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Staging the State in Calderón’s Argenis y Poliarco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-360
JournalStudia Aurea
Early online date23 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


King's Authors


Calderón adapted Barclay’s best-selling political romance Argenis (Paris, 1621) with the title Argenis y Poliarco sometime between 1626 and 1636, the date of its first recorded performance. It was first printed in 1637, in the Segunda Parte of his plays. In comparison with other works from that collection, such as El médico de su honra or the two comedias palaciegas, El mayor encanto amor
and El galán fantasma, Argenis y Poliarco is virtually unknown, with only a few critical studies and one recent edition by Alicia Vara López (2015). This edition,
coupled with the renewed interest in Barclay’s neo-Latin romance, should inspire critical reconsideration of a play that appeared in a transformative moment in Calderón’s career. After reviewing the scholarship on how Calderón transformed the romance into his distinctive theatrical idiom, I investigate the play’s political meaning and challenge the view that Argenis y Poliarco
is above all a palatine play about love. While it is true that Calderón simplifies
the plot, by eliminating or pushing offstage the overtly political action and by cutting Barclay’s disquisitions on good government, I argue that the political element is not suppressed. It is, rather, recast in theatrical terms. Calderón’s skillful stagecraft constitutes a dramatic representation of a European political order marked by ambiguity, plurality and contingency, where the destiny of a state is determined in large measure by what happens beyond its borders.

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