Act IV

Summary: Act IV, Scene 1

Celestina heads to Melibea’s house. As she walks, she wonders whether Sempronio was right and if she should be concerned for her safety meddling with Melibea. Celestina weighs the consequences: On the one hand, if she’s caught, Melibea’s family will kill her or at the least punish her severely; on the other hand, she’ll have to face Calisto’s wrath. She decides to choose the lesser of two evils and keep her promise to Calisto. Celestina bewails the fact that she’s gotten herself into such a trap, just to prove how clever and brave she is. She doesn’t want to look like a coward. She tries to shore up her courage by convincing herself that fortune favors the bold and is encouraged when she realizes she hasn’t experienced any bad omens approaching Melibea’s house. She then spots Lucrecia, Elicia’s cousin, at Melibea’s door, which further encourages her.

Summary: Act IV, Scene 2

Lucrecia says she’s surprised to see Celestina, who only leaves her house when she’s after something. Celestina replies she’s only there to sell thread. Lucrecia goes off to get Alisa, Melibea’s mother, who happens to need thread. Lucrecia is surprised Alisa doesn’t recognize Celestina, who is well known in town for being a witch. Alisa, dismissing Lucrecia’s comments, invites Celestina in warmly and purchases her thread. Alisa is drawn away to visit her sister, who is ill, leaving Melibea and Lucrecia alone with Celestina. Celestina quietly praises the devil, whom she credits for this opportunity to speak to Melibea alone. Celestina, making small talk, goes on about how hard it is to grow old, how being poor makes the aches and pains of being old worse, but how, at the same time, the man without money sleeps easier for he doesn’t have to be on guard all the time to protect all his wealth, which he would surely grieve much to lose.

Melibea asks Celestina if she’d like to be young again, and Celestina replies that living once is enough. Melibea, beginning to recognize Celestina by her words and the scar on her face, says she didn’t recognize her at first because she’s aged so much since she last saw her. Melibea, taking pity on Celestina, gives her money for food. Celestina says she has come with a message from a man named Calisto. Melibea, insulted, screams at Celestina to get out. Celestina pleads with Melibea to take mercy on her, saying she’s only there to relay a message, not to try to tarnish her virtue. She says Calisto has a nasty toothache and would like to touch Melibea’s girdle, which is widely known to have touched all the relics in Rome and Jerusalem. Melibea, soothed by Celestina’s flattery but still slightly skeptical, gives in to Celestina’s request and tells her to come back for a prayer. Lucrecia, who is highly suspicious of Celestina at this point, interjects, but Celestina manages to quiet her by promising to color her hair gold and give her special powders to get rid of her bad breath. 

Analysis: Act IV

Celestina is a well-developed, complex character, which makes her lively and memorable. When she first meets Melibea, pretending to come to her house to sell thread, Celestina complains about all the aches and pains of being old and how they’re made more painful by poverty. Still, Celestina argues, being rich has its own problems. The rich always have to worry that their heirs are waiting in the wings for them to die so they can collect their riches, and their wealth is meaningless if it can’t be shared. When Melibea asks Celestina if she’d rather be young, Celestina replies plainly that one life is enough. Celestina, in her characterization, is drawn as a fully realized, experienced, wise, and thoughtful person. Her advice to Melibea, just like her advice to Elicia and Areúsa, is decidedly motherly and caring. Melibea recognizes Celestina by her words, not her face, when they first talk, for Celestina’s face has aged greatly since Melibea last saw her. This shows how well-developed Celestina’s character is; she’s known by others simply for her marked wisdom and unique way of speaking.

In Act IV, readers see more of Celestina’s inner character and how she’s plagued by the same doubts and insecurities as any other human being. When she heads to Melibea’s house, she wonders if Sempronio’s warnings that she’s likely walking into a dangerous trap, since Melibea’s father is powerful and her mother stern and jealous, are correct. Celestina bemoans the fact that she has gotten herself into such a mess, just to prove how crafty she is. She is vain just like the others, but she also has a healthy sense of self-doubt. In contrast, Sempronio, who doesn’t harbor much doubt in general and arrogantly trusts that he’ll be able to overcome Celestina no matter what, is less humanized. Celestina’s character, in this way, becomes much easier for the audience to sympathize with. She becomes a true prototype for the protagonist of a novel of the Renaissance, which champions humanely drawn characters with real flaws and concerns about daily life.

To add insult to injury, several characters are in Celestina’s way, always trying to foil her attempts. First, it was Pármeno, trying to interfere and convince Calisto not to engage with her, and now, in Act IV, it is Lucrecia, Melibea’s servant. Lucrecia is Elicia’s cousin and has connections to Celestina’s brothel. Lucrecia tries to warn Melibea that she’s inviting the devil in by engaging with Celestina, but Melibea is already aware of this—Melibea tries to cast her out of the house when she mentions Calisto’s name—so Lucrecia’s attempts to warn her fall on deaf ears. Melibea already thinks she has the situation under control.

Both Lucrecia and Pármeno are overcome easily by Celestina, however. Celestina, a keen observer of human nature, knows their weak points and correctly identifies that they are selfish like everyone else despite their protests to the contrary. Celestina manages to secure Pármeno’s loyalty by promising him a night with Areúsa and quickly calms Lucrecia by promising her makeup and cosmetics. Celestina even makes a quip to Lucrecia about her bad breath, retaliating over Lucrecia’s snide remark earlier that Celestina never leaves the house unless it is to make a profit. No insult goes unreturned by Celestina. She catches everything and will volley it right back. Pármeno’s and Lucrecia’s protests of being loyal servants are shown to be easily conquered and mere pretenses that no longer hold much substance, a theme that hearkens to the change in eras from the medieval Christian era to the Renaissance.