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Turks and the Grand Sultana in Cervantes' plays
2002 / AUGUST

Between the 16th and 19th centuries hundreds of European plays, operas and ballets featuring Turks were written and staged. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Spain's Golden Age, the most prolific Spanish playwright Lope de Vega, wrote over three hundred plays, thirty of which had Turkish themes. Miguel Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616) also wrote plays about the Turks. Cervantes is best remembered for his masterpiece, the immortal novel Don Quixote, and his other novels and stories are little known, while that he also wrote plays is almost forgotten. I have never yet met anyone in the world of theatre who has heard of his plays, and they are astounded when I tell them that he wrote no less than eighteen. Cervantes' plays on Turkish themes include Los Banos de Argel (The Dun-geons of Algiers), La Gran Sultana Dona Catalina de Oviedo (The Grand Sultana Dona Catalina of Oviedo), El Gallardo Espanol (The Gallant Spaniard), Los Tratos de Argel (Life in Algiers), La Batallo Naval (The Sea Battle), and El Trato de Constantinople y Muerta de Selim(Life in Istanbul and the Death of Sultan Selim).

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Turks and the Grand Sultana in Cervantes' plays
2002 / AUGUST

The last two plays are lost, but researchers have discovered that La Batallo Naval was about the Battle of Lepanto of 1571, in which the Turks were defeated. Cervantes himself fought in this battle, in which he was wounded and his left hand maimed for life. Even less is known about El Trato de Constantinople y Muerta de Selim, except what we can gather from the name of the play. The Selim in question is Sultan Selim II. While other writers on Turkey and the Turks based their works on what they had read and hearsay, Cervantes was writing from personal knowledge of the Turkish and Muslim world. Although his natural inclination was towards literature and theatre, Cervantes chose the life of a soldier in 1564, and went to Italy, travelling throughout that country. He witnessed the siege of Cyprus by Selim II and the fall of Nicosia, and these experiences were the subject of his long story El Amante Liberal (The Generous Hearted Lover). In October 1571 he fought against the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto, serving on the Marquesa. During the battle he received three gunshot wounds,

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Turks and the Grand Sultana in Cervantes' plays
2002 / AUGUST
two in the chest and one in the left arm. In 1572 he fought against the Turks at Navarino and Methoni. In 1575 he resigned from the army and embarked on the El Sol with his brothers, but the ship was captured by the Turks and he was taken as a prisoner of war to Algiers. After waiting five years to be ransomed, he was just about to be sent to Istanbul with some other prisoners, when the ransom money arrived from Spain. Free again, he returned home. If the ransom money had been delayed Cervantes would have travelled to Istanbul, and the acquaintance of such a great writer with the city would have been an incalculable gain for us. Cervantes' play La Gran Sultana was performed as a part of Expo 92, which took place in Spain. Directed by Adolfo Marsillach, it was staged first in Seville and then in Madrid by the Nacional Teatro Clasico. Since it was set in Topkapi Palace during the reign of Sultan Murad III (1574-1595), the stage designer came to Istanbul to see the palace, and based his scenery on the Privy Chamber of Ahmed III (1703-1730) ),
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Turks and the Grand Sultana in Cervantes' plays
2002 / AUGUST

a room whose walls are painted with pictures of flowers in vases and baskets of fruit. This background scenery remained the same for every scene of the play. In 1995 a Turkish translation of the play by professor of Spanish literature Yildiz Canpolat was published. The play consists of three interconnected stories, the most important being a love affair between Sultan Murad III and the Grand Sultana Catalina of Oviedo. When Cervantes was enslaved in 1575, Murad III had been on the throne for a year, and Cervantes heard much about Sultan Murad from his master during his period of slavery. Catalina is a woman from Oviedo, a town in the province of Asturias in northern Spain. At the age of ten she is taken as a slave to Istanbul, and Sultan Murad falls in love with her at first sight. He wishes to marry her, but Catalina refuses because she does not wish to become a Muslim. However, the sultan loves her so passionately that finally she accedes to his wish and becomes his first wife. Meanwhile she is reunited with her father, who has also been enslaved. The second story in the play is that of Lamberto and Clara.

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Turks and the Grand Sultana in Cervantes' plays
2002 / AUGUST
Lamberto loves Clara and the couple elope. In their flight they encounter some Turks. Lamberto escapes but the girl is carried off to Istanbul. When Lamberto learns that Clara, who has been given the name Zaide, is in Istanbul, he disguises himself as a woman named Zelinda and enters the palace. But all does not go to plan. Clara is pregnant, and Lamberto is discovered to be a man. However, Catalina intervenes on their behalf, and the couple marry. Lamberto is appointed paža in Rhodes. In the third story, a slave named Madrigal falls in love with a Muslim girl, and when the couple are discovered, the judge sentences Madrigal to death. However, Madrigal wins his freedom by his amusing antics, and with the help of the spy Andrea returns to Spain. The knowledge of Istanbul displayed by Cervantes in this play is extraordinary. In the picture seen here, Madrigal is trying to teach Turkish to an elephant! One might wonder what an elephant was doing in Istanbul, but Cervantes is right, because the sultan possessed a large menagerie of wild animals presented to him as gifts.
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Turks and the Grand Sultana in Cervantes' plays
2002 / AUGUST

These included rhinoceroses, lions, elephants, giraffes and tigers. The elephants and giraffes were paraded through the streets for the public to see, and many of them were trained to do circus tricks at festivities. Cervantes is also well acquainted with the various districts of Istanbul, and when Madrigal leaves the city, he bids farewell to them, giving their correct Turkish names: Galata, Yedikule, Çifit and so on. Only when he comes to the Arsenal does he declare instead, 'May the devil see you!' This is because the Arsenal was where the Turkish galleons against which Cervantes fought for so many years were built and fitted.

* Professor Dr Metin And is a member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences

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