Juana Ines de la Cruz

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Publisher: Gale
Series: Dictionary of Literary Biography
Document Type: Biography; Critical essay
Length: 5,312 words

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About this Person
Born: November 12, 1648? in San Miguel de Nepantla, Mexico
Died: April 17, 1695 in Mexico City, Mexico
Nationality: Mexican
Occupation: Writer
Other Names: Asbaje, Juana Inés Ramirez de; Asbaje, Juana de; Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana, Juana Inés de; Asuaje, Juana Ramirez de; Asbaje, Juana Ramirez de



  • Los empeños de una casa, Mexico City, 4 October 1683.
  • Amor es más labyrinto, Mexico City, 1689.


  • Villancicos que se cantaron . . . [a] la Purísma Concepción . . . (Mexico City, 1676).
  • Neptuno alegorico, oceano de colores, simulacro politico, que erigio la muy esclarecida, sacra y augusta Iglesia Metropolitana de Mexico en las lucidas alegoricas ideas de Arco triumphal . . . (Mexico City: Juan de Ribera, 1680).
  • Villancicos que se cantaron en la Santa Iglesia Cathedral de la ciudad de la Puebla de los Angeles, en los maytines solemnes del nacimiento de nuestro Señor Jesucristo . . . , music by Miguel Mateo Dallo y Lana (Puebla: Diego Fernández de León, 1689).
  • Villancicos que se cantaron en la Santa Iglesia Cathedral de la ciudad de la Puebla de los Angeles, en los maytines solemnes de la Purissima Concepcion de nuestra Señora . . . , music by Dallo y Lana (Puebla: Diego Fernández de León, 1689).
  • Inundación castálida de la única poetisa, musa décima Soror Juana Inés de la Cruz . . . que en varios metros, idiomas, y estilos fertiliza varios assuntos: Con elegantes, sutiles, claros e ingeniosos, útiles versos . . . , edited by Juan Camacho Gayna (Madrid: Juan García Infanzón, 1689); revised as Poema de . . . Soror Juana Ines de la Cruz . . . que en varios metros, idiomas, y estilos, fertiliza varios assumptos, con elegantes, sutiles, claros, ingeniosos, utiles versos, para enseñanza, recreo y admiracion . . . (Madrid: Juan García Infanzón, 1690); revised as Poemas de la única poetisa americana, musa dezima (Barcelona: Joseph Llopis, 1691).
  • Auto sacramental del divino Narciso, por alegorias (Mexico City: Bernardo Calderón, 1690); translated by Patricia A. Peters and Renée Domeier as The Divine Narcissus (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998).
  • Carta athenagórica (Puebla: Diego Fernández de León, 1690).
  • Villancicos con que se solemnizaron en la Santa Iglesia Cathedral de la ciudad de la Puebla de los Angeles, los maytines del gloriosissimo patriarcha señor San Joseph . . . , music by Dallo y Lana (Puebla: Diego Fernández de León, 1690).
  • Ofrecimientos para el Rosario de quinze misterios que se ha de rezar el dia de los dolores de N. Señora la Virgen Maria: Sacados solo de lo que padeció desde que llegó al Calvario, siguiendo los passos dolorosos de Nuestro Salvador . . . (Mexico City: Francisco Rodríguez Lupercio, 1691).
  • Los empeños de una casa: Segundo volumen de las obras . . . (Seville, 1692).
  • Fama y obras postumas . . . (Madrid, 1700).
  • Amor es más labyrinto, by Sor Juana and Juan de Guevara (Seville: Diego López de Haro, n.d.).
  • Obras completas, 4 volumes, edited by Alfonso Méndez Plancarte and Alberto G. Salceda (Mexico City: Imprenta Nuevo Mundo, 1955; Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1957).
  • La segunda Celestina: Una comedia perdida de Sor Juana, by Sor Juana and Agustín de Salazar y Torres, edited by Guillermo Schmidhuber and Olga Martha Peña Doria (Mexico City: Vuelta, 1990).

