In his Apologética Historia Sumaria, Bartolomé de las Casas described a dramatic representation of the Conquest of Rhodes that was performed in the central plaza of Mexico City, New Spain in 1539. “If it took place Rome,” he wrote, “it would have been heard about throughout the world.” Word of spectacles celebrated in the Americas would not enjoy the same global dissemination of those performed across the Atlantic. In this age Emperor Charles V’s motto “plus ultra” or “further beyond” had posited the expansion of the Spanish monarchy to the Americas as the geographic and symbolic surpassing of the ancients. This formula drew upon the legend that Hercules constructed pillars at the Strait of Gibraltar that bore the warning “non plus utra,” marking the edge of the world at this opening onto the Atlantic. On Las Casas’s claim, news of the feats of New World theater did not easily reach the Old World. They still occurred “beyond” the so-called known world.
Three-quarters of a century later, the celebrated playwright Lope de Vega addressed the Academy of Madrid, who had commissioned him to write an art of writing comedies in his day and age: “They’ve told me, learned gentlemen, who are / the cream of Spain’s intelligentsia / to write a set of rules for comedies that’s based / on what will satisfy our public’s taste.” Like the pillars of Hercules, these two verses stand on either side of an opening. Lope interposes between them in parentheses the declaration that the Academy will surpass the ancient Greeks and Romans: “(and whose Academy will soon outshine / not only those that Cicero so labelled, / in envy of the Greeks, near Lake Averno / in Italy, but also that of Athens, in whose renowned Lyceum, led by Plato, such eminent philosophers assembled).” Lope’s Arte nuevo de hacer comedias (1609) opens with the same provocative rhetoric as Charles V’s memorialization of the “discovery” of the New World. Yet Lope defends the “new way” of writing comedies without knowing or addressing the innovations of the theater performed in the Americas.
Even the most expansive histories of early modern theater overlook the rich production in the Americas. Scholars have long focused on how the Iberian Peninsula was preoccupied with defining and theorizing drama in the sixteenth-century. In my dissertation, I argue that the contemporary theatrical practices in the New World contribute in important and unique ways to this Iberian conversation. I am looking forward to discussing my project, and my proposal for an Iberian history of early modern theater that embraces the “plus ultra” during LAIC’s early modern marathon tomorrow at 10:30.
Last Updated 2 years ago