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Grace Among Gamblers: The Curious Case of a Rogue’s Conversion in Cervantes’ “El Rufián dichoso”

April 9, 2019 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Image of the 1594 Caravaggio painting titled "The Cardsharps" showing three young men playing cards. the man in the forefront of the painting is reaching behind his back for cards in his belt.
Image: Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi). The Cardsharps. c. 1594. Oil on Canvas. Image courtesy of: Kimball Art Museum (AP 1987.06).

Public Lecture:

Sonia Velázquez

Solmsen Fellow (2018-2019)

Religious Studies; Comparative Literature, Indiana University-Bloomington


The early modern period inherited a tradition of Biblical commentary, legal documents, and artistic representations that imagined the gambler as blind to spiritual matters. This essay examines two important exceptions to this tradition: one, perhaps the most famous text bringing together salvation and gambling, Blaise Pascal’s so-called “Wager,” which I read together with Miguel de Cervantes’ only hagiographic drama, El rufián dichoso (1615). This play presents the audience with a rogue’s radical gamble that pays off both financially and spiritually. I argue that the staging of conversion in both Pascal and Cervantes, is presented as the matter of a quiet moment, not the force of dogma or the enchantment of spectacle; it is a matter of recognition rather than revelation, of calculation but also of surprise.


Sonia Velázquez has a joint appointment as Assistant Professor in the departments of Religious Studies and Comparative Literature at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research focuses on the intersection of aesthetics and religion, especially in the medieval and early modern periods in Europe. She has co-edited a volume on pastoral and the humanities with Mathilde Skoie (Exeter/Bristol Press, 2007) and a Critical Cluster on Giorgio Agamben and early modern Spanish poetry for MLN in 2017. Her publications include articles on Pascal’s wager and theatrical stagings of conversion; on style as a vehicle of political and ethical engagement with questions of politics and anthropology in Cervantes’ Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda; on poetry and hospitality in Théophile Viau’s La maison de Sylvie, and on the fallacy of secularization in Alexandre Hardy’s stage adaptation of Cervantes’ short story La fuerza de la sangre. Her article, “Didacticism and the Ends of Storytelling: Walter Benjamin’s Medievalism and Forms of Knowledge in Sendebar” received the Allen and Judy Shoaf Award for the Best Essay Published in Exemplaria (2013).

Poster for Event with Caravvagio image, title, and room details


April 9, 2019
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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