- El teatro de Miguel de Cervantes by Ignacio García Aguilar, Luis Gómez Canseco, and Adrián J. Sáez
Miguel de Cervantes is revered as the creator of Don Quijote, a narrative that has left its mark on the development of the novel and on artistic innovation in general. Nobody doesn't like Don Quijote, one could argue. The same could hardly be said of Cervantes's comedias, which were maligned early and in the cruelest terms, and which have never quite been vindicated. Throughout their brief but solid and insightful survey, Ignacio García Aguilar, Luis Gómez Canseco, and Adrián J. Sáez stress that, as a playwright, Cervantes belongs to the sixteenth century, not to the seventeenth. The authors are advocates of the quality of Cervantes's dramatic corpus, but they are realistic in their assessment of his theatrical output. The writer himself, as he reveals in his works, notably in the prologues, acknowledges that his talent for poetry per se was not as strong as his narrative skills. The plays are not perfectly constructed. Speeches are often too long, transitions are not polished, and so forth. Yet Cervantes was, from his childhood, a fan of the theater, and he aspired to triumph on stage. He mentions having seen the pasos of Lope de Rueda in Sevilla, and his family likely had friends in the theatrical community. During his stay in Italy, Cervantes would have been involved in discussions [End Page 205] of Renaissance theory and would have viewed performances of the commedia dell'arte and neoclassical tragedy. The metafiction in Don Quijote is matched by the metatheatrical aspects of Cervantes's dramatic works, in which self-reference and self-consciousness are common motifs.
After three years in Italy and five in captivity in Algiers, Cervantes returned to Spain and to his goal of writing for the theater. In Valencia, Madrid, and Sevilla, he had the opportunity to attend the theater and to interact with actors, playwrights, and others associated with the stage. Of the plays that he wrote in this initial period, which would have been fairly large in number, only La Numancia and El trato de Argel (together with La conquista de Jerusalén, attributed to Cervantes) survive. These works belong to a project to renovate the theater by playwrights such as Juan de la Cueva, Andrés Rey de Artieda, Lupercio Leonardo de Argensola, Cristóbal de Virués, and Gabriel Lasso de la Vega. This bespeaks the sixteenth-century sensibility that helps to define the structure and the aims of Cervantes's plays. The authors of El teatro de Miguel de Cervantes accentuate the period of 1575 to 1587, in which writers of drama veer from strict Aristotelian precepts; they heed suggestions by the "moderns" over the "ancients" in terms of form and content, but the break is never absolute. Anticipating Lope, they pay careful attention to public taste. Cervantes, then, by no means creates in a vacuum. The emphasis here is on the ties between Cervantes and playwrights of the second half of the sixteen century rather than on Cervantes as a flawed interpreter of the "comedia nueva," yet Lope's ever-increasing predominance unquestionably affects the later plays of Cervantes. Cervantes alludes to this change on several occasions, including in the plays themselves. Note, for example, the discourse of the personified Comedia at the beginning of the second act of El rufián dichoso.
Following his serious injury in the Battle of Lepanto and the years of captivity in North Africa, Cervantes has his hopes dashed on Spanish soil. The fact that Cervantes—struggling but certainly not thriving as a playwright—had to accept a position in Sevilla that had nothing to do with the world of art would seem to testify to his lack of success as a dramatist. A shift to Valladolid did not help the cause. Lope de Vega and his rise to prominence established a new...