Blessed with a Baby or “Bum-Fidled with a Bastard”? Maternity in Fletcher’s The Chances and Cervantes’ Novela de la Señora Cornelia

  • Joyce Boro


Fletcher’s sustained attraction to Spanish literature is incontestable. Seventeen of his approximately fifty-four plays derive from Spanish sources, thirteen of those from Cervantes’ oeuvre, making Fletcher the most prolific English ambassador for Iberian literature.1 While Fletcher’s Hispanophilia is readily apparent, his Hispanophobia is less visible. Indeed, despite Fletcher’s “twenty-year obsession with Cervantes’ writings,” he “was also determinedly Protestant and anti-Spanish.”2 This duality of fascination and aversion is typical of the early modern English response to Spanish literature. “English interest in Spain,” Alexander Samson concludes, “was not mutually incompatible with political prejudice.”3 As a Catholic superpower, Spain was viewed with great suspicion in post-Reformation England. However, notwithstanding heightened Anglo-Spanish tension and the abundance of documented hostility toward Spain, translators, adapters, and readers continued to enjoy Spanish literature and steadily increasing numbers sought to learn the language.4 Often, as in Fletcher’s The Chances, Spanish characters are subjected to English nationalistic bigotry: they are ridiculed, morally debased, or depicted as Catholic or Moorish Others. For instance, in her analysis of Rule a Wife and Have a Wife, Barbara Fuchs reveals Fletcher’s “strident nationalism” and discusses “how the playwright weaves a jingoistic thread into his translatio” (152, 155).


Early Modern Period Maternal Role Spanish Literature Birth Story Male Practitioner 
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  1. 1.
    For a list of these plays and statistics see McMullan, 259; Trudi L. Darby and Alexander Samson, “Cervantes on the Jacobean Stage,” in Ardila, 211. Important studies of the relationship between Fletcher and Cervantes include: Taylor, “History” and Valerie Wayne, “Don Quixote and Shakespeare’s Collaborative Turn to Romance,” in Quest, 217–38; Trudi Darby, “Cervantes in England: The Influence of Golden-Age Prose Fiction on Jacobean Drama, c. 1615–1625,” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 74 (1997): 425–41;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Diana de Armas Wilson, “Of Piracy and Plackets: Cervantes’ La señora Cornelia and a. Fletcher’s The Chances,” in Cervantes for the 21st Century, ed. Francisco La Rubia Prado (Newark: Juan de la Cuesta, 2000), 49–60; Alexander Samson, “Last Thought upon a windmill”?: Cervantes and Fletcher’, in Ardila, 223–33; Darby and Samson, “Cervantes”;Google Scholar
  3. Edward M. Wilson, “Rule a Wife and Have a Wife and El sagaz Estacio,” Review of English Studies 24 (1948): 189–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 3.
    Samson, “A Fine Romance: Anglo-Spanish Relations in the Sixteenth Century,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 39 (2009): 66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 4.
    On the fraught Anglo-Spanish relationship see, for example, Sampson, “Fine”; Barbara Fuchs, Exotic Nation: Maurophilia and the Construction of Early Modern Spain (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. On learning Spanish see, Joyce Boro, “Multilingualism, Romance, and Language Pedagogy: Or, Why Were So Many Sentimental Romances Printed as Polyglot Texts?” in Tudor Translation, ed. Fred Schurink (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 18–38.Google Scholar
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    On their role as author-characters see Ruth El Saffar, Novel to Romance: A Study of Cervantes’s “Novelas ejemplares” (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), 121–2. Cyrus Hoy discusses this character type in “Fletcherian Romantic Comedy,” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 27 (1984): 3. Roderick in The History of Cardenio and DF are typical Fletcherean male characters, who manage the play’s action and for whom there is no parallel in Don Quijote. Unsurprisingly, Fletcher apparently wrote all but the first of Roderick’s scenes.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Felicity Dunworth, Mothers and Meaning on the Early Modern English Stage (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010), 10;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Margaret L. King, Women of the Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 1–2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 15.
    Sara Mendelson and Patricia Crawford, Women in Early Modern England, 1550–1720 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 148–9.Google Scholar
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    Mendelson and Crawford, Women, 150; Dunworth, Mothers, 202; David Cressy, “Purification, Thanksgiving and the Churching of Women in Post-Reformation England,” Past and Present 141 (1993): 131;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  13. 17.
    Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: A History of the Modern Sensibility (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), 43, 99; Dunworth, Mothers, 116.Google Scholar
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    Chris Laoutaris, Shakespearean Maternities: Crises of Conception in Early Modern England (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008), 166–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 21.
    Naomi J. Miller, “Mothering Others: Caregiving as Spectrum and Spectacle in the Early Modern Period,” in Maternal Measures: Figuring Caregiving in the Early Modern Period, ed. Miller and Naomi Yavneh (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000), 5.Google Scholar
  16. 23.
    Adrian Wilson, “Participant or Patient? Seventeenth-Century Childbirth from the Mother’s Point of View,” in Patients and Practitioners: Lay Perceptions of Medicine in Pre-Industrial Society, ed. Roy Porter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 138;Google Scholar
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  18. 25.
    Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, “Blood Parents and Milk Parents: Wet Nursing in Florence, 1300–1530,” in Women, Family, and Ritual in Renaissance Italy, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 161. On the use of menstrual blood to nourish the fetus and its transformation into milk postpartum, see James Hart, Klinike (London: 1633), 330; Jacob Rueff, The Expert Midwife (London, 1637), 53.Google Scholar
  19. 26.
    Laoutaris, Shakespearean, 227–35. For comparable Spanish examples see Lisa Vollendorf, The Lives of Women: A New History of Inquisitional Spain (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2005), 41–3, 132–4. On the link of maternity and authorship see King, Women, 22–3.Google Scholar
  20. 29.
    Dunworth, Mothers, 28ff. On the Virgin and maternity in Spain see Mary Elizabeth Perry, Gender and Disorder in Early Modern Seville (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 37–43.Google Scholar
  21. 30.
    Valerie Fildes, Breasts, Bottles and Babies: The History of Infant Feeding (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1986), 105.Google Scholar
  22. 35.
    Peter N. Dunn, “Las Novelas ejemplares,” in Suma cervantina, ed. J. B. Avalle-Arce and E. C. Riley (London: Tamesis, 1973), 81–118.Google Scholar
  23. 36.
    Miguel de Cervantes, “La Novela de la señora Cornelia,” in Novelas ejemplares, ed. Harry Sieber, vol. 2 (Madrid: Cátedra, 1994), 247, 251. All translations are mine.Google Scholar
  24. 39.
    Melveena McKendrick, “The Curious and Neglected Tale of La señora Cornelia,” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 82 (2005): 707.Google Scholar

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© Terri Bourus and Gary Taylor 2013

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  • Joyce Boro

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