Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 September 2014
Balthazar. Hieronimo, methinks a comedy were better. Hieronimus.
Fie, comedies are fit for common wits(The Spanish Tragedy, IV, 1.150–151)
Memory, according to George Eliot in Middlemarch, is what makes of a man's past not simply dead history. Memory, continues Eliot, is far from being mere outworn preparation for the present; it is, rather, a wound that reopens man's past. Eliot's words prompt me to dedicate this paper to the memory of Professor Inga-Stina Ewbank, because her work will always remain in my memory certainly as more than outworn preparation for the present, for its seminal influence in the history of Shakespearean criticism in Europe. In one of her latest pieces, included in a collection of essays on Victorian Shakespeare, she drew attention to the need of studying European reception of Shakespearean comedy on its own, trying to chart the path it followed, a path which runs somehow parallel to, but is not identical with, the main road of Shakespearean reception, which, in the nineteenth century at least, was mostly concerned with the tragedies. This is why I feel that perhaps there is something in the fate of Shakespearean comedy in nineteenth-century Spain that is worth a little detour.
In 1879, the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford finally gave Britain a playhouse centrally devoted to the performance of the plays of Shakespeare. The play chosen for the opening performance was, as it is well known, Much Ado about Nothing.