Sunday, October 5, 2008

Richard Tyler Files

I pulled The Complete Works of William Shakespeare off my shelf and counted the number of plays he wrote. If the edition I own is halfway decent, it looks like Shakespeare wrote about 37 plays that are still extant today. Has anyone read two of them? Three? Four? All of them?

Early this year a professor of mine introduced me to the personal files/notes of Richard Tyler, a former professor of Spanish. While Shakespeare was writing plays in the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century, Spanish playwrights and artists became a part of the most extraordinary period of artistic and literary genius in Spanish history--the Golden Age. Richard Tyler not only read more comedias/plays from the time period than anyone I know about, but he also wrote plot summaries for many of them. I spent a good part of the summer scanning thousands of 5 in. by 8 in. cards on which he had typed summaries with his typewriter.

For those of you who are not familiar with Spanish comedias, I will briefly summarize them for you. In general they are fairly lighthearted with all sorts of twists, turns, and coincidences. Often they address topics such as honor and nobility. Okay, so that was comedias in a really, really small nutshell. Richard Tyler also wrote summaries to tragicomedias, essentially a play in which the protagonist or protagonists face a dreaded outcome either because of their own actions, because of fate, or because of their conniving rivals.

So just how many Spanish plays from the time period did Richard Tyler summarize?
Answer: about 1,700.

About how many lines do each of the plays contain?
Answer: about 3,000

Are the plays written in prose or poetry?
Answer: poetry

How many five inch by seven inch cards are in this collection of plot summaries?
Answer: approximately 7,950

How many playwrights are represented by these plot summaries?
Answer: about 190 playwrights can be identified by name; however, many of the works are from an anonymous playwright or of doubtful origin.

What playwright is most represented by this collection of plot summaries?
Answer: Lope de Vega--the collection contains OVER 300 summaries of plays written by or attributed to the "monstruo de la naturaleza" ("monster of nature"--this is a title that Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, gave to Lope de Vega because of the inordinate amount of works that Lope generated)

So if these plays are in Spanish, why should I care if some professor wrote all these plot summaries?
Answer: Richard Tyler wrote these plot summaries in English. Therefore, they are a great resource for a wide variety of people. They can be used for comparative studies. They can be used for someone trying to find the next play they want to study. Sometimes Richard Tyler read a less-used version than the one that you get in your Spanish class. Consequently, some of his plot summaries may slightly differ from the "canonical" version used today or may even have an additional character or two. For those of you don't care to do research, you can simply read them for the fun of it...well, when I manage to make them more widely available. I think you will find that the summary alone is fun to read and shows just how creative and colorful these playwrights were. I am including a random example from among the plot summaries. It is not really a "canonical" work by any means, but it gives you an idea of the twists and turns you can expect. NOTE: Take a little time and try to get all the names straight! Amor secreto hasta celos by Lope de Vega

Did Richard Tyler do anything but read comedias and write plot summaries?
Answer: If 1,700 plot summaries weren't enough, Richard Tyler also kept a prodigious number of cards with bibliographic information related to specific playwrights and topics--well over the number of cards used for plot summaries. While we can get bibliographic information at the click of a mouse on the internet, all he had to do was sit down at his card file. It is difficult to find other references to some of the works mentioned in this file on the internet or elsewhere. Additionally, Richard Tyler also has "idea files". These files contain cards with a word or a phrase on them as well as the bibliographic information for the comedia from which they originated. For instance, numerous cards address how comedias refer to "eyes". Sometimes eyes are used as darts or cupids arrows. Other times they send out venom, etc. etc. etc.

What other fascinating things can you tell me about Richard Tyler's life work?
Answer: You don't have the time, so let's just leave it at that!!!