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Spanish Theatre.-Its three periods; Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Calderon.-Spirit of the Spanish poetry in general.-Influence of the national history on it.-Form, and various species of the Spanish drama.-Decline since the beginning of the eighteenth century.
THE riches of the Spanish stage have become proverbial, and it has been more or less the custom of the Italian French and English dramatists, to draw from this source, and generally without acknowledgment. I have often had occasion to remark this in the preceding lectures ; it was incompatible, however, with my purpose, to give an enumeration of what has been so borrowed, which would indeed have assumed rather a bulky appearance, and which could not have been rendered complete without great labour. What has been taken from the most celebrated Spanish poets may be easily pointed out; but the writers of the second and third rank have been equally laid under contribution, and their works are not easily met with out of Spain. Ingenious boldness, joined to easy clearness of intrigue, is so exclusively peculiar to the Spanish dramatists, that I consider myself justified, whenever I find these in a work, to suspect a Spanish origin, even though the circumstance may
have been unknown to the author himself, who drew his plagiarism from a nearer source.*
From the political preponderance of Spain in the sixteenth century, the knowledge of the Spanish language became widely diffused throughout Europe. Even in the first half of the seventeenth century we find many traces of an acquaintance with the Spanish literature in France, Italy, England, and Germany; since that time, however, the study of it has become every where more and more neglected, till of late some zeal has again been excited for it in Germany. In France they have no other idea of the Spanish theatre, than that which they may form from the translations of Linguet. These have been again translated into German, and their number has been increased by others, in no respect better, derived immediately from the originals. The translators have, however, confined themselves almost exclusively to the department of comedies of intrigue, and though all the Spanish plays are versified, with the exception of a few Entremeses, Saynetes, and those of the latest period, they have reduced the whole to prose, and even considered themselves entitled to praise for having carefully removed every thing which may be called poetical ornament. In such a mode of proceeding nothing but
Thus for example, The Servant of two Masters, of Goldoni, a piece highly distinguished above his others for the most amusing intrigue, passes for an original. A learned Spaniard has assured me, that he knows it to be a Spanish invention. Perhaps, Goldoni had here merely an older Italian imitation before him.
the material scaffolding of the original work could remain; the beautiful colouring must have disappeared with the forms of the execution. That translators who could show such a total want of judgment in poetical excellences would not choose the best pieces in the whole store, may be easily supposed. The species in question, though the invention of innumerable intrigues, of a description of which we find but few examples in the theatrical literatures of other countries, certainly shows an astonishing acuteness, is yet by no means the most valuable part of the Spanish theatre, which displays a much greater brilliancy in the handling of wonderful, mythological, or historical subjects.
The selection published by De la Huerta in sixteen small volumes, under the title of Teatro Hespanol, with introductions giving an account of the authors of the pieces and the different species, can afford no very extensive acquaintance with the Spanish theatre, even to a person possessed of the language; for his collection is almost exclusively limited to the department of comedies in modern manners, and he has admitted no pieces of the earlier period, composed by Lope de Vega or his predecessors. Blankenburg and Bouterweck* among us have laboured to throw light on the earlier history of the Spanish theatre, before it acquired its proper shape and attained literary dignity, a subject in
*The former in his annotations on Sulzers Theorie der schönen Künste, the latter in his Geschichte der Spanischen Poesie.
volved in a good deal of obscurity. But even at an after period, an amazing deal was written for the stage which never appeared in print, and which is either now lost or only exists in manuscript; while, on the other hand, there is hardly an instance of a piece being printed without having first been brought on the stage. A correct and perfect history of the Spanish theatre can only therefore be executed in Spain. The notices of the above-mentioned German writers are however of use, though not free from errors; their opinions respecting the poetical merit of the pieces, and the general view which they have taken, appear to me exceedingly objectionable.
The first advances of the dramatic art in Spain were made in the last half of the sixteenth century; and it ceased to flourish with the end of the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth, since the war of the succession, which seems to have had a very prejudicial influence on the Spanish literature in general, very little can be mentioned which does not display wild incoherency, retrogression, retention of the old observances without meaning, or tame imitations of foreign productions. The Spanish literati of the last generation frequently boast of their old national poets, the people entertain a strong attachment to them, and in Mexico, as well as Madrid, their pieces are always represented with impassioned applause.
The various epochs of formation of the Spanish theatre may be designated from the names of three cele
brated writers, Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Calderon.
The oldest information and opinions on this subject of any importance are to be found in the writings of Cervantes chiefly in Don Quixote, in the dialogue with the Canon, in the preface to his later plays, in the journey to Parnassus. He has also thrown out detached observations on the subject in various other places. He had witnessed in his youth the commencement of the dramatic art in Spain; the poetical poverty of which, as well as the low state of the theatrical decorations, are very humorously described by him. He was justified in looking upon himself as one of the founders of this art; for before he gained immortal fame by his Don Quixote he had diligently laboured for the stage, and from twenty to thirty pieces composed by him, so negligently does he speak of them, had been acted with applause. He made no higher claims on that account, nor after they had served their momentary destination did he allow any of them to be printed; and it was only lately that two of these earlier labours were for the first time published.-One of these plays, probably the first of Cervantes, The Way of Living in Algiers, (El Trato de Argel), still bears traces of the infancy of the art in the preponderance of narrative, in the general meagreness, and in the want of prominency in the figures and situations. The other however, The Destruction of Numantia, stands altogether on the elevation of the tragical cothurnus; and, from