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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The First Night of a Famous Play, in the Year 1807
By Benito Pérez Galdós (1843–1920)
 
        
From ‘The Court of Charles IV.’: Translation of Clara Bell
  
  [Gabriel, a boy of sixteen, has taken service as page with a very charming actress of the Principe Theatre. Between this theatre and La Cruz exists the same sort of hostility as between the rival theatres at Venice when Goldoni inaugurated his reform. La Cruz represents the new and “natural” spirit in the drama, as against the absurd artificial tradition that had prevailed up to that time. A part of Gabriel’s duties is to go and hiss the plays at that theatre. The principal occasion of this kind is when he accompanies a band, led by a rival playwright, to the first performance of ‘El Sí de las Niñas’ (The Maidens’ Yes), by the famous Moratin, the leading piece of the new school.]

“WHAT a vulgar subject! what low ideas!” he exclaimed, loud enough for everyone to hear. “And this is how comedies are written!”…  1
  “But let us listen to it,” said I, finding my chief’s comments quite intolerable. “We can laugh at Moratin afterwards.”  2
  “But I cannot bear such a medley of absurdities,” he went on. “We do not come to the theatre to see just what is to be seen any day in the streets, or in every house you go into. If instead of enlarging on her matrimonial experiences, the lady were to come in invoking curses on an enemy because he had killed one-and-twenty of her sons in battle, and left her with only the twenty-second, still an infant at the breast, and if she had to carry that one off to save him from being eaten by the besieged, all dying of famine—then there would be some interest in the plot, and the public would clap their hands till they were sore. Gabriel, my boy, we must protest, protest vehemently. We must thump the floor with our feet and sticks to show that we are bored and out of patience. Yawn; open your mouth till your jaws are dislocated; look about you; let all the neighbors see that we are people of taste, and utterly weary of this tiresome and monstrous piece.”  3
  No sooner said than done: we began thumping on the floor, and yawning in chorus, exclaiming, “What a bore!” “What a dreary piece!” “What waste of money!” and other phrases to the same effect; all of which soon bore fruit. The party in the pit imitated our patriotic example with great exactness. A general murmur of dissatisfaction was presently audible from every part of the theatre; for though the author had enemies, he had no lack of friends too, scattered throughout the pit, boxes, and upper tiers, and they were not slow to protest against our demonstration, sometimes by applauding, and then again by roaring at us with threats and oaths, to be silent; till a stentorian voice from the very back of the pit bellowed, “Turn the blackguards out!” raising a noisy storm of applause that reduced us to silence.  4
  Our poetaster was almost jumping out of his skin with indignation, and persisted in making his remarks as the piece went on….  5
  “A pretty plot indeed! It seems hardly credible that a civilized nation should applaud it. I would sentence Moratin to the galleys, and forbid his writing such coarse stuff as long as he lives. So you call this a play, Gabrielito? There is no intrigue, no plot, no surprise, no catastrophe, no illusion, no quid pro quo; no attempt at disguising a character to make it seem another—not even the little complication that comes of two men provoking each other as enemies, and then discovering that they are father and son. If Don Diego now, were to catch his nephew and kill him out of hand in the cellar, and prepare a banquet and have a dish of the victim’s flesh served up to his bride, well disguised with spice and bay leaves, there would be some spirit in the thing.”…  6
  I could not, in fact, conceal my enjoyment of the scene, which seemed to me a masterpiece of nature, grace, and interesting comedy. The poet however called me to order, abusing me for deserting to the hostile camp.  7
  “I beg your pardon,” said I. “It was a mistake. And yet—does it not strike you, too, that this scene is not altogether bad?”  8
  “How should you be able to judge?—a mere novice who never wrote a line in your life! Pray what is there in this scene in the least remarkable, or pathetic, or historical?”  9
  “But it is nature itself. I feel that I have seen in the real world just what the author has set on the stage.”  10
  “Gaby! simpleton! that is exactly what makes it so bad. Have you not observed that in ‘Frederick the Second,’ in ‘Catharine of Russia,’ in ‘The Slave of Negroponte,’ and other fine works, nothing ever takes place that has the smallest resemblance to real life? Is not everything in those plays strange, startling, exceptional, wonderful, and surprising? That is why they are so good. The poets of to-day do not choose to imitate those of my time, and hence art has fallen to the lowest depths.”  11
  “And yet, begging your pardon,” I said, “I cannot help thinking— The play is wretched, I quite agree, and when you say so there must be a good reason for it. But the idea here seems to me a good one, since I fancy the author has intended to censure the vicious system of education which young girls get nowadays.”…  12
  “And who asks the author to introduce all this philosophy?” said the pedant. “What has the theatre to do with moralizing? In the ‘Magician of Astrakhan,’ in ‘Leon and the Asturias Gave Heraldry to Spain,’ and in the ‘Triumphs of Don Pelayo’—plays that all the world admires—did you ever find a passage that describes how girls are to be brought up?”  13
  “I have certainly read or heard somewhere that the theatre was to serve the purposes of entertainment and instruction.”  14
  “Stuff and nonsense!”  15
 
 
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