Editions in English

  • A Woman of Genius: The Intellectual Autobiography of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden (Salisbury, Conn.: Lime Rock Press, 1982).
  • A Sor Juana Anthology, translated and edited by Alan S. Trueblood (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988).
  • The Answer/La Respuesta: Including a Selection of Poems, translated by Electa Arenal and Amanda Powell (New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1994).
  • The House of Trials, translated by David Pasto (New York: Peter Lang, 1997).
  • Pawns of a House/Los empeños de una casa, translated by Michael McGaha, edited by Susana Hernández Araico (Tempe, Ariz.: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingue, 2002).


Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was one of the most outstanding playwrights to write in Spain's American colonies. Although she is best known for her poetry, her theatrical works comprise nearly one-third of her literary production, and they demonstrate the brilliance for which she was famous. Writing for both the Catholic Church and the viceregal court of New Spain, she composed loas, short dramatic pieces that served as an introduction to a longer play; three-act comedies that were often accompanied by sainetes, or brief one-act intermezzos; autos sacramentales, one-act plays on the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist; and church carols known as villancicos. These works generally followed the dramatic forms of the early modern theater in Spain, a period that corresponds to the Spanish Golden Age. Although Sor Juana was well versed in this theatrical tradition in general, Pedro Calderón de la Barca most consistently provided the models for both her secular and religious plays. In keeping with the elaborate ornamentation that characterized artistic expression in the seventeenth century, her works came to epitomize baroque style in the Indies. While emulating the dramatic forms and technical devices of Spanish playwrights, however, Sor Juana often recontextualized conventional themes to reflect her New World surroundings and, moreover, reinterpreted typical characters to highlight issues of gender. She also reacted against the imposition of peninsular theater on colonial stages to the exclusion of the performance of plays by local dramatists.

Although Sor Juana was a renowned figure among her contemporaries and although her life and works have been scrutinized by scholars of colonial studies ever since, she remains an enigma. The most precise information about her, albeit brief, comes from her own pen in a letter she wrote to the bishop of Puebla in 1691, which served as the principal source for her first biographer, Diego Calleja, whose profile of her prefaced the posthumous volume of her works published in 1700. Her name was known from the villages of New Spain to the elite social circles of Spain and its viceregal capitals, and her works were published on both sides of the Atlantic. From 1676, the earliest date of the publication of one of her villancicos, her dramatic poems set to music were staged in churches throughout the viceroyalty; this dissemination continued until their publication ceased some fifteen years later. In 1690 her best religious drama, El divino Narciso (The Divine Narcissus), appeared in print in Mexico City, and in 1692 the second volume of her collected works, including her courtly comedy Los empeños de una casa (The House of Trials, performed in 1683), was published in Seville. Virtually all of Sor Juana's works were published during her lifetime or shortly after her death, and they have been reprinted in many editions for several centuries. By the advent of the twentieth century, the life of the Mexican nun known as the Tenth Muse had become the set piece for the study of early Spanish American womanhood.

Sor Juana was born Juana Ramírez de Asbaje in San Miguel de Nepantla, in present-day Mexico, the illegitimate daughter of Isabel Ramírez de Santillana of New Spain and the Spaniard Pedro Manuel de Asbaje y Vargas Machuca, who was in the military. The exact date of her birth has been the subject of some controversy, which has never been definitively resolved. In his prefatory essay to the third volume of Sor Juana's works published in 1700, Calleja gives her birth date as 12 November 1651. A baptismal certificate for a child named Inés, whose godparents were siblings of Sor Juana's mother, was found in a neighboring town; if that child was Sor Juana, this record places her birth three years earlier. Some question has been raised about the validity of this discovery, however, as "Inés" appears only in Sor Juana's religious name, taken at the time she entered the convent.

Few educational opportunities existed for women during the colonial era, but this fact did not deter the young Juana from pursuing her intellectual goals. Before her third birthday, as she herself states in her letter to the bishop of Puebla, she insisted upon attending school with an older sister in order to learn to read and write as soon as possible. At the age of eight she won her first literary prize for her "Loa al Santísimo Sacramento" (Poem to the Holiest Sacrament of Communion). Sor Juana later developed the genre of the loa to its fullest extent by adding characters and plot to this basically laudatory, poetic prologue to a dramatic work. Obsessed by the acquisition of knowledge, she often denied herself some of the indulgences of childhood, and in the spirit of maintaining her self-imposed discipline, she vowed to attend the university in Mexico City, a privilege reserved for young men only. Even when she considered wearing pants to class, she did not gain admission to this institution of higher learning but was forced to remain at home in the countryside without the benefit of professorial guidance. However, having honed her talent for self-instruction, she set out to read and study the entire contents of her grandfather's extensive library, an endeavor that won her many accolades.

