21 July 2024
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Shakespeare’s Plays Arrive in Portugal: A Discovery by John Stone

In a fascinating revelation, John Stone, a professor at the University of Barcelona, has unearthed a significant historical document that sheds light on the arrival of Shakespeare’s plays in Portugal. Stone’s discovery centers around a request made in 1765 for two copies of Shakespeare’s renowned play, Othello, to be sent to Lisbon. This request was found in the correspondence of John Preston, an English scholar and professor at the English College in Lisbon, who directed the request to the college’s London agent, John Sheppard. The reference was discovered in the archives of the Ushaw College in Durham, United Kingdom, where documents from the English College in Lisbon are now preserved.

This discovery marks a pivotal moment as it is the first documented evidence of Shakespeare’s plays being introduced in their original language to Lisbon and subsequently to the broader Lusophone world. While it was known that partial translations of Shakespeare’s works, often from French editions, existed in Portugal from the late 18th century, Stone’s finding solidifies the circulation of Shakespeare’s plays among binational and multilingual networks, as well as among readers not fluent in English. The copies of Othello were part of a larger shipment of books and goods sent by sea, highlighting the active exchange of cultural and literary materials between England and Portugal during that period.

Implications of the Discovery: A Glimpse into Cultural Exchange

The arrival of Shakespeare’s Othello in Portugal during the 18th century opens a window into the cultural dynamics of the time. John Preston, the individual behind the request for the copies of Othello, was a notable figure—a priest, professor of theology, and tutor to the crown prince of Portugal. His role in integrating the English College into Portuguese civil life underscores the importance of cultural exchange and intellectual engagement between nations. The English College in Lisbon, though modest in size, played a crucial role in fostering a network of diasporic institutions that catered to English, Scottish, and Irish Catholics living in Portugal.

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Stone’s curiosity about Preston’s specific choice of Othello among Shakespeare’s plays sparks intriguing questions. Why did Preston opt for Othello over other well-known works like King Lear, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, or Antony and Cleopatra? Stone suggests that this decision may be linked to the longstanding Portuguese theatrical tradition featuring African characters or the play’s thematic relevance to a maritime culture. This choice opens up discussions about the intersection of literature, culture, and historical context in the reception of Shakespeare’s works in diverse settings.

Insights into Literary Circulation and Multilingualism

The discovery of Shakespeare’s Othello making its way to Lisbon in 1765 highlights the intricate networks through which literary works traveled during the 18th century. It showcases how plays by one of the most celebrated playwrights in English literature reached audiences beyond English-speaking regions, resonating with readers who were not native English speakers. The presence of Shakespeare’s works in Portugal underscores the universality and enduring appeal of his plays, transcending linguistic barriers and cultural boundaries.

Moreover, the fact that Othello was being read and appreciated in Portugal at a time when English was not the predominant language speaks to the richness of multilingualism and the intellectual curiosity of readers in that era. The exchange of literary texts across borders reflects a shared appreciation for literature and the power of storytelling to transcend geographical distances and language barriers, fostering a sense of interconnectedness among diverse communities.

Historical Significance and Academic Contributions

John Stone’s discovery of the arrival of Shakespeare’s Othello in Portugal in 1765 holds significant historical value, offering a fresh perspective on the dissemination of English literature in European contexts. The documentation of this event in the journal Notes and Queries marks a milestone in understanding the global reach of Shakespeare’s plays and the cultural exchanges that shaped their reception in different parts of the world.

This finding not only enriches our knowledge of literary history but also contributes to ongoing research on transnational networks, diasporic communities, and the reception of foreign literature in diverse cultural settings. It underscores the enduring legacy of Shakespeare as a playwright whose works continue to captivate audiences across continents and languages, transcending temporal and spatial boundaries to resonate with readers and theatergoers worldwide.

Links to additional Resources:

1. www.ub.edu 2. www.ushaw.ac.uk 3. www.shakespeare.org.uk

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Shakespeare's plays, English College in Lisbon, Othello

Shakespeare's plays
Shakespeare's plays are a canon of approximately 39 dramatic works written by English poet, playwright, and actor William Shakespeare. The exact number of plays as well as their classifications as tragedy, history, comedy, or otherwise is a matter of scholarly debate. Shakespeare's plays are widely regarded as among the greatest...
Read more: Shakespeare's plays

English College, Lisbon
The English College, Lisbon (Portuguese: Convento dos Inglesinhos) was a Roman Catholic seminary that existed from the 17th century to the 20th century.
Read more: English College, Lisbon

Othello (; full title: The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice) is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare, around 1603. The story revolves around two characters, Othello and Iago. Othello is a Moorish military commander who was serving as a general of the Venetian army in defence of Cyprus...
Read more: Othello

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