Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-1695) was one of New Spain's most extraordinary poets. As a young woman, she was a member of the glittering court of the Viceroy, but gave up courtly life to enter the Hieronymite order at the age of 20. The choice may have been practical as well as religious, as life in the convent gave her intellectual freedom, and within its walls she was prodigiously productive, writing poetry and plays, many of them for the Viceroyal court. But after writing a polemic that angered powerful church authorities, she renounced writing altogether in 1693. This excerpt is from the loa, a kind of theatrical preamble, to her longer play The Divine Narcissus. The play may never have been performed during Sor Juana's life, but like many of her works, met with posthumous fame.
In her play The Divine Narcissus, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz dramatizes the battle between the pagan faith of pre-Hispanic America and Christianity. In this passage, Christian Religion (described in the stage directions as "a Spanish lady") and Zeal ("a Captain General in armor") encounter a pagan couple celebrating the God of Seeds. These figures were probably costumed according to Creole visions of the Aztec past. Occident, described as "a gallant-looking Aztec, wearing a crown," likely wore the xiuhuitzolli, the royal diadem of Aztec rulers. And America ("an Aztec woman of poised self-possession") was undoubtedly garbed in a version of the huipil, a loose-fitting shift worn by indigenous women. In this excerpt, Occident and America refuse to renounce their God of Seeds. In the passages that follow, Religion (backed, of course, by armored Zeal) presents a compelling argument, underscoring how pre-Hispanic rites only foreshadow Christian ones. The play thus not only presents the ways that the pre-Hispanic past was personified in elite dramas, but also reveals the ideas that 17th-century Creole elites had about its connection to Christianity.