Unknown Comedia by Lope de Vega Discovered

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Alejandro García Reidy, researcher of the PROLOPE Group of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and Assistant Professor at Syracuse University, has discovered a manuscript copy of Mujeres y criados (Women and Servants) in the Spanish National Library.

Lope de Vega is considered to be one of the most important playwrights of the Spanish Golden Age and 17th-century Europe, with a fundamental role in the evolution of modern theatre and a vast number of dramatic works. Although perhaps exaggerating, he himself said that he had written over 1,500 comedias, 300 of which are known to exist today.

Recently, one of the works thought to be lost was recovered. It is entitled Mujeres y criados (Women and Servants) and was discovered by Alejandro García Reidy, member of the UAB research group PROLOPE and Assistant Professor at Syracuse University, New York, in a manuscript preserved in the Spanish National Library. The 17th century manuscript had not been previously related to Lope de Vega.

The latest issue of the CSIC’s academic journal Revista de Literatura, of inminent publication, includes the article entitled “Mujeres y criados, una comedia recuperada de Lope de Vega” (Women and Servants, a Comedia by Lope de Vega Recovered), in which the researcher uses different elements to demonstrate that the author of the comedia is Lope de Vega. “Several internal elements of the text and the relation the manuscript has with data in documents from that period confirm that the text was written by the “Phoenix of Wits”: the metric analysis fits perfectly with how the playwright wrote in the years 1613 and 1614 and the copyist of the manuscript, who made this copy in 1631, has been identified without a doubt as being Pedro de Valdés, an ‘author of comedias’, which in modern terms would be what we call a theatre company director, and who we know staged Lope de Vega’s play thanks to documents from that period”, Alejandro García Reidy states.

“This is a very important discovery. Lope de Vega was a prolific writer, but finding the works which have yet to be discovered is not easy. Although attributing works to certain authors is always subject to possible controversies, the well-known prestige of the researcher and the validity of his arguments make me think there will be unanimity amongst the scientific community”, says Alberto Blecua, director of the PROLOPE-UAB group in charge of publishing the work.

The existence of a play by Lope de Vega entitled Mujeres y criados is certified by the fact that the playwright included this title in his list of comedias in the 1618 edition of El peregrino en su patria (The Pilgrim in his Own Country). Up until now, the comedia was thought to be lost and catalogues did not include it because it had not been published in any of the author’s collection of comedias or in any other published book.

The copy of the comedia is currently preserved in the Spanish National Library (BNE) and registered with the catalogue number Mss/16915. It was added to the BNE in 1886 when the National Library bought the Library of Osuna. The size of the manuscript is a standard quarto size made up of 56 sheets, with a modern binding. It was copied by one sole person in 17th-century handwriting, and this person numbered the sheets independently for each of the acts.

The official presentation of the play will take place in the following months at the Spanish National Library. García Reidy is already working on an annotated edition of the text, which will be presented in the spring. The publishing house Editorial Gredos, which publishes critical editions of Lope de Vega’s works made by the PROLOPE group, will be in charge of publishing the work as well. The text will also be made available online on the group’s website: www.prolope.es.

The PROLOPE group has signed an agreement with the Fundación Siglo de Oro (RAKATá) theatre company to perform the play. At the official presentation of the manuscript, the company’s actors will read out a dramatised version of the play, while theatre performances will be offered once again this coming fall, four centuries after its original debut in theatres. Fundación Siglo de Oro (RAKATá) specialises in the creation and performance of theatre plays from this era, and adapts them to audiences of the 21st century. Since 2009, the company has been working in collaboration with UAB researchers to offer other plays by Lope de Vega, such as El perro del hortelano (The Dog in the Manger), Fuenteovejuna and El castigo sin venganza (Justice Without Revenge). The company is also planning a “Spanish Golden Age Cycle” for next spring, in which their best performances, accompanied by conferences, will be offered at the playhouse Teatros del Canal in Madrid.

A Comedia Appealing to Today’s Audiences

Mujeres y criados, written around 1613-1614, is a lively entanglement showing the best features of a mature Lope de Vega, when his success as a playwright was at its peak and he practically dominated the playhouses of 17th-century Spain.

The work belongs to Lope de Vega’s urban comedia genre and coincides with his way of using subversion when talking about certain issues such as social hierarchies or honour, and the dominant role given to women in his plots.

“This comedy reaches out to today’s audience as well. Some scenes are more proper of a vaudeville show, a theatrical genre whose mechanics and rhythm are still quite popular. Many of the scenes have their complexity, which is very promising, coming from a theatre play from the Golden Age”, explains García Reidy.

The story takes place in Madrid and stars two sisters, Violante and Luciana, and their lovers, Claridán and Teodoro, one a waiter and the other the secretary of Count Próspero. These two couples, whose love for each other remains secret, find their relationships put to a test with the appearance of two new suitors: Count Próspero himself, who chases after Luciana, and the rich Don Pedro, who courts Violante with the approval of her father. This initial scene leads to a game of hide-and-seek and confused identities in which Luciana must intervene to stay close to her lover. These entanglements give way to several very comical scenes, and the house in which they occur becomes a place where all actors are at the mercy of the tricks played by the two women and their lovers.

Contributing Source : Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

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