Project Title: Las Mujeres Castigadas
Students: Amy Greenwood ’16, N’Toia Hawkins ’16, and Meghan Schulze ’16
Mentor: Dr. Glenda Nieto-Cuebas
Magic hasn’t always been the popular subject for books and movies like it is today. In fact, in 16th century Spain any association with magic or witchcraft was dangerous and could lead to the person being prosecuted and executed by the Inquisition. However, in northern Spain during the early 17th century the increase in fear of witchcraft prompted an exhaustive investigation that lead the Catholic church to determine that witches and magic were not real threats to society. These conclusions set a different tone for the way magic and witchcraft were treated by ecclesiastical authorities. Even though it was no longer reprehended with the death penalty, it was still treated as heresy and continuously associated with women.
The relationship between women and magic did not go unnoticed by writers in 17th century Spain. Authors like Miguel de Cervantes, Tirso de Molina, Lope de Vega and Ana Caro incorporated this topic in their texts. In most cases their work challenged social conventions about women and the use of magic. However, it wasn’t until María Zayas (born Sept. 12, 1590, died c. 1661) , one of the few female professional writers in 17th century Spain, took a stand on popular opinion by writing about victimized women that these misconceptions started to be challenged through a stronger and clearer voice.
In this project, we analyzed Zayas’ novel La inocencia castigada (published in 1647) in order to understand the connection between magic and the socially marginalized in 17th century Spain. By answering three main questions – Who uses magic? Where does it come from? and Who it affects? – we will show how women were oppressed during this time period and how María de Zayas uses the topic of magic to show this subjugation. Thus she became an advocate for women who fell victims of “magic” and suffered physical and emotional abuse at a time when there were no laws or measures in place to protect them.