Cervantes in England: The influence of Golden-Age prose fiction on Jacobean drama, c.1615-16251
The last years of the reign of James I saw a concentration of plays presented on the London stage which had their sources
in Spanish literature, Cervantes being the author most frequently used. Why? In looking for the reasons for this phenomenon,
three factors will be considered: the playwrights, and what connexions they may have had with each other; the political context;
and the attractions of the source material for English dramatists.
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Plays and Playwrights
The earliest seventeenth-century2 play with a Spanish connexion derives from La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes, a work translated into English in 1586 by David Rowland and reprinted in 1596, 1624 and subsequently. Blurt, Master Constable or The Spaniard's Nightwalk was published anonymously in 1602 and has variously been attributed to Thomas Dekker and to Thomas Middleton.3 A brief digression is necessary here, to note that at this period a play was the property of whichever acting company the
playwright - or playwrights, for collaborative authorship was a common practice - sold it to. A company might, in its turn,
sell on the play eventually to a publisher, who might, but not invariably, pay 6d to the Company of Stationers to register
his or her rights in the copy. Publication might follow, but was not inevitable and in any case could be delayed for many
years: most of the works of John Fletcher, one of the most esteemed dramatists of the period, were not published until 1647,
twenty-two years after his death. The first publication of some popular Jacobean plays, such as The Changeling, occurred during Cromwell's Protectorate while the theatres were closed - The Changeling was published in 1653 - or after the Restoration of 1660. There are thus two important sources of information for the authorship
of a play, although neither is necessarily accurate: the title-page of the published text, and the Register of the Stationers'
Whoever its author was, Blurt was not a success. Internal evidence dates the play no earlier than 1601; its appearance in print indicates that the company
who owned it, the Children of St Paul's, had no further use for it. But in 1607 a much more successful play appeared. This
was The Knight of the Burning Pestle by Francis Beaumont, a member of the gentry turned playwright. The Knight contains a scene at an inn which, it has been argued, derives from Part I of Don Quijote.5 If this argument is accepted, then it demonstrates an educated dramatist familiar with Cervantes' work no more than two
years after it first appeared in Spain and several years before the first translation into English - Shelton's - was published
in 1612. Ben Jonson certainly knew of Don Quijote by 1609, for in Epicoene, a play dated to that year, he gives the character True-Wit a speech in which he makes passing reference to Amadis de Gaul and Don Quijote as the sort of books with which one might shut up oneself in one's chamber for a month at a time.6 In 1611 the Master of the Revels licensed for the stage an anonymous play to which he himself gave the title The Second Maiden's Tragedy. This is based on the inset narrative in Part I of Don Quijote known as El curioso impertinente and is described by its modern editor as "the first known English play to make extensive use of Don Quixote".7 The Second Maiden's Tragedy has been convincingly ascribed on internal evidence to Thomas Middleton.8
Francis Beaumont collaborated for much of his dramatic career with John Fletcher. They were close friends who shared lodgings;
their living arrangements were recorded by John Aubrey in his Brief Lives:
They lived together on the Banke side, not far from the Play-house, both batchelors; lay together ...; had one wench in the
house between them, which they did so admire; the same cloathes and cloake, &c., betweene them.9
It seems a reasonable assumption, although not capable of proof, that if Beaumont had come across Don Quijote - perhaps in Spanish, perhaps in a manuscript translation - then Fletcher would also have known of it. And by 1609 Fletcher
had written The Coxcomb, a play which takes one of its plots from El curioso impertinente. After his marriage in 1613 Beaumont wrote little for the theatre, but Fletcher moved on to become Shakespeare's collaborator
and eventual successor with the King's Men. Together Shakespeare and Fletcher wrote three plays in 1612-13: All is True (Henry VIII), The Two Noble Kinsmen and Cardenio. This latter play no longer survives but, before being lost, was adapted in the eighteenth century by Lewis Theobald as The Double Falsehood; from this adaptation it can be confirmed that Cardenio had its origin in the inset narrative in Part I of the Quijote.10
In 1619 William Rowley, an actor-playwright who often collaborated with Thomas Middleton, produced the first of his several
'Spanish' plays: All's Lost by Lust. The 'all' which is lost is Christian Spain, and the 'lust' is that of King Roderick for the daughter of his general, who
in revenge defects to the Moorish army. Facing defeat, King Roderick opens a set of forbidden doors in his castle, releasing
a curse and losing his kingdom to the Moors. No specific source has ever been identified, but Rowley is known to have been
