Thursday, November 19, 2009
Lope De Vega's Selected Works- "La Gatomaquia"
Reading that Guide to World Comics reminded me of how confined even the most educated of us can be by language and geography. As part of what's basically an ex-British colony, you know Shakespeare; if I suggested you didn't know what happens to Romeo and Juliet, you might be offended. But it would be rare indeed if you'd read anything by the literary monstrosity that is Lope De Vega: the Phoenix, as he's know in Spain; the Monster of Nature, as his awed/mocking contemporary Miguel de Cervantes called him.
Lope is the closest playwright to Shakespeare in genius, and might have surpassed him in quality if he hadn't surpassed him- and pretty much everyone else- in quantity. Critics attribute some 1,800 plays to him: at that cranked out rate, there was plenty of mediocre plot-recycling, but some 100 of those are considered masterpieces. One of them, "Fuenteovejuna" or "The Sheep Well" is an obligatory inclusion in any reasonable anthology of world drama. When an arrogant commander of the Order of Calatrava mistreats the villagers of occupied Fuenteovejuna- and rapes a local girl- the upset townsmen take revenge. The King's wrathful envoys try to solve the murder, only to find that the united villagers agree that "Fuenteovejuna did it." Power to the people. Mob lynchings are not cool, but "Fuenteovejuna- todos a una" is still a kick-ass rallying cry against tyranny in the Spanish-speaking world.
As if shelves of plays weren't imposing enough, Lope left behind some 3,000 sonets, a few experiments in a novelistic field that was just taking off, and some large poems, one of which, "The Gatomaquia", anticipates T.S. Eliot- and Andrew Lloyd Webber- by some 4 centuries: it's an antromorphic mock-epic about fighting-and-romancing cats. T.S. Eliot must have been at least partially aware of it when writing "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats". Specifically, I find it hard to believe he wasn't inspired by Lope De Vega's fanciful cat addressing: (Garraf, Clawhilda, Micifoof, Marramaquiz, Mowlero, etc... how are they NOT the ancestors to Growltiger, Grizabella, Mistoffeles, Mungojerry, and Macavity, down to the preponderance of Ms?)
BELOW: A Spanish production of "La Gatomaquia". Is your, er, "memory" stirred?