La Celestina. Summary.

La Celestina is the tale of a passionate 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, and virgin-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, Areúsa.

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 curiosity about 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 the desired 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.  Immediately afterwards, 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 seduces Melibea, 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 and final 21-act version, Calisto and Melibea continue meeting secretly for a month.  The death of Sempronio and Pármeno, however, has angered their lovers, Areúsa and her companion Elicia.  Areúsa and Elicia blame Calisto and Melibea for their loss and arrange with a soldier, Centurio, to whip or kill Calisto. 

In this way, Melibea will be left to weep for Calisto, just as they have wept for their dead lovers.  That night, while Calisto is with Melibea, he hears a scuffle and shouting outside the walls of Melibea’s garden.  Centurio’s thugs have arrived and Calisto, concerned about his two servants (who are keeping watch), rushes over the wall and falls to his death off the ladder.  The tale concludes as before, with Melibea’s suicide and Pleberio’s lament.

Brief History of the Title.
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 de Calisto 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 Lusty Andalusian 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.]

Cohen, J.M. La Celestina or the Spanish Bawd: Being the Tragi-Comedy of Calisto and Melibea  Penguin 1964

Rojas Fernando de  La Celestina  ed Dorothy Severin Madrid 1997   (Image of edition of La Celestina)