interested in historical topics11 and may have picked up the legend of the last of the Visigothic kings in his general reading. All's Lost is, however, only one example of a series of 'Spanish' plays which were produced in London in a period of ten years or so.12 The first in the run may have been John Fletcher's The Chances, based on Cervantes' novela ejemplar, La señora Cornelia and which can be dated no more precisely than between the publication of the novela in 1613 and Fletcher's death in 1625. The Island Princess (1619-21), also by Fletcher, was based either on Bartolomé Leonardo de Argensola's Conquista de las islas Malucas of 1609, or on L'Histoire de Ruis Dias et de Quixaire princesse des Moloques, a novel by the Sieur de Bellan which was based on the Conquista and which was published together with the French translation of the novelas13. Love's Pilgrimage (1615), by Beaumont and Fletcher, used another of the novelas, Las dos doncellas. Then comes a collaborative work with Fletcher's new
partner Philip Massinger, The Custom of the Country, which takes incidents from Cervantes' Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda and dates from 1620.14 In 1622 Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, already a well-established partnership, produced The Changeling, an acknowledged masterpiece of the Jacobean drama. This play is set in the fortress of Alicante and its main plot, the moral
corruption of the governor's daughter Beatrice-Joanna and the murders which ensue, comes from a supposedly true story of a
murder in Spain, related in 1621 by John Reynolds in The Triumphs of God's Revenge against the Crying and Execrable Sin of Wilful and Premeditated Murder. Some other elements of the action are taken from Gerardo the Unfortunate Spaniard, a recent translation by Leonard Digges of the Varia fortuna de soldado Píndaro by Céspedes y Meneses. The Unfortuate Spaniard also provided the source for Fletcher and Massinger's The Spanish Curate of 1622. The Spanish Gipsy, a play of 1623 probably by Middleton and Rowley,15 weaves together two more novelas ejemplares, La fuerza de la sangre and La gitanilla. Massinger turned to a Cervantes play, Los baños de Argel, when he wrote The Renegado in 1624, and in the same year Fletcher turned El casamiento engañoso into Rule a Wife and Have a Wife. 1624 also saw a theatrical cause célèbre when Thomas Middleton wrote A Game at Chess for the King's Men, a political satire in which King James, Prince Charles, the Marquis of Buckingham, Philip IV and the
recently-departed Spanish ambassador the conde Gondomar, were clearly identifiable. Fletcher's last play, The Fair Maid of the Inn, takes as its source yet another of the novelas ejemplares, La ilustre fregona; it was licensed for the stage posthumously on 22 January 1626.
A political explanation for this concerted interest in Spanish literature is offered below, but the relationship between the
playwrights concerned will also repay investigation. The key is given in the preliminaries to The Travels of Persiles and Sigismunda. A Northern History, an anonymous translation from a French intermediary of Cervantes' romance Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda and published by Matthew Lownes in 1619, two years after the Spanish original. Preserving the translator's anonymity, Lownes
himself provided a dedication to Philip, Baron Stanhope. Philip Stanhope was the future Lord Chesterfield, and it was to his
wife Katherine that Philip Massinger in 1623 dedicated one of his plays, The Duke of Milan. Lady Stanhope was the sister of the Earl of Huntingdon, an early patron of John Fletcher. Gordon McMullan has teased out
the strands of the patronage connexions in his 1994 book, The Politics of Unease in the Plays of John Fletcher. He makes the interesting suggestion that it may have been Huntingdon who first introduced Massinger to Fletcher; he points
out that Francis Beaumont and Huntingdon were related and had undoubtedly known each other almost from birth - important factors
in a society which depended heavily on clientage and kinship networks. They were both members of the Inns of Court - Huntingdon
of Gray's Inn and Beaumont of the Inner Temple, with which it was closely allied; and in 1613 Francis Beaumont had written
the Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray's Inn for the wedding of Princess Elizbeth to the Elector Palatine.16 Beaumont, it will be recalled, was a close associate of John Fletcher. Baker records the tradition that William Rowley was
'beloved' of Fletcher and Shakespeare;17 and Rowley and Middleton, severally and jointly, wrote plays with a Spanish interest. A genealogy can therefore be traced
through this network of dramatists, from The Knight of the Burning Pestle in 1607 to The Fair Maid of the Inn in 1625. The political fall-out from A Game at Chess18 put an end to Thomas Middleton's dramatic career: he went into hiding, writing nothing more for the stage, and died in 1627.19 Fletcher, as noted above, died in 1625 and Rowley in the early weeks of 1626. King James himself also died in 1625; the
combination of royal death and a virulent visitation of the plague kept the theatres closed for most of 1625. When they re-opened
in 1626, only Massinger of our group of playwrights was still active, and the brief vogue for Spanish plays had passed.
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The Political Context20
At this point, the context in which the dramatists were writing becomes important: why was Spain so important to writers in
the London of James I?
