Dysfunctional families in Calderon's wife-murder tragedies

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Borden, Matthew Lloyd

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The dysfunctional family unit is a staple feature of Calderón’s tragic dramas. In fact, the presence of problematic familial relations is often an important underlying cause contributing to the unfortunate outcomes in these works. The emotional and relational disorders evidenced by the characters in such plays lead to amoral and asocial behavior, especially by the husbands toward their wives. The present study seeks to demonstrate that in Calderón's plays dysfunctional families, as manifested by marital discord and disturbed interpersonal behavior, generally originate from one or more of the following sources: a loveless marriage, a failure to communicate, and a tendency to mistrust others. Regarding these three manifestations of dysfunction, circumstances beyond the control of a character may oblige them to marry against their will or better judgment. An inability to establish and maintain meaningful discussions tends to isolate individuals, forcing them to interpret events from a distance. And excessive apprehension about the fidelity of one's spouse or paramour causes obsessive and even criminal behavior. These three conditions all form part of recognized family psychopathology. Accordingly, this study makes use of Family Systems Theory as a conceptual tool for describing the maladjusted relationships and conflictive interaction between spouses that appear in Calderón's tragedies. A family systems approach to Calderón, going beyond an intrapsychic analysis of characters' behaviors and motivations, reveals how each member of the dysfunctional family shares responsibility for the tragedies that develop.