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Arts and Culture

The play's the thing SU professor discovers

via Flickr. Some rights reserved by Zaqarbal
Statue of Lope de Vega at the entrance of the National Library of Spain, in Madrid.

It’s not every day you come across a lost play from a master of 16th century literature.  But that’s what happened to a professor at Syracuse University’s department of languages, literatures and linguistics.  

Alejandro Garcia-Reidy, an assistant professor of Spanish at SU, was studying plays from 16th and 17th century Spain, when he came across documents that indicated there was a lost play written by Lope de Vega, one of Spain’s great authors of that era. When he found a play with the same name in a catalog at the Spain’s National Library in Madrid, he put the pieces together.

"On the one hand, I was able to identify the handwriting of the person who had copied the manuscript that we have, and it turned out it was the head of the same company we know had performed the play around 1614-1615,” said Garcia-Reidy. “And at the same time, I analyzed the style, the type of verses used in the play, and they all fit the way this playwright was writing plays around 16-13-1614.”

And that was enough for Garcia-Reidy and other experts to conclude that the play, "Mujeres y criados,” in English, “Women and servants,” was in fact the lost text written by Lope de Vega in 1614.

"To find another play by him is like finding another play by Shakespeare, by Marlowe, or by any other great playwright of the time. It’s not something that happens very often,” said the professor.

Garcia-Reidy says the play is a comedy that pits two women against the social mores of the time. The women love two working men, while their father wants them to marry more influential and wealthy suitors.

“It’s lots of fun because of the way the women are in charge of the situation and they’re able to make fools of the other men -- how they’re able to bring their lovers into their own house with their father agreeing to having them inside. So it’s very female dominant,” said Garcia-Reidy.

Those strong women characters were something that the theater of that time embraced.

"Showing the audience, showing how women of the time could be in charge of their own life, of their own love -- and even if social conventions dictated certain things -- women in the end could achieve their own desire.”

Only about 300 of an estimated 1,500 plays penned by Lope de Vega have survived, as well as thousands of sonnets and a handful of novels, novellas and epic poems. Garcia-Reidy says this and other plays by the author can still resonate with audiences today.

"He’s more prolific than Shakespeare, and in some ways his plays are deeper and more comic than some of Shakespeare’s plays, so there’s a lot that he has to offer to a contemporary audience.”

So what’s next?

“I’m currently working on an annotated edition of the play, which should come out late this spring, so anyone who is interested in reading it will be able to access it with a prologue and annotations,” said Garcia-Reidy. “And there’s a professional company in Spain, that’s preparing an up-to-date performance of this text sometimes in 2015, so 400 years after it was first performed, it’ll be back on stage.”