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DRAMA 571 A: Problems in Theatre History Research

Meeting Time: 
TTh 2:30pm - 4:50pm
HUT 150
Odai Johnson \ Photo by Kyler Martin
Odai Johnson

Syllabus Description:

Drama 571:    

Transnational Exchanges:  the circulation of performance in the Early Modern ‘commons’


Odai Johnson

Fall 2021:  Tues / Thursday, 2:30-4:50



Using Liz Dillon’s notion of a performative commons - a shared cultural sphere across geography - this seminar considers how modes of performance – texts, types, functions, audiences, architecture, narrative genres - and the world-views behind them, are circulating across borders (and oceans) as cultural capital in the first stages of globalism, 1550-1660.   Scripted behavior and grand cultural narratives and practices are arriving as goods in the new market of exchange.  Stories from Spain are carried ship-board to New Spain; North African, Arabic, and Turkish characters from the scenarios of Italian commedia dell’arte migrate to the France of Moliere, but not directly from Italy, but translated through Spanish Naples and then Spain - where that Arabic-Italian-Spanish-French Commedia picks up foreign genres, like pastoral and royal opera; English genres are carried by traveling companies to Germany, and Italian castrati opera arrives in England.  Theatre is part and parcel of the larger globalism that circulated goods and technologies, so situating performance within this market of early globalism is essential.   



We’ll work largely in the Early Modern period – 1550’s 1660’s, Spain, England, France, Portugal, Italy, the Dutch States, and the vast reach of colonies and trading circuits they established.  It is a large geography and a large sphere of influence, some background on the geography is useful to track the influence.


Tools:  tracking the circulation of performance practices and their ideology across the circum-Atlantic.    

The attention to globalism re-focuses the lens of looking, away from the national, to consider how theatre is participating in the acquisition, exchange and display of culture imported like trade, as an accelerator of the  great social disruptions that global trade advanced:  foreign contact, new products and technologies, military and missionary conflicts, trading circuits, land-grants and the relocations of prior peoples, emergent merchant classes that subvert rigid social structures . . .  all the displacements attendant to this large re-alignment.  Consider the changes that erupted around the Quarrel of Le Cid:  the story of a French playwright composing a Spanish story in an Italian form, that is too provincial for the new model of an international France.   Culture becomes capital to produce nation.   France imported Italian ideals, Italian design; England imports Italian opera, native traditions are retired in favor of global imports, while the new imports are then exported in the colonial project that followed. . . We are thus tracing ideas in motion across time and space.   



Calderon de la Barca:     Love After Death:  

Lope de Vega:  The Duchess of Malfi’s Steward; The Innocent Child; The Famous Drama of the Discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus

Christopher Marlowe:  The Jew of Malta;

John Webster:  The Duchess of Amalfi

Sor Juana:          Pawns of a House

William Shakespeare:    Othello, The Merchant of Venice, Tempest

Moliere:  Bourgeois Gentilhomme ; The Flying Doctor; The Sicilian.

William D’avenant, The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru.

Robert Daborne, A Christian Turn’d Turk.

Flaminio Scala,    evening 41, evening 36, evening 7, evening 27 . . .



Some background reading  (Packet  available at Professional Copy, 4200 University Ave):  

  • ‘The Common Market of all the World’: English Theatre, the Global System, and the Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern Period, Daniel Vitkus.
  • The Tempest and the Newfoundland Cod Fishery,’ Edward Test, in Global Traffic.
  • The Tragic History of the Sea, Manoel de Souse Sepulveda.
  • “Ill luck, ill luck?” risk and hazard in The Merchant of Venice, Ian MacInnes, from Global Traffic.
  • The Discovery of Brazil, Pedro Vaz de Caminha, 1500
  • From Thomas Gage’s Travels in the New World
  • ‘Re-Reading Theodore de Bry’s Black Legend,’ Patricia Gravatt, from Re-reading the Black-Legend
  • ‘The Re-Christianization of the Peninsula: El Cerco de Santa Fe,’ DeLys Ostlund.
  • Staging the Moor: Turks, Moriscos, and Anti-Christs in Lope de Vega’s El Otomano Famoso, Anjela María Mescall.
  • The Spanish Stage in the time of Lope de Vega – Hugo Rennert
  • From The Journal of Christopher Columbus.
  • ‘Kidnapping Language,’ from Marvelous Possessions, Stephen Greenblatt.
  • ‘Inhaling the Alien: Race and Tobacco in Early Modern England’, Kristen Brookes; in Global Traffic.
  • From 1616: The World in Motion, Thomas Christensen. 
  • From, The World of the Castrati, Patrick Barbier.
  • ‘Border Crossing in the Commedia dell’arte’, Robert Henke, in Transnational Exchange in Early Modern Theatre.
  • From, The Commedia dell’arte in Paris, Virginia Scott.



For Further Reading:

              Elizabethan Globalism, Matthew Dimmock

              1616:  the World in Motion, Thomas Christensen

              Marvelous Possessions, Stephen Greenblatt

              The Spanish Stage in the Time of Lope de Vega, Hugo Rennert.

              Transnational Exchange in the Early Modern, Robert Henke, Eric Nicholson, eds.


Texts:   the background reading is available as a single course packet, awaiting your pickup at Professional Copy, 4200 University Way.  

