DISCOURSE OF POWER IN FLORANTE AT LAURA – ni Florentino H. Hornedo, Ph. D.

        Para sa  artikulong SURI SA PAGSUSURI SA FLORANTE AT LAURA, inilathala dito ngayon ang Discourse of Power in Florante at Laura ni Florentino H. Hornedo. Pasintabi sa may hawak ng karapatang-ari, pinangahasan ko na ipamahagi ang pagsusuring ito ni Hornedo mula sa librong 200 TAON NI BALAGTAS Mga Bagong Pagtanaw at Pagsusuri ng Balagtas Bicentennial Commission, na ang pagnugot ay si Dr. Soledad S. Reyes.

 Theoretical Considerations

Discourse as used in this paper refers to the textual expression of a worldview. Text is an artifact susceptible of interpretation or the hermeneutical act of attributing signification or sense. It may be verbal or non-verbal. Literature is verbal text par excellence.

Test as expression is the semiotic projection of a worldview. It is rooted in a particular historic consciousness which, as such, is the product of specific factors or forces found in the concrete historical environment which shaped the said consciousness.

Worldview, on the other hand, is the image of what a historic consciousness believes to be the values-structure of reality. It is the principle which identifies and assigns values to the objects of consciousness, and thereby organizes reality in accordance with those values. Worldview is always a phenomenological being, a function of a specific historical experience or situation and the subjective possibilities of an individual or group of individuals.

The implication of these considerations on a reading of Francisco Balagtas’ Florante at Laura, and specifically for reading the discourse of power in said work, is to discover through the verbal text Balagtas’ worldview, specifically his image of the structure of power values in the world he images forth in this particular work. It means attempting to go back imaginatively in time with the aid of comparative historical devices as well as his own text, and there to try to reconstruct the image by which he understood the values operant in his mind at the time of composition. One has to admit that it may not be possible to see again perfectly what he saw or what he meant, but, in Wilhelm Dithey’s (1833-1911) sense, it is possible to understand “other persons and their life-expressions.”

The Mental Landscape in Which Balagtas Grew Up

Francisco Baltazar or Balagtas (1788-1862) lived during a most interesting and eventful time of European and Philippine histories. He was but a year old when the French Revolution exploded and then degenerated into a Region of Terror directed and presided over by a man known as the chief of the Committee on Public Safety. When that aberrant decade ended, Napoleon restored autocracy in Europe and installed his brother Joseph Bonaparte as King of Spain in 1807 when Balagtas was 19 years old. Spain for the next seven years was, in Horacio de la Costa’s words, “a bloody battleground.” The Latin American secessionist revolutions erupted beginning with Argentina, and effectively jeopardized Spanish economy both peninsular and colonial. In 1815, the last galleon made its final homeward voyage to Manila.

But the upheaval also brought into the Spanish world the notions of equality, fraternity, and liberty. After the ephemeral effects of the Spanish Constitution of Cadiz (1812) had temporarily given Filipinos hope of representation in the Peninsular government, and subsequently frustrated it, there was no way of taking back the new learned idea of fundamental human equality, brotherhood, and freedom. This was also the period when the secular clergy were already struggling to maintain vis a vis the regular clergy (the Friar Orders) their human and religious rights against a steadily growing insecurity of the Friars due to the political and economic reverses of the Spanish imperial government.

