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Shakespeare in Love...in Spain

Shakespeare being used as a dramatic character predate 'Shakespeare in Love' by hundreds of years in Spain.

Jennifer Reid

We have all heard of the award-winning film Shakespeare in Love, but did you know its origins lie almost 200 years earlier?

Shakespeare’s appearance in Spain did not follow the trend demonstrated by most other European countries.  At the turn of the 19th century most European theatres were bucking against the trend of neoclassicm, but Spain had its own established form of National theatre and the Spanish did not need to rebel again neoclassic influences.

Shakespeare arrived in Spain came with the French influence the dominated in the early 1800s, and Shakespearean performances of the time were translated from French adaptations rather than from the original English.

The earliest record of Shakespeare’s work in Spain is from 1742, of which the censor wrote: “The censor has nothing to note except the suspicion that Shakespeare was a heretic, because it is said that in his life that he was born in Stratford, one of the English provinces infected with heresy”.  The first recorded performance of a Shakespeare play in Spain was in 1772 when Ducis’s Hamlet was performed in Madrid; however, it appears that after this, no one thought to perform a Shakespeare play for thirty years.

Fast forward a couple of years, and Spain was occupied by French. Following the troop’s arrival in Barcelona on 13th February 1808, the theatres were closed down. They were reopened in 1810 to celebrate Napoleons Birthday in August 15th.  The play chosen for this performance was Shakespeare Amoureux by Alexandre Duval which was first performed in Paris that same year. There were three performances of this play in Barcelona that year alone.

Title page from Shakespeare Amoureux by Alexandre Duval
Title page from Shakespeare Amoureux by Alexandre Duval

In 1928 Ventura de la Vega translated Shakespeare Amoureux into a Spanish one act play titled Shakespeare Enamorado, first performed at the Principe Theatre in the same year.  This play was extremely popular with the Spanish people, and marks the birth of Shakespeare as a dramatic character in Spain.  Duval and de la Vega present Shakespeare at the point in which he is writing Othello but the core of story is inspired by the infamous anecdote of “William the Conqueror” anecdote which see Shakespeare beating Burbage to an amorous encounter.

Prior to performances of Shakespeare Amoureux/ Enamorado there had been a few attempts to perform Jean-Francois Ducis’s adaptations (Hamlet (1772), Othello (1802), Romeo and Juliet (1803) and Macbeth (1803)), with Othello being the most popular with Spanish audiences. Ducis had adapted six of Shakespeare’s plays into French in the second half of the 18th Century, often changing characters and plots, and his publications and playbills from performances omitted to mention Shakespeare as the original source entirely.  The first performance of Othello in Barcelona in 1802 was advertised as a “modern” play and as a “comedy”, with the title being misleadingly given as Ofelo, with no mention of Shakespeare at all.  The moderate success of these performances combined with the lack of awareness of the original source of the plays meant that when Shakespeare Amoureux/ Enamorado came out, few in the audience had heard of Shakespeare or his work. What Shakespeare Amoureux/ Enamorado did successfully was create the link in Spanish minds between Shakespeare the character, and Shakespeare as the author of Othello.

1828 marked a moment for Othello; of the four Shakespeare-related performances in Madrid that year, three were Othello themed: Otelo, Shakespeare Enamorado d, and El Caliche – a parody of Dulcis’s Othello in the form of the prototypical Spanish farce. What followed was a Nationwide love of the story of Othello.