In 1619, when Rowley wrote All's Lost by Lust, England was poised at an interesting political moment. In 1613 James had married his only daughter Elizabeth to Frederick,
the Elector Palatine, and now he was teetering on the brink of the incipient Thirty Years' War. A strongly pro-Protestant
foreign policy had influential support and had been urged by the late Henry, Prince of Wales, James's glamorous eldest son
whose death from typhus in 1612 at the age of eighteen was still deeply mourned.21 James, however, favoured a Catholic marriage for Prince Charles, now his heir and only surviving son, to balance Elizabeth's
marriage and retain England's neutrality. To this end, negotiations with Spain had been under way in a somewhat desultory
fashion for several years.
Accustomed to seeing Anglo-Hispanic history through the prism of the Armada it is easy to regard England and Spain as natural
enemies, but this was not necessarily the case. The Houses of Tudor, Stuart and Castile shared descent, in the Lancaster line,
from Edward III.22 For centuries they had had a common interest in resisting French expansion. Two factors in the mid-sixteenth century had,
more than anything else, changed English attitudes to Spain. First, Mary I's marriage to Philip II in 1554 was unpopular with
much of her nobility and advisers. With the progress of time, Philip became associated in folk memory with the Smithfield
burnings of protestants which marred the second half of Mary's reign. The marriage treaty was in fact carefully drawn up to
protect English interests - Philip, for example, was never to be rend="display"
crowned - but for a variety of causes, from the language barrier between Philip's entourage and Mary's to the loss of Calais
by the English in 1558, the marriage was not a political success.23 The strategic importance of England to Spanish interests in the Netherlands, however, is signalled by the fact that on Mary's
death Philip himself contemplated marrying her protestant half-sister and heir, Elizabeth I, and prompted suits to her from
his Austrian cousins, the Archdukes Ferdinand and Charles.24 All three proposals foundered on the religious question. Secondly, in 1570 Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth I by Papal Bull,25 thus inviting her deposition as a heretic by Catholic monarchs. The fear of invasion by Catholic armies was a constant factor
in English policy from this point, and antipathy to Spain easily deteriorated into war.
A generation later, however, when King James VI of Scotland succeeded to the throne of England in 1603 as James I, the Anglo-Spanish
war was effectively played out; the conclusion of a peace treaty was one of his first acts of foreign policy, the treaty being
signed first in London in 1604 and then in Madrid in 1605. The acting company in which Shakespeare was part-sharer, the King's
Men, was in attendance at Somerset House while the Duke of Frias was lodged there during the summer of 1604 as ambassador
extraordinary and, when the Earl of Nottingham paid the reciprocal visit to Spain to sign the Madrid copy, a visit to the
theatre was included in his schedule. However, Leeds Barroll has recently suggested that too much should not be read into
the players' position during the Spanish embassy, pointing out that King James was playing host to two such visits, by Spain
and Austria, while at the same time trying to maintain business as normal at the court of Whitehall. The appointment of the
King's Men could thus be seen as an indication, not of an interest in drama on the part of either James or the ambassador,
but of a desperate shortage of staff.26
Spain and England maintained relatively friendly relations through the years of James's reign. The Queen Consort, Anna of
Denmark, was sympathetic to Spanish interests, possibly also to Catholicism, and may have used her patronage at court to promote
her enthusiasms. Her relationship with the conde Gondomar, longest-serving Spanish ambassador of James's reign, was exceptionally
cordial: there were even suspicions that he led her to a death-bed conversion to Rome. When Anna died in 1619, then, an important
pro-Spanish counterweight to the militant protestant faction was removed from the scene.27
It is arguable that from 1619 until James's death, no literary reference to Spain could be a-political. Notable events of
interest to London included the Elector Frederick's acceptance of the Crown of Bohemia, against James's advice; his loss of
the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620; and his and Elizabeth's expulsion from the Palatinate as well as Bohemia. Politics
was not the preserve of Parliament, as Conrad Russell reminds us:
Parliaments, if they are to be seen in perspective, should not be seen as the makers of the major historical events of the
1620s, but as ad hoc gatherings of men reacting to events taking place elsewhere. Major political decisions were usually taken at court, and other
major political events tended to take place in the country, well away from the Palace of Westminster.28
The London stage could not but be party to the prevailing interest in foreign policy, especially when negotiations for the
'Spanish Match' for Charles appeared to become serious. Interest reached its height when Charles and Buckingham travelled
to Spain in 1623 to woo the Infanta in person. They went in disguise, setting off without James's knowledge, on a fruitless
quest which embarrassed both English and Spanish governments and aroused great anxiety in London. In 1621 Gondomar had visited
the Fortune playhouse and provided a feast for the players;29 while exactly a month after Charles returned from his trip to Madrid, on 5 November 1623, the acting company from the Cockpit
theatre performed The Spanish Gipsy at Whitehall, "the Prince [Charles] being there only."30 The choice of play cannot have been coincidental. While the practice of staging plays at court on festival days such as
5 November or the Christmas season cannot be supposed to have made the players intimate with King James, it inevitably brought
them into contact with makers of influence and policy, and with high-quality gossip.