Spaniards in the Philippines, anxious to keep themselves informed about the goings-on in Europe, attempted to circulate news among themselves in the Philippines – and no doubt with their mestizo and Indio friends – the most concrete evidence of which was the birth of journalism in the Philippines during the period. One of the profound moral considerations of the time concerned the ethical basis of power, particularly sovereign power. The French Revolution had affirmed the Lockean notion of the consent of the governed as the source of authority, and then scandalized the world with the horror of the Terror that it brought about. Napoleon became Consul in 1799, and then Emperor in 1804. The Divine Right of Kings principle was no longer Napoleon’s idea of the source of authority. He crowned himself! The Americans had repudiated King George in 1776. The French had guillotined King Louis XVI in 1793. The Latin Americans had seceded from Spain. In 1812, the Spanish intellectuals had attempted to place the King under the Constitution. In this confusion, what was the moral view of those who shaped the mind of Balagtas in the Colegio de San Jose where he is said to have taken courses in Philosophy, Humanities, Theology, Mathematics and World History? Today, one can only surmise from the evidence of his extant texts, in this case, the Florante at Laura. The era was full of treasonable events, as is the Florante at Laura. And power holders had become so insecure that French royal power decreed capital punishment by the guillotine (subsequently used for Louis, and then for most the major revolutionaries); and Spain had decreed in the 1830s capital punishment by the garote – surely suggesting that there was occasion to have it on stand-by readiness. (It was eventually used on Fathers Burgos, Gomez, and Zamora in 1872.)

The work under consideration, of course, is primarily a romantic poem in the mode of the courtly love tradition where it got not only its basic idiom and tone, but also its language and literary devices (structure, diction and all), with all the tears and fainting spells. One wonders whether he had had access to Dante’s La Vita Nuova. The romantic formula of love-separation-adventure-reunion and the purgative process preparatory to espousal are all there with their usual details, with the clear distinction between good and evil, between the forces of light and those of darkness. The political content and its philosophy of power – the object of the present discussion – are incidental, and so much the better, for in that incidentality, it is easier to assume that Balagtas was not deliberately presenting a dissertation on power, but naturally and candidly indicating his personal values and perspective thus giving to his worldview an authenticity of expression.

What the Text Says About Power

There are two pirincipal loci of power in the poem. One is domestic, involving the relationships of fathers and sons; and the other one is political involving heads of state, their children, the misnisters and soldiers, and their citizens. The first is exemplified by the relationships between florante and his father Duke Briceo, and Aladin and his father Sultan Ali Adab; the second is exemplified by the government of Persia headed by sultan Ali Adab, and the government of King Linceo of Albania.

  1. The Domestic Power Structure

 

Aladin speaking about his rivalry in love with his father says,

    77. At kung kay Flerida’y iba ang umagaw

    At di ang ama kong dapat na igalang,

    1. hindi ko masabi kung ang pikang tanga’y

      bubuga ng lilo’t laksang kamatayan.

79. Sa kuko ng lilo’y aking aagawin

ang kabiyak niring kaluluwang angkin,

    1. liban na kay ama ang sinuma’t alin,

      ay igagalang ng tangang patalim.

And to excuse the horror of his father’s selfish passion, he utters what is probably one of the most famous lines in the poem, stanza 80: “O pagsintang labis ng kapangyarihan…”

Later on, he again refers to the terrible treatment he had suffered under his father (stanza nos. 354-358), the death sentence, and later the reprieve into exile. And all these he accepted in spite of his own feelings for the simple reason of piety: “sinunod ko’t utos ng hari ko’t ama.” (stz. 358:4)

Florante, being much garrulous, provides more detarils concerning the domestic power structure, but says about the same thing as Aladin.

Almost every fererence to his father is a profession of love, and respect, even of profound admirationk, the sum of which is found in Stz. 178:

Kung sa kabaita’y uliran ng lahat

at sa katapanga’y pang-ulo sa s’yudad,

walang kasindunong magmahal sa anak,

umakay, magturo sa gawing dapat.

And then he proceeds to present his father’s maxims for the proper upbringing o0f children in Stzs. 197-203. To his father’s loving but strict concern for his upbringing, his response is of total submission and reverence. An additional domestic detail is mentioned of the mother in Stz. 204 which indicates the supremacy of paternal will in the home. In effect, the hierarchy of domestic power is, in the descending order, father, mother, child – the classic paradigm of paternalism which is another word for authoritarianism.

  1. The State Power Structure

The Persian structure is headed by Sultan Ali Adab, and under him, his son Aladin who is both prince and warrior; then the generals loike Osmalik and Miramolin; and below them, impliedly, the multitude of soldiers who fight at their command for the sake of Sultan and state. That social structure is essentially still in place in Islamic societies today: hierarchical and pyramidal in which everyone under anyone is bound to obey, or else the system gers upset.

