Spanish Ballad and Human Emotions

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To what extent, and in which ways, does the Spanish ballad deal with the major human emotions?

The collective body of Spanish ballads, known as the romancero, is a unique collection of narrative verse that follows the epic tradition, like such works as El cantar de mio Cid, and whose earliest examples are thought to have come at the beginning of the 14th century. They resemble the epics in their heroic and aristocratic tone, and some also in their themes of battle and honour. Many are written about historical events in Spain or abroad and, indeed, in that way, they make up a kind of everyman’s history resource. However, they are short, dramatic and ultimately accessible narratives in which the focus is not so much on historical accuracy, but much more on the way the various characters behave in and deal with the situation in which they find themselves. Their oral tradition has meant that they have survived across the centuries, even today being performed, but it is this oral tradition that has also necessitated their accessibility. It was not just the literate who could enjoy them, but everyone who spoke the language. There was the need for the audience to empathise with or at least understand the situation of the protagonist/s. Emotions played a big part in facilitating this link with the audience because they are universal: although we all experience them to different extents, we all experience them nonetheless and, as a result, the ballads are full of emotion. In this essay the major human emotion that I will focus on is love, since it is the one that seems to have been written about the most. Lust is given a large amount of exposure in the ballads as well, many of them being incredibly sexually charged, and although it is quite close in relation to love I have examined it closely in its own right. I will also comment on other major emotions like hate, happiness and sadness, as well as jealousy and resent, all of which I encountered to different degrees during my reading.

Firstly, lust is an emotion that we see appearing frequently in the Spanish ballads, although the openness of this lust varies greatly depending on the ballad. For example, we see in the ballad of Gerineldos and the Princess the explicit invitation given by the princess within the first few lines: “¡Quién te tuviera esta noche/ tres horas a mi servicio!” Here the Princess tells her page Gerineldos, and us the audience, unambiguously that she would like the page to service her for three hours that night. Indeed, the rest of the ballad leaves little to be imagined: “Tomáralo por la mano;/ a su lecho lo ha subido,/ y besando y abrazando/ Gerineldos se ha dormido.” Lust is dealt with here very candidly, and the audience is alerted early on as to the sexual nature of this ballad. However, it cannot be said that lust is dealt with so openly across the ballads. We see plenty of examples of innuendo and suggestion playing a massive part in alerting and exciting the audience. “Con la gran artillería/ hecho te había un portillo” Alan Deyermond, whilst analysing the ballad “Álora la bien cercada”, has written about the implicit sexual connotations found in the ballad: “A door can be a sexual image, as can a breach in a wall”. We are encouraged, through the use of repeated symbols, to see the town of Álora as a woman, perhaps to evoke sympathy towards her and her inhabitants, but in any case, these sexual undertones would have stimulated the audience whose, as Deyermond writes “familiarity with other ballads would have accustomed them to symbolism”. Another example of implicit sexual content comes from the ballad of Moraima. “Fuérame para la puerta/ y abríla de par en par.” Again we see the symbol of a door being used to express the sexual availability of the young Moorish girl, although in this case, it is not a willing sexual availability as we can see from the collective author’s use of “engañar”. These ballads appear to be engaging the audience by...
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