It has been argued that throughout the theatrical season of 1623-24, political influences were manipulating the drama;31 certainly this can be demonstrated in the case of Middleton's A Game at Chess of 1624, staged by the King's Men in August while James was out of London. It has been noted above that certain characters
were satirical portraits; to drive the point home, the arch-villain was dressed in Gondomar's clothes, which the players had
bought, and was carried on stage in Gondomar's chair. At nine days, this play had by far the longest continuous run of any
play on the Jacobean stage and its popularity is further attested by the number of manuscript copies extant.32 Two conclusions may be drawn from this incident: first, since it was predictable that the Spanish embassy would hear of
what was happening and complain to the Privy Council, as indeed it did, the King's Men must have felt that they had a measure
of political protection. Jerzy Limon implies that their friends at court included the Earl of Pembroke, one of the two Herbert
brothers to whom the Shakespeare First Folio was dedicated and a relative of the Master of Revels, whose role in this affair
- he was responsible for licensing plays for acting - is both mysterious and important. Leeds Barroll has postulated that
Pembroke was influential in the first days of James's reign, in getting Shakespeare's company adopted under the King's patronage
in an unusually short space of time.33 The circumstantial evidence surrounding Pembroke is suggestive. Secondly, for the players to make it worth their while going
to the trouble and expense of impersonating Gondomar, he must have been a well-known figure whom a London audience would easily
recognise, since at no point could he be named: otherwise, where would have been the point? A Game at Chess is a precise example of the theory of cultual exchange which Stephen Greenblatt has described in his book Shakespearean Negotiations:
The textual traces that have survived from the Renaissance ... are the products of extended borrowings, collective exchanges,
and mutual enchantments. They were made by moving certain things - principally ordinary language but also metaphors, ceremonies,
dances, emblems, items of clothing, well-worn stories, and so forth - from one culturally demarcated zone to another. We need
to understand not only the construction of these zones but also the process of movement across the shifting boundaries between
them. Who decides which materials can be moved and which must remain in place? How are cultural materials prepared for exchange?
What happens to them when they are moved?34
Greenblatt uses the term 'social energy', which he derives from the Greek energia, to describe the ceaseless interchange of ideas between the world of the theatre stage and the world outside. We identify
energia only indirectly', he says, "by its effects: it is manifested in the capacity of certain verbal, aural, and visual effects
to produce, shape, and organize collective physical and mental experiences".35 In other words, what we are looking at is the process of ideas being picked up by the theatre, or any other
literary medium, rend="display"
for it need not be dramatic, used and put on display to the audience, which then recycles them into its further thinking and
debate. Here is Greenblatt again:
We can say, perhaps, that an individual play mediates between the mode of the theater, understood in its historical specificity,
and elements of the society out of which that theater has been differentiated. Through its representational means, each play
carries charges of social energy onto the stage; the stage in its turn revises that energy and returns it to the audience.36
We have seen that Charles and Buckingham travelled incognito to Spain in 1623 in a truly quixotic quest for a bride, producing
much anxious speculation; and when they returned, bride-less, on 5 October 1623, rejoicing was profound: by one report, there
were at least 335 bonfires between Whitehall and Temple Bar alone.37 People in London were interested in Spain and in what was going on there. People in London made up the audiences in the
London theatre. To answer Stephen Greenblatt's rhetorical question, it was the players who moved Spanish materials from the
political to the cultural world. Spain was good box-office.
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The Attraction of Cervantes
The argument so far gives us two answers out of three: a group of writers interested in Spain, who saw a commercial opportunity
for the theatres. The third part of the investigation now turns to why these writers chose Cervantes rather than anyone else
as their source material.
"It's the arrangement of events which makes the stories," notes the fictional writer who is the narrator of Carol Shields's
novel Small Ceremonies. "It's throwing away, compressing, underlining."38 Herein lies the clue to why English dramatists may have found Cervantes, and especially the Novelas ejemplares, so attractive. The choice of source material for a playwright is never random. The chosen subject must be both congenial
in content and suitable for adaptation, even if the playwright's ambitions are aimed at commercial rather than literary success.
A dramatist hoping to write something more thought-provoking than a humdrum schedule-filler will also be looking for material
which can be arranged in a certain way and made to carry a significance which it may or may not hold in its original form.
