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ANTONIO JOSE DA SILVA (1705–1739)

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Originally appearing in Volume V25, Page 112 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ANTONIO JOSE DA SILVA (1705–1739), Portuguese dramatist, known as " the Jew," was born at Rio de Janeiro, but came to Portugal at the age of eight. His parents, Joao Mendes da Silva and Louren9a Coutinho, were descended from Portuguese Jews who had emigrated to Brazil to escape the Inquisition, butin 1702 that tribunal began to persecute the Marranos in Rio, and in October 1712 Louren9a Coutinho fell a victim. Her husband and children accompanied her to Portugal, where she figured among the " reconciled " in the auto-da-fe of the 9th of July 1713, after undergoing the torment only. Her husband, having then acquired a fixed domicile in Lisbon, settled down to advocacy with success, and he was able to send Antonio to the university of Coimbra, where he matriculated in the faculty of law. In 1726 Antonio was suddenly imprisoned along with his mother on the 8thof August; on the 16th he suffered the first interrogation, and on the 23rd of September he was put to the torment, with the result that three weeks later he could not sign his name. He confessed to having followed the practices of the Mosaic law, and this saved his life. He went through the great auto-da fe held on the 23rd of October in the presence of King John V. and his court, abjured his errors, and was set at liberty. His mother was only released from prison in October 1729, after she had undergone torture and figured as a penitent in another auto-da fe. Meanwhile Antonio had gone back to Coimbra, and finishing his course in 1728–1729 he returned to Lisbon and became associated with his father as an advocate. He found an ignorant and corrupt society ruled by an immoral yet fanatical monarch, who wasted millions on unprofitable buildings though the country was almost without roads and the people had become the most backward in Europe. As his plays show, the spectacle struck Antonio's observation, but he had to criticize with caution. He produced his first play or opera in 1733, and the next year he married a cousin, D. Leonor Maria de Carvalho, whose parents had been burnt by the Inquisition, while she herself had gone through an auto-da fe in Spain and been exiled on account of her religion. A daughter was born to them in 1734, but the years of their happiness and of Silva's dramatic career were few, for on the 5th of October 1737 husband and wife were both imprisoned on the charge of " judaizing." A slave of theirs had denounced them to the Holy Office, and though the details of the accusation against them seem trivial and even contradictory, Antonio. was condemned to death. On the 18th - of October he was beheaded and his body burnt in an auto-da fe'; that same day one of his popular operettas was given at a Lisbon theatre. His dramatic works, which were produced at the Bairro Alto theatre between 1733 and 1738, include the following comedies, all played by marionettes: D. Quixote (1733), Esopaida (1734), Os Encantos de Medea (1735), Amphitriio (May 1736), Labyrintho de Creta (November 1736), Guerras do Alecrim e Mangerona (carnival of 1737), As Variedades de Proteo (May 1737) and Precipicio de Faetonte (1738). Slight as these sketches are, they show considerable dramatic talent and an Aristophanic wit. The characters are well drawn and the dialogue full of comic strength, the scenes knit together and the plot skilfully worked out. Moreover Silva possessed a knowledge of stagecraft, and, if he had lived, he might have emancipated the drama in Portugal from its dependence on foreign writers; but the triple licence of the Palace, the Ordinary and the Inquisition, which a play required, crippled spontaneity and freedom. Even so, he showed some boldness in exposing types of the prevailing charlatanism and follies, though his liberty of speech is far less than that of Gil Vicente (q.v.). His comedies give a truthful and interesting picture of 18th century society, especially his best comedy, the Alecrim e Mangerona, in which he treats of the fidalgo pobre, a type fixed by Gil Vicente and Francisco Manoel de Mello (q.v.). His works bear the title " operas " because, though written mainly in prose, they contain songs which Silva introduced in imitation of the true operas which then held the fancy of the public. He was also a lyric poet of real merit, combining correctness of form with a pretty inspiration and real feeling. His plays were published in the first two volumes of a collection entitled Theatro comico portuguez, which went through at least five editions in the 18th century, while the Alecrim e Mangerona appeared separately in some seven editions. This comedy and the D. Quixote have been reprinted in a critical edition with a life of Silva by Dr Mendes dos Remedios (Coimbra, 1905). Ferdinand Denis, in his Chefs-d'ceuvre du theatre portugais (pp. 365-496, Paris, 1823), prints liberal extracts, with a French translation, from the Vida de D. Quixote, and F. Wolf likewise gives selections from Silva's various compositions. Silva is the subject also of several laudatory poems and dramas, one or two of which were composed by Brazilian compatriots. See Dr Theophilo Braga, Historia do theatro portuguez; a baixa comedia e a opera (Oporto, 1871); F. Wolf, Dom Antonio Jose da Silva (Vienna, 186o) ; Ernest David, Les Operas du juif Antonio Jose da Silva, 1705—1939 (Paris, 188o); Oliveira Lima, Aspectos de litteratura colonial Bratileira (Leipzig, 1896) ; Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. xi. p. 341; G. A. Kohnt, " Bibliography of Works relating to Antonio Jose da Silva and Bibliography of Don Antonio's Compositions " in the Publ. Am. Jew. Hist. Soc. No. 4, p. 181; idem, " Martyrs of the Inquisition in South America," ib. p. 135; M. Grunwald, " Jose da Silva " in Monatsschrift (1880), xxix. p. 241. (E. PR.)
End of Article: ANTONIO JOSE DA SILVA (1705–1739)
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