The Spanish Shahrazad and her Entourage: The Powers of Storytelling Women in Libro de los engaños de las mujeres
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Title of Dissertation: THE SPANISH SHAHRAZAD AND HER ENTOURAGE: THE POWERS OF STORYTELLING WOMEN IN LIBRO DE LOS ENGANOS DE LAS MUJERES
Zennia Desiree Hancock, Doctor of Philosophy, 2004
Dissertation Directed By: Associate Professor Carmen Benito-Vessels
Department of Spanish and Portuguese
The anonymous Libro de los engaños e asayamientos de las mugeres (LEM) is a collection of exempla consisting of a frame tale and twenty-three interpolated tales. It forms part of the Seven Sages/Sindibad cycle, shares source material with the Arabic Alf layla wa layla (A Thousand and One Nights), and was ordered translated from Arabic into Romance by Prince Fadrique of Castile in 1253. In the text, females may be seen as presented according to the traditional archetypes of Eve and the Virgin Mary; however, the ambivalence of the work allows that it be interpreted as both misogynous and not, which complicates the straightforward designation of its female characters as "good" and bad." Given this, the topos of Eva/Ave as it applies to this text is re-evaluated.
The reassessment is effected by exploring the theme of ambivalence and by considering the female characters as hybrids of both western and eastern tradition. The primary female character of the text, dubbed the "Spanish Shahrazad," along with other storytelling women in the interpolated tales, are proven to transcend binary paradigms through their intellect, which cannot be said to be inherently either good or evil, and which is expressed through speech acts and performances.
Chapter I reviews the historical background of Alfonsine Spain and the social conditions of medieval women, and discusses the portrayal of females in literature, while Chapter II focuses on the history of the exempla, LEM, and critical approaches to the text, and then identifies Bakhtin's theory of the carnivalesque and Judith Butler's speech act theory of injurious language as appropriate methodologies, explaining how both are nuanced by feminist perspectives. A close reading of the text demonstrates how it may be interpreted as a misogynous work. Chapter III applies the theoretical tools in order to problematise the misogynous reading of the text and to demonstrate the agency of its female speaker-performers; the analysis centres on the Spanish Shahrazad, who represents a female subjectivity that transcends binary depictions of women and represents a holistic ideal of existence that is reflected in the calculated, harmonized use of both her intellect and corporeality.