About LOVE IS THE GREATER LABYRINTH

Red Bull Theater is committed to expanding our repertoire by seeking out and sharing lesser-known texts that stand the test of time. Love is the Greater Labyrinth (Amor es más laberinto) by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz–one of the Hispanic Golden Age’s most accomplished female playwrights–is just such a play.


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Like the Minotaur itself, Love is the Greater Labyrinth (Amor es más laberinto, 1689) is a chimerical mix of elements, skillfully weaving the story of Theseus and the Cretan labyrinth with threads of romance, farce, and sociopolitical commentary. It demonstrates the variety and playfulness of Baroque drama in late seventeenth-century New Spain (now Mexico) and provides a dazzling showcase for the pen of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the famous philosopher, poet, playwright, and nun. The result is a mythological play that finds its Greeks acting suspiciously like seventeenth-century Spanish courtiers, matching wits and swords in messy love pentangles as their servants crack jokes behind their backs. Love moves nimbly between high and low registers, with a ranting tyrant spewing death threats one moment, and the gracioso (the traditional comic sidekick in Hispanic drama) offering sly metatheatrical commentary on the over-the-top performances from the side. Even the authorship is complicated: Sor Juana wrote most of the play, while her friend, the priest and poet Juan de Guevara, contributed most of the second act. Together they construct a labyrinthine plot that proves the course of true love never did run smooth, presented in English translation for the first time.

Love is the Greater Labyrinth makes a few notable changes to the Greek myth that show its ethical investments and modern outlook. First, instead of one female lead, there are two: lovestruck Ariadna still provides Teseo (Theseus) with the string that helps him escape the labyrinth, but this time she finds herself vying for his love with her sister Fedra (Phaedra), who is absent during the Cretan portion of the original story. The sisters are often paired in stylized sequences which reveal their inner monologues and contrast their differing personalities through poetry or song, giving the actresses a showcase and incorporating musical interludes. Along with the dances at the masked ball, these scenes provide the pleasing multimedial spectacle that Baroque audiences would expect from their drama.

The original audience for the premiere was the viceregal court in Mexico City. A new viceroy had just arrived and Love is the Greater Labyrinth was presented as part of his birthday celebration. The play shows a grasp of the court culture around which Sor Juana spent most of her life and lightly critiques some of its excesses, safely distanced by the ancient Greek mythological setting. Teseo’s speech in Act I outlining his own heroic deeds focuses heavily on his fights against bloodthirsty tyrants, and culminates in his assertion that “the greatest of victories” is “to triumph over [your]self.” In the end, he proves his true heroism not by slaying the Minotaur, but by showing mercy to his enemy, King Minos. Teseo also behaves honorably toward both sisters throughout the play, unlike his more frequent depiction in myth. Presenting Teseo as an enlightened prince who is scrupulously courteous towards women, as opposed to the maniacally vengeful Minos who at one point threatens to execute his own daughters, may have been Sor Juana’s message to the new viceroy about the proper behavior of a ruler, and her hope for a continued good relationship with the palace.

Sadly, it was not to be, as she shortly thereafter became embroiled in controversy over her views on women’s education and church hierarchy. The ensuing battle with hostile male members of the clergy eventually resulted in the loss of her independence as well as her impressive collection of books. Love is the Greater Labyrinth was her last play. Today its formal inventiveness and warning about the dangers of corrupt leaders feel more timely than ever. This new translation expands the English theatrical canon with another example of Sor Juana’s timeless brilliance.

RHONDA SHARAH & AINA SOLEY

Diversifying the Classics | UCLA