Representation of the self as individual through memory in Jorge Manrique's Coplas a la muerte de su padre
Vickery, Rosario Pujals
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In the fifteenth-century Castilian poem on death, Coplas de Jorge Manrique a la muerte de su padre, the verses lead the reader on a journey of the self, who, challenged by death’s equalizing power, conquers adversity with agency. From the beginning verses, Manrique urges his reader to contemplate his own mortality and to address ontological concerns from older, familiar texts that he uses as a source for memory in writing his poem. However, the representation of the poet’s father at death, don Rodrigo, and don Rodrigo’s engagement with death show that knowledge and understanding gained from following the guidelines of the institution of chivalry provided the knight with the will to triumph even at death. This dissertation is an approach to the Coplas from theories of memory as representation from antiquity, from Augustine’s explanations of the concepts of memory, understanding, and will, and from the medieval use of memory as a source for writing. I argue that the role of memory in writing and Latin medieval practices of contemplative reading, through which readers pondered and remembered, provide a platform for approaching identity in the Coplas. While memory, memoria, served as an art for writing, contemplative spiritual reading practices, lectio spiritualis, worked for meditating on the self and towards establishing concepts of individuality. I locate the emerging concern for selfhood evidenced in the Coplas by reading the verses side by side with two fifteenth-century texts, a well-disseminated spiritual text on death, Ars moriendi and the Doctrinal de los caballeros, a fifteenth-century Castilian manual on chivalry. My reading of Manrique’s verses follows theories of language developed by Roman Jakobson and Tzvetan Todorov. My interpretation through poetics offers a new approach to the Coplas by showing that in the poem, Manrique shapes a narrative of the self that emerges from the subversive power of the Dance of Death towards an individual triumph at the threshold of early modernity.