The Changeling, for example, has two narrative threads. In the main plot, Beatrice-Joanna is already betrothed when she meets a man who
takes her fancy better. She hires De Flores to murder her fiancé and finds herself forced to become his mistress in payment;
then, in an attempt to hide her loss of virginity, she is responsible for the death of her maid. In the sub-plot, Isabella
is married to the master of the local lunatic asylum. She remains chaste and loyal to her husband despite both his grotesque
jealousy and attempts to seduce her by a lecherous servant and by young noblemen feigning lunacy. The progressive moral corruption
of spoilt, privileged but ultimately vacuous Beatrice-Joanna is given resonance by its juxtaposition with the integrity -
moral, physical and psychological - of the asylum-keeper's wife.39
In the later years of the Jacobean period, the English readership was just beginning to recognise Cervantes as a major writer.
Part I of the Quijote was published in an English translation in 1612 and, as we have seen, was in circulation by about 1607, although whether
in Spanish, English or the French translation is impossible to determine from the use made of it. The anonymous translator40 of Persiles y Sigismunda wrote, in his preface to the reader, " The Authour is a Spaniard: whose stile becomes him well, in his own mouth: and his
Works of this kinde, have raysed his name, and approved his spirit; not alone in his owne Country, but in others."41 suggesting that Cervantes was not yet a household name, but a writer already appreciated among the cognoscenti. The second part of Don Quijote appeared in English translation in 1621, although the anglophone public had to wait until 1640 for a translation of the novelas, when James Mabbe published translations of six of Cervantes' twelve.42 The novelas were available in French before 1625, and the question of whether John Fletcher for one read his sources in Spanish, French
or both has yet to be satisfactorily resolved.43 The significant point is that the source most used for 'Spanish' plays - the novelas - was not the most easily accessible. Part II of the Quijote had no impact on Jacobean drama; Persiles yielded one play; but of the twelve novelas, six had been dramatised by 1625, although none could be read in English and they were therefore not easily consulted by
the playwrights. This indicates that there was something inherent in them which made them particularly attractive to the dramatist
who was looking for a plot.
The six novelas which were dramatised - La fuerza de la sangre, La gitanilla, Las dos doncellas, El casamiento engañoso, La señora Cornelia and La ilustre fregona - had in common the clarity of their narrative line and the strength of their stories. The claim could also be made of some
of the remaining six which were not dramatised: El celoso extremeño, in particular, might be thought to offer excellent theatrical possibilities in the campaign of seduction by Loaysa of Leonora,
while Carrizales, the jealous Extremaduran himself, could be turned into a memorable character part. But there is no reason
to suppose that Fletcher's exploration of the novelas was complete at the time of his death; had he lived longer, there is no way of knowing where he would have turned next for
inspiration. It remains true, however, that El coloquio de los perros would have been difficult to adapt, by its very nature as a dialogue and therefore static; the content of El licenciado vidriera, much of which consists of the Glass Graduate's apophthegmata, would present similar difficulties. Rinconete y Cortadillo would have had its attractions in the earlier years of James's reign, when there was a vogue for satirical comedies about
city life and corruption, but such a theme was old-fashioned by the 1620s.
In the majority of the dramatised novelas, there is a moment when the action is particularly striking: when it can be captured in a visual image, as if time stands
still. One might instance the moment of astonishment in La señora Cornelia when don Juan finds that he has been left literally holding the baby: "Alargó la mano don Juan, y topó un bulto, y queriéndolo tomar, vio que eran menester las dos manos, y así le hubo de asir
con entrambas; y apenas se le dejaron en ellas, cuando le cerraron la puerta, y él se halló cargado en la calle y sin saber
de qué."44or the point in La gitanilla when the 'stolen' jewels are found in Andrés's pack: "Acudieron luego los ministros de la justicia a desvalijar el pollino, y a pocas vueltas dieron con el hurto; de que
quedó tan espantado Andrés, y tan absorto, que no pareció sino estatua, sin voz, de piedra dura."45or the final proof for the Ensign Campuzano in El casamiento engañoso that his wife has indeed tricked him: "Fui a ver mí baúl, y halléle abierto, y como sepultura que esperaba cuerpo difunto..."46Such moments fulfil the Oxford English Dictionary's definition 2 of the term 'dramatic': "Characteristic of, or appropriate to, the drama; often connoting animated action
or striking presentation, as in a play; theatrical." It is not surprising that they should catch the eye of the dramatist,
and scenes deriving from each of these found their way on to the English stage, in Act 1, scene 3 of The Chances, Act 4, scene 3 of The Spanish Gipsy and Act 3, scene 4 of Rule a Wife and Have a Wife respectively.
