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Modes of Islamic and Spanish Intertextuality in the Literature of Sixteenth Century Spain Open Access

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The sixteenth century of the Iberian Peninsula was marked by the persecution, torment, and execution of the newly converted Christians by the “old” ones. In effect, it was a time in which the mere suspicion –let alone presence– of Semitic blood or comportment was enough to cost a person their life on the grounds that they were false converts. This century marked the zenith of the Spanish Inquisition –the sanguinary process by which the Arab and Jewish cultures of Iberia were razed and forcibly subjected to the Christian establishment’s quest for religious, political, economic, and social superiority. It stands to reason that such a vastly destructive and harrowing social process would affect and indeed characterize the literary output of this land. From its birth at the onset of the Middle Ages, Spanish literature grew and came to maturity within this historical context. From the Renaissance, or Siglo de Oro, onwards, this literature was to a great extent in the hands of persecuted converts who, to further abstract the reading of these texts, were caught in the midst of constantly fluctuating and conflicting identities and intellectual traditions. Given the complexity of these works, and the fact that the Semitic backgrounds of their authors have rarely been taken into account in scholarship, it is the purpose of this project to focus on the influence of Islamic texts and narratives on some of the literary works of sixteenth century Spain in order to provide a clearer understanding of the magnitude to which this intertextuality characterized the literary landscape of the time. The first part of this work focuses on the concept of courtly love. It provides a background on the theme of courtly love in Andalusian poetry in order to qualify the Islamic idiom in Spanish literature. In other words, it is meant as a sample of the literary expression of Muslim Spain, so that its character can be readily identified in Miguel de Cervantes’ sixteenth century magnum opus, Don Quijote de la Mancha. The presence of converso narratives and Islamic influence is rampant throughout the work, so much so that it is not a stretch to say that a knowledge of Islam and of the way in which it existed in Spain is necessary for any reading of Don Quijote. The second section further contextualizes a different genre of sixteenth century literature –known as the aljamiado– in the intellectual and historical debates prevalent in modern Spanish history. To this end, it identifies how the Islamic character of Spain has always been a point of the high intellectual and political polemics. Special attention will be paid to the ways in which this kind of literature has been used to buttress the historiography and historical claims of one of Spain’s foremost historians, Américo Castro. The final part of this work is dedicated to exploring the influence of Islamic mysticism on the Cántico Espiritual of St. John of the Cross, particularly in regards to the symbol of the solitary bird. While tracing the influence of Islamic mystical texts on his later work, this last section is also framed as a critique of the field by way of identifying the ways in which greater historical and personal contextualization can increase the depth of this study, as opposed to the un-buttressed tracking of vaguely identified Islamic influence.

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