- The Outrageous Juan Rana Entremeses: A Bilingual and Annotated Selection of Plays Written for This Spanish Golden Age Gracioso
Peter Thompson is one of the leading authorities on Cosme Pérez, who grew to fame under the stage name Juan Rana, and the plays written for him. Thanks to his research and criticism, these one-act plays are considerably better known than they were a generation ago. The publication of this selection of plays, which in essence comprises a companion volume to The Triumphant Juan Rana, Thompson’s monograph on the same subject, is a welcome addition to our understanding of the actor, the entremés, and seventeenth-century Spanish humor. In addition to publishing in one volume some of the most famous Juan Rana plays, Thompson has added English translations, not only to make these plays known to non-Spanish-speaking readers but also to help those who understand Spanish but may have trouble with the slang, archaic usages, and double entendres that abound everywhere in these texts.
As the subtitle notes, this volume contains only twelve of the entremeses associated with Juan Rana: El guardainfante I y II and Los muertos vivos, by Quiñones de Benavente; El parto de Juan Rana, by Lanini y Sagredo; Las fiestas del aldea, by Bernardo de Quirós; Una rana hace ciento, by Belmonte Bermúdez; El desafío de Juan Rana and El triunfo de Juan Rana, by Calderón; El retrato de Juan Rana, by Villaviciosa; La boda de Juan Rana and Juan Rana muger, by Cáncer y Velasco; and La loa de Juan Rana, by Moreto. This selection does an admirable job of including plays by both more-famous and lesser-known playwrights, but the omission of other entremeses, such as Moreto’s Los dos Juan Ranas, Quiñones’s El doctor Juan Rana, and Cáncer’s Los putos is sure to disappoint those familiar with this corpus of plays. (Might one hope that Thompson is considering additional volumes to complete the collection?) Each play is preceded by a brief introduction that includes a thumbnail synopsis and an occasional relevant historical or critical note.
The prose translations read well, but I dare say it would be impossible for any translation to convey all the connotations of the original. In addition to the usual problems that face translators of early modern Spanish dramas, these comic plays present additional challenges because of the intensely layered meanings of so many words. In some instances, it is simply impossible to render [End Page 145] into an English sentence the varied multiple meanings found in the Spanish, which means that the footnotes are essential if one hopes to try to appreciate all the connotations that come in rapid succession. By way of example, consider two examples from El parto de Juan Rana. In the play, Juan Rana not only finds himself pregnant, but his water has just broken: “¡Que haya / de parir yo sin comadre / habiendo tenido tantas!” (110). Thompson renders this on the facing page as “Why should I give birth alone / having had so many girlfriends?” (111), which essentially captures the literal meaning of the Spanish. The accompanying footnote, however, reveals that comadre is not just a girlfriend but a midwife, that a man who had many female friends is called a comadrero, a word that has the additional connotations of old, passive, and gay (as was Juan Rana himself), a fact that renders the comadres as “fag hags.” Thompson duly notes that this last term is unflattering, which it is, but, in the context of these plays, bawdy and vulgar are probably preferable to polite and sensitive. Indeed, another dilemma facing Thompson was whether to go full-on vulgar or to try to maintain some sense of decorum, and often the Spanish doesn’t help. Earlier in the same play, the Escribano asks, “¿La vara agora comparáis al sexo?” (98). Thompson’s translation, “So now you’re comparing the staff to...