The Albanian structure has more details, as usual, suggesting Balagtas was less familiar with the Islamic social structure. It is headed by King Linceo; and second to him in power and influence as Sts. 177 says:

Ang dukeng ama ko’y pribadong tanungan

Ng Haring Linceo sa ano mang bagay

pangalwang puno sa sangkaharian,

hilagaan-tungo ng sugo ng bayan.

Beneath the dukes (some of whom are princes and possible heirs to the thorne) are the maquesses (which are not mentioned in the poem) ; then the counts (or earls in the English system) followed by the viscounts, barons, baronets, and knights in that order.

Laura is princess heiress to the throne of the Kingdom of Alabanis; Floresca is princess of Krotona and a Duchess of Albania by her marriage to the Duke Briceo.

Florante is a royal duke – both prince (he is son of Princess Floresca of the Kingdom of Krotona), and hereditary duke being son of Dukle Briceo.

There is a body of royal counselors whose ranks are not mentioned, but who, impliedly perform various ministerial tasks for the tyranny of Konde Adolfo in Stz. 381:2.

Konde Sileno (Stz. 207:4) is a count of Albania, two ranks below the duke. His son Konde Adolfo is hereditary count and cannot yet the exercise the offices of count until his father’s death. In effect, he is way below the rank of Florante who is both hereditary royal prince and duke.

Antenor and his nephew, the loyal and great warrior Menandro, royal friend and protector-savior, though greatly respected and valued are plebeians who must prove themselves in order to rise to positions of recognition.

At the base of the structure is the great mass of people, of patronized subjects, the bayang tangkilik of Stz. 398:2, and the nagugulong bayan of Stz. 380:4.

The relationships indicative of superordination/subordination in the Albanian social and political structure are pretty well delineated if only incidentally in the poem. The Duke Briceo, as already cited, was second in power to the King Linceo. In Stzs. 267-273, the Duke Briceo and his son Florante face the King Linceo, and their speech and gestures are revealing of the relationships: the King thinks of Florante as “haligi ng setro ko’t reyno” (267:4), and “gererong matapang,/ na naglalathala sa sansinukuban/ ng kapurihan ko at kapangyarihan.” (270:2-4)

Duke Briceo, for his part, offers his son as an act of supreme homage to the sovereignty of the King: “bugtong na anak,/ inihahandog sa mahal mong yapak,/ ibilang na isang basalyo’t alagad.” (268:2-4)

Florante, for his part, acknowledging the rightness of all these in the worldview he represents, calls the King “haring poon” and then says, “nagdapa sa yapak;/ nang aking hagkan ang mahal na bakas/ kusang itnindig at muling niyakap.” (273:2-4)

However, the traditional social and political ranks do not suffice for greatness which has to be earned, Linceo reminds Florante, “dugo kang mataas ay dapat kumita/ ng sariling dangal at bunyi sa g’yera.” (271:3-4)

Menandro, on the other hand, is the model of the loyal and invincible subject and plebeian whose destined task is never to overstep his station in life whose duty is to serve and defend his superordinates whether as the classmate of dukes and counts (229:3-4), or as comrade-in-arms of princes (336:1-3), or as liberator of a kingdom from tyranny and usurpation (387:3-4), or pursuit of fleeing criminal and restorer of order and legitimate royal powers (393-395); and then to disappear into the background again.

The abominable crime of Konde Adolfo, on the other hand, is not only the interior corruption of his moral nature by the lack of virtue, but his upsetting of the metaphysical order of the kingdom. He was but a count’s son, and yet he ventured the abominable: “Umakyat sa trono ang kondeng malupit . . .” (382:1)

The abundant references and allusions to classical Greek learning strongly suggest that Balagtas was acquainted with Platonic ideas concerning the virtues of rulers and subjects centered around the notion of the Philosopher-King who rules justly over a state aided by Guardians, defended by warriors, and materially sustained by merchants and slaves.

