Desire, violence, and peace: A Girardian approach to catharsis in the Calderonian auto sacramental of Baroque Spain

Date of Completion

January 2010


Literature, Romance|Theater History




Written to educate the population in Catholic doctrine and salvation history on the feast of Corpus Christi, the allegorical auto sacramental drama by Calderón de la Barca attains the height of popularity and depicts the detrimental aspects of imitative desire in Spanish Baroque society. 17th-century Spanish religious commentators point to moral degeneration and violence as the result of 'inordinate aspirations' stemming from the cross-strata desire to imitate the Other and to acquire material goods. In chapter one, "The Crisis of Desire in the Calderonian Auto Sacramental," René Girard's mimetic theory provides the theoretical foundation for the analysis of the Calderonian autos, Tu prójimo como a ti, La nave del Mercader, and El pastor Fido in order to illustrate the mimetic nature of the personified character of desire through the imitation and mediation of the diabolic model and to reveal its development into conflict and rivalry, affecting the individual and the collective human character. Chapter two, "Mimetic Rivalry, Violence and Catharsis in Tragedy and the Auto," discusses the kinship between the autos' representation of the function of sacrificial violence rooted in rivalry and Greek tragedy's sacrificial catharsis exercised to restore communal peace and order. While tragedy maintains the expulsion of the transgressor as a justified act of violence to achieve catharsis, the auto sacramental breaks the illusion of cathartic violence and discloses its origins. Chapter three, "Auto Sacramental as Anti-Tragedy: Catharsis and Conversion" posits the auto as "anti-tragedy," exploring the sacramental drama as resolution to the tragic conflict by subverting and renovating the tragic notion of catharsis through proper mimetic desire. Seeking to address desire as the source of social and spiritual violence that generates individual and collective fragmentation and disorder on both social and spiritual levels, Calderón's auto sacramental promotes a reconciliatory solution that breaks tragedy's cycle of justified violence and provides an anti-tragic cathartic remedy through the imitation of a divine model.^