Queering the Literary Canon: ‘The Wedding Between Two Husbands’ a Lope de Vega play

As the gay community struggles for the affirmation of its identity in the social and legal contexts, some of us look to our literary past to find models of the negotiations homosexuals have carried out to function as such. To find these representations we must part from the literary canon and embark in a process of discovery of those works that our heterosexist culture has silenced, or simply, forgotten. Based on this premise, I want to dedicate my first entry as contributor to Lambda Literary to Lope de Vega, the playwright known as The Phoenix of Spain, a contemporary of Shakespeare and Marlow.

Why? You may ask. Well, it is not on the grounds that he wrote more than two thousand plays, or that within his life story we find clues of a possible love affair with one of his male patrons. My reason is selfish; my first language is Spanish and I want to pay homage to its great literary tradition. I also have great admiration for this incredible man also known as The Monster of Nature. So let’s talk Lope.

Among the works of this playwright, poet, and novelist, we find the play The Wedding Between Two Husbands (1595). Beyond the play on words in its title, this comedia has all the elements necessary for queering, homoerotic images, homosocial bonds and homophobia. The plot is simple. Two men, Lauro and Febo, are “intimate” friends. Lauro falls in love with Fabia, the heroine, this provokes Febo’s jealousy to such a degree that he becomes obsessed and falls in love with the same woman. Because of the immense love and loyalty Lauro feels for his friend, he renounces his bride and tricks her into becoming Febo’s wife. When the exchange of husbands becomes public before the court in Madrid, Lauro is repudiated by his king and his fellow citizens.

Beyond the male homosocial bonding inherent in this exchange, if we look into the way the two male characters talk about each other, “I am his half”, “I am he, he is I”, or the way they talk to each other, “If I didn’t know there was a God, I would build a temple to you and would adore you as such,” we find some of the most beautiful representation of homosexual love. Alongside, we can also find the inherent condemnation of it. Both the characters and the audience, I imagine, were able to decode the dangers of the insinuated behaviors. The play does not hide it, the women protagonists comment on how the things that Lauro and Febo say to each other are better said to a woman and, as expected for his transgression, Lauro is vanished and loses his fortune.

Lauro is a well-crafted portrait that reveals the anxiety of certain individuals trying to deal with their “unnatural” inclinations. However, he also shows us the way these individuals were able to negotiate and succeed in obtaining the object of their desire. Lope, however, seems to recognize the unfairness of the moralistic condemnation and ends his play with the two friends (both “married” to women) living together in Paris, under the blessing of the King of France.

Sadly, the play has not been translated to English. However, when we look at the universal nature of the struggle for human rights, and we look at a play written almost five hundred years ago, focusing on the same struggle, Lope seems to remind us that there are and there always have been allies.