The Ambiguities of Crisis. Early Modern Spanish Literature and the Sense of a Future

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Rasmus Vangshardt


Postdoctoral Fellow


Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, Oxford University


DKK 900,000




Visiting Fellowships at University of Oxford


Between the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, Spain saw a perplexing development: On the one hand political and economic decline, on the other a spectacular literary Golden Age. This project aims to develop a new thesis of the relation between literature and notions of crisis in this period. The project does so by studying the figure of the gracioso (Engl.: The jester, clown, fool). This type emerged in the period’s flourishing theatre and soon became a dominant character on stage. The project asks how and why the graciosos became such powerful figures. The preliminary thesis is that they were eminently suited to navigate a chaotic reality: In their gaudy mix of cynicism and adaptability, they became a literary reservoir for the ambiguities of crisis.


Spanish Golden Age literature is a vital part of the early modern world, seeing such authors as Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, and Pedro Calderón appear. The project will situate the decisive dramatic character of the gracioso in its aesthetic and intellectual-historical context and revise its functions in an important period of European literature. Additionally, the project takes on the task of studying and revising notions of political and ontological crises in in the midst of emerging modernity.


The project reinterprets several masterpieces of the Spanish Golden Age to investigate an ambiguous notion of crisis which paradoxically implies negative expectations and new possibilities simultaneously. The gracioso is used as a literary prism through which to study such clashes between perceptions of mental and political challenges and approaches to their overcoming. Through theories of crisis, methods of hermeneutical characterology and contextualizations of intellectual history, the project reframes the literary legacy of the period and its contribution to later conceptions of modernity.

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