In the Platonic social schema, the King possesses the cardinal virtues of Wisdom, Courage, and Temperance. And because of these, his state and kingdom enjoy the quality he calls Justice. These four: temperance, courage, wisdom, and justice, make a Philosopher-King.

His opposite, on the other hand, is the libertine, the coward, the mean and foolish, the unjust. He desires more than what is due his station. He attacks by stealth and treason as shown in Adolfo’s attack on Florante during the presentation of the play on the siege of Thebes when they were still students, and in that ambush upon Florante after he had been deceived and made to enter Albania alone, all for greed, ambition, and lust for Laura, and envy for Florante. (See 208-214; 220-231; 326-329; 336-342; 375-386; and 389-390.)

The King Linceo is pictured, though rather sketchily, as some kind of philosopher-king. Florante’s father is an echo of the King himself. But it is Florante who (except for his proneness to overweeping, and faiting spells, things that come from another tradition, the courtly love tradition) is delineated as embodying the cardinal Platonic virtues: he is not shown as greedy or avaricious, he is a brave warrior and superb general, and has appreciation for learning and the wisdom of his father. These are signified in the didactic stanzas number 197-203, and many other places in the poem (for which reason many Flipino readers have all but forgotten that this poem is a courtly love poem, and instead regard it as a pice of wisdom literature).

Aladin reflects the same virtues in a less clearly delineated manner. But there is a Christian addition to the virtues that does not appear in the Platonic original, which is humility or modesty as shown by the remark of Aladin upon hearing the praises of his person from the unsuspecting Florante in Stzs. 261-262. In the Christian kingdom, it is this virtue which is supposed to hold people in their rightful places thus preventing disorder or chaos through the evils of usurpation of office and power. Against this virtue, there is the pride and inordinate ambition of Konde Adolfo, the sin which St. Thomas Aquinas identified as the gravest of the Capital sins which by its nature is unforgivable because it precludes repentance which comes from humility and love. It was the sin of Lucifer himself.

The Discourse of Power in FLORANTE AT LAURA

The text of Florante at Laura sufficiently indicates that Balagtas shared the worldview of many of his contemporaries who were products of an intellectual and social environment, though shaken by the upheavals in world history of the late 18th century and first half of the 19th century, were still basically believers in a vertically structured hierarchical universe where fathers (paternalism) and kings (monarchy) were the rightful heads of family and state; and beneath them, in their order of ranks and offices people held their rightful places. And when anyone disturbed that order, chaos and ills followed. The only remedy against the abuse of power, as in Plato and Aristotle, and St. Thomas, is virtue – the Cardinal Virtues and their subsidiary speciations and expressions.

The basic metaphysical and ethnical assumption is that people are not born equal, that they are born for specific functions in the society or body politic. Their success and value is not in rising above their stations, but in keeping faithfully their stations in life which are presumed to be ordained by nature. And the clearest paradigm of that natural model is man: rational animal, that is, animal must be ruled by the rational, being nobler because spiritual. His head rules the rest of the body, and if the hand were to usurp the role of the head, man would become a monster, like the chaotic and terroristic Albania of Konde Adolfo after his usurpation as pictured in Stzs. 13-20.

The primary metaphysical model of the earthly order is God’s government of the universe, intimated in Stz. 24:

Datapuwa’t sino ang tatarok kaya

sa mahal mong lihim, Diyos na dakila?

walang nangyayari sa balat ng lupa,

di may kagalingang iyong ninanasa.

Thus, man should submit to the divine will no matter how incomprehensible, for such is the divine government. This is what Stz. 28 says (an echo of which is Aladin’s obedience and subjection to his sultan-father despite his wickedness):

Kung siya mong ibig na ako’y magdusa

langit na mataas, aking mababata . . .

Though we are not presuming Balagtas read Shakespeare’s Henry V, the mind of the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed in that historical play is surely recognizable in the Balagtas text.

