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Abstract

This dissertation performs a feminist reading of depictions of the Old Testament figure of Susanna in a number of plays and one poem from early modern Spain, as well as the 1960 motion picture Psycho. I argue that the tradition of visual art surrounding the Susanna story influences literary texts about her, calling into question whether Susanna was really as pure and innocent as the Bible says she is. By painting her with attributes of Venus and a willing expression, artists from the Renaissance onward created a visual suggestion that Susanna lured the elders and did not resist them. While feminist scholars have done considerable work on both the biblical story and the artistic tradition, very little has been written about Susanna in Golden Age Spanish literature, and almost none from a feminist perspective. This project contributes to filling this gap, making an intervention in the study of how women were portrayed in the comedia, and performing detailed studies of some plays that have received very little recent critical attention. ,Lope de Vega mentions Susanna in passing in a number of works, of which I analyze El testimonio vengado, Virtud, pobreza y mujer, and La moza de cántaro. Lope, like Manuel de Salinas in his narrative poem La casta Susana, criticizes the familiar artistic depictions of Susanna, defending the courage and honor of the biblical heroine. I study six plays that retell the story of Susanna: La farsa de Sancta Susaña by Diego Sánchez de Badajoz; La comedia de Sancta Susaña by Juan Rodrigo Alonso de Pedraza; Santa Susana by Luis Vélez de Guevara; Las maravillas de Babilonia by Guillén de Castro, and El bruto de Babilonia by the tres ingenios Juan de Matos Fragoso, Agustín Moreto, and Jerónimo de Cáncer. In all of these plays, the image of the seductress pictured in art seeps in, creating a tension between the plays’ description of a chaste matron and their staged ekphrases of the bath scene, in which the Venus-like figure emerges. In Psycho, Susanna imagery is deployed to connect this ancient story of gendered violence with the twentieth-century gendered violence we see in the film. My project draws connections between the ancient Middle East, early modern Spain, and the United States in our own era, tracing the foundations of rape culture through all of these periods. I argue that the way the male gaze operates within the art and texts I discuss contributes to the tendency in all of these cultures to blame the victim in cases of sexual assault.

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