Translating classic Spanish drama into English: work in progress yet

Eric Bentley, critic and editor, and Roy Campbell, poet and translator

Eric Bentley, born in September 14, 1916, is a British-born American critic, playwright, singer, editor and translator. He is still one of the most respected theatre critic in America, and is also recognized by his role as having introduced the English-speaking theatre to the works of Bertolt Brech and other classic writers from Italy, Germany, Spain, and France.

The Classic Theatre serie was started in 1958 and planned in four volumes: v. 1. Six Italian plays. – v. 2. Five German plays. – v. 3. Six Spanish plays. – v. 4. Six French plays.

Volume 3 of the Classic theatre under title Six Spanish plays was published in 1959 with six plays of the ‘Spanish drama of the golden age’ translated into English by Roy Campbell for BBC: The siege of Numantia / Miguel de Cervantes – Fuente Ovejuna / Lope de Vega – The trickster of Seville and his guest of stone / Tirso de Molina – Life is a dream / Calderón de la Barca – Celestina / Fernando de Rojas – Love after death / Calderón de la Barca.

In 1985 a new edition was published under the title: Life Is a Dream and Other Spanish Classics (1985)– last two plays of the 1959 edition were not included.

Very unfortunately, Roy Campbell died in a car accident near Setúbal, Portugal, on Easter Monday, 1957, when a car driven by his wife hit a tree. At the time of his death, he was 55 years old and was working upon translations of 16th- and 17th-century Spanish plays. Although only the rough drafts were completed, Campbell’s work was posthumously edited for publication by Eric Bentley in 1959.

Roy Campbell was a real character of his own: a poet who counted George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, T S Eliot, Evelyn Waugh, J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis among his friends. He was Afrikaner, British, catholic, pro-Franco, translator of Spanish drama and poetry (Lorca, Cervantes, Lope, Calderón, St John of the Cross…) into English, sergeant during the Second World War, BBC journalist for many years. His live reflects a personal scale version of shaken twenty century. It is highly recommendable to know more of his biography here.

To approach Roy Campbell’s translator spirit, it is worth to have a look at Campbell’s verse commemorating Lorca’s death. He wrote:

Not only did he lose his life
By shots assassinated:
But with a hammer and a knife
Was after that—translated.

ca. 1946, UK — The South African poet, journalist and producer, Roy Campbell (1901-1957), ca. 1946. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

This same warning on literature translations is identified in Bentley’s edition of Campbell’s plays. In the foreword of the 1959 edition, Bentley revels  something really surprising: the Spanish Golden Age plays have been awfully translated into English. He says:

“Probably there is no body of World Literature so little known to the world as the classic Spanish drama. This is not entirely the world’s fault, for few of the translations are readable, let alone impressive. The only collection of Lope de Vega ever published in English it, it seems, Four Plays, in English versions by John Garret Underhill. I defy anyone to read it through. In the nineteenth century Denis Florence MacCarthy spent many years of his life translating Calderón. In trying to reproduce the sound of the Spanish, he effectively prevented himself from writing English. Edward Fitzgerald had much greater success with Calderón, but went to the other extreme of excessive freedom. For a while the effect must have seemed to be one of brilliance: today one is depressed by the persistent feeling that one is reading Victorian poetry of the second class. In ranging pretty widely over the field of Spanish classics in English, I found most enjoyable a volume entitled Three Comedies from the Spanish, published anonymously in London in 1807 and known to be the work of Lord Holland. Unfortunately, Lord Holland did not choose to include a single major play.

What was needed, I thought, was fresh air, such as flooded into the translated Greek drama a generation ago when Cocteau and Yeats applied themselves to it. I got hold of some translations which Roy Campbell had recently made for the B.B.C. Third Programme. Fuente Ovejuna and The Trickster of Seville, flat and even absurd in the earlier translations I had read, came alive. Campbell was in love with old Spain and was one of the few poets writing English in our day who had a touch of bravado, a vein of bravura. Even qualities I had disliked in certain poems of his own were turned to account in the translations. And he also had a straightforward lyrical gift, invaluable for the rendering of Lope’s tenderness and charm. When Roy Campbell came to America for a lecture tour in the autumn of 1955, Jason Epstein and I arranged with him to bring out the B.B.C. translations—plus a couple we ourselves commissioned—in this country.

