Explore the dramatic function of honour in both El medico de su honra and El alcalde de Zalamea.
The theme of honour is omnipresent in Calderon’s comedias El medico de su honra and El alcalde de Zalamea, a theme which was key in Spanish Golden Age theatre. The issue of social hierarchy is deeply inscribed in these plays as well, portrayed by characters ranging from kings and aristocrats to messengers and servants.
Calderon displays different views of honour through his characters. For example, in El alcalde de Zalamea, Pedro Crespo’s honour makes him act humbly towards higher authority as can be seen through his attitude and behaviour towards Don Lope de Figueroa. Pedro Crespo’s ideas of honour and good name are not the conventional ones, but come from his heart.1 For example when Don Lope asks Pedro Crespo sit down with him, Pedro Crespo replies: “Pues me dais licencia digo, señor que obedezco, aunque excusarlo pudierais.” 2 It is somewhat surprising that Pedro Crespo should reply in such a way, as he humbles himself far more than he should have to, as although he is not of noble blood but a mere a peasant, he is considered of high enough regard by the town council to be elected mayor and magistrate of Zalamea.
Pedro Crespo’s ideals regarding honour do not falter in any situation, and the same can be said of his morals. When Isabel tells her father of her rape by the Captain, he swears to kill him. However, he is then told by a clerk that he has been elected magistrate and mayor by the town council, and so decides that he cannot kill the Captain: “¿Cómo podré delinquir yo, si en esta hora misma me ponen a mí por juez, para que otros no delincan?”3 In this situation it would be commonplace for Pedro Crespo to kill his daughter in order to retain his and his family’s honour, but instead he chooses to take appropriate action as a magistrate and regain honour through the justice of the law. Even his daughter, Isabel, thought this would be her fate. What is more surprising, however, is Pedro Crespo’s contrast in behaviour when he is told by the clerk about his new position. He keeps his composure and manages to act rationally whereas before he after swearing to kill the Captain for revenge. In this part of the comedia, Calderon has taken an approach, through his character Pedro Crespo, that was probably a little ahead of his time, as it would have been typical of someone in Pedro Crespo’s position and time (1580)4 to kill his daughter, or even kill his daughter’s rapist.