The Duchess of Amalfi’s Steward (c.1604 – 06)

The Duchess of Amalfi’s Steward (c.1604 – 06)
by Lope de Vega
Directed by Martin Hodgson
Translated by Gwynne Edwards
Sunday 14 September 2014, 4.00pm
With music from Coro Cervantes
This afternoon’s performance is dedicated to the memory of Michael Jacobs.
The Duchess of
Amalfi’s Steward
This afternoon’s staged reading and the music
from Coro Cervantes are dedicated to the
memory of Michael Jacobs (1952 –2014).
Michael was an art historian, writer,
indomitable traveller and lover of all things
Spanish. He loved theatre, too, and was a
great supporter of Read Not Dead. He advised
us on our Shakespeare and Spain season and
translated Lope de Vega’s The Innocent Child
of La Guardia (published by Oberon Books)
for our 1998 Shakespeare and the Jews season.
Michael and I often discussed new translation
projects but these always had to be postponed
because of his journeys within South America
and Spain.
Impossible to list all of Michael’s books here
but if you plan to walk The Road to Santiago
De Compostela, go to Andalucia, visit Madrid,
Barcelona or the Alhambra, take the relevant
book by Michael with you. Even if you are not
planning a visit, read his Factory of Light: The
Story of My Andalucian Village – a village he
adopted and which adopted him.
Patrick Spottiswoode
Lope de Vega’s
The Duchess of
Amalfi’s Steward
Written by Dr Alexander Samson,
University College London
Lope Félix de Vega Carpio (1562 – 1635),
the most prolific of Spain’s first generation
of professional playwrights, enjoyed a career
that began in the 1580s and spanned five
decades. During this time he wrote at least
450 plays that we know of, although he and
others claimed the figure reached into the
thousands. His best known plays today are
perhaps the tragedies penned towards the
end of his career El caballero de Olmedo
(The Knight of Olmedo) (c.1620) and El castigo
sin venganza (Punishment without Revenge)
(1631), the so-called peasant honour diptych
Fuenteovejuna (c.1612 – 14) and Peribáñez y
el comendador de Ocaña (c.1605 – 8), and the
romantic comedies El perro del hortelano
(Dog in a Manger) (1613 – 15) and La dama
boba (Lady Nitwit) (1613).
His version of El mayordomo de la duquesa
de Amalfi was written between 1604 and
1606 and enjoys the distinction of being
one of only ten works explicitly described
by their author as tragedies. In his tonguein-cheek address to one of Madrid’s literary
academies on his methods and theory of
writing for the theatre, Lope described the
Spanish ‘comedia nueva’ as a monster;
like the Minotaur, the progeny of a bestial
coupling of comic and tragic elements.
Tragedies derived their plots from history.
Perhaps one reason for using this rare epithet
was the fact that the play was based of
course on a true story; the death of Giovanna
d’Aragón, the titular duchess, who after
being widowed at nineteen had an affair
with her majordomo, which they managed
to conceal despite producing three children.
Her disappearance after an attempted
reunion with her lover never to be heard from
again provided Mateo Bandello with the raw
materials for his 1554 version, in his famous
Novelle (Pt. 1, 26). Lope’s play drew directly
on the original, neutrally-presented Italian
version of the tale, which Webster may also
have known, although the Englishman’s
main source was almost certainly William
Painter’s 1567 translation of Pierre Boaistuau
and François Belleforest’s Histoires Tragiques
(1559 ) moralised French adaptation, which
incorporated moral condemnation of the
lascivious widow, something not developed
by either Lope or Webster.
Although both Wester and Lope’s plots
derived from the same source their treatment
of it is remarkably different. Webster’s
macabre focus on machiavellian politicians,
twisted sexual desire and grisly revenge see;
the Duchess strangled by the end of Act 4,
while Lope’s heroine is poisonned and dies
beholding the severed heads of Antonio and
their two children right at the end of the play.
The Jacobean revenge tragedy counts the
malefactors, the icy Cardinal and incestuous
Ferdinand amongst its victims, whereas the
fate of Lope’s villain is curtained off, with the
young duke vowing to avenge his mother.
Perhaps the most interesting character in
Webster’s play is Bosola, the malcontented
assassin, whose change of heart sees some of
the most delightfully twisted Jacobean stage
villains biting the dust in quick succession.
Although both plays contain a scene in which
the duchess is presented with the tableau
of her dead husband and children, false in
Webster, real in Lope, it seems fanciful to
suggest that Webster might have known his
Spanish counterpart’s play.
What both plays do have in common is an
interest in female power and social ambition.
In common with his romantic comedies,
much of the interest in Lope’s play resides
with the character of Antonio, much more
sketchily drawn by Webster, who is clearly
less interested in his suffering. Critics have
pointed to similarities between Lope himself
and the secretary figure, Teodoro in Dog in
a Manger, whose liaison with his mistress,
the Countess of Belfor, results in marriage
and a happy ending as opposed to tragedy.