Campbell was killed, with all the sudden, sprawling violence of Spanish life and literature, some 18 months later. The translations were done, but, as they were not revised, let alone polished and fully prepared for the press, the responsibility devolved upon me of editing manuscripts without being able to consult their author. Should research students ever compare the manuscripts with the texts here published, some of them will wish, I imagine, that I had meddled more, others will conclude that I have already meddled too much. The task being impossible, the solutions found were at best partial and questionable. But in human affairs this is not an unusual situation.

The book remains largely Roy Campbell’s, but it is rounded out by a version of one of the few Spanish classics that has received a truly classic translation into English. In the circumstances under which this volume was prepared, I would not have wished to mix Campbell’s work with that of other moderns, but I think he would have enjoyed proximity to the Mabbe version of La Celestina. “As Greek tragedy,” says Moratín, “was composed from the crumbs that fell from Homer’s table, so the Spanish drama owed its earliest forms to La Celestina.” James Mabbe’s work, in turn, rendering Rojas in the English of Shakespeare and the King James Bible, stands as a model and a challenge to all subsequent translators of the Spanish classics.

The volumes of the present series represent only a small selection from an enormous repertoire. There will always be a case against the particular selection made, and there will always be a case against the particular translations used. I am very willing to concede that such a volume as the present one is only a beginning, if my critics will grant that it is a beginning. “Spanish drama of the golden age” has been a phrase only, referring to we knew not what. If this volume communicates something of the spirit of that drama to modem readers (and, who knows? also to theatre audiences) it will have succeeded where many worthy efforts in the past have failed. In any event I shall not be ashamed to have played even a modest part in the enterprise.”

In 2016, Eric Bentley was interviewed by Rob Weinert-Kendt, the editor-in-chief of American TheatreHere is the introduction to the mentioned article. (Read the full article)

Eric Bentley has not gone soft. But at age 99, the British-born critic who wrote The Playwright as Thinker and introduced the English-speaking theatre to the works of Bertolt Brecht—among an eventful career’s worth of noteworthy achievements—has well earned the right to be circumspect about his body of work, about the art form he greatly influenced if never personally mastered, and about the cultural health of the nation he’s called home since becoming a citizen in 1948. And so, as he sat in a plush leather chair for an interview last December in the study of his home on Riverside Dr., with a view of a Joan of Arc memorial statue that one of his idols, George Bernard Shaw, might have appreciated, Bentley alternated between dispatching ready answers to questions he’s been asked hundreds of times and taking the time to think through philosophical and aesthetic quandaries he’s still, after all these years, wrestling with.

It is that wrestling—his rancor-free but nevertheless uncompromising lifelong tangle with ideas, both as expressed through the theatre and outside it—that keeps a reader returning with interest and pleasure to Bentley’s work. Though he was only a proper critic, in the sense of being employed to review current theatrical offerings on a regular deadline, for a handful of years in the late 1940s and early ’50s (for The New Republic and The Nation), in his major books and essays he brought a sharp, systematic mind and exacting if wide-ranging taste to a task few had taken up before him, and nearly none have since, outside the halls of academia: fashioning a long-viewed yet fine-grained critical history of Western drama up to the present day.

Alas, that “present day” more or less stopped at mid-century; though he considered himself an ally of many ’60s liberation movements, in particular gay rights (he himself came out near the end of that decade), he wrote precious little about the theatre of that time, let alone after. His health currently renders him unable to travel outside his home; even so, there remain intervening decades of substantive theatre (Shepard, Sondheim, Churchill, Kane, Kushner, assorted Wilsons, Mamet, Vogel, Nottage, etc.) about which he has been effectively silent. He has spent some of the intervening decades teaching, as well as writing his own plays, which include Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?, Lord Alfred’s Lover, and Round Two.

