- 1 Historical Records
- 2 Theatrical Provenance
- 3 Probable Genre(s)
- 4 Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
- 5 References to the Play
- 6 Critical Commentary
- 7 For What It's Worth
- 8 Works Cited
5 October 1598
|[William] Aspley||Entred for his copie vnder the handes of|
|mr Samuell Harsnell, and both|
|the wardens, a booke intituled|
|The tragick Comedye of|
|Celestina./ wherein are discoursed|
|in most pleasant stile manye||vjd|
|Philosophicall sentences and|
|advertisementes verye necessarye for|
|younge gentlemen ___________________|
|Discoveringe the sleightes of treacherous|
|servantes and the subtile cariages of|
(Book C, f. 42r, Records, reel 2; cf. Arber 3.127)
Unknown; quite possibly not intended for the theatre.
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
The title entered in the Stationers' Register was almost certainly some kind of translation of Fernando de Rojas's Celestina (first published as a Comedia in 1499, and expanded as a Tragicomedia in 1502). The fact that the S.R. entry closely matches the title pages of the sixteenth-century Spanish editions of Rojas's novel might imply that it was a full English translation (Rosenberg 59; Warner Allen 337). Less a work of theatre than a novel in dialogue, the Celestina treats the unreciprocated passion of Calisto for Melibea, his recruitment of the bawd Celestina to assist him in winning her, and the tragic consequences for all involved. James Mabbe (1571/2–1642?) offered the following argument for the work as a whole:
- CALISTO, who was of Linage Noble, of Wit Singular, of Disposition Gentle, of Behauiour Sweete, with many gracefull qualities richly indowed, and of a competent estate; fell in loue with Melibea, of yeeres young, of blood Noble, of estate Great, and only daughter and heire to her father Pleberio, and to her mother Alisa; of both exceedingly beloued. Whose chaste purpose conquered by the hot pursuite of amorous Calisto, Celestine interposing her selfe in the businesse, a wicked and crafty woman, and together with her two deluded seruants of subdued Calisto, and by her wrought to be disloiall, their fidelitie being taken w[i]th the hooke of couetousnesse and pleasure; Those Louers came, and those that serued them, to a wretched and vnfortunate end. (The Spanish Bawd, sig. B1r)
The Celestina is not a play in the traditional sense: it does not observe the conventions of dramatic writing and is far too long for a single performance, divided as it is into twenty-one "acts" ("in effect, chapters" [Wiggins 65]). An early Tudor dramatic adaptation, John Rastell's Calisto and Melibea (described as a "commodye in englysh in maner of an enterlude ryght elygant" when it was printed ca. 1525), only attempted to make use of the first four acts and substituted a new ending.
For a more detailed plot synopsis of the Celestina, see Mabbe's act arguments throughout The Spanish Bawd and Wiggins 64-65.
References to the Play
Identification with James Mabbe's Translation
Critics early on noticed the Spanish source of the entry's title and drew comparisons with other Englishings of the Celestina, including Rastell's Calisto and Melibea and James Mabbe's celebrated complete translation, The Spanish Bawd (S.R. 27 February 1630; printed 1631). Rosenbach thought the S.R. entry referred to "a complete version of the Spanish and not to a mutilated form of it," thus making it "the immediate forerunner of the one by James Mabbe" (58-59). Chambers agreed, emphasizing the improbability that The Spanish Bawd could have been the subject of the 1598 S.R. entry: "it can hardly have been Mabbe's," since "Mabbe, although born in 1572, is first heard of as a writer in 1611, and appears to have turned his attention to things Spanish as a result of a visit to Spain in that year" (ES, 4.399).
Critical reluctance to identify the S.R. entry with Mabbe's translation began to change with the examination of a manuscript in the Duke of Northumberland's possession (Alnwick Castle MS 510) containing its own version of "Celestine, or the tragick comedie of Calisto and Melibea," with a dedicatory epistle signed "J.M." As early as 1872 the Third Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts had connected the Alnwick manuscript to the 1598 S.R. entry (via Halliwell 44), but conjectured that "J.M." was John Marston (HMC Third Report, 119). Harbage, however, speculated on the basis of the Report's description that "J.M." was Mabbe (313), a guess confirmed by the detailed investigation of the manuscript by Guadalupe Martínez Lacalle. As Martínez Lacalle showed, the Alnwick manuscript is clearly Mabbe's work, although it represents a distinctly different and, in all likelihood, earlier version than that published as The Spanish Bawd. (Martínez Lacalle dated the Alnwick manuscript to 1603–1611, although earlier evidence for the date of John Strangways's knighthood moves her terminus ante quem to 1608 [Olsen 3; Fernández 13].) Martínez Lacalle's textual analysis of Mabbe's two translations concludes that there may have been an even earlier text by Mabbe upon which both extant texts were based, and suggests that this earlier version may be represented by the 1598 S.R. entry. Wiggins accepts these findings as the most probable solution and places the S.R. entry, the Alnwick MS, and Mabbe's published translation together in 1598 under the title The Spanish Bawd (64-68).