By the time Don Antonio Sebastián de Toledo Molina y Salazar, the Marqués de Mancera, occupied the viceroyship of New Spain in 1664, Juana's scholarly achievements had become widely known. Impressed with her erudition and taken by her physical beauty, the marqués invited her to his court, a social and cultural center unlike any other in the Americas. There she mingled with its distinguished visitors, whose power and influence promoted and protected her for years. She wrote many poems to honor their notable presence and to commemorate their various official occasions. In deference to her stature as a learned woman, the viceroy assembled a panel of some forty professors from the university, and before this examining board she conclusively proved her mastery of a variety of subjects.

Even though she had won the affection and admiration of the court and had become the vicereine's favorite lady-in-waiting, she became disenchanted by the artificiality of courtly life and longed for the solitude that would give her time to read, reflect, and write. In 1667 she entered the convent of the Discalced Carmelites of Saint Joseph, but the rigorous routine affected her health to such an extent that she was forced to leave the order that same year. Back at court and under the care of the vicereine, Doña Leonor Carreto, she recuperated from her ordeal. The next year, however, she once again took up a religious calling, this time making a lifelong commitment to the convent of the order of Saint Jerome.

In the years that immediately followed her entrance into the convent, Sor Juana actively pursued her gift as a lyric poet. By 1676 she began writing celebratory verses to be sung in church on special occasions, and their presentation often involved a certain degree of theatricality. Although the term villancico originally referred to a peasant song, it gradually took on a specific poetic form over the years and was cultivated in Spain by such poets as Lope de Vega and Luis de Góngora y Argote. For fifteen years or more Sor Juana wrote a series of carols that capture aspects of popular culture during the colonial era and document the incorporation of non-Hispanics in Christian religious rites and rituals. Although they are not regarded as dramatic works, Sor Juana was clearly trying out her skills as a dramatist. In these carefully structured works, singers became actors through role-playing, and they engaged in dialogue about fictional situations. African American dialects and rhythms are reflected in Sor Juana's villancicos, and she included on occasion a portion of the Aztec dance known as the tocotín, which was executed to the beat of a Nahuatl chant. Moors and Basques were also included in the cast of characters.

The 1680s were especially productive for Sor Juana, and during this time she reached the pinnacle of her literary career. Not only did she write her philosophical poem Primero sueño (The Dream), which is considered to be her masterpiece, but she wrote all of her full-length dramatic programs. Sor Juana's first comedy, Los empeños de una casa , was performed in Mexico City on 4 October 1683 before an aristocratic audience, to celebrate the viceroyship of Don Tomás Antonio de la Cerda, the Marquis de la Laguna, and the arrival of the new archbishop, Francisco de Aguiar y Seijas (who was actually an outspoken opponent of the theater). This entertainment, presented under the auspices of an eminent city official, Don Fernando Deza, included not just the presentation of the comedy but also the staging of an entire dramatic program, or festival. Opening with a loa, the extended event included two poems sung in honor of the viceroy's family, two sainetes, and a concluding soiree that followed the third act.

Much attention has been given to the similarities between Sor Juana's play and Los empeños de un acaso (The Trials of Happenstance) by Calderón de la Barca. Calderonian theater did, indeed, serve as a model, and the presence of love triangles, questions of honor, and instances of mistaken identity in Los empeños de una casa confirm this relationship. However, in most cases Sor Juana uses these similarities to call into question the dramatic art form of the typical cloak-and-dagger play that was so popular on the Spanish stage. Her work was additionally separated from Calderón de la Barca's by her characters Doña Leonor and Castaño, who tie Sor Juana's work to the New World and to her own personal situation as an artist and intellectual in a patriarchal colonial society. Throughout her comedy Sor Juana challenged existing roles for women in a male-dominated theater both on stage and off, and she was determined to invalidate the perception of femininity that limits the attractiveness of a woman to her appearance. She achieves this goal by making her female characters strong-willed individuals who seek to control their own destinies and by forcing men to see themselves as women do, as when the cross-dressed buffoon Castaño confronts the family patriarch.

