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Celestina, the title character, captures the lion’s share of the audience’s attention for her practical wisdom, wit, frank nature, and natural vigor for life. She is described as a laundress, a cosmetics maker, a maker of love potions, and one well versed in the pagan arts. Celestina’s primary role, however, is madam, and she has numerous women prostitutes who depend on her support and young women who ask her to restore their “maidenheads” to appear to be virgins before they marry. Celestina is a survivor and has found a way to provide for herself well into her old age. For all her foibles, she is easier to forgive than Sempronio, who is more diabolical. While Celestina may manipulate women into having sex for her own gain, Sempronio is capable of much worse—murder.
As a sign of Celestina’s innate nurturing, motherly ways, many characters refer to her as “mother” or “aunt,” and young Elicia, one of her prostitutes, depends on her completely for her care and support and is the one left desperately crying at the end when Celestina dies. Celestina’s practical intelligence and persuasiveness are hard-won through real-life experience. Celestina’s end comes when she makes the ill-fated choice to betray her co-conspirators, two young male servants. However, before she dies, she makes a convincing argument that her needs, as an old woman who completely relies on herself, trump theirs. Celestina’s humanely drawn character earned the novel its place as one of the first works of the Spanish Renaissance.