THE ONLY THEATRICAL WORK CERVANTES EVER PUBLISHED: 1615 FIRST EDITION OF OCHO COMEDIAS, APPEARING A YEAR BEFORE HIS DEATH AND CONTAINING HIS GREAT PROLOGUE ON THE SPANISH THEATER—OF EXTRAORDINARY RARITYCERVANTES SAAVEDRA, Miguel de. Ocho Comedias, y Ocho Entremeses Nuevos, Nunca Representados. Madrid: Por la Viuda de Alonso Martin, a costa de Juan de Villarroel, 1615. Small quarto, period-style full vellum, raised bands. Housed in custom half morocco clamshell box. $145,000.First edition of Cervantes’ fifth book, his only theatrical work published in his lifetime and published the year before his death. Of extraordinary rarity.After being a soldier for many years and in captivity in Algiers for five and a half, Cervantes returned home to Madrid and in the 1580s turned to writing, first his novel Galatea and then to theatrical productions. Later he wrote, “I revealed (or to be precise, I was the first to present) the soul’s imaginings and hidden thoughts by putting allegorical figures on stage, to general and satisfied applause from the audience. At that time I wrote about twenty to thirty plays, all of which were recited without anyone’s offering gifts of cucumbers or other missiles; they finished their runs without hissing, booing or uproar.” Cervantes’ career as a playwright was short-lived, as Lope de Vega soon appeared on the scene and “flooded the theatres of Spain with an unending stream of plays of every description…With the star of Lope de Vega in the ascendant Cervantes found his stage occupation gone, and he appears to have cast about for some other employment that would enable him to support his household [and] re-entered the king’s service in a civil capacity” (Albert Frederick Calvert). For the next twenty years, it is thought that Cervantes wrote little and known that he published nothing. It was at the end of his life, after the spectacular success of Don Quixote, that Cervantes turned once again to the theater, revisiting some older works and perhaps writing some new ones. Of his early productions, only two survive (Numancia and Trato de Argel). In 1615, the year before his death, he published the eight full-length comedies and the eight entremés, or short comic interludes performed between the acts of plays, found in this volume. Unable to get the plays and interludes performed, he decided to publish them, after some difficulty, which he wrote about in the famous prologue to the volume: “Some years ago, I found myself once more at leisure, and, thinking that time had not yet dimmed my reputation, I took up writing plays again. But I found no birds in last year’s nest; by which I mean I found no producers who would take them off my hands, though they knew I had them; and so I put them in the bottom of a trunk and consigned and condemned them to perpetual silence… [Later] a bookseller told me that he would have bought them, if one of the licensed autores had not told him that you could expect a lot from my prose but nothing from my poetry; and, to tell the truth, it grieved me to hear it… I went back and looked over my plays and some interludes of mine that were packed away with them, and I saw that none of them were so bad as to not deserve to come out of the dimness of that autor’s wit and into the light of other autores who were less finicky and more understanding…” In addition, the prologue contains Cervantes’ important survey of contemporary Spanish theatre, with remarks on Lope de Rueda, Navarro, Lope de Vega, and others. Four of the plays included deal with the conflict between Christians and Muslims, a topic of great interest to Cervantes as it relates directly to his captivity in North Africa. Of particular interest to modern readers, however, are the entremés, or interludes, which “are, on the whole, more original and interesting—even brilliant at times—than the long plays; no other writer in this minor genre surpasses his work. Here we see Cervantes’ comic genius, keen observation of human psychology, sharp sense of satire, great sense of timing, ability to write lively and realistic dialogue (as he does in Don Quixote) and ability to create great characters in a brief space” (Howard Mancing). “Humor, irony, stylistic vigor and social satire mark Cervantes’ interludes, generally considered more profound and more biting than those of his contemporaries…He explores the basest human instincts, and, in an age of censorship and persecution, he dares to stress the duplicity inherent in social laws” (Mary Parker, Spanish Dramatists of the Golden Age). Of extraordinary rarity. A Quaritch catalogue from the 1800s notes that “the editor of the second edition (published in 1749) speaks in his preface of the original book of 1615 as being ‘rarisimo y poco conocido,’ as if his own reissue was intended to restore the knowledge of a work forgotten because of its rarity.” Only two copies are known to have appeared on the market in the past 30 years; 12 copies are found on OCLC. Ford & Lansing, 31. Palau 53948. Rius 324. Salvá 1176. Río y Rico 819. Cory Reed, “Cervantes and the Novelization of Drama,” in Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America, 11.1 (1991): 61-86. Owner ink inscription, evidence of bookplate, minor penciled annotations on first and final blanks.Text cleaned, a few mended marginal tears. A handsome copy in excellent condition.