The action of Los empeños de una casa takes place in the home of Pedro Arellano and his sister, Ana, in Toledo, Spain. As the curtain goes up, Ana reveals to her maid that her brother plans to kidnap Leonor, with whom he is in love. Pedro has already left the residence with several of his friends, disguised as police, and they intend to take Leonor forcibly just as she is eloping from her father's house with her true love, Carlos. In the confusion of the two suitors' clashing swords, Leonor is spirited away to Pedro's house, where Ana is expecting her, and Carlos and his servant Castaño flee, fearing arrest by the police. When Leonor arrives at the Arellano household, she confesses her plight to Ana, and some of the details of her life, such as her beauty, intelligence, and life at court, correspond to those of Sor Juana. Carlos also arrives at Ana's door, seeking refuge; taken by his good looks, she permits him to enter and hide somewhere in the house. When Pedro finally returns to enjoy his prize, he finds the house in chaos as the characters make their way around in the darkness bumping into each other and mistaking one another for someone else.

The highlight of the comedy occurs when Castaño, who had been carrying Leonor's belongings when he and Carlos were approached by Pedro and his companions, dons one of her gowns in order to escape from the house. However, when Pedro, who had been searching in vain for Leonor, catches a glimpse of her clothing, he immediately detains the elaborately draped comic and starts making amorous overtures. Castaño, who is amazed at Pedro's outrageous behavior, suddenly begins to understand a woman's point of view and openly challenges the patriarch in defense of womanhood. The play concludes when Leonor and Carlos are reunited and married; Ana accepts the proposal of a former suitor; and Castaño and Ana's maid wed. Only Pedro remains single at the end of the third act--a punishment, perhaps, for attempting to destroy Leonor's happiness and for enlisting the help of his sister in another woman's downfall.

During the intermissions of this three-act comedy, Sor Juana staged two sainetes. These pieces are related to the principal play but are not essential to an understanding of it. The first one, Sainete de palacio (Intermezzo about the Palace), consists of a courtly contest among the abstract characters of Love, Respect, Courtesy, Kindness, and Hope for the unusual prize of the disdain of the ladies of the palace. The sainete concludes when the judge of the competition decides that no one is worthy of the prize. The artificiality of the scene is probably indicative of Sor Juana's impression of the atmosphere she encountered at court, the same one referred to by Leonor in the main play.

The most original part of Sor Juana's complete program of Los empeños de una casa, and, indeed, one of the more innovative examples of colonial theater, is the Sainete segundo (Second Intermezzo), staged between the second and third acts. In this short enactment two spectators, Arias and Muñiz, offer criticism of the performance they have just witnessed onstage, and in this respect the piece is metatheatrical. Attributing the work to a contemporary male playwright of Sor Juana, Acevedo, they object to the length of the play and complain about its lack of humor, suggesting that it is not as good as the theater written in Spain. The two wonder if they can stop the play by hissing, and this controversy provokes the playwright to come forward. When Acevedo appears onstage, he is overwhelmed by the negative review of his work. Although he vows to stop writing plays, the audience believes that his punishment should be worse and sentences him to copy his play over again. Distraught by the severity of this judgment, he has no alternative but to die of shame in the theater amid a hissing public.

By naming a male playwright in this sainete rather than identifying herself, Sor Juana calls attention to the lack of acceptance of women in the theater world and the fact that plays written by men are not sufficiently criticized on their theatrical merits. She also raises the question of the cultural identity of theatergoing colonists whose own dramatists were preempted by those of Spain's national theater. The act of hissing or producing an s sound has political ramifications. Residents born in the New World often dropped the s when speaking, which would make it impossible in Sor Juana's sketch to express their protest, while those who were Spanish by birth were at complete liberty to respond.

After the third act of the comedy, there was a brief finale for the entire program that reminded spectators of the occasion they were celebrating. In the so-called Sarao de cuatro naciones (Soiree of Four Nations), representatives of Spain, Africa, Italy, and New Spain stepped forward to pay their respects to the viceroy. Although this piece is similar to some of her villancicos, it is contrived and lacks the artistic vitality and social relevance of her dramatic, religious poetry set to music.