In different contexts, he explored figures
whose social position is at odds with their
worth and virtue, and the complications
caused by desires that transgress boundaries
of rank and social class, as well as race
and religion. Many Spanish comedias
explore the exigencies of high poisition
and rank, the disjunction between the
political and personal, the way that the
bodies of princes are caught between their
majesty and humanity. Critics of both plays
have suggested that we should not be too
easily dismissive of the moral failing and
irresponsibility implicit in the Duchess’
clandestine marriage to a subordinate.
However, both plays clearly carry the
audience’s sympathies in another direction
and force them to confront broader moral
and political questions about the nature
of social hierarchy and difference in their
respective countries.
What does set the two plays apart is their
different dramatic languages. Webster’s
pithy blank verse lends itself to concrete and
colloquial speech, while Lope’s polymetric
verse offers a more abstract, metaphorical
literary language, of greater expressive
richness but less gritty directness. Their
contrasts and comparisons are a source
of fascination. While El mayordomo de la
duquesa de Amalfi may not be one of the
phoenix of the imagination’s best plays,
as Cervantes described Lope, it is a subtle
and affecting piece of drama that loses
nothing from being set alongside Webster’
Coro Cervantes is a professional AngloSpanish choir based in London. Through its
performances and recordings it aims to bring
the music of Iberia and Latin America to
audiences everywhere.
Founded by its director Carlos Fernández
Aransay under the auspices of the Instituto
Cervantes in London, Coro Cervantes made
its first public appearance at the Spanish
Embassy in 1996 and has performed in
Spain, Mexico and Russia in addition to
renowned London venues.
Today’s performers
Around Lope de Vega (1562–1635)
Amaia Azcona Cildoz
Lope used to employ songs and music in his
works as intervals or within the plot itself.
Sometimes writing a contrafactum for a
determined, often popular, piece of music
and for others inserting well known texts.
Debra Skeen
Jorge Carrasco Juarez
Jagoba Fadrique
Frances Kelly
Baroque Harp
Pedro Alcácer Doria
All of the pieces that we are performing
are contemporary to Lope, from late 16th
Century to early 17th.
1. Si tus penas no pruebo
Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599)
4. Entre dos álamos verdes
Juan Blas de Castro (c.1561-1631)
Besides being a dramatist and a poet, Lope
was a clergyman. He wrote the religious
Soliloquios amorosos de un alma a Dios. For
the beginning of Soliloquio VII he adapts a
spiritual villanesca from Guerrero himself.
Part of Las fortunas de Diana. Blas de Castro
became Lope’s best friend when they met at
the court of the Duke of Alba in Salamanca.
He put several of Lope’s poems to music.
2. Esto es amor, quien lo probó lo sabe
Anonymous (s.XVII)
5. Vida bona, vida bona
Juan Arañés (died c.1649)
Sonnet 126 is without doubt one of Lope’s
most beautiful poems.
3. Mira, Nero de Tarpeya
Francisco Fernández Palero (c.1533-1597)
In Roma Abrasada Lope inserts this old
romance that already appeared a Century
before in La Celestina by Fernando de Rojas.
Contrafactum of A la vida bona inspired by
Cervantes’ La ilustre fregona and appearing
in El amante agradecido. One of the most
well-known Spanish music pieces from that
Shakespeare at 450
forthcoming events
Professor Lisa Jardine
(University College London)
Thursday 18 September
Lisa Jardine is Professor of Renaissance Studies
at University College and Director of the Centre
for Humanities Interdisciplinary Research
Her books include Still Harping on Daughters:
Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare,
Reading Shakespeare Historically, Worldly Goods: A
New History of the Renaissance and Global Interests:
Renaissance Art Between East and West (with Jerry
Brotton) and biographies of Erasmus, Christopher
Wren, Francis Bacon and Robert Hooke.
Professor Stanley Wells
(The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust)
Thursday 2 October
Stanley Wells is a Life Trustee and Former
Chairman of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
and Emeritus Professor of Shakespeare Studies
of the University of Birmingham.
He is a Trustee of the Rose Theatre, and a
former Trustee of Shakespeare’s Globe. He is
co-editor of The Oxford Complete Works and
General Editor of the Oxford Shakespeare.
His books include Re-Editing Shakespeare for the
Modern Reader, Shakespeare: The Poet and his
Plays, Shakespeare For All Time, Shakespeare & Co
and Shakespeare Sex and Love.
Sam Wanamaker
Shakespeare’s Globe
£15 (£10 FoSG/cons/
thank you
Globe Education would like to thank:
Dr Alexander Samson (UCL), Maggie & David
Williams and Dr Will Tosh; the Box Office, the
Communications Department and the Theatre
Department at Shakespeare’s Globe for their help
with this reading.
Our heartfelt thanks go to Jean Jayer and to the
Stewards who have donated their time to make this
event possible.
Globe Education is very grateful to Nick Hutchison
and the actors who have graciously given their
time today.