One of Cervantes' great coups de théâtre occurs at the beginning of Las dos doncellas. A rider has arrived at an inn, "a la hora que anochecía", and has taken the only available room, paying double so as not to have to share. But shortly afterwards a second guest
arrives and the room has to be shared after all. During the night the first guest falls into distress, and is revealed to
be female; she tells her story, which she fears will dishonour her family. As dawn breaks she is eager to see her room-mate
in daylight; but when the windows are opened, the speaker discovers that she has been talking all night to her own brother.47
Cervantes manipulates the Spanish language to gain the maximum effect while still keeping faith with his reader. The reader
may assume that the first traveller to arrive at the inn is a man; but, not being required to put a pronoun before the verb, and exploiting
the ambiguity in the gender of '-le', Cervantes never actually says so: "entró un caminante ... No traía criado alguno ...", "y rociándole con agua el rostro le hizo volver en su acuerdo".48 This facility is not available to the translator working in English, no matter how skilled and polished, because English
insists that the subject and object of a verb must be declared as masculine, feminine or neuter; so the English version of
this passage must deliberately mislead the reader: "He had no servant with him", "by splashing water on his face, brought
him round".49 Further, the English translation is led into the extra awkwardness of changing the pronoun from 'he' to 'she' once the traveller
has revealed his/her gender.
But on the Jacobean stage, this problem does not arise - rather, in Love's Pilgrimage the playwrights can utilise Cervantes'
game-playing to the full. Since all the parts were played by male actors, there was no reason to suppose when the first guest
appeared on stage that 'he' was not indeed a man. The reader will know the truth, because the play text gives the speech prefixes
for this character as 'Theodosia'; but the play was not published until 1647, a generation after its first performance.50 An audience seeing the play for the first time would have supposed the character entering in male costume to be male, with
the knowledge - willingly suspended when necessary - that everyone on stage was male even if some were temporarily appearing
to be female. This tension between appearance and reality was used for dramatic effect throughout the period by making female
characters disguise themselves as men, so that the real player-boy pretended to be a woman pretending to be a man: consider,
to take merely the best-known examples, Shakespeare's cross-dressed heroines such as Julia (The Two Gentlemen of Verona),
Jessica, Portia and Nerissa (The Merchant of Venice), Rosalind (As You Like It), Viola (Twelfth Night) and Imogen (Cymbeline).
Shakespeare's defiantly belligerent hero Coriolanus makes self-mocking reference to the uncertainty regarding a character's
|... My throat of war be turn'd,
|Which choired with my drum, into a pipe
|Small as an eunuch, or the virgin voice
|That babies lull asleep.51
hinting at the actor's ability to move between the masculine and the feminine. Love's Pilgrimage is unusual for its time,
although not unique, in that the audience usually knows that a woman is going to dress as a man; here, the character appears
first as a man and then is revealed to be a woman.52 The basic concept was a well-used theatrical technique, and one to which Las dos doncellas lent itself remarkably well.53
The revelation of brother to sister also provided a stunning moment for the stage. Cervantes stresses the irony of Teodosia's
situation: with daylight beginning to appear through gaps in the doors and windows, she is anxious to see her companion:
Y diciendo esto abrió las ventanas y puertas del aposento.
Estaba Teodosia deseando ver la claridad, para ver con la luz qué talle y parecer tenía aquel con quien había estado hablando
toda la noche. Mas cuando le miró y le conoció quisiera que jamás hubiera amanecido, sino que allí en perpetua noche se le
hubieran cerrado los ojos; porque apenas hubo el caballero vuelto los ojos a mirarla ... cuando ella conoció que era su hermano,
de quien tanto se temía ...54
The writers of Love's Pilgrimage cannot enter into the character's mind in this way, and they cannot achieve the same lighting
effect. Darkness in the open-air theatre was created through dialogue: How goes the night, boy? asks Banquo of Fleance in Macbeth, and actors and audience alike make the mental adjustment that what follows takes place
in the dark. Changes of light, however, although not impossible to achieve in this way, were more difficult to bring about
effectively. In this case, the dramatists opt instead for a build-up of tension by the suggestion of suspicion:
||Nay do not seek to shun mee: I must see you:
||By heaven I must: - hoa, there is mine Host: a Candle.
||Strive not, I wil not stir ye.
||This is a break of promise.
|| It shal be none but necessary: - hoa, there,
||Some light, some light for heavens sake.
||Wil ye betray mee?
||Are ye a gentleman?
||If I be prejudicial to you, curse mee.
Enter Diego with a light.
||Ye are early stirring sir.
||Give mee your Candle
||And so good morrow for a while.
||nay Sir, kil mee.
