Celestina Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 45-page guide for “Celestina” by Fernando de Rojas includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 21 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Wickedness of Women and Religion, Paganism, and Classical Philosophy.
The first iteration of the novel La Celestina, published anonymously as Comedia de Calisto y Melibea (Comedy of Calisto and Melibea), first appeared in Spain in 1499. In 1500, a law student named Fernando de Rojas revealed himself as the author in a new edition of the text (under the title Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, or Tragicomedy of Calisto and Melibea), explaining in a prologue that he had discovered the first act already written and then finished the rest of the play.
Now known as Celestina after its most infamous character, the work is widely considered a novel. However, because it is written entirely in dialogue, Celestina has also been put on as a play, although not during its author’s lifetime, since its length and complexity made it difficult to stage. The first two editions of the text spanned sixteen acts, but in 1502, de Rojas published a new revised edition that added five more acts. This study guide refers to The Margellos World Republic of Letters edition, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden and published by Yale University Press.
Celestina is de Rojas’s only known literary work. Written on the cusp of 16th century, the text is alternately known as the last work of the Spanish Middle Ages or the first work of the Spanish Golden Age. The Spanish Golden Age, or the Spanish Renaissance, was a period of unprecedented productivity in arts and literature that began with the Spanish exploration of the Americas and coincided with the reign of the Hapsburg dynasty. The era fostered some of the most famous artists in Spanish history such as author Miguel de Cervantes, playwrights Pedro Calderón de la Barca and Lope de Vega, and painters Diego Velázquez and El Greco.
Scholar Roberto González Echevarría explains, “Celestina is a serious, somber work, blending tragic and comic elements in ways never achieved before, and hardly accomplished since” (xiii). In particular, the novel departs from typical medieval character tropes by describing realistic humans with complicated psychologies, a convention that would become common in Golden Age literature. The text reflects the burgeoning influence of humanism and Neoplatonism, aesthetics that emphasized presentational realism and urged a return to classical Greek and Roman philosophies and literatures. Accordingly, Celestina criticizes human nature and romanticized views of love. It was immensely successful in the early 1500s, and saw approximately sixty published editions and six sequels.
The plot concerns a young man named Calisto who has fallen desperately in love with a woman named Melibea who does not love him back. Calisto’s servants prod him to enlist the help of Celestina, an old procuress, or madam, known for selling prostitutes, facilitating romantic matches, and helping non-virgins conceal their transgressions before their wedding nights. Celestina, with the help of the two servants, exploits Calisto for as much payment as possible as she casts a spell that causes Melibea to fall hopelessly in love with Calisto. In the five acts that de Rojas added in the 1502 edition, Celestina and the two servants come to a bad end due to their greed. The novel ends with Melibea’s suicide after Calisto dies in an accident. Melibea’s father weeps and laments that love has the power to wound and has resulted in the deaths of five people.