|Bullfighting can be traced back to ancient days. They were popular spectacles in ancient Rome, but it was in the Iberian Peninsula that these contests were fully developed by the Moors from North Africa who overran Andalucia in AD 711. Bullfighting developed into a ritualistic occasion observed in connection with feast days, on which the conquering Moors, mounted on highly trained horses, confronted and killed the bulls.
As bullfighting developed, the men on foot, who by their capework aided the horsemen in positioning the bulls, began to draw more attention from the crowd, and the modern corrida began to take form. Today the bullfight is much the same as it has been since about 1726, when Francisco Romero of Ronda, Spain, introduced the estoque (the sword) and the muleta (the small, more easily wielded worsted cape used in the last part of the fight).
Bullfighting: The Spectacle
Six bulls, to be killed by three matadors, are usually required for one afternoon's corrida, and each encounter lasts about 15 minutes. At the appointed time, generally 5 PM, the three matadors, each followed by their assistants, the banderilleros and the picadors, march into the ring to the accompaniment of traditional paso doble (“march rhythm”) music. The matadors (the term toreador, popularized by the French opera Carmen, is erroneous usage) are the stars of the show. They wear a distinctive costume, consisting of a silk jacket heavily embroidered in gold, skintight trousers, and a montera (a bicorne hat). A traje de luces (“suit of lights”), as it is known, can cost many thousands of dollars; a top matador must have at least six of them a season.
When a bull first comes into the arena out of the toril, or bullpen gate, the matador greets it with a series of manoeuvres, or passes, with a large cape; these passes are usually verónicas,
the basic cape manoeuvre (named after the woman who held out a cloth to Christ on his way to the crucifixion). The amount of applause the matador receives is based on his proximity to the horns of the bull, his tranquillity in the face of danger, and his grace in swinging the cape in front of an infuriated animal weighing more than 460 kg (1,000 lb). The bull instinctively goes for the cloth because it is a large, moving target, not because of its colour; bulls are colour-blind and charge just as readily at the inside of the cape, which is yellow.
Fighting bulls charge instantly at anything that moves because of their natural instinct and centuries of special breeding. Unlike domestic bulls, they do not have to be trained to charge, nor are they starved or tortured to make them savage. Those animals selected for the corrida are allowed to live a year longer than those assigned to the slaughterhouse. Bulls to be fought by novilleros (beginners) are supposed to be three years old and those fought by full matadors are supposed to be at least four.
The second part of the corrida consists of the work of the picadors, bearing lances and mounted on horses (padded in compliance with a ruling passed in 1930 and therefore rarely injured). The picadors wear flat-brimmed, beige felt hats called castoreños, silver-embroidered jackets, chamois trousers, and steel leg armour. After three lancings or less, depending on the judgment of the president of the corrida for that day, a trumpet blows, and the banderilleros, working on foot, advance to place their banderillas (brightly adorned, barbed sticks) in the bull's shoulders in order to lower its head for the eventual kill. They wear costumes similar to those of their matadors, but their jackets and trousers are embroidered in silver.
After the placing of the banderillas, a trumpet sounds signalling the last phase of the fight. Although the bull has been weakened and slowed, it has also become warier during the course of the fight, sensing that behind the cape is its true enemy; most gorings occur at this time. The serge cloth of the muleta is draped over the estoque, and the matador begins what is called the faena, the last act of the bullfight. The aficionados (ardent fans) study the matador's every move, the ballet-like passes practised since childhood. (Most matadors come from bullfighting families and learn their art when very young.) As with every manoeuvre in the ring, the emphasis is on the ability to increase but control the personal danger, maintaining the balance between suicide and mere survival. In other words, the real contest is not between the matador and an animal; it is the matador's internal struggle.