The plays are commonly available - Shakespeare, Marlowe, Lope de Vega, Moliere, or when not readily available, I have scanned them as canvas files. 



*            Construct a timeline of influential events.

*            host a discussion on a play or article of your choice

*            produce a conference-length paper (10-12 pps.)

The timeline will help us make connections across continents.   1492, for example. . . or 1576. .  .  or 1619 . . . or 1660 . . .

As with any pass through the performance of the Early Modern, we need to become aware of the enormity of the field.  This anthology of readings is but a small sampling of the size and scope of the interests of the discipline.

There are so many great plays of the period that are still routinely produced, and hundreds more that should be.  We should know a few of them.  More will be referenced than read.    You have lots of life left to read all the others!


The period:

What used to be called ‘Great Age of Discovery’ (1490s – 1640s) might be thought of as Early Modern Globalism, as discovery was inevitably bound up with the exchange of goods, cultures, ideologies.  This was never an equitable exchange.  It also coincided with the wars of religion within the countries who conducted that discovery.   Between the Reconquista and the Expulsion of the Jews (1490s) to the Reformation (1520s) and the wars of the century that followed, a sort of religious cold war playbook under-mapped the points of contact.  


The field of contact:   the early modern expanding globe, and places that we have not time to consider. 


The rhythm:   two conversations per day.   A play and something;  also, the week is usually broken into a heavy reading day (Tuesday) and a lighter Thursday.     Two holidays also interrupt the work. 





TH Sep 30:          introductions and expectations; the optics of reading Early Modern Globalism and the circulation of goods, performance and ideas; survey of plays.

T  Oct 5:              Read from the opening and introduction of  Liz Dillon’s New World DramaThe Performative Commons.     How books are built.  // Read  ‘The Common Market of the World,” Daniel Vitkus, re-storying the Early Modern.  Introduce the REED project.

TH Oct 7:            Summary of the REED narrative of pre-modern theatre.   // First case study:   read ‘The Tempest and the Newfoundland Fishery,’ in Global Traffic (packet); read or refresh The Tempest.

T Oct 12:             Travel tales. Read The tragedy of the Sea, (packet);  ‘Ill luck, ill luck?, Risk and Hazzard in The Merchant of Venice,’ in Global Traffic; (packet),  The Merchant of Venice.

TH Oct 14:          Read The Jew of Malta, Christopher Marlowe, as an imagined Mappa mundi against real accounts. / /  Read ‘The Discovery of Brazil,’ 1500 letter from Pero Vaz de Caminha, and from Thomas Gage’s Travels in the New World:  Dedication, chapters 1 - 5 (packet).

T Oct 19:             Points of contact and their prior points of contact:  Liz Dillon, ‘London’ and the text she works with, D’avenant’s The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru (accessible online,  https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo2/A81963.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext ;     finally, ‘Re-reading Theodore de Bry’s Black Legend,’ Patricia Gravatt, from Re-reading the Black Legend.

TH Oct 21:          Calderon, Love After Death;  ‘The Re-Christianization of the peninsula:  El Cerco de Santa Fe

T Oct 26:             Othello; and ‘Staging the Moor:  Turks, Moriscos, and Antichrists in Lope de Vega’s El Otomano Famoso’  (packet).

TH Oct 28:          (ASTR)   Lope de Vega, The Capulets and Montagues

T Nov 2:              The Spanish Stage in the time of Lope de Vega, chpt. VIII; Lope de Vega’s The Innocent Child

TH Nov 4:           Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Pawns of a House 

T Nov 9:              Lope de Vega, The Duchess of Malfi's Steward;  Webster, The Duchess of Malfi.

TH Nov 11:          Masquing on the public stage:   re-fresh Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, Shakespeare’s Love's Labor’s Lost // from Elizabethan Globalism.

T Nov 16:            The Famous Drama of the Discovery of the New World; and from The Journal of Christopher Columbus (packet);  ‘Kidnapping Language,’ Stephen Greenblatt (packet).    

TH Nov 18:         ‘Inhaling the Alien:  race and tobacco in Early Modern England,’ in Global Traffic; building conference-length papers.  Right-sizing your research. 

T Nov 23:            Travel tales:  read from 1616:  The World in Motion; read, A Christian Turn’d Turk.

TH Nov 25:         No Class (Thanksgiving)

T Nov 30:            Importing opera and the cult of the Castrati:  read ‘Origins and Recruitment,’ and ‘the road to fame,’ in The World of the Castrati, Patrick Barbier.    

TH Dec 2:            ‘Border Crossing in the Commedia dell’arte’, Robert Henke, in Transnational Exchange in Early Modern Theatre (canvas file).   Flaminio Scala, scenarios 7, 26, 36 & 41.   ‘Debuts in Paris,’ from The Commedia dell’arte in Paris, Virginia Scott.  Moliere, The Flying Doctor.

T Dec 7:               Moliere, The Sicilian; Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.

TH Dec 9:            How books are built, ii:   propose a ‘performative commons’ book using linkages of Commedia dell’arte, the Spanish Atlantic, market goods, genres, or technologies of theatre.    How might you – speculatively – order and arrange your case studies?   What connects them?   



Catalog Description: 
Methods and techniques of research, interpretation, and writing in theatre history. Relationship of theatre arts to culture in diverse periods and places.
Last updated: 
April 15, 2021 - 3:27am