Playing black in late seventeenth-century France and Spain

This chapter examines the emergence and significance of the theatregram of the African ambassador in 1660s French theatre, in plays like Le Mort Vivant, by Edmé Boursault (1662), L’Ambassadeur d’Affrique, by Du Perche (1666), Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Molière (1670), and Le Mariage de la reine de Monomotapa by Bel-Isle (1682). Reading this theatregram in conversation with contemporary policies in the French Caribbean colonies, I argue that African ambassadors on stage contributed to the development and dissemination of a solidifying racial discourse in late seventeenth-century France. A thorough examination of the transnational component in Boursault’s play, more specifically, of the play’s all-out and multilayered Spanishness, brings to light the play’s ambivalence towards the notion of hybridity. The internal evolution of the theatregram between 1662 and 1682, however, marks a departure from Boursault’s take: the later plays of the African ambassador corpus are devoid of such ideological ambivalence. This denotes a hardening of racial thinking over the course of those twenty years. Ultimately, that approach promotes the integration of transnational foci and comparative methods into early modern race studies.

in Transnational connections in early modern theatre
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This afterword places the volume and the research presented in it into the context of the Theater Without Borders research collective and reflects on recent developments of research in early modern theatre exchanges and connections. Written by the co-editor of two previous volumes that came out of the Theater Without Borders initiative (Transnational Exchange in Early Modern Theater (2008) and Transnational Mobilities in Early Modern Theater (2014), both edited by Robert Henke and Eric Nicholson), the afterword highlights the continuities and developments in the methodologies of early modern theatre and performance as a rich transnational phenomenon.

in Transnational connections in early modern theatre

This chapter explores the ways in which Jews and Ottoman Turks participated in theatre-making in early modern northern Italian cities, notably Mantua and Venice. Embraced for their economic and commercial contribution, the religiously and culturally distinctive minorities were also segregated into separate living quarters, taxed as foreigners and visually branded in order to clearly mark their difference. Despite the separation of minority populations, the Turks, and to a greater extent the Jews were incorporated in civic events and encouraged to participate in theatrical spectacles and performances. The subject of Jewish and Turkish participation in theatrical and civic performances has received little attention considering the vast archival trace they left behind. This essay brings to light the Turkish acrobatic performances which took place in Venice and in Prague and offers an analysis of their importance in the context of civic rituals. In addition, the chapter offers many examples of Jewish performances in the Venetian and Mantuan context, including several never before mentioned examples taken from the Mantua state archives.

in Transnational connections in early modern theatre
The ‘jest unseen’ of love letters in Two Gentlemen of Verona and El perro del

This chapter explores the transnational use of a theatregram in an English and a Spanish play, in which a woman of higher rank instructs her ‘servant’ to write a love letter for her which she in fact intends for the writer himself, unbeknownst to him. Through this ruse, Silvia (of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, c. 1593) and Diana (of Lope de Vega’s El perro del hortelano, c. 1615) get around the limitations that should prevent them, as women of high rank, from courting men of lower standing. This essay looks at the way such a theatrical scenario transports within its own structure and aesthetic logic a disruption to the play’s aristocratic hierarchy, and argues that a parallel critique of social hierarchy, aristocratic distinction, and of ‘hierarchical service’ (Schalkwyk) is embedded in the theatregram. This theatrical dynamic suggests a different way in which radical political ideas may have travelled in early modern Europe through dramatic scenarios. This transnational theatre practice also challenges notions of the purity of national literary traditions, and suggests that the canons of Spanish, English or European drama in this period cannot be truly separable or national.

in Transnational connections in early modern theatre

This chapter investigates what a single, unpaired shoe uncovered by the Museum of London’s archaeological excavation of the Rose theatre might tell us about Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday, and about treading the boards of the early modern stage. Through a re-examination of stage-directions, playtexts and documents of theatre history from a variety of theoretical vantages, the chapter seeks to reanimate the shoe not as a static historical artefact paired with or fit to its proper historical context, but rather as a thing that reorients theatregoers towards their everyday contact with the world from the ground up.

