The Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra coincidence

Dr Mark Hutchings writes:

The events held in the UK and across the globe to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death are being mirrored in Spain and the Hispanic world: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quixote, also died in 1616, and this coincidence has afforded scholars and practitioners an opportunity to explore ways in which the two writers’ achievements might be brought together in a fruitful dialogue. Last week in Valladolid, the city where Cervantes was living when his great novel was published, the University of Valladolid in cooperation with Spain’s national and regional governments hosted ‘Cervantes + Shakespeare’, a five-day international conference under the aegis of SEDERI (Spanish and Portuguese Society for English Renaissance Studies The proceedings were formerly inaugurated at the Archivo General, Simancas by the Secretary of State for Culture, José María Lassalle, and academic papers were given over three days in the university’s Renaissance buildings; a classical music concert by La Spagna  was held in St Alban’s College (founded in 1589 and the earliest English Catholic seminary established in Spain); and the conference closed with a performance of Cervantine and Shakespearean pieces in Cervantes’ house, which is now a museum.

Valladolid was in many ways the perfect venue for such an event. Not only is the city associated with Cervantes, but the Spanish writer was present in 1605 when an English embassy, led by the lord Admiral, the earl of Nottingham, arrived in May, staying for a month as the guest of King Philip III. Valladolid was for a brief period (1601-6) the seat of the Habsburg court, before it returned to Madrid permanently the following year. The purpose of the embassy was to ratify the peace treaty signed the previous year in London, when a Spanish embassy was received in England by the new king, James I. Together with the conference organiser, Berta Cano Echevarría, Head of the Department of English Philology at the University of Valladolid, I have been carrying out research into the Anglo-Spanish peacemaking, and specifically the ways in which the ceremonial aspects of early modern diplomacy may be considered to be theatrical and performative. We are interested in how diplomacy was performed – in elite, private entertainments, such as court masques, and in public, in the form of civic displays. One such was the embassy’s formal entry into Valladolid, an event scripted by Philip III as both a gesture of respect towards James’s representative and a performance of Spanish prestige. Surviving eyewitness accounts in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, together with diplomatic documents in the archives, have enabled us to identify (and to some extent, though with the usual caveats, ‘re-imagine’) how the entry was choreographed, and the kinds of entertainment the lord admiral and his embassy received. On this basis Berta Cano and I have reconstructed the route, based on the earliest-known map of Valladolid dating from 1738, showing the point of entry when the English entourage arrived outside the city, the route of the procession, and the principal entertainments and ceremonial events that took place during the month the English remained in the city. Funded by the University of Valladolid and in association with the city hall, Berta Cano and I have reproduced the route and site of entertainments as a fold-out map on one side, with excerpts from the English, Spanish, and Portuguese texts on the other, each of which provides a descriptive commentary of events, such as the entry itself, the tournament and bullfighting held in the plaza mayor (still today much as it was then), and the baptismal procession to the Church of San Pablo: Philip III’s male heir was born while the embassy was en route to Spain, and the ceremonial baptism was incorporated into the festivities surrounding the official ratification of the peace.

Although many of the buildings in which theatre took place in England and Spain have long since vanished, to leave at best only tantalising traces, one of the advantages of exploring early modern civic entertainment is that while many of the structures have long since gone (though by no means all, especially the religious edifices, in Spain at least), the topography of cities often remains substantially as it was. That is, streets and layout change rather little. Berta Cano and I were thus able to retrace the route taken by the embassy upon its entry into Valladolid in May 1605, and identify the places of the principal entertainments, through using a later, eighteenth-century map that corresponds in most respects to the centre of the city today, which was medieval in origin. Once we had established the route and devised the map it was produced to professional standards by the University of Valladolid. A month ago we took a group of bilingual schoolteachers from Castilla y Leon (from schools in Burgos and Salamanca, as well as Valladolid) along the route: like most people in Valladolid they knew nothing of this aspect of the city’s history, of the important part it played in international relations four hundred years ago. Last week we each took a group of conference delegates on the route, starting at the Campo Grande that led into the city (Phillip III having instructed the lord admiral to enter the city from this direction, because this perspective showed Valladolid at its best), and proceeding to the plaza mayor and on to the church of San Pablo, opposite which stood (and stands) the royal palace. Using the excerpts from the earliest accounts built into the map we aimed to convey something of the flavour of the event, as seen through Spanish, English, and Portuguese eyes. It was a great success, despite the fact that academics make for at best amateur tour guides. What most impressed me, however, was how the University of Valladolid, the city hall, and the regional and national government combined to make the wider conference possible, and through this promoted our ‘theatre of diplomacy’ project. The city’s tourist office was particularly interested in our venture, and we are in the process of developing an app for visitors to the city. In the longer term we hope to extend this project to other European cities – so if any students are interested in this kind of project do get in touch.




About Cindy

Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
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