Out of the Wings

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La Jacoba (1789), Luciano Francisco Comella

English title: Jacoba
Date written: 1789
First publication date: 1790
Keywords: morality > honour, violence > social, identity > class/social standing, family > marriage, family > patriarchy, family > duty, power > use and abuse, love, love > friendship, honour > chivalry
Genre and type: melodrama

Duped into believing that her true love Milord got married abroad, Jacoba marries a wealthy Count. When Milord returns home – unmarried – he and Jacoba struggle to suppress their feelings in a society that values honour and duty over true love.


After four years in Italy, Milord Tomlin returns to London. He expects a warm welcome, and looks forward to finally marrying Jacoba. But while Milord was away, two letters were sent, supposedly from him, announcing his marriage in Italy. Believing that her fiancé had betrayed her, Jacoba married the Count of Esteren. Almost immediately, she regretted her decision, and now Jacoba has descended into a deep depression. When Milord discovers that Jacoba has married he, too, is devastated. He considers throwing himself into the Thames. But his good friend the Count of Beutif urges him to act like a decent Englishman and forget Jacoba altogether. He suggests Milord sail for Jamaica to start a new life. Milord promises to do so, but only after Beutif arranges for him to see Jacoba one last time.

Jacoba’s misery has caused her husband, the Count of Esteren, much concern. It was, in fact, he who forged the letters from Milord so that he could marry Jacoba. Esteren’s plan has not been entirely successful, however, as he is now stuck with a wife whose distressed mental state means that they have not, as yet, been able to consummate their marriage. Esteren becomes even more concerned after a visit from the Count of Beutif and Milord Tomlin. Esteren is unaware that the morose young man in front of him is, in fact, Milord; otherwise he would never have let him in his house. During the visit, Milord manages to pass a letter to Jacoba secretly. But, in her distress and shock at seeing her former lover unmarried and obviously miserable, Jacoba drops the letter. Esteren finds it and reads it. The letter is unsigned, from an author pleading to meet with Jacoba once again. Esteren still does not know that Milord has returned from Italy. Nonetheless, he is eager to discover the identity of his wife’s secret admirer. And so, feigning ignorance, Esteren drops the letter where Jacoba will find it. He also tells her that he is going out, thus giving her the opportunity to arrange a ‘private’ meeting with the author of the letter.

After vacillating, Jacoba sends word to Milord, agreeing that he can come to see her one last time. But the Count of Beutif reminds Milord that he has already had an audience with Jacoba and that he promised to forget her and sail to Jamaica. Beutif gives Milord an ultimatum: either he must keep his promise or their friendship is over. But the young man’s desire to see Jacoba is overwhelming, and he leaves to meet her. Esteren hides and listens while Jacoba and Milord lament the fact that their chance to be together has gone. Nobly, the two of them bid each other goodbye, promising to forget what they once had together. Suddenly, they hear footsteps approaching. Milord hides in Jacoba’s chamber, where Esteren has left a painting he commissioned for his wife. His recent suspicions about Jacoba mean that Esteren has had the painter alter the painting. Before, it showed him caring for his troubled wife, offering her a flower. Now, to Jacoba’s horror, it depicts her with a bloodied chest, her husband standing over her with a dagger. Jacoba understands the implied threat, and watches in fear as her angry husband emerges to confront Milord. But Milord does not want to fight. Unaware that Esteren is the person behind all his troubles, Milord says his farewells, urging the Count to love Jacoba with all his heart.

Esteren, however, is outraged at the perceived threat to his honour. He summons Milord to meet him in a clearing and challenges the young man to a duel. Thankfully, before anyone gets hurt, faithful Beutif steps in. Angry at Milord for his failure to keep promises and disgusted at his participation in an illegal duel, Beutif now insists that his friend must leave for Jamaica. Meanwhile, Esteren returns home to his errant wife. Realising that her husband will never forgive her for summoning Milord to the house, Jacoba wants to retreat into a convent. But Esteren has other ideas, and insists that they finally consummate their marriage. But before they can do so, Esteren is summoned by the King. Jacoba assumes that the summons relates to the illegal duel and now believes that her husband has killed Milord. Jacoba is not only devastated that her true love is dead, but also that her honour will be ruined when Esteren is imprisoned for duelling. And so, when Esteren returns from his meeting with the authorities, she angrily demands that he give her back her honour by sending her away. Esteren’s reaction to his wife’s anger is unexpected. He explains that the summons did not concern the duel, but rather brought him news of his first wife, the Countess. She had been presumed lost at sea. Now, it turns out that the Countess was rescued, and upon returning to London she discreetly set about ensuring that Esteren’s marriage to Jacoba could be annulled. Feeling remorse for all he has done, and overjoyed that the Countess is alive, Esteren fetches Milord from the docks just before he sets sail. He confesses to Milord that it was he who forged the letters. Now, it is time for Esteren to right his many wrongs. He relinquishes his claim on Jacoba, who happily agrees to marry her true love, Milord.


Critical response

Jacoba was relatively well received by critics and audiences. Although it is set in London, it explores what it means to be a Spanish citizen in eighteenth-century Spain, a time in which Spaniards were increasingly coming into contact with more ‘enlightened’ European values (Bulleit Niemeier 2010: 104). The clash of values is dramatised in the play through the characters’ conflicts, for example, Milord’s vacillation over whether to commit suicide or to follow the more enlightened path and forget Jacoba altogether (Bulleit Niemeier 2010: 117).

Many critics point out the plot similarities between Jacoba and Moratín’s The Old Man and the Girl. Moratín’s play also features two lovers separated due to the manipulations of a third party.

  • Bulleit Niemeier, Kristie. 2010. Dueling, Honor and Sensibility in Eighteenth-Century Spanish Sentimental Comedies. Doctoral Dissertation available from the University of Kentucky UKnowledge website, http://uknowledge.uky.edu/gradschool_diss/12/ [accessed May 2011] (Online Publication)

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Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 24 May 2011.

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