The success of Los empeños de una casa prompted the author to collaborate with Juan de Guevara on a similar project; however, Amor es más labyrinto (Love Is the Greater Labyrinth), which was staged in 1689, did not receive the praise of its predecessor. Sor Juana may also have written or contributed to a third secular play, titled La segunda Celestina (The Second Celestina).

Amor es más labyrinto is based on the legend of Theseus, the son of the king of Athens, who is one of a group of young people sent to Crete as a form of tribute to be sacrificed to the creature that is half man and half bull. In Sor Juana's version, Theseus is brought before the Cretan king Minos, and the tyrant's two daughters, Ariadne and Phaedra, fall desperately in love with him even though they both have suitors. Phaedra is the one to whom he is attracted, but Ariadne vows to win his affection by providing him with a means of escape from the immense labyrinth where the monstrous Minotaur resides. In the second act, the one composed by Guevara, Theseus uses the thread that Ariadne has given him. After entering the maze, he slays the monster and exits the labyrinth. That evening a masked ball takes place in the palace, thrown by the two sisters to entertain their father, who is unaware that Theseus has survived his ordeal. The young hero is secretly expected to attend by both Ariadne and Phaedra, and all exchange tokens to be worn at the event so that each can recognize the other in disguise. Theseus confuses Ariadne with Phaedra in the darkened ballroom, however, and mistakenly expresses his love for her.

In the third act, in which Sor Juana again assumes authorship, further complications ensue. Theseus finds himself in the middle of a dispute between the princesses' suitors. In the mix-up he, thinking he is confronting Prince Bacchus of Thebes, engages in a duel with Lidorus, the Prince of Epirus, and kills him. On shore, the Athenian army arrives to take over King Minos's kingdom in Theseus's name. Order is restored in the final scene, in which the Cretan ruler is pardoned and Phaedra and Ariadne are betrothed to Theseus and Bacchus, respectively.

Amor es más labyrinto did not receive the acclaim accorded Los empeños de una casa, probably because of the inconsistencies in the play resulting from the collaboration and the development of a mythological theme into a commonplace drama of intrigues propelled by a series of mistaken identities. Of particular note, however, is Sor Juana's treatment of the Amazons in the speech Theseus makes in the first act when he arrives at the court of King Minos. Recounting his heroic deeds, the young Athenian gives courtly consideration to these female warriors, a surprisingly rare topic among early Spanish American dramatists, even though they are associated with the exploration of the New World.

While Sor Juana was criticized by church officials for her failure to dedicate her time and efforts solely to religious endeavors after entering the convent, her deep spirituality cannot be denied. Proof of her intense Christian belief, as well as her devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe, may be found in El divino Narciso. The auto sacramental, a one-act play that has as its theme the Holy Eucharist, was a popular dramatic form customarily presented during the religious holiday of Corpus Christi. Calderón de la Barca was the undisputed master of this theatrical subgenre, and his works clearly inspired the young colonial dramaturge. Works of this type, which were allegorical in nature, were usually performed on carts, which provided the necessary platform and scenery, and song and dance frequently added to the overall spectacle.

The program of El divino Narciso opens with a loa that introduces the theme of the eucharistic sacrament. In this prefatory piece, the Spanish conqueror Zeal and his female companion, the Spanish lady Religion, engage in a debate with members of Aztecan nobility, Occident and America, over whose god is the real one. The ensuing discussion pits the pagan ritual of Teocualo, in which an idol of blood and seed is consumed by worshipers, against that of Christian communion, in which the faithful symbolically partake of the body of Christ. While Christianity inevitably wins out, the Aztec rite is presented as a prefiguration of the Holy Eucharist. The auto sacramental, then, is designed to instruct the audience in the importance of this sacrament as well as to highlight major events in the evolution of Christianity.

The central piece of Sor Juana's program is based upon the myth of Narcissus and Echo, as told in Ovid's Metamorphoses. According to this account, the nymph Echo, who was in love with Narcissus, was condemned by Juno for her loquaciousness and her complicity in Jupiter's amorous affairs. The punishment Juno metes out to Echo reduces her utterances to the mere repetition of the expressions of others. Desolate at receiving this sentence and at the rejection of Narcissus, she disappears physically, leaving only the sound of her voice. Narcissus dies when he falls in love with his own image and drowns after seeing it reflected in a pool of water. Only the flower is left as a reminder of his beauty.

