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Sor Juana de la Cruz: The Funny Nun

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

The Funny Nun

(1648–1695, Mexico)

Sor Juana was a prolific writer of works both serious and silly, but I’m going to focus on her humor.

In fact, I’m going to BLATANTLY STEAL from an article published in the academic journal “Studies in American Humor,” by scholar Julie Greer Johnson.

You guys. This blew my mind. The intricate parsing of Sor Juana’s humor, its cultural context, its literary significance. If you’re into this kind of nerdery, pour yourself a cup of coffee and devour the whole damn thing.

So. Juana was born in New Spain (present-day Mexico).

At the time, “the denigration of women [was], in fact, the most common theme in colonial Spanish American satire.” WOW!

Men loved to bash women in poetry, plays, song. Women sucked and they loved to talk about it! Long live the colonial European patriarchy!

Juana was an illegitimate child and self-educated, because she wasn’t allowed to attend school. For a time she was a writer in the court, but she got sick of the hypocrisy of the elite.

So she entered a convent, which was a place not only for devotional worship but for women to study and write.

Sor Juana wrote a ton. Plays, poems, letters, etc.

She used sarcasm, parody, role reversal and “deconstruction of female stereotypes” in her writing.

Combine that with her high profile from her days at court, and she pissed off a lot of people!

Here are three examples of Sor Juana’s humor.

#1: In her comedy “The House of Trials,” she used cross-dressing (a theatrical tool typically used to make fun of women) to put a man on the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances and force the audience to reckon with what it’s really like to be in a woman’s shoes.

#2: In this poem, Sor Juana is supposed to describe the beauty of a woman named Lisarda, and instead reveals her inner monologue as she struggles to do so:

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#3: And in Sor Juana’s poem “Stupid men who accuse / women without any grounds,” she uses clever wordplay to expose double standards:

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Julie Greer Johnson writes: “By using her ingenious wit, she openly challenged the attitudes of men towards women… Humor, she hoped, could create the proper atmosphere in which to review and revise not only a woman’s literary image but her role in society as well.”

But, “In spite of the brilliant execution of Sor Juana’s humor, her contemporaries were threatened by her assertiveness and failed to support her move toward reform.”

Sor Juana died on April 17, 1695, “after helping the nuns in her convent who had become ill during an epidemic.”

There’s a ton written about Sor (Sister) Juana, so if she intrigues you, please, go read all about her:

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