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Shakespeare’s last play discovered hidden in archives in Spain

It was hidden away for centuries in the archives of a seminary in Spain, a rare edition of a Shakespeare play experts believe may be the earliest copy of his work to reach the country.

Shakespeare's last play discovered hidden in archives in Spain
A scholar has discovered what is thought to be the oldest copy of Shakespeare in Spain. Photo: AFP

Published in 1634, “The Two Noble Kinsmen” is a tragicomedy about love, enmity and madness written by Shakespeare in collaboration with Jacobean playwright John Fletcher.

“It's likely the play reached Spain between 1635 and 1640,” said John Stone, a lecturer in English studies at Barcelona University who discovered it at the Royal Scots College, a seminary in the northwestern town of Salamanca founded after the Catholic Church was outlawed in Scotland.


The importance of the rare edition was immedately recognised by scholar John Stone. Photo: J Stone

 

Collections of English works were rare in Spain and plays were exceptional in the 17th and 18th centuries, with all books subjected to inspection at the frontier by the Spanish Inquisition, particularly those from a heretical Protestant state like England.   

The tragicomedy was part of a single volume of eight English plays printed from 1630 to 1635 that was likely brought over by a traveller and managed to scape falling into the hands of the Inquisition.

“I was going through the section on political economy and on the last shelf, I saw a book that was distinct in its binding from pretty-well anything else,” Stone told AFP.

Having written his dissertation on Shakespeare in Spain, he realised its importance immediately.

“I knew the moment I saw it that it was the oldest copy of Shakespeare in Spain,” said the Canadian researcher. 

“The question was whether it had been the first Shakespearean text to reach Spain.”


Photo: John Stone

Under nose of Inquisition

Until now, the earliest known work of Shakespeare in Spain was a compilation of plays found at the Jesuit English College in Valladolid that likely arrived in the late 1640s or early 1650s.

It was sold in the 1920s to Henry Clay Folger, a wealthy American industrialist who went on to found the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

Clues as to when “The Two Noble Kinsmen” arrived lay in the margin notes made by Hugh Semple, a politically-ambitious Scottish Jesuit who was rector of the Royal Scots College.

“The handwriting tells us it arrived in Semple's lifetime and he died in the early 1650s,” Stone said of this “highly-networked individual” who was friends with Spanish playwright Lope de Vega and known for being able to bring
in English books.   

His international ties were “very active” in the mid-1630s when he “would have had a great opportunity to import the book,” Stone said, suggesting it may have been brought over by a London-based Scottish aristocrat who was liaising between the English and Spanish monarchs.

Although the Royal Scots College was located in central Madrid at the time, right under the nose of the Inquisition, there was no sign its “eclectic mix of English books” was ever noticed by the Holy Office.

It is unclear whether the Shakespeare play was ever performed or used as part of the college's curriculum although Stone said theatre was often used as part of Jesuit teaching.

Stone is now working with a book historian to see if the binding or stitching of the volume could offer further definitive clues as to when it arrived.

By AFP's Hazel Ward

READ ALSO: Nine reasons why Cervantes is better than Shakespeare

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HISTORY

Why Spain is still in the wrong time zone because of Hitler

As Spain again prepares to put the clocks forward on Saturday night, we look at the fascinating reasons why the country has been in the wrong time zone for the last 75 years, the possible effects of this historical blip on Spanish society, and why there's still no sign of it changing.

Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)
Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)

Why is Spain in the wrong time zone?

Madrid lies directly south of London. Spain is geographically in line with the UK and Portugal. It makes sense, then, that Spain was in the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) zone until around 75 years ago.

But that all changed in 1940. With Nazi Germany occupying Belgium, Holland, and recently invading France, Spain’s own facist dictator, Francisco Franco, travelled to the French border to meet with Hitler, the man he and many other believed would go on to dominate Europe.

The momentum was clearly with the Nazis, at the time, and Italy had already pledged its support to Hitler. Although he wanted the same from Spain, Franco, however, didn’t have much to offer. With the country ravaged by its own recent Civil War – in which Franco’s victory was heavily supported by Hitler –  Franco felt obliged to make a gesture of some sort.

Although ultimately remaining neutral in the war, Franco decided to show his support for Hitler by agreeing to put Spain’s clocks forward by an hour in an act of solidarity with Nazi Germany. 

Spain has remained in the Central European Time zone ever since, in line with countries as far east as Poland. That means that Madrid currently has the same time as Warsaw in Poland 2,290km away but is one hour ahead of Lisbon which is only 502 km away. 

The consequences of Spain being in the wrong time zone

But Franco’s decision all those years ago isn’t just a quirk of Spanish history, or testament to the extent to which the legacy of that period still looms over Spanish society, it was a decision that, experts say, has had a lasting impact on Spanish culture and society that underpins everything from Spaniard’s sleep cycles and meal times to the country’s birth rates and economic growth.

In recent years there have been calls to make the switch back to GMT because many believe the time zone quirk is affecting Spaniard’s productivity and quality of life. In 2013 a Spanish national commission concluded that Spaniards sleep almost an hour less than the European average, and that this led to increased stress, concentration problems, both at school and work, and workplace accidents.

Some experts believe this explains the Spanish dependence on siestas – that is, that the lack of sleep makes them necessary – but in reality the siesta has been a consistent feature of Spanish life for centuries for many of the same reasons it still is today: in southern Spain, the fierce summer temperatures make it necessary to stay at home during the afternoon. 

Spain's most famous clock is the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr
Spain’s most famous clock is at the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr

One effect of the siesta however is that the break in the day means Spaniards work the most hours in Europe yet at one of the continent’s lowest levels of productivity. A lack of sleep contributes to siesta taking which, in turn, means Spaniards work later into the evening and could partly explain Spain’s notoriously nocturnal lifestyles and late meal times. 

Despite the country running on CET, Spaniards’ eating patterns roughly mirror GMT. Many Spaniards eat lunch at what would be 1 or 1.30pm in London (the traditional 2 or 2.30pm in Spain) and dinner at a reasonable 8pm in London (but 9pm or even 10pm as is customary in many parts of Spain).

Making the change and returning to GMT would, according to Nuria Chinchilla, professor at Spain’s IESE business school, help Spaniards “return to the natural order of our circadian rhythm (our 24-hour physiological cycle) that goes with the sun… and the sun in Greenwich, not Germany”.

“If we don’t (change to GMT) we lengthen the day, eat very late and then don’t sleep,” she added.

Why hasn’t Spain moved to the right time zone yet?

The debate about which time zone Spain belongs in was reinvigorated following recent proposals at the EU level to scrap entirely the daylight savings custom. 

In 2018 the EU Commission announced a proposal to abolish the custom after polling showed that 80 percent of Europeans are in favour of staying permanently on summer time.This debate naturally had many in Spain wondering about whether they were in the right time zone.

But owing to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, and various other bureaucratic difficulties, the proposal was shelved. Member states cannot decide unilaterally on the question of daylight savings, but they can decide which timezone they want to be in. 

Spain has had various commissions over the years exploring the impact of daylight savings and timezones, but no concrete proposals over a return to GMT have ever been made, despite the benefits experts claim it could bring.

Although the government’s focus has been drawn by more pressing issues in recent years – and the issue of time and daylight savings shelved at the European level – expect discussion of whether Spain is actually even in the right time zone this weekend when the clocks do go back, or if the linked issue of daylight savings is eventually taken off the shelf at the European level.

Article by Conor Faulkner

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