Cobwebs of Memory: History Made with Violence in Abelardo Estorino’s La dolorosa historia del amor secreto de don José Jacinto Milanés (1974)



In La dolorosa historia del amor secreto de don José Jacinto Milanés (1974), Abelardo Estorino (b. 1925) draws on the life of a nineteenth century Cuban poet and playwright and explores the correlations between that time period and Estorino’s own in a way that reveals the betrayal, violence and pain that typify Cuba’s literary community in the 1970s. La dolorosa historia, like Dos viejos pánicos, has an uncertain relationship with stage production. It was written in 1974 though it did not premiere until 1985, staged then by the theater group Teatro Irrumpe directed by Roberto Blanco. It is a play that examines the role of violence in the making of history and memory through the life of Milanés, a figure that allows Estorino to enter into the past in order to consider history, memory, and betrayal onstage and simultaneously to allude to the present historical and social moment. The spectacality of the violence that surrounds Milanés’ life within La dolorosa historia refers to the (literally) spectacular violence that was being mounted in the cultural and political context of Cuba in the early 1970s, as was shown in the introduction with the caso Padilla. Just as Piñera explored the prevalence of fear, Estorino’s play affords the playwright a space in which his authorial hand guides the characters and points to the political events that shaped the 1970s through the past. This historical context is one that includes episodes discussed in reference to Dos viejos pánicos, such as the definition of the Revolution, the infamous caso Padilla and the censorship that characterized Cuba in the late 1960s and the 1970s and, thus, highlights the role that spectacle played in the contemporary context through the exploration of Milanés’ life and circumstances.


Nineteenth Century White Race Historical Moment Colonial Government Free Black 
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  1. 1.
    This is, of course, a simplification of the complex and multi-faceted circumstances in which Cuban independence was advocated. Hugh Thomas’s essay “La colonia española de Cuba” in Historia del Caribe offers a much more detailed and richly-hued conversation on Cuba’s continued status as a colony. Hugh Thomas, “Capítulo 2: La colonia española de Cuba,” In Historia del Caribe (Barcelona: Editorial Crítica, 2001) 39–55.Google Scholar
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    Milanés’ play is about the Conde Alarcos, who, though Spanish, had pledged his allegiance to the French king, and had consequently been betrothed to his daughter, Blanca. Before Alarcos departs on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Blanca gives her honor to the count, thus unofficially marrying the two. While in Spain, Alarcos marries and has children with a woman from Seville, Leonor. Nevertheless, he must keep his word to the French king to return to Paris, where it is found out that he has married another woman, being all but officially married already to Blanca. The French king orders him to kill his Spanish wife in order to marry Blanca and, though he detests the chains that bind him to the king and tries to save Leonor, she is killed by an executioner, proving that they are slaves subject to the king’s desires. José Jacinto Milanés, El conde Alarcos, In Teatro del siglo XIX (La Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1986).Google Scholar
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    All the quotes from “El mendigo” are from Salvador Arias’ collection of poetry from the colonial period, for which I give the page numbers here. Translations are mine. Salvador Arias, ed., Poesía cubana de la colonia (La Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2002) 77–78.Google Scholar
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    Here the literary men mainly discuss a written theater that would premiere in smaller or less accessible theaters. To understand the workings of the popular theater that was largely seen and available in Cuba during the nineteenth century, see Jill Lane’s Blackface Cuba. In this excellent examination of theater in nineteenthth century Cuba, Lane details and examines the connection between blackface performance, a budding sense of nationalism and populist theater. Jill Lane, Blackface Cuba, 1840–1895 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).Google Scholar
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    In Torture and Truth, Page duBois’ states that the Greek word for torture “means first of all a touchstone used to test gold for purity; the Greeks extended its meaning to denote a test or trial to determine whether something or someone is real or genuine (7)” This suggests that torture was then used as a way to test if a statement was true, meaning that a slave’s testimony would only be accepted if he or she had been tortured. Page duBois, Torture and Truth (New York: Routledge, 1991) 1–8.Google Scholar
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© Katherine Ford 2010

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