The first edition we have of La Celestina appeared in 1499. Only one copy of it exists, but the title and preliminary material are missing, and it contains only 16 acts rather than the 21 acts by which we know it.
In 1500 another edition was published in Toledo, again of 16 acts, but now with introductory and concluding material and a title: Comedia deCalisto y Melibea. Possibly by 1502, definitely by 1507, another five acts and various interpolations had been added and the title modified to Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea. Nevertheless, it soon became known by the name of its most charismatic character, Celestina, former prostitute, then pimp and witch. By 1528, for example, Francisco Delicado, the author of La lozana andaluza (The LustyAndalusian Woman) a work in the same vein, directly links his book with La Celestina. “This portrayal of Lozana," he says, " shows what happened in Rome, and contains many more things than La Celestina.” [Delicado himself later published two editions of La Celestina , 1531 and 1534 in Venice.]
From Zaragoza edition, 1507
La Celestina is the tale of apassionate love affair that ends in tragedy. Calisto, a young nobleman enters the garden of Pleberio in pursuit of his falcon. There he sees Pleberio’s daughter, Melibea, and falls madly in love with her, but she quickly rejects his hasty advances. On the advice of a corrupt servant, Sempronio, Calisto seeks the help of Celestina, a former prostitute, and now an active go-between, witch, andvirgin-mender.
Another of Calisto’s servants, Pármeno, warns his master of the dangers of associating with Celestina, but Calisto brushes his objections aside. Irritated by Calisto’s ingratitude and resentful of Sempronio’s favoured status, Pármeno is susceptible to Celestina’s guiles, especially when she dangles before him the prospects of sexual favours with a protegee of hers, Areusa.
After invoking the devil, Celestina sets to work quickly on Calisto’s behalf. As seller of cosmetics and trinkets, she has easy access to well-to-do houses, and on this pretext she visits Melibea and her mother, Alisa. By chance, Alisa is called away, leaving Melibea alone with Celestina. By clever insinuations and subtle psychology, Celestina soon piques Melibea’s curiosityabout a toothache that Calisto is suffering from. She extracts from Melibea a waistband, and the promise of a letter, to help Calisto overcome his sickness! Seeing the financial advantages of working together, Sempronio and Pármeno strike up friendship and agree to join forces to help Celestina milk as much from their master as possible. Meanwhile, Celestina’s visit with Melibea has produced thedesired effect: soon Melibea, too, confesses to a sickness and calls for Celestina. Celestina quickly diagnoses both the illness and the remedy, and promises to arrange for Calisto to visit Melibea in secret.
The much desired meeting between the lovers takes place in Melibea’s garden, but it is cut short when Pármeno --on watch with Sempronio-- warns that someone is approaching. Immediatelyafterwards, Pármeno and Sempronio head for Celestina’s house and after an argument with Celestina over a gold chain that Calisto has lavished on her, they murder her. Attempting to escape, they are caught and summarily executed.
Calisto quickly gets over the loss of his servants, and on the next night returns --as agreed-- to the garden, this time with a ladder to scale the walls. He seducesMelibea, and then --in the original 16-act version-- falls to his death from the ladder as he leaves the tryst. Melibea, distraught and unable to live without him, confesses to her father, Pleberio, before committing suicide by throwing herself from a tower. The work ends with Pleberio’s lament on the desolation of life, which he must now face alone.
In the expanded...