Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The Bonds of Interest

When I was in Spain, I was surprised to see a monument to the dramatist Jacinto Benavente in Madrid's Retiro Park. How many people outside of Spain know his plays today?

Though Benavente is primarily considered a Realist, his most famous play is probably The Bonds of Interest, which utilizes characters and motifs from Italian commedia dell'arte.

As is typically the case in commedia, the lovers in the play, Leander and Silvia, are kind of boring. It's the supporting cast that provides the laughs. Leander's friend Crispin pretends to be his servant, a device that also appears in George Farquhar's The Beaux-Stratagem. Though both men are broke, Crispin makes it appear that Leander is massively wealthy and important.

After convincing an innkeeper to let them stay with him on credit, Crispin wins the friendship of a braggart captain and a poet who happens to be the stock character Harlequin. In Act II, we meet Harlequin's stock love interest, Columbine, whom the widow Sirena has "adopted" as her "niece" and hopes to use in her machinations to find a husband for Silvia. When Sirena runs out of money for an important party, Crispin arranges for Leander to pay for everything--again on credit.

Soon, everyone in town needs Leander to find a rich wife if they're ever going to get paid back for anything. That includes Pantaloon, who arranges for Leander to rent a luxurious house. The problem is that Leander has actually fallen in love with the wealthy Silvia, and feels guilty about deceiving her. Fortunately, all ends happily. Benavente literally gives Silvia the last word, as she gives a beautiful speech about how love manipulates us all.

The Bonds of Interest premiered on December 9th, 1907 at the Teatro Lara in Madrid. Benavente continued to write numerous plays, including the one-act His Widow's Husband, which premiered the next year. His 1913 play La Malquerida, sometimes translated as The Unloved Woman, has been adapted a number of times for television and film. Perhaps it's time for a revival of his work.