Still, the shadow of his seminal collections—which include What Is Theatre?, In Search of Theatre, and The Life of the Drama—continues to hang over what passes for critical discourse today, and it would be a grave mistake to consign his books to history, or to the timeworn aesthetic and political arguments from which they sprung. As with the greatest critics, it is not Bentley’s judgments but his insights that make him most valuable, though these can be hard to untangle, of course. And it is probably the case that without his peremptorily contrarian temperament, which put him so regularly at odds with major figures of his day, Bentley might never have teased out the contradictions and complexities of playwrights he admired as well as the ones he didn’t.

He lionized Pirandello, for instance, and championed Ibsen, but few of their admirers have ever written so frankly or comprehensively about those dramatists’ shortcomings as well. Bentley brought a similarly rounded view to writers that interested him but he mostly didn’t care for, including Miller and O’Neill.

Nothing demonstrates what might be thought of as Bentley’s critical integrity so well as his dealings with Brecht. This was the one figure, apart from Shaw, that Bentley most admired and on which he pinned his hopes for the future of the theatre, and the admiration was reportedly mutual. But when Brecht rather hamfistedly insisted on Bentley’s political fealty to his brand of Eastern bloc Communism, Bentley bluntly declined. As an anti-Soviet leftist with seemingly equal disdain for hardline Marxists and softheaded Western liberals, Bentley quite literally made enemies right and left—but mostly left.

The occasion for our meeting was the aftermath of a centennial celebration at Town Hall, organized by soprano Karyn Levitt, who recently released the album Eric Bentley’s Brecht-Eisler Songbook. Bentley had watched the event—which was hosted by a former mentee and housemate, Michael Riedel (yes, that Michael Riedel), and featured tributes from various luminaries (including Kushner)—from home via livestream. Below are excerts from our conversation.

(Read the full article)

51 Vicente Espinel: Vida de Marcos de Obregón, tomo II

El volumen 51 de la colección Clásicos Castellanos está dedicado al segundo tomo de la obra de Vicente Espinel, Vida de Marcos de Obregón, edición y notas de Samuel Gili Gaya.

La lectura online del tomo II puede hacerse en este enlace a la primera edición publicada en 1922:

 Vida de Marcos de Obregón
La lectura de la obra completa puede realizarse pulsando sobre las portadas que figuran a continuación, correspondientes a los volúmenes 43 y 51 de la colección Clásicos Castellanos.
 Tomo I     Tomo II
La obra tuvo un éxito inmediato en España y en Europa, donde fue ampliamente traducida y utilizada por otros escritores en Francia, Alemania y Reino Unido, principalmente:

La serie de RTVE El Pícaro utilizó varios capítulos del libro y de otras novelas picarescas españolas:

Free ePUB books from the Spanish National Library

The first collections of works converted to ePub format are available from Biblioteca Nacional de España (BNE), in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica, for free downloading.

Get access to ePUB collections in this link:
Get access to BNE web site:

This ongoing project involves the provision of some 700 works in ePub format and, for this purpose, not only works of literature and language have been selected, but also of history, geography, medicine, biographies, travel … and a collection of and about women in which a research group of the UCM has participated and which is already available. For this collection, titles of Rosalía de Castro, Emilia Pardo Bazán, Carmen de Burgos, Hildegart or Concepción Arenal have been selected, as well as works such as A Portrait of a Woman (Un retrato de mujer) by José Selgas, The Emancipation of the Woman (La emancipación de la mujer) by Jacques Novicow or The woman of the whole world (La mujer de todo el mundo) by Alejandro Sawa.

Also available are literature works of the nineteenth and twentieth century: Valle-Inclán, Lorca, Alarcón, Valera, Carolina Coronado … and many other authors whose work is in public domain.

The objective of this project is twofold: to offer new access formats to the digitized collections of the BNE, and to generate through the conversion to ePub process, new data sets, clean and structured, which can be useful for the improvement of searches or the application of digital textual analysis tools.

Lazarillo de Tormes and Machine Learning

The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities is an anonymous text published in 1554. This book is written as a letter in which the main character shares his life story. Each chapter focuses on his life as he was serving a different master.