Combining classical mythology with Christian theology, Sor Juana endows her allegory with religious significance by interpreting Narcissus as the figure of Christ who is pursued by the shepherdess Echo. Flanked by the characters of Pride and Self-Love, she represents Satan, or angelic nature in a fallen state. To complete the love triangle, Sor Juana casts Human Nature as a rustic maiden, who is also enamored of Narcissus. She, however, is not yet worthy of the handsome youth, as her past has been clouded by original sin. With the help of Grace, nonetheless, she finds redemption in the cleansing waters of the fountain, a pure spring represented by the Virgin Mary in her New World context known as the Indian Virgin of Guadalupe. When Narcissus looks into the water of the fountain, then, he sees his reflection, which is that of Human Nature, and his death for her sake is that of the Crucifixion. The sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, therefore, is what remains of the supreme sacrifice that Christ has made for Human Nature. Echo, on the other hand, who has failed in her mission to separate the two, is so enraged that she becomes only a sound, doomed to repeat what others have already voiced.

By blending mythology with theology, Sor Juana creates a pastoral love story in El divino Narciso, which is considered to be the best of her religious theater. In addition to the strong female characters in this auto sacramental, Sor Juana highlights the importance of the Virgin Mary in the salvation of humankind. She also demonstrates her knowledge of and appreciation for Amerindian culture in the introductory loa, a dramatic piece reminiscent of the sixteenth-century autos devised by the first missionaries who participated in the evangelization of indigenous peoples.

The script for El divino Narciso was taken to Madrid by Sor Juana's benefactor and New Spain's vicereine, Doña María Luisa de Laguna, the Countess of Paredes, to be presented at the 1689 Corpus Christi festival. Because of the observance of national mourning for the first wife of Charles II, however, the festivities never took place. Sor Juana wrote two other eucharistic plays, but neither possesses the originality inherent in El divino Narciso. The lack of performance dates makes their precise chronology difficult to establish, but all were completed by the end of the 1680s.

El cetro de José (Joseph's Scepter), another of Sor Juana's autos sacramentales, is based upon the Bible story of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers. In this theatrical work Joseph is presented as the prefiguration of Christ, on whom the hope of redemption for all humankind rests. When the play opens, Joseph's brothers are planning their treachery against him. Their sinister plot is followed closely by the appearance of the satanic Lucero and his cohorts Intelligence, Knowledge, Envy, and Conjecture, who sense a greater importance in Joseph's existence but are unable to understand its precise meaning. When the audience first sees Joseph, he has prospered in Egypt along with his master, Potiphar. Prompted by Lucero, however, Potiphar's wife tempts Joseph, and his refusal to accede to her wishes leads to his imprisonment. In prison, he begins to use his visionary powers to interpret dreams, and his gift comes to the attention of the Pharaoh. Joseph predicts seven years of abundance as well as seven of famine, and his extraordinary ability to see into the future and envision man's salvation confounds the efforts of his adversary, Lucero. When Jacob sends his remaining sons to Egypt to get wheat during a time of scarcity in Canaan, the sustenance they seek becomes the Holy Eucharist. Prophecy then announces the significance of Joseph's life as a forerunner of Christ and the promise it holds for all humanity.

Visigothic Spain is the setting for El mártir del sacramento, San Hermenegildo (The Martyr of the Sacrament, Saint Hermenegildo), the last of Sor Juana's autos sacramentales. More historical than allegorical, it portrays the struggle there between Arianism and Catholicism, which resulted in civil unrest and the martyrdom of a man who would be king. The conflict is played out between the newly converted Catholic Hermenegildo and his father, Leovigildo, the last Arian king of the Visigoths. Torn between loyalty to his father and his belief in Christ, Hermenegildo rebels against his father's wishes. Preferring to die rather than to continue in the traditional faith and refusing to participate in the communion conducted by an Arian bishop, he is put to death by his father for his defiance. By the time Hermenegildo's brother, Recaredo, comes to the throne, however, Catholicism prevails in Spain and establishes religious unity among the Visigoths before the invasion of the Moors.

