Portuguese playwright, poet and lawyer. António José da Silva (also known as “the Jew”), was born into a family of “new Christians” (forced converts who continued to secretly practise Judaism) that had taken refuge in Brazil. Due to persecution because of their Jewish faith, the family moved to Lisbon in 1713. In 1726, while studying law at Coimbra, da Silva was imprisoned and tortured by the Inquisition. In 1737, he was again imprisoned, judged by the Inquisition, then garroted and burned during an auto-da-fé (act of faith) in Lisbon on October 19, 1739.
His period of literary creation dates between 1733 and 1738. During this time, his operas were a great success and were all played at Lisbon’s Teatro do Bairro Alto.
António José da Silva was influenced by the various artistic movements of that period but especially by those from Spain and Italy. He wrote joco-sérias (humorous-serious) operas for puppets by combining literature, music, baroque machinery and puppets. Above all, he created a dramaturgy for puppetry, transforming stereotypes into characters filled with great psychological complexity. His operas were innovative, entertaining and intelligent, with great theatrical effects (transformations, flights, storms, etc.), and their content presented a satirical look on the society of the times.
Composer António Teixeira, one of the most outstanding musicians of the court of John (João) V of Portugal, wrote the music for some of da Silva’s texts but only fragments remain of the musical score as almost everything was destroyed during the earthquake of 1755. Absolutely nothing remains of the puppets, neither drawings nor descriptions, only a few references in his operas. They most likely were rod marionettes whose bodies were probably carved in wood or cork.
The themes of his operas belong to the classical tradition: The Life of Aesop (1734), The Enchantments of Medea (1735), Amphitryon (1736), The Labyrinth of Crete (1736), The Changes of Proteus (1737), and The Fall of Phaeton (1738), with the exception of The Life of the Great Don Quixote of La Mancha and of the Fat Sancho Panza (1733), freely adapted from Cervantes, and the comedy The Rosemary and Marjoram Wars (1737).
Other works attributed to António José da Silva are Obras do Diabinho da Mão Furada (Works of the Little Pierced Hand Devil) and El Prodigio de Amarante (The Prodigy of Amarante), the latter written in Spanish, and a gloss to the sonnet of Luis de Camões (c.1560), Alma minha gentil, que te partiste (Ah, gentle soul of me, that didst depart…), on the death of the Infanta Francisca (1736).
- Barata, José Oliveira. História do Teatro Português. Lisboa: Universidade Aberta, 1991.[S]
- Barata, José Oliveira. História do Teatro em Portugal (séc. XVIII). Chap.: António José da Silva (o Judeu) no palco joanino [History of Theatre in Portugal (Eighteenth Century): António José da Silva (the Jew) The Johannine Stage (era of King John/João V)]. Algés: Difel, 1998.[S]
- Dines, Alberto, and Victor Eleutério. O Judeu em cena: El Prodigio de Amarante: O Prodígio de Amarante: 1a ed. bilingue e comprovação de autoria [The Jew on Stage: El Prodígio de Amarante: O Prodígio de Amarante: 1st bilingual ed. and proof of authorship]. São Paulo: EDUSP, 2005. (In Portuguese and Spanish)
- Francis, Penny. “The Puppet Operas of António José da Silva”. Cultura. No. 12. Spring 1993.
- Frèches, Claude-Henri. António José da Silva et l’Inquisition. Paris: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Centro Cultural Português, 1982.[S]
- Furter, Pierre. “La structure de l’univers dramatique d’Antonio José da Silva ‘O Judeu’”. Bulletin des Études Françaises et de L’Institut Français. Lisboa: Institut français au Portugal, 1964.
- Saraiva, António José, and Óscar Lopes. História da Literatura Portuguesa. Porto: Porto Editora, 1975.[S]
- Silva, António José da. D. Quixote e Sancho Pança: Marionetas de Lisboa [Don Quixote and Sancho Panza: Lisbon Puppets]. Adaptation by Norberto Ávila. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Serviço de Animação, Criação e Educação pela Arte, 1985.[S]
- Vieira, Luís. “Marioneta, títere, fantoche, roberto, bonifrate, bonecro . . .”. Museu da Marioneta. Catálogo. Lisboa: Museu da Marioneta/EGEAC, 2005.