Cervantes, Miguel de. The BAGNIOS OF ALGIERS and THE GREAT SULTANA: Two Plays of Captivity. Edited and Translated by Barbara Fuchs and Aaron J. Ilika. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2010. xx + 175. ISBN: 978-0-8122-4209-6.
Miguel de Cervantes published Los banos de Argel [The Bagnios of Algiers] and La Gran Sultana [The Great Sultana] in Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses nuevos, nunca representados (1615). Barbara Fuchs and Aaron J. Ilika chose to translate these two plays because they "offer very different Mediterranean locales and visions of captivity" (xiii). In the introduction, Fuchs and Ilika explain why Cervantes published a collection of plays 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" (ix). While Cervantes never achieved the high acclaim as a playwright he hoped would be his legacy, his Mediterranean captivity plays established, according to Florencio Sevilla Arroyo and Antonio Rey Hazas, a "mini-genre," which Cervantes "perfected and enriched" (xiii). Fuchs and Ilika base their prose translation on Sevilla Arroyo and Rey Hazas's criticai edition of the plays, because, among other reasons, "this solid edition corrects the errors in the original texts of the plays and provides variant readings from all the manuscripts as well as noting corrections by previous editors of the collection" (xxvii). (8)
Fuchs and Ilika's translation of The Bagnias af Algiers and La Gran Sultana, which they intend to be a source of study not performance, begins with a lengthy introduction that provides for the reader the necessary literary, historical, political, and social background to appreciate and enjoy Cervantes's captivity plays. The introduction is divided into several subsections, including "Cervantes, playwright," "Cervantes's Mediterranean," "Captivity in Algiers," "A View of the Turk," "Forbidden Pleasures," and "The Problem with Renegades." It concludes with a comprehensive and insightful analysis of both plays, a discussion of the translation, and an explanation on coins, which includes a chart that lists the different denominations of Spanish coinage.
In their introduction, Fuchs and Ilika address a breadth of topics relevant to the plays. The political and religious rivalries that developed as expansionist Spain clashed with the Ottoman Empire and its North African protectorates throughout the sixteenth century serve as the historical background for each of the plays. Cervantes's personal experiences as a captive for five years in a royal bagnio (prison) in Algiers inform the geographical, cultural, and social milieu of the plays. A main theme of The Bagnios of Algiers and La Gran Sultana is the question of identity, and Fuchs and Ilika explain in the introduction that identities and allegiances were by no means clearly delineated: "Identities and allegiances were frequently more complex than the rote recitation of historical facts might suggest. Cervantes's texts repeatedly underscore this complexity in the face of any ideological certainty, with unsettling effects" (xiv). Cervantes possessed a keen understanding of the complex identities that populated the Mediterranean, and the historical figures he knew personally appear as characters in the plays. Furthermore, exogamous unions and a cross-dressing man who infiltrates a harem to be with the woman he loves further raise questions of identities and allegiances in the plays. …