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Book of the Month

April 2003

Scarfe-La Trobe 
Spanish Plays

Sp Coll Scarfe

Unusually, this month we feature not just one book, but an entire collection of rare Spanish plays. Recently acquired by Glasgow University Library, the Scarfe-La Trobe collection is one of the most important additions to the Special Collections in recent years. It has been specifically selected to be highlighted this month to tie in with the annual Conference of the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland, being held at the Kelvin Conference Centre here in Glasgow University.

Lope de Vega Carpio: El testimonio vengado1604 (Scarfe 739)

Agustin Moreto: El cavallero del sacramento 1676 (Scarfe 129)

The collection comprises nearly 2,000 items consisting of 1,068 plays (with 904 duplicates), ranging in date from the Seventeenth to the end of the Nineteenth Centuries. Representing a wide range of dramatic genres, a large proportion are comedias sueltas, that is, plays that were printed separately for sale in pamphlet form; a smaller number are desglosadas - plays printed to form part of (mainly) seventeenth century volumes; such volumes normally contained 12 plays, but they were also made available 'disbound' for sale as single items. Printing plays in this form had its beginnings in an early Spanish practice of producing works, usually for a relatively cheap market, in single quarto gatherings; these were called pliegos sueltos (loose gatherings),  translated by some scholars as 'chap-books'.  The form proved to be a convenient way of popularizing single short dramatic works. Many of the collection's sueltas are eighteenth century editions, but, like the desglosadas, are plays composed during the Golden Age of Spanish theatre. The earliest item in the collection is the 1604 Valladolid edition of El testimonio vengado by Lope de Vega, a desglosada.



Calderon: La vida es sueño 1726 (Scarfe 779)

Typically each item consists of two or three quarto gatherings bound together and printed in two columns. The printing standards of the seventeenth century copies are particularly poor: cheap paper was used to cut costs, the pages are crowded with necessary spaces made as small as possible, title-pages are rare, legibility is often obscured by bad inking and damaged types, and figurines and wood block ornaments are used only occasionally. Being unauthorised reprints and piracies, many are undated.

Calderon: La vida es sueño 1726 (Scarfe 779)

In all, the work of more than 200 different dramatists is represented. The playwrights include: Lope de Vega, Cervantes, Calderón (over a hundred of his titles are included), Tirso de Molina, Francisco de Rojas Zorrilla, Agustín Moreto and numerous others.

Calderon: Fieras afemina amor undated (Scarfe 305)

Antonio de Mendoza: Querer por solo querer 1728 (Scarfe 647)

Shown here on the left is the opening of the 'loa' or dramatic prologue to Calderon's Fieras afemina amor; written for the birthday of the Queen mother, Mariana of Austria, Philip IV's widow and mother of Charles II, the original edition was probably printed in 1670 for those who attended the first performance. Considered to be one of the finest of Calderon's mythological plays, it concerns several of the labours of Hercules and his amorous enslavement by Iole. On the right is the beginning of Querer por solo querer by Antonio de Mendoza. Originally published in 1623, this play was written to celebrate another birthday - that of Queen Isabel de Borbón; it was first acted by the ladies (meninas) of the court.
The collection also includes important rare texts by eighteenth and nineteenth century playwrights, of which one of the most famous is Ramón de la Cruz - a satirical observer, in numerous one-act comic plays known as sainetes, of Spanish society.

Of international importance, the Scarfe-La Trobe Collection of Spanish plays constitutes a rich corpus of primary evidence which not only illuminates the character and development of Spanish drama but also demonstrates the mutually influential relationship between the national theatre of Spain and drama as it was created, read, performed and printed throughout Europe during three impressively productive centuries. It must be regarded as a major new research resource which will be of considerable benefit both to the University and to scholarship at large. The collection richly complements the holdings of sueltas and desglosadas in Spain's National Library and major collections throughout the world.

Ramón de la Cruz Cano: La avaricia castigada 1st edition, 1791 (Scarfe 89 i)

Ramón de la Cruz Cano: La avaricia castigada 2nd edition, 1816 (Scarfe 89 ii)

Ramón de la Cruz Cano: La avaricia castigada 3rd edition, 1867 (Scarfe 89 iii)

Francisco de Roxas: El mas impropio verdugo por la mas justa venganza 1771 (Scarfe 461)

Comprising so many variant texts, this collection gives both theatre-historians and textual critics the means to compare different versions of the same drama and to decide why the different texts exist: whether the playwright concerned had himself produced more than one version; whether the original text had been altered by actors for performance - perhaps to suit their acting capacities or their public's preferences; or whether, perhaps, the printers, always concerned to save money on paper for instance, had made textual cuts and changes on their own account.

