WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind (WLFI) - - It's a phrase most people are familiar with, in asong recorded by countless artists. Its title is virtuallyunknown, but the opening lines: "To dream the impossibledream, to fight the unbeatable foe" are familiar to many. That phrase, coined in Dale Wasserman's popular play "Man of LaMancha," may have existed decades before the playwright pennedthem.
"Righting ever wrong and exposing himselfto peril and danger from which he would return to reap eternal fameand glory," read Purdue Professor of Spanish, Howard Mancing fromhis well worn copy of "Don Quixote."
Mancing became fascinated with Cervantes'Don Quixote when he first read the novel in 1964. Since then,he set forth on his own quest to detail every mention of the noveland its author in his two volume book the "Cervantes'Encyclopedia." He finished the collection when a stray pieceof research arrive from inter-library loan: a play titled"Don Quixote: A Dramatization of Cervantes' Novel" by PaulKester.
"I read through it and it wasanother dreary, rather mediocre adaptation of the novel to stage,but then at the end there was some press matter, some sort ofpublicity releases stuff. If you want to present this play,here's how to might advertise it," explained Mancing.
In a paragraph half way down the page heread the line: "To dream the impossible dream, to fight theunbeatable foe--to tilt at windmills or large flocks of sheep whichthe imagination has transformed into formidable armies..."
"I just startled to read those linesbecause it was 29 years before they were to have come intoexistence," said Mancing.
The play was copyrighted in 1930. Dale Wasserman wrote a television play "Don Quixote" that developedinto the musical "Man of La Mancha" in 1959. In his book,"The Impossible Musical," Wasserman states: "Once upon a timeI invented a phrase, 'the impossible dream.'"
"He didn't invent it. That'sclear. It was in existence a few decades before he usedit. He reinvented it," said Mancing.
So, Mancing wrote to Wasserman in 2004 andprovided copies of the relevant pages from Paul Kester'splay. In an emailed response provided by Mancing, Wassermansays: "I have never heard of Paul Kester nor read any of hisworks."
"He was really very adamant. So, OK,if he says he didn't I guess he didn't," said Mancing of theresponse Wasserman sent him.
Mancing recently published a paper aboutthe find in a small book to honor a friend's retirement. NewsChannel 18 contacted Wasserman about Mancing's paper and thesimilarity of the two phrases. He responded: " If thereis such a person as Howard Mancing, he did not contact me. There have been over one thousand 'adaptations' of DON QUIXOTE inthe last 400 years. I would estimate that the IMPOSSIBLEDREAM phrase would have turned up a half-dozen times. Therest of that speech, however, would not." Wasserman did notrespond to further attempts to clarify his position. It turnsout copyright law also murky. The law is written in black andwhite, but as Purdue's Director of the Copyright Office, DonnaFerullo, explained the interpretation is often gray.
"Nothing is hard and fast in copyrightlaw. Lots of gray areas because copyright law is aboutbalance. You want to balance the right of copyright holderswith the rights of individuals to use those works for certainpurposes," said Ferullo.
Copyright law does not look at how manywords or even pages are copied. It considers the context ofthe material. What is weighted is if the heart of thematerial is compromised.
"It's really the expression of the ideathat's protected, not the idea its self," said Ferullo.
But Purdue Professor of Visual andPerforming Arts Rick Thomas says artists often expand ideas.
"I think one of the interestingthings is Mozart stole from Hyden and Hyden stole fromMozart. So artists are quite well known for stealing ideasfrom other people. It happens all the time. Lenny Brucesaid I don't have an original idea. It's interesting how ithappens that art is an evolutionary process," explained Thomas.
Thomas said it's not impossible thatWasserman came across Kester's play and saw the line, but doesn'tremember doing so.
"It does happen that ideas pop into yourhead from things you've actually studied and researched before,"said Thomas.
As for Mancing, he says he was justcurious on how the idea developed.
"I like to find out these little details,"said Mancing of his discovery. Mancing explained he is notconcerned about details of who ultimately takes credit for thephrase.
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