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Barbara Fuchs

"Spanish Plots on the English Stage"

Barbara Fuchs, UCLA


As the recent wave of interest in the lost Cardenio reminds us, early modern English writers turned frequently to Spain, even at the times of greatest rivalry between the two nations. This paper explores the workings of appropriation in the theater, by charting how Jacobean dramatists take up and transform the texts of their Spanish contemporaries. I show how writers such as Beaumont, Fletcher, and Middleton put Spanish sources to anti-Spanish purposes. The great appeal of the Spanish plots to which these writers turned time and again overrides their suspicion of “plotting Spaniards,” and produces a series of fascinating plays that use Spain against Spain.


The pugnacious appropriation of Spanish materials in the early 1620’s negotiates the tremendous English anxiety about the possibility of a “Spanish Match” between Charles I and the Infanta of Spain. These tensions are addressed in Fletcher’s Rule a Wife and Have a Wife (1624),  a comedy based on Spanish sources in which the English discomfiture at the possible union is transformed into the textual comeuppance of a Spanish wife. They also animate Middleton’s 1624 A Game at Chess, the most notorious anti-Spanish play of the period. With its vision of  Spanish ambition and Jesuit conspiracy, the latter play mobilizes anti-Spanish paranoia to great effect, giving literary life to political cliché. Yet despite the loud denunciations of plotting Spaniards, English dramatists remained fascinated by Spanish plots. Middleton’s own The Spanish Gypsy, of just a year before, takes up multiple plots from Cervantes, creating a colorful Spain characterized as much by its carnivalesque gypsies as by its corrupt aristocrats. By juxtaposing a series of intricately plotted plays with Spanish sources to A Game at Chess, I show how productive Spain proved for the English stage, despite the frequent portrayal of Spaniards as plotters and Machiavellians.



Barbara Fuchs is Professor of Spanish and English at UCLA. Her books include Mimesis and Empire: The New World, Islam, and European Identities (2001), Passing for Spain: Cervantes and the Fictions of Identity (2003), Romance (2004), and Exotic Nation: Maurophilia and the Construction of Early Modern Spain (2009). With Aaron Ilika, she translated and edited two captivity plays by Cervantes, The Bagnios of Algiers and The Great Sultana (2009), and is now translating two maurophile novellas, The Abencerraje and "Ozmin and Daraxa." She recently co-edited The Spanish Connection: Literary and Historical Perspectives on Anglo-Iberian Relations (JEMCS, 2010) and is now working on a book on the occlusion of Spain in English literary history.


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