Translation and Performance in Cervantes’ El retablo de las maravillas



Among the most frequently translated entremeses from the Spanish Golden Age stands a play that its playwright sold to a publisher, because he couldn’t find a producer who could see performance potential in it: El retablo de las maravillas, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

Today, literary critics hail El retablo as a masterful satire on limpieza de sangre and a mordent exploration of how an audience comes to connect with – and even take control of – a play during the process of its performance. Judging by the ACHT video library (which catalogs at least six performances of this play, one of them in English), performers today find this script packed with material worth performing.

How does translation unpack this famous little play’s huge performance potential? 400 years after the play’s publication in 1615, during a Symposium looking toward the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ death in 1616, a consortium of dramaturgs, theater practitioners, and Comedia performance fans invites AHCT members to participate in a hands-on exploration of this question.

The Practicum sparks discussion about translation and performance by contrasting how different translations handle potent performance challenges in El retablo de las maravillas – challenges that range from
  • defining whose blood will be pure enough to see the maravillas that are promised as this retablo is performed, to
  • exploring which characters onstage see which figuras at which point during the play within the play, to
  • suggesting how figuras become visible to the characters who see them, to
  • interpreting the role played by music and tone and pace in performing transitions between scenes in the play, to
  • decoding and recoding the impact that watching this play in performance exerts on its external audience.

In one 90-minute session, the Practicum will investigate three challenging passages for performing El retablo in English today, illustrate those challenges by presenting staged readings from contrasting translations (published and unpublished), and stimulate freewheeling discussion about translation, performance, and Cervantes’ teasing play.

Ben Gunter, Theater with a Mission
Kerry Wilks, Wichita State University
David Pasto, Oklahoma City University
Ian Borden, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Amy Williamsen, University of North Carolina-Greensboro
Susan Paun de García, Denison University
Samuel Worthington, Wichita State University


First Steps

Hot spots for study: Nominate in Discussion tab (below)