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January 12, 2009

Professor Sidney Donnell Works to Reconstruct 400-Year-Old Play

He will travel to Spain, Portugal, and France to perform archival research
A copy of a copy is never quite as good as the original. Working from that premise, Sidney Donnell, associate professor of foreign languages and literatures, is studying copies of copies of copies to get as close as possible to the original version of a 400-year-old play.

Donnell is currently studying rare book archives containing copies of Cristobal de Monroy y Silva’s 17th century drama El caballero dama, (the Gentleman-in-waiting), with the goal of publishing the first critical edition of this play. Donnell’s research will take him to Spain, Portugal, and France this winter to study copies of Monroy y Silva’s play in rare book collections.

Although the original handwritten manuscript is lost to history, the play exists in several quatro editions. These broadsheet pamphlets were often copies of copies, as various publishers tried to profit from popular titles. If a mistake was made in typesetting one edition, the mistake would likely be repeated in subsequent editions, and more errors would be added along the way.However, because it was not customary to include the name, place, or date of publication on these pamphlets, it can be difficult for a modern-day researcher to determine which copy is closest to the original.

Donnell’s mission is to compare the errors in the various quarto editions to determine which is the earliest printed version. Using that version as his basis, he plans to reconstruct a complete manuscript for publication as a scholarly annotated edition of the play.

Last published in the 18th century, Monroy y Silva’s work is based on a story in the myth of Achilles in which a young man poses as a woman in order to avoid fighting in the Trojan Wars.

According to Donnell, Spanish stage productions in the 16th and 17th centuries were often characterized by cross-dressing roles like this; men and boys typically took on both male and female roles, and it was not unusual for women actors to play characters that had to disguise themselves as men as part of the plot. Donnell’s area of specialization involves these two intersecting fields of Spanish “Golden Age” drama and gender studies.

“My general thesis is that both types of cross-dressing reveal important shifts in people’s attitudes about masculinity and femininity at the height of the Imperial Spain’s world hegemony,” Donnell says.

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