Drama Theme in Don Quixote
Drama Theme in Don Quixote
Cervantes, as drama critic, comments, through his characters, on: the purpose of a play; the effects of a play; the qualities of a good play; the censorship of plays; the various types of plays; the various types of playwrights; the read this great post by Don Quixote various types of audiences; how plays make money; what type of audiences attend what types of plays; stage scenery; modern drama, and more.
First, Cervantes explains that in “well-ordered societies public [drama] entertains the community with harmless recreation, to keep at bay the bad temper that idleness sometimes produces.” What’s more, audiences to Cervantes, who are entertained by “ingenious and well-crafted [plays are] instructed by its truths, amazed at its action, wiser thanks to its speeches, warned by its roguery, shrewder for its examples, incensed against vice, enamored of virtue, and cheered by its jests for a good play will provoke all these reactions in anyone who watches it, including the most Don Quixote quotes slow-witted of yokels.” Moreover, plays, in Cervantes’s view, “are instruments which confer great benefits on society, holding up to [humanity] at every step a mirror in which [people] can see the actions of human life most vividly portrayed, for there is no more realistic representation of what we are and what we are going to be than plays and players.” For this reason, “drama, [to Cervantes], should be a mirror of human life, an exemplar of customs, and an image of truth, properly structured and plotted as art demands, for imitation, is the principal feature expected of a [good] play.” A good play, to Cervantes, will cheer and entertain, satisfy and please far more than [a bad play does, thus] provoking [intense emotional] reactions in anyone who Don Quixote wrote in a blog post watches it.” This is why Cervantes equates good plays to the play of life where “kings, emperors and popes, gentlemen and ladies” are played by different actors. One “actor plays the pimp, another plays the liar, this one the merchant, that one the soldier, another the wise fool, another the fool lover; but once the play is over and they remove their costumes, all the players are equal.” In sum, to Cervantes, “in the play of life all characters, whether emperors or popes, or commoners or altar boys, are all equals in the grave, since when [the play] is over, when life ends, death strips them all of the costumes that delineated by our friends at Don Quixote had distinguished between them.” Evidently, Cervantes is saddened by “countless plays written by brilliant Spanish geniuses, with such panache and [such] wit, in such elegant verses, containing such excellent speeches, and weighty maxims, and, in short, so rich in eloquence and loftiness of style [that it is a shame they have not] reached the required pitch of perfection [because of a playwrights’] urge to comply with actors’ [and audiences base] tastes.”
The “masses, [Cervantes continues] love [most plays] and think they’re splendid creations when they’re the very opposite, and the authors who write them and the actors who perform them say that it can’t be otherwise because that’s how people want them and they wouldn’t have them any other way.” How can anyone, Cervantes wonders, “with the slightest intelligence be content with [plays in which] the action is set in [discordant] times when a whole age separate[s] one event from another?” Or, similarly, how can anyone think a play is good when “historical veracity is claimed for it [yet] bits and pieces of other histories involving different people and periods are mixed in, without any attempt [at verisimilitude] but with obvious mistakes that are quite inexcusable.” In Cervantes’s view “all this works to the detriment of the truth, to the prejudice of history, and even to the discredit of Spanish writers, because foreigners, who are most meticulous in obeying the rules of drama, consider [Spaniards] to be barbarous when they see the absurdities and nonesenses of [their] plays.” Lamentably, Cervantes tells us that “there are people ignorant enough to say that [some flawed plays are] sheer perfection, and that to expect anything better is to ask for the moon and the stars.” Indeed, some plays, Cervantes continues, are designed “to fill the ignorant rabble with amazement and persuade more of them to come and see the play, [but good plays] so delight, surprise, and amaze, both the simple-minded, and the wise, both the riff-raff, and the elite,” that both the high, with refined tastes, and the low, with simple wisdom, are equally cheered. But Cervantes does not “blame the masses for demanding rubbish, but rather those who aren’t capable of providing them with anything else.” Indeed, Cervantes rails against modern plays by saying that “fashionable plays, both the purely fictional ones and those based on historical fact, are so much stuff and nonsense, higgledy-piggledy hodgepodges that have awoken [in him his] old loathing [of] fashionable plays because modern plays are just mirrors of absurdity, exemplars of folly and images of lewdness.”
Aren’t “thousands of plays, [Cervantes asks,] performed all the time with thousands of blunders and absurdities and despite that they have a good run and are greeted not only with applause but with admiration too?” That, “so long as [these playwrights] fill [their] money bags it doesn’t matter if [they] make more blunders than there are atoms in the Sun, since plays have been turned into goods for sale.” Then, Cervantes recounts that if “playwrights say, and speak the truth, players wouldn’t buy [their plays] if they [do not appeal to the popular imagination], so the writer tries to meet the demands of the impresario who’s going to pay him for his work.” Then, Cervantes asks his [Spanish countrymen if they] “remember that a few years ago three tragedies written by a famous Spanish poet were so good that those three plays made more money for the players than the best thirty that have been produced since?” To Cervantes there have been “a few [plays] written by a handful of skilled poets who in this way added both to their own renown and to the profits of the players.” But, unfortunately, Cervantes laments, some people “write their plays so thoughtlessly that the actors have to run and hide after their performances for fear of being punished, as they often have been, for scenes that insult Kings and dishonor families.” Cervantes even criticizes religious plays by saying that they create “false miracles, apocryphal and misunderstood events, with the miracles of one saint attributed to another!” Moreover, Cervantes says that even in plays that aren’t religious players make bold to insert miracles, without any respect or consideration for the realism of the miracle—“their only thought is that such and such a miracle or special effect, as they call them, would do very nicely there, to fill the ignorant rabble with amazement and persuade more of them to come and see the play.”
Cervantes even responds to the argument that “there’s no need to make laws, or oblige those who Don Quixote quotes write and perform plays, to do so in the proper way [by saying that] an impresario’s aim [will be] far better achieved with good plays than with bad ones, because the audience that has gone to see an ingenious and well-crafted play comes out at the end cheered by its jests.” Cervantes even says that “if there were some intelligent and sensible person in the capital to scrutinize all plays before they were performed ? and if no local authorities would permit the production of any play without his approval, seal and signature ? then the actors would make sure to send their plays off to the capital so as to be able to perform them safely, and the playwrights would devote much more care to their work because of their fear of this rigorous examination by someone who knew what he was doing; and in this way good plays would be written and their goals splendidly attained; not only the amusement of the people but also the good reputation of Spanish writers, the livelihood and security of the actors. Finally, Cervantes comments that “it would not be appropriate for stage finery to be precious and real: it must be counterfeit and illusory, like drama itself.”
Originally posted 2020-01-23 09:47:36.