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Arriba Randall W. Listerman, translator, Miguel de Cervantes' Interludes / Entremeses

Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1991. 128 pp.

Evelio Echevarría

Colorado State University

The story of Cervantes's Entremeses is somewhat poignant. They appeared one year before his death, the last work he would publish in his life of permanent poverty. And yet, as Griswold Morley noted, that unique sixty-eight year old hidalgo «chuckled to himself as he wrote» those pieces of farce and slapstick. We know that the entremeses definitely accredited to him were eight (six in prose, two in seven-syllable blank verse). Between 1919 and 1948, a few of them received an occasional English version, usually published in literary journals. Morley listed those translations in The Interludes of Cervantes (1948), a work with which he also became the first to have translated all eight. His book, bilingual, is the basic one and, like nearly all Cervantes scholars, he based it on the Bonilla-Schevill Obras completas de Cervantes (Madrid, 1914-41). There is also another translation by Edwin Honig, The Interludes of Cervantes (New York, 1964), at present unavailable. The new translation by Listerman will be most welcome, the more so since Morley's, although reprinted in 1969, is quite hard to find.

A comparison between the two existing complete translation works is necessary. Listerman states in his very interesting introduction that his edition is the only one to contain, besides the plays themselves, «the frontispiece, the Prologue and the Dedication by Cervantes in his 1615 book» (12). But what should interest us most is how Morley and Listerman try to strike a level of appropriate diction in an evidently difficult translation task. Cervantes's Entremeses are basically plays of lower-class types who display wit. Morley tried «to convey Cervantes' exact meaning» by striking «a mean between current slang and standard book English» (vi). His work was said to be the product of an academic mind, but it was faithful to the original. Listerman, on the other hand, seeks to render the plays into modern English. His is not a bilingual edition, no doubt because his aims are different. He hopes that his English version will «serve to stimulate and encourage actual performance» (12). To allow readers to judge, a typical passage, quoted from the Spanish original and the two English translations, should suffice:

JUEZ.-  Resoluto veniz! Dezid las quatro causas.

CIRUJANO.-  La primera, porque no la puedo ver mas que a todos los diablos; la segunda, por lo que ella sabe; la tercera, por lo que yo me callo; la quarta, porque no me lleuen los demonios quando desta vida vaya, si he de durar en su compañia hasta mi muerte.

PROCURADOR.-  Bastantissamente ha prouado su intencion!

(Cervantes, El juez de los divorcios, Morley 14)                

JUDGE.-  You know your mind! State the four causes.

DOCTOR.-  First, because I can't bear the sight of her more than all the devils in hell; second, for a reason she knows; third, for one   —155→   that I don't care to tell; fourth, because I hope demons may fly away with me when I die, if I will remain in her company for the rest of my life.

PROSECUTING ATTORNEY.-  He has proved his case to the utmost sufficiency!

(Morley 15)                

JUDGE.-  Approach the bench. State the four cases.

SURGEON.-  Well, first off, I'd rather look at the devil than her. Secondly, for the reason she knows very well. The third, I think I'll keep quiet. The fourth reason is that I'll have to spend the rest of my life with her, if the devil doesn't take me.

ATTORNEY.-  All right already. You have made your point.

(Listerman 32)                

Other comparisons are equally interesting. Morley's work offers very accurate notes but no bibliography, no doubt because his was a pioneer study. Listerman's notes are as good, and he adds a bibliography of thirty-six entries, most of them posterior to 1970. Both translators preface their works with a brief but adequate background to the interludes, and both show an equal enthusiasm for their work. And it is also curious to examine how these interpreters of Cervantes handle the problem of translating unknown expressions. Morley honestly confesses that some seventeenth-century expressions have no known meaning. Thus, «caballo de ginebra», «que engaño en mas va que en besarla durmiendo» and «el embuste del llovista» (his notes 10, 18, 24) went translated as honest guesses, a policy Listerman apparently endorses, since his equivalents are quite the same.

We are thus in possession of a new complete English translation of the Entremeses. In informative background and notes, both works mentioned are quite similar and if one may be somewhat incomplete in a specific case, it is complemented by the other. Given the choice, I prefer the 1948 work, if only because it keeps closer to the original (when rendering the subjunctive and the reflexive forms, thus maintaining the old flavor, for one thing). But the decision between academic use and stage performance should determine the choice.

Often we see Cervantes's theater dismissed with no more than a passing mention. Here we are given the chance to observe another facet of his genius.