Study of the individual copies also reveals how the plays have been used by readers over the years. Many of them show the signs of wear and tear resulting from close reading and careless handling; others are marked by annotation and comments; some have been bound together in idiosyncratic compilations, as in this copy of two plays by Agustin Moreto and Roman Montero & Francisco de Villegas, bearing the handwritten titles on the cover.

The editions in this collection can provide, too, essential clues to resolve cases of disputed or confused authorship as well as problems of dating and uncertainties about performance and reception. The fact that a significant number were used, or were printed from manuscripts used by specific theatre companies, while many have wrappers on which the printers list titles of other plays being offered for sale, makes this collection additionally important to a thorough knowledge of Spain's theatre-history. Moreover, the fact that the work of more than a hundred different printers is represented in the plays offers invaluable evidence to enable a better understanding of the history of printing in Spain and the rest of Europe - a still undercultivated area of research.

Cover of Agustin Moreto: La discreta venganza 1673 & Roman Montero/Francisco de Villegas El nacimiento de S. Francisco 1673 (Scarfe Group D: 244 & 521)

Lope de Vega Carpio: Lo que ha de ser 1804 (Scarfe 406)

The collection belonged to Bruno Scarfe, formerly of La Trobe University. Mr Scarfe, who has close family connections with the city and the University of Glasgow, had had offers to purchase the collection from Spain and the USA, but Glasgow University, where his father was for many years a Senior Lecturer in the French Department, was by far his preferred permanent location. For more than a year Ann Mackenzie, Ivy McClelland Research Professor of Spanish, and David Weston, Keeper of Special Collections, sought and eventually found ways and means of bringing this major collection to Glasgow.

Lope de Vega Carpio El casamiento en la muerte 1626 (Scarfe 153)

An application made to the National Fund for Acquisitions resulted in the award of a 50% grant (the largest available), while the additional funds needed to assist purchase were provided from within the University - from the Chancellor's Fund, the Friends of Glasgow University Library and the Faculty of Arts Library Discretionary Fund. A final award made from the Principal's Strategic Development Fund, allocated to assist researches on the collection, which matched an amount for the same purpose from a private source, resulted in Mr Scarfe's agreement that the plays should pass to the University.

Cervantes: Los baños de Argel 1749  (Scarfe 99)

Since the sale was confirmed Mr Scarfe has generously donated additional items to the University, including manuscript fragments of two extremely rare Spanish plays, one of which dates from the seventeenth century. Special Collections proposes to acquire, as its funds allow, other rare Spanish dramatic texts, which will enhance still further the collection.

Copies of Calderon: Agradecer y no amar:  1 copy of first edition, 1694; 1 copy of 2nd edition, date unknown; 1 copy of 3rd edition, date unknown; 8 copies of 4th edition,1764  (Scarfe 22)

Mr Scarfe has been engaged in research for many years to compile an Analytical Research Catalogue of the entire collection. It is now his intention to complete this project at Glasgow University in collaboration with Professors Ann Mackenzie and Don Cruickshank, the results of which will be published both in print and online through the Bulletin of Spanish Studies, a Glasgow-based international research journal.

The annual conference of the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland is being held at the Kelvin Conference Centre 14-16 April 2003. Throughout the conference, a small display of Spanish material - spanning the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries and drawing upon several collections - will be held in the Henry Heaney Room, Special Collections Department, Level 12, Glasgow University Library. Several examples of plays from the Scarfe-La Trobe collection will be included in the display. Opening times:

Monday 14 April:       10.00-17.00
Tuesday 15 April:        9.00-17.00
Wednesday 16 April:    9.00-17.00

Once the cataloguing of the collection is complete, the records will be loaded into the main library catalogue, as well as appearing in the Bulletin of Spanish Studies. In the meantime, any researchers wishing to use the collection should consult a handlist (ordered alphabetically by title with an author index) available in the Special Collections Department.

For an introduction and background to the printing of sueltas and desglosadas see:
Edward M. Wilson & Don W. Cruickshank Samuel Pepys's Spanish plays London: Bibliographical Society, 1980 Bibliog B57:3 1980-W


The text of this article is based upon information supplied by Professor Ann L. Mackenzie

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Julie Gardham April 2003