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"Life Is a Dream" and Other Spanish Classics (Eric Bentley's Dramatic…
by Eric Bentley, Roy Campbell (Translator)
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(Applause Books). Translations of four great Spanish dramas: Calderon de la Barca Life Is a Dream ; Miguel de Cervantes Siege of Numantia ; Lope de Vega Fuente Ovejuna ; Tirso de Molina The Trickster of Seville .
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The Siege of Numantia by Miguel de Cervantes of Don Quixote fame is the first play in the book. Cervantes was a contemporary of Shakespeare and this play dates from just a few years before Shakespeare's earliest plays. According to the Wiki, it "has been hailed by many as a rare specimen of Spanish tragedy and even as the best Spanish tragedy not only from the period before Lope de Vega, but of all its literature." All I can say, if this is the best tragedy in Spanish literature, then I'll pass on reading more. Cervantes is no Shakespeare when it comes to drama, unless we're going to compare this to Titus Andronicus. I found it both tedious and overwrought, a great candidate for a spoof. There are long dramatic monologues from "Spain," a river, "War," "Pestilence" and "Hunger" and I thought the climax ridiculous. Admittedly, this is an old play and I've never seen it dramatized--that can make a difference, as can the translation. But that's true of all the plays here, all with the same translator, and I liked the middle two plays and loved the last play that gives the collection its title.
Fuente Ovejuna by Lope de Vega is by one of the most famed Spanish playwrights, and fared better in my estimation. It still seemed a bit over the top to me, though I rather appreciated a play from so early in the 17th century dealing with a peasant revolt against a tyrant. Even if it's a bit disconcerting in the end to have a torturer presented as an instrument of justice. It features some strong female characters too. This wasn't as fun as the third play, or as charming and thought-provoking as the last play, but I didn't finish feeling this was over an hour of my life I wanted back.
The Trickster of Seville by Tirso de Molina was a fun read on the page and I would love to see it on the stage. The Notes in the back call it a "great document of European civilization" given it "marks the entrance into literature of Don Juan." I've never read Byron's famous poem, but this play certainly reminded me a lot of the treatment in Mozart's Don Giovanni which obviously owes a dept to Molina.
Life is a Dream by Calderon de la Barca is the most celebrated play in the Spanish language--and it's the prize in this book in my opinion--the play in this book that to my mind could undoubtedly rank with Shakespeare. It's a great play--really unique for it's metaphysical dimensions. And it too features a strong female character. It left me smiling. I'd love to see this on film or stage. This book is rated as high as it is because of this play (and as low as it is because of Cervantes.) ( )