, Melibea’s personal servant, represents the other extreme, total oppression. In this sense, the character of the rascal Centurino added in the second version is an addition with little function, although he has something to do with the disorder that calls the attention of Calisto and causes his death.
Celestina is the most suggestive character in the work, to the point that she gives it its title. She is a colorful and vivid character, hedonistic, miserly, and yet full of life. She has such a deep understanding of the psychology of the other characters that she can convince even those who do not agree with her plans to accede to them. She uses people’s greed, sexual appetite (which she helps create, then provides means to satisfy), and love to control them. She also represents a subversive element in the society, by spreading and facilitating sexual pleasure. She stands apart for her use of magic. Her character is inspired by the meddling characters of the comedies of Plautus and in works of the Middle Ages such as the Libro de Buen Amor (The Book of Good Love) by Juan Ruiz and Italian works like The Tale of the Two Lovers by Enea Silvio Piccolomini and Elegía de madonna Fiammeta by Giovanni Boccaccio. She was once a prostitute, and now she dedicates her time to arranging discreet meetings between illicit lovers, and at the same time uses her house as a brothel for the prostitutes Elicia and Areusa.
Melibea is a strong-willed girl, in whom repression appears as forced and unnatural; she feels like a slave to the hypocrisy that has existed in her house since her childhood. In the play she appears to be the victim of a strong passion induced by Celestina’s spell. She is really bound by her social conscience. She worries about her honor, not modesty, not her concept of what is moral. Her love is more real and less “literary” than that of Calisto: her love motivates her actions, and Celestina’s “spell” allows her to retain her honor.
- Snow, Joseph; Jane Schneider, Cecilia Lee (1976). "Un Cuarto de Siglo de Interes en La Celestina, 1949-75: Documento Bibliografico". Hispania 59: 610–60.
- M. Criado de Val y G.D. Trotter, Tragicomedia de Calixto y Melibea, Libro también llamado La Celestina, Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1965 (translation of text on page viii).
- In Memoriam: Stephen Gilman (1917-1986), by Constance Rose
- La Celestina -Edition 2008.
- La Celestina at Project Gutenberg
- Bilingual edition of "La Celestina" (Acts I - XXI)