The Poetics of Piracy: Emulating Spain in English Literature

The Poetics of Piracy: Emulating Spain in English Literature

The Poetics of Piracy: Emulating Spain in English Literature

The Poetics of Piracy: Emulating Spain in English Literature


With its dominance as a European power and the explosion of its prose and dramatic writing, Spain provided an irresistible literary source for English writers of the early modern period. But the deep and escalating political rivalry between the two nations led English writers to negotiate, disavow, or attempt to resolve their fascination with Spain and their debt to Spanish sources. Amid thorny issues of translation and appropriation, imperial competition, the rise of commercial authorship, and anxieties about authenticity, Barbara Fuchs traces how Spanish material was transmitted into English writing, entangling English literature in questions of national and religious identity, and how piracy came to be a central textual metaphor, with appropriations from Spain triumphantly reimagined as heroic looting.

From the time of the attempted invasion by the Spanish Armada of the 1580s, through the rise of anti-Spanish rhetoric of the 1620s, The Poetics of Piracy charts this connection through works by Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, Francis Beaumont, John Fletcher, and Thomas Middleton. Fuchs examines how their writing, particularly for the stage, recasts a reliance on Spanish material by constructing narratives of militaristic, forcible use. She considers how Jacobean dramatists complicated the texts of their Spanish contemporaries by putting them to anti-Spanish purposes, and she traces the place of Cervantes's Don Quixote in Beaumont's The Knight of the Burning Pestle and Shakespeare's late, lost play Cardenio. English literature was deeply transnational, even in the period most closely associated with the birth of a national literature.

Recovering the profound influence of Spain on Renaissance English letters, The Poetics of Piracy paints a sophisticated picture of how nations can serve, at once, as rivals and resources.


Imagine for a moment that we found, in some dusty attic, the late, lost play Cardenio by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, based on the unhinged lover-turned-wild-man in the first part of Don Quijote. Shakespeare scholars would be beside themselves with joy. A flurry of papers, conferences, publications would follow hard upon. But what would the discovery of Cardenio do for the shape of the discipline? Would English studies look any different if we miraculously recovered the lost play?

For scholars of Anglo-Spanish relations, the lost Cardenio looms large. The play is the absent center, the purloined letter, the missing link, the huge gaping O. Exhibit A for the connection between the two foremost representatives of early modern English and Spanish literature—Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes—has gone missing, leaving in its stead a tantalizing title and the thought of what might have been. The recent surge of interest in this lost play, including several reconstructions both scholarly and theatrical, as well as an edition of its eighteenth-century redaction in the prestigious Arden Shakespeare series, mark it as a crucial missing piece in our conception of early modern English culture. By recovering the Spanish connection that makes sense of Cardenio, this book demonstrates how the play’s absent presence has conditioned our understanding of Anglo-Spanish cultural relations in the early modern period and beyond. Beyond charting the lively debates around Cardenio’s absence, The Poetics of Piracy shows how rich the Spanish vein proved for early modern English writers, and analyzes the occlusion of that debt in their time as in ours.

Early modern English writers turned frequently to Spain for literary models, even at the times of greatest rivalry between the two nations. Spain’s position as the dominant European power of the period, as well as the huge explosion in Spanish prose and dramatic writing across a wide variety of genres in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries made it an irresistible literary source. The frequent English translations from the Spanish, even during the . . .

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