Bullfighting Essay, Research Paper
A sports spectacle involving conflict between a bull and one or more contestants, fought in an outdoor arena according to certain rules and procedures. Traditionally, the bullfight is a combination of ritual and mortal combat, with an attempt, at the risk of the principal contestant’s life, to maneuver a bull gracefully and kill it in a manner both courageous and aesthetically unrepugnant. Although bullfighting is confined largely to Spain and to the Spanish-speaking countries of the Western Hemisphere, especially Mexico, such contests take place also in southern France and in Portugal.
Often termed indefensible but irresistible, the spectacle of bullfighting has existed in one form or another since ancient days. For example, a contest of some sort is depicted in a wall painting unearthed at Knossos in Crete, dating from about 2000 BC. It shows male and female acrobats confronting a bull, grabbing its horns as it charges, and vaulting over its back. Bullfights were popular spectacles in ancient Rome, but it was in the Iberian Peninsula that these contests were fully developed. The Moors from North Africa who overran Andalusia in AD 711 changed bullfighting significantly from the brutish, formless spectacle practiced by the conquered Visigoths to a ritualistic occasion observed in connection with feast days, on which the conquering Moors, mounted on highly trained horses, confronted and killed the bulls. As bullfighting developed, the men on foot, who by their capework aided the horsemen in positioning the bulls, began to draw more attention from the crowd, and the modern corrida began to take form. Today the bullfight is much the same as it has been since about 1726, when Francisco Romero of Ronda, Spain, introduced the estoque,the sword, and the muleta.
The Spectacle and its Principals
Six bulls, to be killed by three matadors, are usually required for one afternoon’s corrida, and each encounter lasts about 15 minutes. At the appointed time, generally five o’clock, the three matadors, each followed by their assistants, the banderilleros and the picadors, march into the ring to the accompaniment of traditional paso doble music. The matadors are the stars of the show and can be paid as high as the equivalent of $25,000 per corrida. They wear a distinctive costume, consisting of a silk jacket heavily embroidered in gold, skintight pants, and a montera. A traje de luces, as it is known, can cost several thousand dollars; a top matador must have at least six of them a season. When a bull first comes into the arena out of the toril, or bull pen gate, the matador greets it with a series of maneuvers, or passes, with a large cape; these passes are usually ver nicas, the basic cape maneuver. The amount of applause the matador receives is based on his proximity to the horns of the bull, his tranquillity in the face of danger, and his grace in swinging the cape in front of an infuriated animal weighing more than than 1000 lb. The bull instinctively goes for the cloth because it is a large, moving target, not because of its color; bulls are color-blind and charge just as readily at the inside of the cape, which is yellow.
Fighting bulls charge instantly at anything that moves because of their natural instinct and centuries of special breeding. Unlike domestic bulls, they do not have to be trained to charge, nor are they starved or tortured to make them savage. Those animals selected for the corrida are allowed to live a year longer than those assigned to the slaughter house. Bulls to be fought by novilleros are supposed to be three years old and those fought by full matadors are supposed to be at least four.
The second part of the corrida consists of the work of the picadors, bearing lances and mounted on horses. The picadors wear flat-brimmed, beige felt hats called castore os, silver-embroidered jackets, chamois trousers, and steel leg armor. After three lancings or less, depending on the judgment of the president of the corrida for that day, a trumpet blows, and the banderilleros, working on foot, advance to place their banderillas, brightly adorned, barbed sticks, in the bull’s shoulders in order to lower its head for the eventual kill. They wear costumes similar to those of their matadors but their jackets and pants are embroidered in silver.
After the placing of the banderillas, a trumpet sounds signaling the last phase of the fight. Although the bull has been weakened and slowed, it has also become warier during the course of the fight, sensing that behind the cape is its true enemy; most gorings occur at this time. The serge cloth of the muleta is draped over the estoque, and the matador begins what is called the faena, the last act of the bullfight. The aficionados study the matador’s every move, the balletlike passes practiced since childhood. As with every maneuver in the ring, the emphasis is on the ability to increase but control the personal danger, maintaining the balance between suicide and mere survival. In other words, the real contest is not between the matador and an animal; it is the matador’s internal struggle.
After several minutes spent in making passes, wherein the matador tries to stimulate the excitement of the crowd by working closer and closer to the horns, the fighter takes the sword and lines up the bull for the kill. The blade must go between the shoulder blades; because the space between them is very small, it is imperative that the front feet of the bull be together as the matador hurtles over the horns. The kill, properly done by aiming straight over the bull’s horns and plunging the sword between its withers into the aorta region, requires discipline, training, and raw courage; for this reason it is known as the moment of truth.