in Transnational connections in early modern theatre
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An introduction to the volume, outlining the methodologies and the conceptual framing. The essay addresses issues of theatre historiography, the material evidence, the historical fact, and the theoretical and historical views of interpreting them. The introduction is divided into three sections: (1) Maps and Theories, reflecting on historiographical attempts at offering views and portrayals of early modern theatre history; (2) Contexts and Connections, itemizing the types of connections that are drawn by individual contributions, theorizing their implications for a contextual understanding; and (3) Theater Without Borders, capitalizing on the interdisciplinarity of the volume and rethinking the concepts of transnationality, early modernity, and the culturally conditioned concepts of theatre and performance.

in Transnational connections in early modern theatre
Transnational versions of cross-class desire in Cardenio and Mujeres y criados

This chapter explores connections between lost and/or rediscovered texts of Shakespeare, Cervantes and Lope de Vega. Beyond the actual similarities between the recreated Cardenio that brings together the first two authors, on the one hand, and Lope’s Mujeres y criados, on the other, I analyse the parallels and divergences in their performance, as they are mobilized to promote particular versions of Spain. A more precise understanding of these connections, I argue, allows us to consider how evolving class dynamics enable or complicate erotic rivalries in the texts.

in Transnational connections in early modern theatre
Performing quacks at court

The final tournament entry of a court festival of February 1638 at The Hague: ‘The knights of the dromedary and alchemists’, features actual farces and plays performed by a genuine troupe of street charlatans, and noblemen disguised as named healers, including two well-known quacks of the time, Mondor and Braguette. Drawing on English and Dutch images, and influences from London court masques and other European court festival, the Parisian stage, Spanish literature, and Italian commedia dell’arte, many previously disregarded in this context, this essay considers the itinerant charlatan, quack or street healer as a theme in early modern court festival, with particular reference to medical and theatrical influences on the stage names of the six courtiers of the 1638 tournament entry.

in Transnational connections in early modern theatre
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Amsterdam 1617

From a cultural, political and literary perspective, the Low Countries have a claim to be the major cultural entrepôt of early modern Europe, part and parcel of the global mercantile pre-eminence of the United Provinces. Migration from the southern Netherlands into the Dutch republic in the north, and from elsewhere in northern Europe was extremely high at this time. This essay explores the treatment of migration in one of the most famous comedies of a reformed Dutch theatre, G. A. Bredero’s Spaanse Brabander (1617), an adaptation of the Spanish prose fiction Lazarillo de Tormes (1554), showing Bredero’s theatre as an analytical microscope of migration as dominant cause of city formation. Further comparison is made with Bredero’s Terentian play Moortje (1615), in which the presence of a southern African is related to the early activity of Dutch merchants in that region, and the presence of an African community in seventeenth-century Amsterdam. Bredero’s powerful insights into the nature and consequences of migration in his world of linguistic and racial confusion, hunger, bankrupt merchants, beggar boys, prostitutes and sex offenders puts his drama in the first rank of any literary canon, national or international.

in Transnational connections in early modern theatre
Transcultural encounters in early modern Italian theatre

Drawing on comparative and imagologist methodologies, this essay assesses how Italian playwrights and actors represented Germans, Scandinavians and English people in ways that often modified and sometimes challenged ethnic stereotypes. Analysis of playscripts in relation to their specific historical contexts, such as the influence of Erasmus and of the Grand Tour, reveals the ambivalent fascination that Northern European culture held for early modern Venetians, Sienese and other Italians. Material exchanges vis-à-vis figurative representations form the core of this chapter, drawing on examples from Tasso’s Il Re Torrismondo (1587), through satirical musical comedies (Banchieri, Fasolo), the comedies of the Accademia degli Intronati of Siena, to Goldoni’s La vedova scaltra (1748). This essay argues that the notable variety of tone and purpose in theatrical figurations of the cultural other calls for a nuanced reassessment that counters the assumed xenophobia prevailing on early modern European stages.

in Transnational connections in early modern theatre