The Teatro Español Collection
Title page detail from González del Castillo, Juan Ignacio. El Payo de la Carta. Barcelona: Juan Llorens, 1861.
he Teatro Español Collection is a 405 volume uniformly bound set of Spanish plays. Presumably, it was assembled by a Spanish collector who had it bound sometime after 1957, which is the most recent publishing date of the plays. The acquisition by Texas Tech probably occurred around 1969.
There are more than 4,700 individual plays in the Teatro Español Collection available for research. While their publication dates span more than 150 years (1803 to 1957), over 4,100 or 90% were published between 1850 and 1930. With only a few exceptions, they are in Spanish and published in Spain. More than 100 of the plays are found nowhere else in North America.
The plays themselves represent a cross section of Spanish drama. Certainly, playwrights from Spain’s Golden Age are included, such as Lope de Vega, Calderón de la Barca, and Tirso de Molina. But the collection contains hundreds of works from lesser-known playwrights, including women such as Rosario de Acuña and Adelaida Muñiz y Más.
Roughly half of the plays were published in the 1800’s, during a time when theatre attendance was a popular activity in Spain. In the early 1870’s, there were some 335 theatres throughout the country. Fifty of these were in Madrid alone, providing the 250,000 residents with some 14,000 seats.
A Spanish play’s stage-life tended to be very short in the 19th century, with works normally being performed for only a few days after their openings. Coupling this with the fact that on the average some 12,000 performances took place each year, it becomes clear that the creation, revision and translation of thousands of plays were required. Even though less than half of these were ever published, this still represents a substantial body of work. To keep up with the demand to create this number of texts required, in the late 1860’s, more than 200 printers in Madrid alone. Most of these publications were cheaply produced, and, as such, were commonly discarded, making collections such as the Teatro Español even more valuable.
Half of the collection was printed from the turn of the 19th century to the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. This period saw an increase in theatre attendance, with 12,000 performances in each of the 1927/28 and 1928/29 seasons in Madrid alone. Zarzuelas and sainetes, types of light, comic operettas, were popular at the time as evidenced by the use of these terms in roughly one quarter of the titles in the Teatro Español’s plays of the period.
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