Cont. Therefore doth heaven divide

The state of man in diverse functions,

Setting endeavor in continual motion;

To which is fixed, as an aim of butt,

Obedience: for so work the honeybees,

Creatures that by a rule in nature teach

The act of order to a peopled kingdom.

They have a king and officers of sorts;

Where some like magistrates, correct at home,

Others, like merchants, venture trade abroad,

Others, like soldiers, armed in their stings,

Make boot upon the summer’s velvet buds,

Which pillage they with merry march bring home

To the tent-royal of their emperor;

Who, busied in his majesty, surveys

The singing masons building roofs of gold,

The civil citizens kneading up the honey,

The poor mechanic porters crowding in

Their heavy burdens at his narrow gate,

The sad-eyed justice, with his surly hum,

Delivering o’er to executors pale

The lazy yawning drone. I this infer,

That many things, having full reference

To one consent, any work contrariously:

As many fresh streams meet in one salt sea;

As many lines close in the dial’s center;

So may a thousand actions, once afoot,

End in one purpose, and be all well borne

Without defeat.

  • I:ii, 183-213.

Dante wrote in his Divina Commedia a complementary idea indicative of the same Medieval notion of the fountain of correct social order.:

Nature will fare ill, whene’t she finds

A destiny discordant with herself,

Like any seed without its proper climate.

And if the world below would fix its mind

Upon the true foundation nature laid,

Its population would be virtuous.

But ye will force into a cloistered life

A man predestined to gird on the sword,

And make a preacher wear a royal crown:

Thus do your footsteps leave the proper road.

  • Paradiso, Canto 8

Danilo Dolci, dealing with the differing lexical discourses of “command politics” and “coordinative politics” presents a classificatory contrastive listing:

Command Politics                                                              Coordinative Politics

command . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . coordinate

power . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . responsibility

exploitation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . valorization

obey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . agree

merit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . capacity

sin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . insufficiency

punishment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . care

duty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . .necessity

right . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . effective possibility

privilege . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

revenge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

slave . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

death penalty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Command politics is another name for authoritarian and monarchical government, while coordinative politics is associated with democratic, egalitarian liberal government. In light of the table above, it is not difficult to see that the discourse of power in the two citations from Shakespeare and Dante reflect quite clearly the discourse of Command Politics. And they also reflect the discourse of power shown in Balagtas’ text. The discourse of power, then, in Florante at Laura is the discourse of Command Politics, of Monarchy, of Authoritarianism, of the Divine Right Kingship, which may be benign if headed by a Philosopher-King, but brutal and tyrannical if headed by an Adolfo. For after all, the rule of Adolfo and of Florante in the same Kingdom of Albania is politically rooted in the same politico-social structure differing only in the ethos of the two – one a Platonic philosopher-King, and the other a usurping tyrant. It says plainly: “Keep the structures, change the persons.” In this sense, the pre-Revolution reform movement of the Ilustrados was Balagtasian; and that is what they did after they had killed Bonifacio. The effect is the uncertaintly of change without fundamental amelioration, or pseudo-revolution. And as the poem concludes, with perfect profession of favor for patronage, in Stz. 398:

Kaya nga’t nagtaas ang kamay sa langit

sa pasasalamat ng bayang tangkilik,

ang hari’t ang reyna’y walang iniisip

kundi ang magsabog ng awa sa kabig.

Balagtas, after all, was a son of his time, and heir to the intellectual and aesthetic traditions brought to the Philippines by the Spanish Medieval culture, and which did not begin to change radically until the second half of the 19th century when the native term for liberty or freedom – kalayaan – makes its appearance, and many years after Balagtras had written the Florante at Laura (1838).

The moral seems clear Balagtas was a star in intellectual brilliance of his time. But that brilliance did not spare him from falling into the traps of tradition and the limiting effects of the dominant discourses of their time. The value of his vision was in recognizing that there is light and darkness, good and evil, and that one must opt for light and the good. But every generation has to discover for itself the incarnate expressions of these.

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