It is not entirely clear what is happening here. Has Philippo suddenly realised that he has been listening to his own sister
tell her story? Or is he simply evincing curiosity? And note that the desire to see the companion is transferred from the
woman to the man. Yet although the structure is different, of necessity, the play and the fiction portray the same effect:
the instant of stasis when two characters stare at each other in recognition; a frozen second partaking of the quality of
myth - Psyche holding a light over the sleeping Cupid, too late to call back the forbidden, and suddenly undesired, knowledge.
Cervantes was himself, of course, a dramatist as well as a writer of prose fictions, and an underlying dramatic structure
can be detected in La fuerza de la sangre. It begins with one of those intensely theatrical and painterly scenes discussed
Una noche de las calurosas del verano volvían de recrearse del río en Toledo, un anciano hidalgo con su mujer, un niño pequeño,
una hija de edad de dieciséis años y una criada. La noche era clara; la hora, las once; el camino, solo y el paso, tardo,
por no pagar con cansancio la pensión que traen consigo las holguras que en el río o en la vega se toman en Toledo. ...
Hasta veintidós tendría un caballero
de aquella ciudad a quien la rend="display"
riqueza, la sangre ilustre, la inclinación torcida, la libertad demasiada y las compañías libres, le hacían hacer cosas y
tener atrevimientos que desdecían de su calidad y le daban renombre de atrevido.
Este caballero, pues - que ahora, por buenos respetos, encubriendo su nombre, le llaremos con el de Rodolfo, - con otros cuatro
amigos suyos, todos mozos, todos alegres y todos insolentes, bajaba por la misma cuesta que el hidalgo subía.55
Toledo here functions as a backdrop, in the literal sense of the word, to the encounter between the two groups, one slowly
climbing up the hill into the city, the other rushing down. The figures could be imagined as painted into the foreground of
El Greco's painting of Toledo, or as drawn on to one of the canvases of narrative paintings of their adventures which ransomed
captives touted around the countryside - such a one as Periandro and Auristela come across in Book III of Persiles y Sigismunda.
It has long been noted that La fuerza de la sangre is meticulously symmetrical and balanced in its structure, the rape at
the beginning being matched by the marriage at the end, Rodolfo's bed being the scene of violation, of healing and of wedlock,
and so on down to quite fine detail.56 The little boy who appears in the opening paragraph - presumably Leocadia's younger brother - is never mentioned again,
but paves the way for Leocadia's infant son Luisico who figures in the final scene. Similarly, Rodolfo's friends who assist
in the initial assault are present at his marriage, although not in the same number.57 If this is carelessness on Cervantes' part, it is anomalous in a fiction which otherwise has been crafted with great care.
In both scenes, however, there are ten characters. In the first encounter, there are five in each party: Leocadia, her mother,
father, the maid and the boy, confronted by Rodolfo and four friends; while in the marriage episode at the end of the novela,
Rodolfo has with him two friends and a priest, but Leocadia's party has increased by one: she now has with her her father,
mother, son and two maids, so that the loss of two of Rodolfo's companions is balanced by the acquisition of the priest and
an extra maid. Also in the room for the marriage are Rodolfo's parents, who have brought about the reconciliation. If this
were a play, then, it could be performed by a cast of twelve.
La fuerza de la sangre has three distinct movements. To borrow dramatic terminology again, it can be divided into three acts.
Act 1: Leocadia's party is attacked by Rodolfo, Leocadia is abducted, raped while unconscious, and returned blindfolded. She
tells her parents what has happened, describes Rodolfo's room and shows the crucifix she has taken from his wall. Her father
advises discretion. Rodolfo leaves for Italy, Leocadia discovers she is pregnant. Act 2: seven years later. Leocadia's son
Luisico goes on an errand for his grandmother and is knocked down by a horse. He is taken to his home by a nobleman who sees
the accident and who, with his wife doña Estefanía, nurses him. Leocadia and her parents rush to be with the boy. Leocadia
recognises the room in which he is being nursed as the one in which she was raped. Act 3: Leocadia gets to know and trust
doña Estefanía and eventually tells her story. Estefanía recognises in Luisico her grandchild, and makes plans with Leocadia
for her restitution. She engineers Rodolfo's return from Italy with his friends by the promise of an advantageous marriage
and goes through a charade of offering him a rich but plain wife, whom he refuses. Rodolfo falls in love with Leocadia at
what he believes to be first sight, and asks to marry her. A priest is provided, her identity is revealed, everyone lives
happily ever after.
