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The Harvard Library Bulletin publishes in its latest issue the edition and introduction by Emilio Martínez Mata (University of Oviedo) and Clark Colahan (Whitman College) from the manuscript of an unknown theatrical recreation of Don Quixote in Enlightenment England.
The manuscript, preserved in the Houghton Library of Harvard University, contains a play by James Wadham Whitchurch, titled Don Quixote, A Comedy (1774-1776), never printed or represented, of which there was no news.
The recreation of James Whitchurch follow the line of Cardenio, the lost William Shakespeare play and John Fletcher, in giving a central place to the story of Cardenio, Luscinda, Dorotea and Don Fernando, one of the stories interspersed in the Cervantes novel.
Unlike their english predecessors (Shakespeare-Fletcher, D’Urfey and Fielding), Whitchurch offers a version quite faithful to the original Cervantes awarding Don Quixote and Sancho a relief and characterization very close to that found in the Cervantes novel.
Martinez Mata explains that “if Cervantes uses the stories interspersed in Don Quixote to raise ethical problems (the consequences for others of the wicked behavior of some characters), Whitchurch, while maintaining plot fidelity, except for the necessary alterations to adapt the story to the theatrical setting, manages to reflect the ethical sentimentality characteristic of the English Enlightenment. '
Cervantes ethical charge in the representation found
To ethical load of the intercalated Cervantes stories (certain behaviors can cause unhappiness in others), James Whitchurch incorporates a benevolent conception of human nature based on Shaftesbury's idea of morality, which will have a enormous influence on 18th century British thinkers, especially, David Hume, Francis Hutcheson and Adam Smith.
"Through Whitchurch," the professor points out, "Don Quixote becomes an exemplification of the idea that is at the base of Shaftesbury's philosophy, in opposition to the pessimistic conception of Hobbes and other Baroque thinkers: we naturally feel a rejection of evil and satisfaction with the good, so that even the most perverse person has some capacity for empathy. Concern for the condition of others, even that of the wicked - the arrogant noble Don Fernando, in this case - is seen as something natural, since benevolence is the most pleasant of affections.
With very little change in dialogue and attitude of the characters, without modifying the plot of the Cervantine novel in the least, Whitchurch makes his version of Don Quixote a manifesto of the new values of Enlightenment England, benevolence and empathy, popularized by the Adam Smith of The theory of moral sentiments (1759).
Source: University of Oviedo