W.W. Greg (Calisto, v) thought it was "most likely" that the 1598 S.R. entry referred to "Calistus" mentioned in Anthony Munday's A Second and Third Blast of Retreat from Plaies and Theatres (1580), although he later refrained from repeating the suggestion (BEPD, 2.969).
For What It's Worth
Possible Objections to the Identification with Mabbe's Translation
Recent scholars have generally acknowledged the likelihood that the 1598 S.R. entry represents an early version of Mabbe's translation of the Celestina. Wiggins accepts the hypothesis on the principle of parsimony: "Thus, we have a close translation entered in 1598 and a close translation in existence by 1611 even if not published for another twenty years. The likelihood of their being one and the same outweighs the possibility that they may have been different" (64). This is perfectly reasonable and, in lieu of concrete evidence, a safe best guess. There are nevertheless a few objections that might be raised.
Wiggins himself volunteers one possible objection in noting that "the original owner of the rights [in 1598], Aspley, was still active at the time the text [of The Spanish Bawd] was entered to Ralph Mabbe in 1630" (64). Of course, the transfer of rights between stationers often went unrecorded in the Register. But it is interesting to note how differently the title appears at its entrance in 1630: "A play Called The Spanish Bawde" (Arber 4:229).
The issue of the varying titles might also provide further grounds for suspecting the identification. As Rosenberg (59) observed, the 1598 S.R. entry matches closely with the title pages of sixteenth-century Spanish editions. Consider, for example, the 1575 Seville edition:
- Tragicomedia. De Calisto y Melibea. En la qual se contienen (de mas de su agradable y dulce estilo) muchas sentencias Philosophales, y auisos muy necessarios para mancebos, mostrandoles los engaños que estan encerrados en siruientes y alcahuetas.
Clearly the 1598 entry (whether or not it represented a full Englishing of Rojas's novel) directly translates the full Spanish title. James Mabbe does the same in his translations, although the result is distinctly different from the 1598 S.R. entry (Kish 423n). The title page of the Alnwick manuscript (ca. 1603–8) reads:
- CELESTINE / or the / TRAGICK-COMEDIE / of / CALISTO & MELIBEA / Wherein is conteyned besides the plesauntnes and / sweetenes of the style, manie philoso-/phiscall sentences, and profitable in-/structions necessarie for / the younger / sorte. / Shewinge the deceites and / subteltyes howsed in / the bosomes of / false / Servantes / and Conicathinge [sic] / Baudes
The title page of The Spanish Bawd (1631) is essentially identical to the manuscript:
- THE / SPANISH BAWD / REPRESENTED / IN CELESTINA: / OR, / The Tragicke-Comedy of / CALISTO and MELIBEA. / Wherein is contained, besides the pleasantnesse and sweetenesse / of the stile, many Philosophicall Sentences, and profitable / Instructions necessary for the younger sort: / Shewing the deceits and subtilties housed in the bosomes of false / seruants, and Cunny-catching Bawds.
Of course, it's possible that Mabbe could have altered the title of his translation, but it is suggestive that, despite the myriad variations between the Alnwick MS version and The Spanish Bawd, the title remains unchanged between those two texts.
Wiggins seems to assess the probability of the identification partly based on the unlikelihood that two independent translations would be undertaken so close together. It might, however, be noted that on 24 February 1591 John Wolfe entered "A booke entituled Lacelestina Comedia in Spanishe. &c" in the S.R., apparently intending to print the Rojas novel in the original Spanish (Book B, f. 271r; Records, reel 1; Arber 2.575). No copy by Wolfe is known to exist and, indeed, it may not have been printed. However, as Brault observes, Wolfe "is notorious for having pirated a large number of Italian and at least one other Spanish edition, apparently with the tacit approval of the Stationers' Company" (308) and his practice of "reproduc[ing] foreign editions without any change of date or place of publication" has caused confusion among modern bibliographers (312, citing Sellers). Woodfield found twenty editions of works in Italian, French, and Spanish printed surreptitiously by Wolfe (5-6, 24). His 1589 edition of Bartolome Felippe's Tractado del conseio y de los conseieros de los Principes ("TVURINO / Impresso en casa de Gio: uincenzo Pernetto") was duly entered in the S.R. by Wolfe on 4 April of that year (Arber 2.517; Woodfield 85-86). As Brault suggests, a "confrontation of extant copies of Spanish editions [of the Celestina] around this date (notably the Alcalá 1591) with specimens of Wolf's type and ornaments may very well end this mystery" (308). If one is found, the presence of a domestically produced Spanish Celestina in 1591 might perhaps make the possibility of two independent translations in the following decades more plausible.
(Content welcome, esp. on the textual issues of the Mabbe translations: see Discussion.)
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