Although this 'act-division' is naturally hypothetical, for there is nothing to suggest that Cervantes intended to write a
play rather than a novela, it demonstrates that one approach to La fuerza de la sangre is to say that it is constructed on
dramatic lines. Each of the 'acts' ends on a point of tension: Leocadia's pregnancy, the recognition of the rape scene. The
events fall into three groupings of time-periods; the injury to the little boy, which provides the 'sangre' of the title,
falls squarely in the middle of the 'action' and is the pivot on which the plot revolves. Finally, the fact that Rodolfo suffers
no retribution of any sort, not even inconvenience, for his brutal rape, causes a moral problem in an 'exemplary' novel. This
is partly resolved if the novela is seen in terms of an action, in which plot and structure are privileged over character,
rather than a fiction in which characterisation and development take precedence over plot.
The force of the scene with which La fuerza de la sangre opens may be a factor in the construction of The Spanish Gipsy .
The eponymous heroine of this play is Cervantes' La gitanilla Preciosa; but she does not appear until Act 2. The play opens
with the abduction scene from La fuerza de la sangre, the plot of this novela being interwoven with that of La gitanilla throughout
the play. La fuerza de la sangre begins with action, La gitanilla with a generalised discourse: 'Parece que los gitanos y
gitanas solamente nacieron en el mundo para ser ladrones ...'58 In the first of the five acts, the dramatists show Rodorigo (Rodolfo) abducting Clara (Leocadia) and then returning her.
In Act 3, Rodorigo goes, not to Naples, but to join the gipsies, thus linking the two plots and, incidentally, carrying out
the function of poet which Cervantes gives in this story to don Sancho/Clemente. A seven-year time span would be ungainly
to stage - Shakespeare had covered the passage of time in Henry V, The Winter's Tale and Pericles by using the figures of
Chorus, Time and Gower to narrate events between acts, but by 1623 this would have seemed a clumsy device. So there is no
equivalent in The Spanish Gipsy to Luisico; instead, Clara, the Leocadia-figure, is herself taken ill and taken to the house
of her rapist's parents to recover, where she recognises his room and tells her story to Rodorigo's father don Fernando. In
Act 5 the gipsies, including Rodorigo in disguise, stage a play at don Fernando's request, by means of which a reconciliation
is effected between Clara and Rodorigo. Many adjustments are made to fit the material for the stage: not only is Luisico omitted
but also doña Estefanía, her function being carried out by don Fernando, presumably because the cast already had six female
speaking roles of which only two could easily be doubled, and the acting company had exhausted its supply of actors specialising
in female roles. The scene moves from Toledo to Madrid, which is where Cervantes begins La gitanilla; Rodorigo/Rodolfo's father
acquires a long-lost sister, who is disguised as the mother of the gipsies, and the Preciosa-figure turns out to be his daughter.
All this is the necessary mechanism of melding two disparate novelas into a single play. But in essence, the material of the
rape plot is distributed into the same three actions in which Cervantes organises La fuerza de la sangre.
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The answer to the question, 'why so many 'Spanish' plays on the late-Jacobean stage?' is, then, in three parts. First, we
can identify a coherent grouping of playwrights who seem to have had a genuine interest in Spanish material: Francis Beaumont,
John Fletcher, Thomas Middleton, William Rowley and Philip Massinger. Francis Beaumont died in 1616 at the age of thirty;
Middleton's career came to an enforced end in 1624; Fletcher and Rowley died within a year of each other in 1625 and 1626.
The fact that the 'Spanish' sub-genre of plays died out at the time of James's death is in all likelihood coincidental, the
crucial factor being more probably the deaths of Fletcher and Rowley. Interest in Spanish prose fiction continued into the
reign of Charles I, judging by publishing records: the translation of Lazarillo was re-issued in 1631, for example; James
Mabbe's great translation of Guzmán de Alfarache, The Rogue, which was first published in 1622-23, was reprinted in 1630;
and it has already been noted that Mabbe published translations of six Exemplary Novels as late as 1640. But, although Philip
Massinger continued to work as a playwright until his death in 1640, he never returned to the Spanish material on which he
had worked with Fletcher.59
Secondly, the political climate of the early 1620s in particular was favourable to plays with a connexion with Spain. Theatre,
then as now, was a commercial business and a successful company of players needed to be alert to what was likely to draw an
audience or, for a royal performance, earn a return invitation to court. The negotiations over Prince Charles's marriage -
the Spanish Match - following a period when Gondomar had been a prominent figure in London and at court meant that there was
intense interest for a short period in matters Spanish. After his succession to the throne, Charles married the French princess
Henrietta-Maria. Although England went to war against Spain in 1628, there were by that time other matters for the London
audience to think about.
Finally, Cervantes offered the playwrights all they could want from source material: strong narratives, well-ordered plots,
the combination of an enthusiasm
for storytelling with an understanding of dramatic construction. Perhaps Cervantes would have appreciated the irony that the
dramatist who was never quite as successful as he would have wished in Spain found popularity on the stage in London.
For data relevant to this publication see the downloadable Excel file [19KB].
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