One reason it’s significant is because many believe it founded the “picaresque” novel. This style features a lovable rogue, or pícaro, in episodic adventures. The style was later employed by many authors like Mark Twain in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Lazarillo de Tormes was also considered heretical due to its anti-clerical content, and this is why it was published anonymously. During the Spanish Inquisition, it was even banned.

Although distinguished scholars have tried to attribute it to different authors based on a variety of criteria, the book is still considered anonymous. The list of candidates is long and not all of them enjoy the same support within the scholarly community.

Interestingly, machine learning techniques to recognize style and text fingerprinting has been recently applied to Lazarillo de Tormes. (See article).

Analyzing other Spanish Golden Age works from a data-driven perspective and applying machine learning techniques, Javier de la Rosa and Juan Luis Suárez (The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada) shed light on the authorship of the Lazarillo.

Their conclusion is that the most likely author seems to be Juan Arce de Otálora, closely followed by Alfonso de Valdés. The article states that not certain attribution can be made.

Masterpieces of modern Spanish drama (1917)

Masterpieces of modern Spanish drama, edited, with a preface by Barrett H. Clark. Publisher New York, Duffield & company, 1917

  • The Great Galeoto, by José Echegaray, translated by Eleanor Bontecou
  • The Duchess of San Quentin, by Benito Pérez Galdós, translated by Philip M. Hayden
  • Daniela, by Angel Guimerá, translated by John Garrett Underhill

From the Preface:

The drama of Spain, early and modern, has in English-speaking countries been sadly neglected. It is a regrettable fact that one of the most gorgeous and passionate outbursts of national dramatic genius has received but scant attention from English readers. Cervantes’ name is at least not unknown to the great mass of readers in every language, but to the majority of English and Americans, Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, and Calderon — to mention only the greatest of dozens of dramatists of the time — are a closed book. About fifteen Calderon plays are available in some form in English translation or adaptation, only two or three of Lope and, to my knowledge, not one of Tirso. Of the eighteenth century lesser lights I should venture to say that there is in English no translation. The case is the same with the dramatists of the early nineteenth century, if we except one or two notable translations and studies, like that recently issued by the Hispanic Society (a translation of Un drama nuevo). And yet this period saw a rebirth of the national spirit in the drama unequalled in any other country save France.

Barrett H. Clark.

Jose Zorrilla, author of Don Juan Tenorio, was born 200 years ago in Valladolid

Jose Zorrilla was born 200 years ago in Valladolid on Feb 21st, 1817. He was educated by the Jesuits at the Real Seminario de Nobles in Madrid, wrote verses when he was twelve, became an enthusiastic admirer of Walter Scott and Chateaubriand, and took part in the school performances of plays by Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca.

In 1833 he was sent to study law at the University of Toledo, but after a year of idleness, he fled to Madrid, where he horrified the friends of his absolutist father by making violent speeches and by founding a newspaper which was promptly suppressed by the government. He narrowly escaped transportation to the Philippines, and passed the next few years in poverty.

The suicide of popular writer Mariano José de Larra, at age 29, brought Zorrilla into notice. His elegiac poem, read at Larra’s funeral in February 1837, introduced him to the leading men of letters. In 1837 he published a book of verses, mostly imitations of Alphonse de Lamartine and Victor Hugo, which was so favourably received that he printed six more volumes within three years.

After collaborating with Antonio García Gutiérrez on the play Juán Dondolo (1839) Zorrilla began his individual career as a dramatist with Cada cual con su razón (1840), and during the next five years he wrote twenty-two plays, many of them extremely successful. His Cantos del trovador (1841), a collection of national legends written in verse, made Zorilla second only to José de Espronceda in popular esteem in XVI century.

National legends also supply the themes of his dramas, which Zorilla often constructed by adapting older plays that had fallen out of fashion. For example, in El Zapatero y el Rey he recasts El montanés Juan Pascual by Juan de la Hoz y Mota; in La mejor Talon la espada he borrows from Agustín Moreto y Cavana’s Travesuras del estudiante Pantoja.

