The Cave of Salamanca–SPOILERS

Ha, it tickles me to put a spoiler alert on a play older than dirt! Anyway, so here’s the plot. There’s a husband and a wife and her servant. The husband is madly in love with the wife and she makes a big show out of how he cannot leave her for four days to go to his sister’s wedding or she will just die. But then he leaves and she and her servant begin to make plans for the evening when they shall carry on with their lovers–the priest and the barber.

Then a student shows up and needs a room for the night. They assure his silence, put him to work plucking fowl, and they get busy talking about the huge basket of food their lovers have sent for them. Then the lovers show up and it’s all dancing and smooching and a little mouthiness from the student.

But then there’s a wagon accident and the husband has to return home! The women try to stall him. The lovers go hide in the coal bin and the student is scuttled off to the hayloft. The husband is confused but delighted to be back. And then the hay all falls on the student and he cries for help and he is discovered. The husband is all like “If I didn’t know you were a good wife, I’d find it suspicious that you had a dude in the hayloft.”

But then the student spins some tale about having learned secret magic in the cave of Salamanca (I think, if you were a Spaniard at the time, just based on the amount he mentions being from Salamanca, that there must be a joke in the location–like it would be ludicrous for a student to be from there or that they are a people known for being full of shit or something.) and that he can conjure demons. And wouldn’t the husband like to see some demons conjured?

Well, of course he would. He’s never seen a real demon before. And they have all kinds of questions–are they nice? Can they be baptized? Etc.

So the student orders the demons to show themselves, but they do not. Which is funny. Oh, I forgot, he’s decided that he’s going to conjure the demons in the shapes of the town priest and barber. So, he runs off to the coal bin to convince the priest and barber to play along.

And out they come, with their huge basket of food, as if it’s an infernal gift, and the husband is blown away impressed and invites them to stay for dinner.

The end.

It was hilarious. Quick and quick-witted. The actors were all students, but they were great. It was like everyone was like “Let’s chew all the scenery!” which just made it more hilarious. And, at the end, the priest and the barber did this kind of proto-rap.

It was just fantastic. I don’t want to downplay the other play, but Don Quixote is so familiar that it’s very difficult to be surprised by anything that someone might do with it (I know, you’re about to comment “But I don’t know anything about Don Quixote!” Believe me, you do. You might not know where the stuff you know comes from, but you know it. You’d be all “Oh, I saw that episode of…” or “Isn’t that the plot of such-and-such a movie?”).

But I was surprised and delighted by The Cave of Salamanca.

I’m not a huge Cervantes nerd, but I always like how contemporary the stuff from 16th Century Spain feels. I guess you could draw a lot of parallels, which I will not do, because who wants to be depressed thinking about the fact that, while on the one hand, we’d be utterly foreign to a Spaniard from Cervantes’ time, on the other hand, once we got past the list of strangenesses, we’d have hours of conversations of “Oh, yeah, we have that problem.” “Oh, yeah, well listen to what our religious authorities are doing!” “Oh, you guys are also doing kind of a shitty job of getting along with the Muslims?”

The other thing I’d say is that I know a lot of people are turned off to really old literature, because their only exposure to it is Beowulf, maybe the Canterbury Tales, and then Shakespeare, which are somehow supposed to be accessible because they’re in English, but the language, if it doesn’t click for you, can be really off-putting (I’m not saying I agree. I’m just saying I understand it.).

But Cervantes wrote in Spanish. You can read his stuff in modern translation! And it’s hilariously funny.

I’m just saying that, if you’re like “Man, I guess I should read something old, because it would be good for me,” literature in translation can be more fun than old stuff in English.

Yes, I’ll wait outside for you to draw and quarter me. But you know I’m right!

3 thoughts on “The Cave of Salamanca–SPOILERS

  1. Funny, and it totally sounds like a Canterbury Tale, and I love them.

    I read El Cid in the original olde Spanish in college; I don’t get many opportunities to mention that.

  2. Re: Salamanca, the oldest (and, in the time of Cervantes, the most prestigious) university in Castilla was there. Still is, in fact. The cave is famous; it was legendarily the home of a magician who was converted to Christianity (by Santiago? or by Mary? anyway, it was a big deal), and there’s a famous old story about a demon who lived there and lured seven students who he kept there for seven years and taught necromancy, and who then tricked him out of getting their souls by hiding in a vat of piss or something. Anyway, after centuries of such tales the Bishop of Salamanca had the cave destroyed and a church built on the site, dedicated to the patron saint of magicians.

    So, anyway, the student is bragging about his superior education.

  3. I wasn’t even sure if the student was really a student. I was waiting for him to really be the Devil or something.

    But I did love it.

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