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HISPANIA

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VOLUME IX

NUMBER 1

57

51 SIDELIGHTS ON THE SPANISH THEATERS

53

59

OF THE EIGHTEEN-THIRTIES

That the Spanish stage was in a sorry plight just before the advent of Romanticism is a matter of common knowledge. The theaters themseves were wretched buildings, the scenery and costumes dingy and inappropriate, the actors often ignorant (there were exceptions, of course) and incapable, and new plays by native authors were few and far between. Larra, whose articles cover the period from the late 1820's to the year 1837, often uses decadencia and similar words with regard to the theater, and his impressions are confirmed by the witness of his contemporaries. The suggestions which he offers for the improvement of the stage reflect keenly upon the state of affairs making them apposite.

If the audiences and critics had reason to be displeased, the authors of the plays presented had a still greater right to depression and despondency. They received little glory and even less financial reward for their labors. Larra gives us considerable information concerning the trials of those who were courageous enough to write for the stage; consider, for example, his Carta a Andrés, escrita desde las Batuecas por el Pobrecito Hablador.1 One of the interlocutors is an author who is speaking of the booksellers of Madrid, saying: ... No hay dos libreros hombres de bien. Usureros! Mire usted, días atrás me ofrecieron una onza por la propiedad de una comedia extraordinariamente aplaudida;.... Si es en el teatro, cincuenta duros me dieron por una comedia que me costó dos años de trabajo, y que a la empresa le produjo doscientos mil reales en

1 Larra published the Probrecito Hablador from August, 1832, until February, 1833. The article referred to will be found in Larra's collected works, eg. the edition by Garnier, Paris, no date, Vol. I, pp. 46 ff.

menos tiempo; y creyeron hacerme mucho favor." He figures that his work has thus brought him a real and a half per day; and at that he was forced to employ many intrigues to have the play passed brun the censor and produced by the theater. He concludes, therefore: that he will translate Scott and Cooper, or rather, retranslate then from the French versions, which the booksellers will pay for at: reasonable rate (“doce reales . . . el pliego de imprenta"); or h will translate any French plays which come into his hands, for the will bring him as much as would original dramas, and by not signing his name he can be indifferent to their fate. "¿Qué quiere usted? Er este país no hay afición a esas cosas."

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The figure which Larra mentions, fifty duros (1,000 reales) wa by no means exaggeratedly low; one to two thousand reales seem: to have been about the normal price paid by a manager for the righ to produce a play, and the booksellers might give five hundred reales for the ownership of the copyright and the rights of publication Larra, speaking again in El Pobrecito Hablador of the author of play, says se le dan luego mil o dos mil reales, lo menos, por su trabajo.. ." True, a regulation had been promulgated in 1807. providing that authors should receive a definite per centum of the box-office receipts of their plays, both in Madrid and in the provinces, but this law had become a dead letter. In Madrid authors received. what the managers chose to pay them, and provincial theaters obtained fraudulent copies and paid nothing.3

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It must not be thought, however, that an author always received as much as a thousand reales for an original play. Bretón de los Herreros, for example, received only three hundred for his highly successful A Madrid me vuelvo, which ran for nearly a month." Gil y Zárate tells us what it cost him to earn four hundred reales:5 six months to write the play, three for the star actor to consider it, three more before the committee read it, a month to rewrite the piece, two more for it to be reconsidered, and five months more before it was finally played. “Y luego sea usted autor dramático," he says.

2 Postfigaro. Artículos no coleccionados de D. Mariano José de Larra. (Ed. by E. Cotarelo) Madrid, 1918. Tomo I, pp. 120-121. V. Also Larra, ed. Garnier, Vol. I, p. 121.

3 Larra, ed. Garnier, Vol. I, pp. 120 ff.

4 G. Le Gentil, Le poète Manuel Breton de los Herrerros et la société espagnole de 1830 à 1860, Paris, 1909, p. 20.

5 Semanario Pintoresco, 1838, p. 793. Quoted by Le Gentil.

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