A fruitful bough : the Old Testament story of Joseph in medieval and Golden Age Spanish literature
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The Old Testament story of Joseph is common to the Christians, Muslims, and Jews of medieval Spain, and each group drew upon its own and other exegetical traditions to produce literary versions of the biblical tale. After the expulsion of the latter two groups, several Hispanic playwrights, including such notable figures as Lope de Vega, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, continued to produce theatrical versions of the Josephine legend throughout the Golden Age. Most of these plays attained a great deal of popularity. In spite of the importance of these works in early Spanish culture, recent scholarship has paid comparatively little attention to them. The present study is meant to remedy that situation. By drawing upon the theoretical concepts of Edward Said, Amin Maalouf, Jonathan Z. Smith, and others regarding identity and Otherness, I demonstrate how each adaptation of the story constructs or evaluates religious and national identity. Medieval prose and poetic adaptations written by representatives of each of the three monotheistic faiths reveal an attempt to maintain the boundaries of religious identity within a multicultural context. Sixteenth-century theatrical versions deal with the post-expulsion identity crisis by proposing a more inclusive attitude towards New Christians. Finally, under the Baroque influence of the late seventeenth century, adaptations of the Joseph story become increasingly metatheatrical. This literary self-reflection serves to interrogate the nature of identity and reveal its constructedness. Given the importance of identity issues in current scholarship, this analysis suggests the need for increased critical attention to be paid to the Spanish Josephine tradition.