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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

V. The Restoration Drama

§ 13. Early Spanish Influences in English Drama

And this is true, although French models were drawn upon far more frequently than Spanish, in whatever degree the finer lines of the former were, at times, obscured in the process. The degree and character of the influence of Spanish literature on the drama of England has been much misunderstood. The position taken by Ward, many years ago, to the effect that the connection between the Spanish and the English drama is far from intimate and that “among the elements peculiar to the Spanish drama none can be shown to have been taken over by our own and assimilated to its growth,” may be declared to be a position substantially correct. The earliest English play directly traceable to a Spanish source is Calisto and Melebea, an adaptation to the stage of the dramatic novel, Celestina, the work, chiefly if not wholly, of Fernando de Rojas, and published about 1530. This work has already been described, together with the violent didactic conclusion with which the unknown English adapter made amends for his choice of so romantic a story. As is well known, the Spanish scholar, Juan Luis Vives, friend of Sir Thomas More, visited England on the invitation of Henry VIII, who placed him as a reader on rhetoric at Corpus Christic college, Oxford. It has been thought that the English dramatic version of Celestina may have had some relation to Vives and his visit, although he anathematised the Spanish production as a work of infamy in his treatise De Institutione Christianae Feminae. It is somewhat strange that Calisto and Melebea had no successor. However, it played its part in relieving the old moral drama of abstractions by the substitution of living human figures in a story of actual life. It was to Italy, not to Spain, that the predecessors of Shakespeare as well as most of his contemporaries, turned instinctively for romantic material. Spain was an enemy and, as such, was maligned and misunderstood. Yet the figure of Philip, once a sovereign of England, was represented in at least one chronicle history with dignity; and a number of dramas, strictly Elizabethan, laid their scene in the peninsula and affected to follow annals of Spain. Kyd’s Spanish Tragedie and its imitation or burlesque, The First Part of Jeronimo, remain of undiscovered source; and Greene’s Alphonsus King of Arragon is a composite of the biography of more than one sovereign of that name, as his queen Eleanor of Edward I is an outrageous distortion of one of the most estimable and charitable women that ever sat on the throne of England. The same playwright’s Battell of Alcazar and the anonymous Captain Stukeley which deals in part with the same topic, drew on material more nearly approaching the historical. Yet neither of these, nor Lusts Dominion (although details of the death of the king in that piece have been thought to have been suggested by the death of Philip II), can be traced to any definite Spanish source, much less to anything bearing the title of Spanish literature. Nor need we surmise that such lost productions as Wadeson’s Humorous Earle of Gloster with his Conquest of Portingall (1600), The Conqueste of Spayne by John a Gaunt, in which Day, Hathway and Haughton conspired, or Chettle and Dekker’s Kinge Sebastiane of Portingalle (these last two in 1601), were any more closely associated with actual literature of the peninsula, however this last may have touched on a topic of some contemporary historical interest. Indeed, the number of English dramas up to the death of Elizabeth which can be traced even remotely to a source ultimately Spanish is surprisingly small. Marlowe’s Tamburlaine was partially drawn from Pedro Mexia’s Silva de varia lección; but this last had been translated into Italian, French and English (by Thomas Fortescue in his Foreste or Collection of Histories) long before Marlowe came to write. And, in Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, the story of Julia and Proteus was suggested by that of Felix and Felismena in the second book of the Diana of the Portuguese-Spaniard Montemayor. But the probable intervention of the now lost play, The History of Felix and Philiomena, acted 3 January, 1585, should dispose of any theory of a direct Shakespearean contact with this much-exploited Spanish source. Other Shakespearean examples of “Spanish influence” have been affirmed. Such are the correspondences between Twelfth Night and the Comedia de los Engaños of Lope de Rueda; but both could have found a common source in Bandello, or possibly in “a dramatised version by an academy at Siena called Gl’ Ingannati”; and such, too, is the notion that Shakespeare drew on Conde Lucanor for his Taming of the Shrew, a comedy obviously recast from the earlier anonymous Taming of a Shrew, combined with a plot of Italian extraction, immediately derived from Gascoigne’s comedy, Supposes. A more interesting suggestion is that which traces the sources of The Tempest to the fourth chapter of “a collection of mediocre tales,” entitled Noches de Invierno, the work of one Antonio de Eslava and first published at Pamplona in 1609. Fitzmaurice-Kelly has given the weight of his authority to a respectful treatment of this source, adding:

  • This provenance may be thought to lend colour to the tradition that Shakespeare dramatised an episode from Don Quixote—a book that he might easily have read in Shelton’s translation published in 1612, or perhaps, even in the manuscript which Shelton had kept by him for some four or five years. At any rate, the following entry occurs under the date 1633 in the register of the Stationers’ company:—“The History of Cardenio by Mr. Fletcher and Shakespeare, 20s.”