Four couples seek divorce, laying out complaints before the judge, but no matter how extreme the case, the judge rules it’s better to stay together.
The first couple to appear before the judge is an old man and his wife Mariana. She complains that he is too old to satisfy her any longer, and the old man is sick of her constant moaning. The judge rules that she cannot divorce her husband simply for being old; they must work it out. The second couple, a soldier and his wife Guiomar, want a divorce on the grounds of his lack of ambition and her demands for recognition for her virtue; the judge doesn’t get a chance to rule on this one before the third couple appear, a barber-surgeon dressed as a doctor and his wife Aldonza. Aldonza feels he misrepresented himself before the wedding, saying he was a proper doctor when he’s only a barber-surgeon, who only tends to wounds and maladies that are not serious. The judge refuses to divorce them merely on the grounds that they no longer enjoy each other’s company; he says if he had to divorce all such couples, no one would stay married. Finally a coal-carrier comes along (without his wife) and seeks a divorce from the prostitute he married in order to keep a promise he made under the influence of vast amounts of wine; the judge won’t divorce anyone in the courtroom, and adjourns the session saying that everyone must submit their complaints and evidence in writing. Two musicians come along with their instruments and sing a song, the theme of which is ‘let’s stay together’.
Marital strife has been the subject of popular comedy since the bawdy plays of Aristophanes and Old Comedy. The main causes of marital unhappiness in this play, namely the old age of the husband when compared to the youth of the wife, and the husband’s small income and inability to give his wife material comfort, are often (controversially) linked by scholars to Cervantes’ own marriage to Catalina de Salazar y Palacios, a much younger woman. Cervantes struggled with financial matters and was also a soldier, as is one of his characters in this play. For links between the life of Cervantes and this play, see Rozenblat 1973 and the introduction by Sevilla Arroyo and Rey Hazas to their 1998 edition of the Entremeses.
It is notable that although the married couples in this play certainly have their problems, not one of them seeks divorce on the grounds of adultery, themes common enough in Cervantes’ other works (such as La cueva de Salamanca or El viejo celoso) as Sevilla Arroyo and Rey Hazas point out in their introduction (Cervantes 1998). However the idea of a divorce judge is pure fantasy in the period, and would not have related to a real courtroom scenario as it might today. Mariana’s suggestion in the play that marriages be reviewed every three years, with the potential to renew or dissolve them based on the parties’ wishes, is also revolutionary in the context of marriage as a Catholic sacrament, views held by the authorities of church and state at the time of this play’s composition. The play reiterates that once marriages are established they become a yoke, an incarceration, a prison; but as there is no way out of the covenant, it is best to dance and sing and make the best of the situation (Sevilla Arroyo and Rey Hazas, in Cervantes 1998: xix).
Cervantes, Miguel de. 1995. ‘Entremés del juez de los divorcios’. In Entremeses, ed. Nicholas Spadaccini, pp. 97-110. Madrid, Cátedra
Cervantes, Miguel de. 1998. ‘El juez de los divorcios’. In Entremeses, eds. Florencio Sevilla Arroyo and Antonio Rey Hazas, pp. 19-35. Madrid, Alianza
Asensio, Eugenio. 1971. Itinerario del entremés desde Lope de Rueda a Quiñones de Benavente, 2nd edn Madrid, Gredos (in Spanish)
Beardsley, Jr., Theodore S. 1986. ‘Cervantes on Stage in the United States’, Hispanic Review, 54, 4, 397-404
Casalduero, Joaquín. 1966. Sentido y forma del teatro de Cervantes. Madrid, Gredos (in Spanish)
Gaylord Randel, Mary. 1982. ‘The Order in the Court: Cervantes’ Entremés del juez de los divorcios,’ Bulletin of the Comediantes, 34, 83–95
McKendrick, Melveena. 2002. ‘Writings for the Stage’. In The Cambridge Companion to Cervantes, ed. Anthony J. Cascardi, pp. 131-59. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
Rozenblat, W. 1973. ‘¿Por qué escribió Cervantes El juez de los divorcios?’, Anales Cervantinos, 12, 129-34 (in Spanish)
Spadaccini, Nicholas with Talens, Jenaro. 1993. Through the Shattering Glass: Cervantes and the Self-Made World. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press
Entry written by Kathleen Jeffs. Last updated on 24 February 2011.