Biblioteca Dramatica

Biblioteca Dramática

Samples of Spanish theatre acquired subsequent to the ‘great find’: La Biblioteca Dramática; work in progress, most advanced descriptions:Varios 2 (excl. bound volume), 3, 4 and 6.

Though my education at Ampleforth College, York was outstanding in the field of Spanishstudies, and my further education in Spanish at Oxford was thorough, both had a flaw. Neither institution had time for 19th century Spain – it was scorned. My teachers at Ampleforth may have had their hands tied by national examination boards … but not so Oxford. Indeed, to give Oxford credit, Eve (my wife-to-be) and I persuaded the authorities to introduce a course in Spanish Mediaeval studies, a wish influenced by my time at Salamanca University prior to going up to Oxford. But I do not recollect any opportunity at Oxford to pursue 19th century studies in Spanish literature. One lecturer from Christ Church College, however, spoke on the concept of the ‘Golden Age’ as a myth, indicating peaks are a matter of perception. One could have extrapolated that, in due course, the 19th century might have its moment in the sun.

In honesty, though, I confess that what attracted me first in Spanish 19th c. literature, theatre in particular, was not the message and its style, but its presentation. I refer to its presentation in print, and especially by one man, Vicente de Lalama, associated principally with the calle Duque de Alba 13, Madrid. After working on the 2,000 or so sueltas etc. constituting the Scarfe – La Trobe Collection (Glasgow University Library), I knew what formats to expect. The one eventually chosen by Lalama, however, is different: generous in dimension (21.5 x 14.5 cms. uncut) it is luxurious, as can be the paper. It is nice to handle items from his press.

Which brings me to Lalama, and his various rôles. Not only did he print everything in the series Biblioteca Dramática from 1846 to 1860 (others – Anselmo Santa Coloma, Manuel Álvarez, M. Galiano, Pascual Conesa and Gabriel Alhambra – printed for him till 1871 and later), but he was its owner and editor, and at times co-author. He seems to have been both director and manager, a person of considerable entrepreneurial ability who came to advertise some 1,500 plays (these include items from collections he bought up, such as El Museo Dramático and Joyas del Teatro). He chose plays by authors and composers then famous and in some cases still so, ones less known and now neglected, and ones working in partnership. They deal with Spanish (and other) contemporary and historical themes, and some are translated or adapted from French, English, German or Italian plays or novels. They cover dramatic sub-genres from 1 to 5 acts, include refundiciones, arreglos and the story for zarzuelas. Many show that printing came on the heels of an opening night, when date, theatre and cast are included, while others refer to earlier performances or, indeed, to an impending one (para representar) with date envisaged. They name the few booksellers handling the publication (a continually changing scenario), and where relevant the government censor who issued the permit to perform, plus date and place of issue. A mine of information.

Finally, there is the scope of his – usually light paper – cream, pink, green or grey house wrappers which I call envolturas and term ‘generic’, as they do not mention the author, title, or date etc. of the play enclosed. It is a pity so many were subsequently disposed of by binders and others as what they include can make them significant. I refer to their great evolving check lists of current and scheduled stock complete with notes on sub-genres, relative originality, and breakdown on number of actors required and whether male or female (an eye to potential repeat performance). Impressive, and pre-I.T..