This play has been criticized for its lack of conformity to the Calderonian model of the auto sacramental. Rather than focusing on the Holy Eucharist and important moments in biblical history, it is more a presentation of the life of a saint who demonstrates how much a person must sacrifice to follow the one true religion and a narration of the historical presence of the Visigoths in Spain.

By 1690 the controversy over Sor Juana's production of nonreligious works in conventual seclusion reached a climax with her critical analysis of a 1650 sermon delivered by the Portuguese Jesuit Antonio de Vieyra. The bishop of Puebla, Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz, was so impressed by this explication that he had it published as the Carta athenagórica (Letter Worthy of Minerva, 1690). While praising Sor Juana for this accomplishment, however, he also took the occasion (writing as "Sister Philotea") to reprimand her for not dedicating herself solely to her religious calling. The following year, she answered his criticism of her in the famous Respuesta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz (Reply to Sister Philotea of the Cross). This response gave readers the greatest insight into her life and her reasons for conducting it the way she did, but her reply also drew disfavor from church officials. With her backing at court gone and the support of her confessor withdrawn, she found little hope for the continuation of her literary achievements. Denied the right to pursue her inclination to study and write in the manner she desired, she became desolate, which soon affected her health. When an epidemic broke out in Mexico City in 1695, she devotedly remained at the side of her ailing sisters, and having little physical resistance herself, she fell ill and died on 17 April of that year.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz recognized the power of the theater to alter the way people view themselves and others and to encourage them to experiment with and accept new roles. Her plays reflect in many ways the time in which she lived, and this historical context is sometimes viewed as an impediment to their production for present-day audiences. But critics have focused on the universality of her literary production, especially her expression of feminism, and the publication of a stellar edition of her complete works by Alfonso Méndez Plancarte and Alberto G. Salceda in 1955 facilitated the investigations of literary critics. Octavio Paz 's Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, o, Las trampas de la fe (1982; translated as Sor Juana or, The Traps of Faith, 1988), a remarkable account of Sor Juana's life set in the rich context of the colonial period, was subsequently made into the motion picture Yo, la peor de todas (I, the Worst of All, 1990), attesting to the continued interest in this talented woman who transcended the centuries with her revolutionary vision for an equitable society.




  • Octavio Paz, Sor Juana or, The Traps of Faith, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1988).


  • Raquel Chang-Rodríguez, "Relectura de Los empeños de una casa," Revista Iberoamericana, 104-105 (1978): 409-419.
  • Lee A. Daniels, The Loa of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Fredericton, Canada: York, 1994).
  • Gerald C. Flynn, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (New York: Twayne, 1971).
  • Merlin H. Forster, "Theatricality in the Villancicos of Sor Juana de la Cruz," in Engendering the Early Modern Stage: Women Playwrights in the Spanish Empire, edited by Valerie Hegstrom and Amy Williamsen (New Orleans: University Press of the South, 1999), pp. 271-284.
  • Edward H. Friedman, "Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz's Los empeños de una casa: Sign as Woman," Romance Notes, 31 (Spring 1991): 197-203.
  • Julie Greer Johnson, "Sor Juana and Her Sainete segundo: The Creation of a Metatheatrical Encounter on the New World Stage," Latin American Theatre Review, 32 (Spring 1999): 5-18.
  • Johnson, "Sor Juana's Castaño: From Gracioso to Comic Hero," South Atlantic Review, 66 (Fall 2001): 94-108.
  • Stephanie Merrim, "Mores Geometricae: The 'Womanscript' in the Theater of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz," in Feminist Perspectives on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, edited by Merrim (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), pp. 94-123.
  • Georgina Sabat de Rivers, "Apología de América y del mundo azteca en tres loas de Sor Juana," Revista de Estudios Hispánicos (Universidad de Puerto Rico), 19 (1992): 267-291.
  • Guillermo Schmidhuber and Olga Martha Peña Doria, The Three Secular Plays of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: A Critical Study, translated by Shelby Thacker (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2000).
  • Christopher Brian Weimer, "Sor Juana as Feminist Playwright: The Gracioso's Function in Los empeños de una casa," Latin American Theatre Review, 26, no. 1 (Fall 1992): 91-98.


Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1200012246