The basic muleta passes are the trincherazo, generally done with one knee on the ground and at the beginning of the faena; the pase de la firma, simply moving the cloth in front of the bull's nose while the fighter remains motionless; the manoletina, a pass invented by the great Spanish matador Manolete (Manuel Laureano Rodríguez Sánchez), where the muleta is held behind the body; and the natural, a pass in which danger to the matador is increased by taking the sword out of the muleta, thereby reducing the target size and tempting the bull to charge at the larger object—the bullfighter.
After several minutes spent in making these passes, wherein the matador tries to stimulate the excitement of the crowd by working closer and closer to the horns, the fighter takes the sword
and lines up the bull for the kill. The blade must go between the
shoulder blades; because the space between them is very small, it
is imperative that the front feet of the bull be together as the
matador hurtles over the horns. The kill, properly done by aiming
straight over the bull's horns and plunging the sword between its
withers into the aorta region, requires discipline, training, and raw
courage; for this reason it is known as the “moment of truth.”
“Seville is the asylum of the poor, and the refuge of the outcasts.” Cervantes
Seville was guaranteed an important place in history by its location. It forms the apex of a triangle that joins it with Gibraltar- the connection with Africa and the opening to the Mediterranean- and the Atlantic port of Cadiz, gateway to trade with the New World. This southwestern part of Spain is known as Andalusía. Seville reveals its history in its beautiful buildings decorated with graceful grillwork, and in the activity along the Guadalquivir River, which runs through the city. It has been a multicultural city since it was first visited in ancient times by the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans. Since the Middle Ages, it has been home to Spaniards, Jews, Moors (North African Moslems), slaves from other parts of Africa, and by the end of the 14th century, the Gypsies.
Seville has been the home of the very rich and the very poor for centuries, and the Gypsies formed a part of a larger community of the poor who lived on the outskirts of established society. This larger group also included the “Moriscos” (Moslems who had converted to Catholicism when the Catholics had defeated and driven out the Moslem rulers of the peninsula), and African slaves. The Moriscos, like their counterparts in the Jewish community (the “Conversos”), had often had to convert to Catholicism to avoid execution or expulsion. Since they were not considered to be “legitimate” Christians, due to the circumstances of their conversions, they often did Seville’s most menial jobs, working as farm laborers, peddlers and dockworkers. Even though many worked hard, they lived at a bare subsistence level, and many suffered from malnutrition. Both groups suffered much religious prejudice, and their religious practice was often called into question. Some were burned at the stake in “autos da fe” (acts of faith) performed by the Inquisition of the Catholic Church. Ultimately, the remaining Jews and some of the Conversos were expelled in 1492, and the Moriscos were expelled in 1610. Many Gypsies took the menial jobs they left behind.
For several centuries, the outcasts of Seville included not only the working poor, but also a large criminal element. It was very hard for the institutions of the city to maintain order against these bands of homeless transients, prostitutes, pickpockets and bandits. Government-regulated brothels and taverns surrounded the city. At the other end of the spectrum, and in a completely different area of the city, sat the elite classes. This group encompassed professionals such
as doctors, lawyers and notaries at its lower socio-economic end, all the way to wealthy merchants and the nobility at the top. These are characters we meet in The Barber of Seville.
The Moorish era in Spain had been one of great prosperity, but the merchants and nobles of the newly Catholic Spain created a new era of trade and wealth, beginning with the discovery of the New World. Membership in this group implied vast riches gained in the trade of gold, jewels and slaves. Its members also participated in the governance of the city of Seville, and Spanish colonies abroad. However, their positions in city government put them in opposition to the outcasts they were compelled to control.
In order to participate in the nobility, people had to prove that their families had been
members of the Catholic Church for many generations. This situation caused a problem for the
remaining Conversos (Jews who had been forced to convert to Catholicism). In order to protect
their social positions and their lives, they forged documents proving their falsified genealogies. The Conversos were by and large successful for several hundred years in using their “genealogies” to help them to become part of Spain’s establishment. During the boom times, the lines between the merchant families and the nobility began to blur. Traditionally, the nobility did not participate in trade, but because of the lure of such tremendous profits and wealth, they did become involved. There was much intermarriage between the two classes, until they became one.