His famous play Don Juan Tenorio is a combination of elements from Tirso de Molina’s Burlador de Sevilla and from Alexandre Dumas, père’s Don Juan de Marana (which itself derives from Les Âmes du purgatoire by Prosper Mérimée). However, plays like Sancho García, El Rey loco, and El Alcalde Ronquillo are much more original. He considered his last play, Traidor, inconfeso y mártir (1845) his best play.

Upon the death of his mother in 1847 Zorrilla left Spain, resided for a while at Bordeaux, and settled in Paris, where his incomplete poem Granada was published in 1852. In a fit of depression, he emigrated to America three years later, hoping, he claimed, that yellow fever or smallpox would kill him. During eleven years in Mexico he wrote very little. He returned to Spain in 1866, to find himself half-forgotten and considered old-fashioned.

Friends helped Zorilla obtain a small post, but the republican minister later abolished it. He was always poor, especially for the 12 years after 1871. The publication of his autobiography, Recuerdos del tiempo viejo in 1880, did nothing to alleviate his poverty. Though his plays were still being performed, he received no money from them.

Finally, in his old age, critics began to reappraise his work, and brought him new fame. He received a pension of 30,000 reales, a gold medal of honor from the Spanish Academy, and, in 1889, the title of National Laureate. He died in Madrid on 23 January 1893.

In his early years, Zorrilla was known as an extraordinarily fast writer. He claimed he wrote El Caballo del Rey Don Sancho in three weeks, and that he put together El Puñal del Godo in two days. This may account for some of the technical faults—redundancy and verbosity—in his works. His plays often appeal to Spanish patriotic pride, and actors and audiences have enjoyed his effective dramaturgy.

Don Juan Tenorio is his best-known work. A new English verse translation with parallel Spanish text, translated by N. K. Mayberry and A. S. Kline, is available at this link.

Poetry in translation is the name of a great web in which it is possible to find many titles in different languages. For examples, Spanish poetry is here: http://www.poetryintranslation.com/index.html#Spanish.

Don Juan Tenorio is available in many languages:

More information:

  1. An interesting study of The Don Juan Legend in Literature, by Samuel M. Waxman, published in 1908 in The Journal of American Folklore, Volume 21, is available here.
  2. 2011 Catalogue of an exhibition in Valladolid.
  3. Works by or about Jose Zorrilla at Internet Archive and here.
  4. Play in Youtube:

The Poetics of Piracy. Emulating Spain in English Literature, by Barbara Fuchs

From the University of Pennsylvania Press:

15108

The University of Pennsylvania Press published in 2013 a volume in the Haney Foundation Series (view table of contents) that explores the relationships between the early modern literature from England and Spain.

In The Poetics of Piracy, author Barbara Fuchs challenges the hegemony of a nationalist English literary history that all too often ignores the rest of Europe, particularly Spain.

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.

Barbara Fuchs is Professor of Spanish and English and directs the Center for 17th and 18th Century Studies of the Clark Memorial Library at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her Exotic Nation: Maurophilia and the Construction of Early Modern Spain and “The Bagnios of Algiers” and “The Great Sultana”: Two Plays of Captivity are both available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Professor Barbara Fuchs leads a great initiative in Los Angeles: diversifying the classics. As part of her work there are available online three translations of Spanish Golden Age comedies:

 

Don Quixote de la Mancha – MOOC in English and Spanish versions

The Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala is the home of the fantastic MOOC Discover Don Quijote de la Mancha, what many call the greatest book of all time. The Don Quijote MOOC, which was the brainchild of the brilliant Giancarlo Ibarguen, is beautifully created by professor Eric Graf and the UFM video production team in both English and Spanish versions. 

It has been made possible thanks to a donation from the John Templeton Foundation, with additional support from the Earhart Foundation. 

This MOOC uses many of the vibrant teaching techniques that makes the Internet a revolutionary teaching and learning tool. 

MOOC in English: http://donquijote.ufm.edu/en/



MOOC in Spanish: http://donquijote.ufm.edu



Enjoy!