The Bagnios of Algiers, and The Great Sultana: Two Plays of Captivity

The Bagnios of Algiers, and The Great Sultana: Two Plays of Captivity

The Bagnios of Algiers, and The Great Sultana: Two Plays of Captivity

The Bagnios of Algiers, and The Great Sultana: Two Plays of Captivity

Synopsis

Best known today as the author of Don Quixote --one of the most beloved and widely read novels in the Western tradition--Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616) was a poet and a playwright as well. After some early successes on the Madrid stage in the 1580s, his theatrical career was interrupted by other literary efforts. Yet, eager to prove himself as a playwright, shortly before his death he published a collection of his later plays before they were ever performed.

With their depiction of captives in North Africa and at the Ottoman court, two of these, "The Bagnios of Algiers" and "The Great Sultana," draw heavily on Cervantes's own experiences as a captive, and echo important episodes in Don Quixote. They are set in a Mediterranean world where Spain and its Muslim neighbors clashed repeatedly while still remaining in close contact, with merchants, exiles, captives, soldiers, and renegades frequently crossing between the two sides. The plays provide revealing insights into Spain's complex perception of the world of Mediterranean Islam.

Despite their considerable literary and historical interest, these two plays have never before been translated into English. This edition presents them along with an introductory essay that places them in the context of Cervantes's drama, the early modern stage, and the political and cultural relations between Christianity and Islam in the early modern period.

Excerpt

Cervantes, Playwright

Universally renowned as the author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616) also wrote multiple plays. He was eager to prove himself as a playwright and poet, since these were the most established measures of literary worth in his time. Cervantes had some early successes on the Madrid stage in the 1580s, yet his later plays never found an audience. He was less facile in the style of the new comedia, and the complexity and interest of his prose are somewhat flattened in his verse drama. in 1615, shortly before his death, he chose to publish a collection of his new plays, Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses nuevos, nunca representados (Eight New Plays and Interludes, Never Performed). This highly unusual venture, in a period where plays were generally published only after having been exhaustively performed, served Cervantes as an alternative to the theatrical success that eluded him.

Cervantes lived through great transformations in European drama. in the Spanish context, he spans the transition between the early, simple theater of Juan del Encina (1469–1529) and Lope de Rueda (1505?– 1565), who wrote religious, comic, and pastoral plays, or eclogues, and the more sophisticated productions of the comedia nueva, or new drama, whose most prolific and talented exponent was Félix Lope de Vega Carpio (1562–1635). Had Cervantes’s later plays been performed, they would have been staged in a sophisticated, urban, open-air, public theater—the corral—where audiences of all classes and of both genders mingled. Successful playwrights sold their work to autores, company managers who were a combination of producers and directors. the plays were performed by companies of professional actors of both genders. Hundreds of comedias were produced annually to satisfy the audience’s seemingly infinite demand for them. the plays were introduced by music and racy dances, with farcical interludes (entremeses) performed between the acts.

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