Completed: El burlador de Sevilla (Spanish Lit Month)

Cover: El burlador de Sevilla“El burlador de Sevilla”
Tirso de Molina (written c. 1616; published c.1630, Spain)
My edition from Diez Comedias del Siglo de Oro, 2nd edition
José Martel & Hymen Alpern, editors
Revised by Leonard Mades

Don Juan:        Tío y señor,
Mozo soy y mozo fuiste;
Y pues que de amor supiste,
Tenga disculpa mi amor.

(original)

Don Juan:        Uncle and lord,
Youth I am and youth I was;
And you knew what it is to love,
You must excuse my love.

(my attempt)

Act 1

You know how sometimes you decide to do something that seems like a really good idea at the time, but in execution turns out to be not so great? Yeah, that would be my brilliant idea to read “El burlador de Sevilla” in Spanish. At first it seemed it would work out well: similar to my method of reading The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance, I decided read an English translation followed by the Spanish. It was an easy enough decision–I had both on hand, hand-me-downs from an aunt who once-upon-a-time was a Spanish teacher (before moving on to other things). The English read quickly enough, although I found myself with nothing to say about the play. So move on to the Spanish.

Which is when I became disappointed.

Turns out, the English translation I have* is…lacking. To be kind. First, it was in prose rather than making any attempt to match the poetry of the original. Fair enough, translation of poetry is understandably difficult. (Though Grossman proves it very doable.) Of course, it turns out that I’m a reader that wants the translation to at least follow the from of the original.  But on top of that, lines were reassigned to different speakers, sections were left out and an entire passage (a lengthy three-page monologue) was dramatically condensed and reassigned to a different speaker in a different act and there were even brand-new lines of dialogue added†. I feel like that’s taking poetic license a bit far! So all this to say, instead of reading through the Spanish for a general sense of the language and sounds of the original, instead I found myself trying to understand the entire thing. (I will admit, the English translation did at least give me a go by to help with some of the trickier places. Assuming the section hadn’t been omitted, of course.)  Thank goodness for online translation dictionaries!

I am glad I read the Spanish, though. The English left me feeling ambivalent towards it (turning it into prose is a travesty), but after conquering the Spanish, I find I like “El burlador de Sevilla” much better. I would LOVE to see it performed, but that seems highly unlikely. (Is there a recorded version anywhere, though?)

“El burlador de Sevilla” was the first dramatization of the Don Juan legend (although not perhaps the best known–Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni likely holds that title), the story of a womanizing trickster who seemingly seduces every woman he meets, heedless of consequence, and seeming to delight even in seducing the women his own friends love. Indeed, the question may be whether he takes more delight in the women or in the engaño (trick or deception) he pulls. But this play is in the hands of a Catholic monk (Tirso de Molina was the pseudonym for Fray Gabriel Téllez), so consequence there must be. His sins are not only his deceptive seductions, but also murder and arrogance. He does not repent until too late–and likely only out of desperation; doubtless Molina intended this as a morality play. Were it not for this moral, it would have felt in some ways like reading a Shakespearean comedy: deceptions and wrongs, but with everything turned right in the end (save Don Juan, of course), all told in poetic meter and fast-paced action among quickly-shifting scenes.

I do wish I had a better translation of “El burlador de Sevilla” on hand. (If you know of a good one I could get, do let me know.) Despite reading the Spanish second, and slowly (verrrrry slowly), I still feel as if I need another few go-throughs before I can really get to the heart of this play. The basic outlines are there, I know the plot, and can begin to see some threads of ideas to explore. The variety of women–for although most–but not all!–fall for Don Juan, they are each a different character with different responses. The limitations placed on both the women, and on the nobility–were not Don Juan’s fated decided by his sin, his King would chose his path for him. The importance of honor for both men and women, and the different concepts of justice then and now. And without a better hold on Spanish, I can’t even begin to comment on the language of the play. After all, I was so focused on basic meaning that I barely even noticed the rhyme schemes employed throughout. Perhaps one to revisit again?

I read this both for Spanish Lit Month hosted by Stu of Winstons dad’s blog and Richard of Caravana de recuerdos and as part of a readalong (originally planned for June) hosted by Richard.

*If you must know, from Three Classic Don Juan Plays, edited by Oscar Mandel, 1971 edition. I believe out-of-print.

† I did consider that perhaps the editors were working from a different Spanish text, but not only have I not found  any significant variations between the Spanish I read and versions I found online, they openly admit to moving and condensing the above-mentioned monologue.

Leave a comment

4 Comments

  1. The book you want is Life Is a Dream and Other Spanish Classics edited by Eric Bentley, which includes the superb Roy Campbell version of “The Trickster of Seville.” Es muy bien. The other plays in the book are good, too, one of them a lot more than good.

    I’ll write about the Campbell translation soon. Today, tomorrow, soon.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Tom, I was hoping you’d have found a better translation. I’ll have to look for that one and maybe reread “The Trickster of Seville” again.

      I look forward to your post(s), whenever they may be.

      Reply
  2. Amanda, thanks to you and Tom for reading this with me. I’ll have a post up sometime this week–prob. later in the week, though, b/c my brother’s coming to town from out of state early tomorrow. That being said, how sad to hear about all the translation challenges you noted. I liked the language without being particularly wowed by the drama on my first reading in the Spanish. You touch on many points of interest–agency among the nobility, honor, justice–so I may borrow one of those whenever I write my own post.

    Reply
    • Thanks for inviting us to read along, Richard! It prompted me to read a play from off of one of my project lists, and that always counts as a good thing. The translation issues were frustrating, but at least I can say that I’ve now read a complete play in Spanish, and I now have a slightly more realistic hope that I’ll actually read some of the other books I have in Spanish. On the downside, I feel like all the effort I put into just a basic understanding of the Spanish meant I didn’t really get a good hold on any other aspect of the play. Feel free to borrow away! I look forward to your post.

      Reply

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