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DRAMA 572 A: Problems in Theatre History Research

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

Syllabus Description:


Spectacles of Power: The Baroque Stage, 1600-1800, and beyond

Drama 572


Odai Johnson                                             




Course Description:   The class uses the site of the baroque to practice the semiotic reading of power developed and deployed through the spectacles of State.   For more than two centuries, the courts of Europe employed lavishly staged events to perform, promote, celebrate and maintain their status.  These displays employed artists of many mediums – architects, poets, musicians, painters, machinists – and played across Europe until aristocracy itself came to its violent closure at the end of the 18th century.   In its day, the baroque was the most archived of European forms.  The baroque thus provides the perfect concentrated site for reading and troubling the production of state power.


Texts and Readings:                                                  

The Princely Courts of Europe, 1500-1750, John Adamson (recommended, available to purchase from $9-$19)                                                                 

*  The Gods of Play - Baroque Festival Performances as Rhetorical Discourse, Kristiaan Aercke (available as an e-book UW library)

Art and Power, Renaissance Festivals 1450-1650, Roy Strong (recommended, $18-24); or         

Splendor at Court, Roy Strong  (recommended, from $2.17-16; nb this is an earlier iteration of Art and Power, but with better color images)


A packet of articles has been assembled and available at Pro Copy, 4200 University Ave.                               

Articles from Packet                                                         

  • The Consolidation of Power, from Paula Backscheider, Spectacular Politics
  • Early Theatres in Southern Bohemia and Northern Austria, Ed Chappel, from The World of the Baroque Theatre
  • Reading Triumphs, Localizing Caroline Masques, by Lauren Shohet.
  • Salmacida Spolia, in A Book of Masques, (Cambridge 1967).
  • The Invention of Britain, from Martin Butler, The Stuart Court Masque and Political Culture
  • Extract from The Ceremonies of Charles I
  • Ripas Fate, from The Renaissance Imagination, D. J. Gordon
  • ‘Court Hieroglyphicks’ in Stuart Masques and the Renaissance Stage, Allardyce Nicoll.
  • Prospettiva, Andrea Pozzo
  • L’architetura, Ferdinando Galli-Bibiena
  • Opera and Ballet in 17th French thetares, Barbara Coeyman
  • Court Festivals under Louis XIV, Chantal Grell
  • Stylish Bores: Molieres Facheux at Vaux and Versailles, Claire Goldstein
  • Power at Play: El mayor encanto, amor, Margaret Rich Greer
  • The King Takes his pleasure, from A Palace for a King, Jonathan Brown and John Elliot
  • From The Life of Bernini, by Filippo Baldinucci
  • Bonus track.



Barring professional engagements, you are expected to be present and prepared each day of seminar.  Beyond the day-to-day, there are three assignments:

1) host the class on a reading; 2) reconstruct a Baroque performance; and 3) produce a paper on any aspect of the Baroque theatre culture, period or contemporary. 

For the reconstruction: choose a court-- Bohemia, Austria, Germany, Prussia, France, England, Spain, New Spain, Russia, Sweden, Rome, the United Provinces, etc.; choose a form - opera, masque, ballet de cour, intermezzi, processions, triumphal arches; consider the mediums - performance, architecture, scenography, theatrical machines, music, painting; describe and document the performance.   Please limit your presentation to under thirty minutes. 


Finally, a conference length paper–with abstract-- will culminate the course of study.  Though the seminar will take the historical Baroque as its subject, your interests may carry you into contemporary applications of baroque culture, or to consider case studies in which the spectacles of power have a baroque genealogy. 



The object of study for the course is the field of the Baroque culture in its entirety:  this includes some introduction to reading the semiotics of architecture, pictorial art, sculpture, performance, music, dance, pageants (from tourneys to ballet de court, intermezzi, opera, royal entries, fêtes, meschianzas, etc.).



Schedule (like history, subject to some revision)                                                                  


Tues. Jan, 5:                       Introductions, expectations.   Recognizing the Baroque:   genres and grammar of state power (the Royal entry, the Triumphal arch, the fête, the masque, the scalia regia).


Thurs, Jan 7:                       The politics of forgetting; the shape and range of the field.   Read 1): ‘The Making of the Ancien-regime Court,’ from John Adamson, ed., The Princely Courts of Europe; and 2) Feasts, Allegories, and Politics, in Aercke.


Tues, Jan. 12:                     First case study - Inigo Jones and the Stuart court masque: read 1) Roy Strong ‘Illusions of Absolutism,” from Art and Power, and 2) Salmacida Spolia, in A Book of Masques.   [Read against the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648, Bohemia, Germany, Franco-Sweden, and the English Civil War.] 


Thurs. Jan 14:                     Read 1): ‘Reading the Triumphs, Lauren Shohet, from Localizing Caroline Masques; read 2): from The Ceremonies of Charles I.    Second case study: The Royal Entry of Charles II.  Read 3) from Paula Backscheider, The Consolidation of Power. [For sheer bathos, read against Trump’s inauguration parade, 2017! Youtube.]


Tues. Jan. 19:                     Read 1): ‘ The Politics of Spectacle’, Roy Strong, from Splendor at Court.   Second etude: survey the major courts of Europe, c. 1620-1780; useful here is Roy Strong, Appendix i, from Art and Power.                            


Thurs. Jan 21:                     Third case study, petite baroque: The Schwarzenbergs at Cesky Krumlov, Bohemia.  Read 1) ‘Early Theatres in Southern Bohemia,” and 2) Sor Juana’s Allegorical Neptune, the Viceroy’s Entry into New Spain.   


Tues. Jan. 26:                     Rome: Read, 1) ‘The Papal Court at Rome,’ in Adamson; and 2) The Barberini Saint, in Aercke. 


Thurs, Jan. 28:                    Excerpts from ‘The Life of Bernini,’ Filippo Baldinucci;


Tues. Feb. 2:                       Read 1): Hercules and the Sun King, in Aercke;  Read 2): Stylish Bores: Molieres Facheux at Vaux and Versailles,  from Claire Goldstein’s ‘Vaux and Versailles.’


Thurs. Feb. 4:                     Lully, Moliere, and ballet de cour.  Read 1): La Princesse dElide (The Princess of Elide); Opera and Ballet in 17th c. French theatres, Barbara Coeyman. 


Tues. Feb. 9:                       Virtual tour of Special Collections, Suzzalo.   Ripa’s, Iconologia, (spec. collection, Suzzalo, 704.946 R394i, vol i&ii).  In preparation, read 1) Ripas Fate, D. J. Gordon, in packet.  And 2): ‘Court Hieroglyphicks’ in Stuart Masques and the Renaissance Stage, Allardyce Nicoll. 


Thurs. Feb. 11:                    Third etude: find the use of allegory in your favorite baroque paintings or sculpture.  Baroque design.  Read ‘Prospettiva’, Andrea Pozzo and ‘L’architetura’, Ferdinando Galli-Bibiena from The Italian Baroque Stage.                    


Tues. Feb. 16:                     Spain:  The Court of Philip IV. Read 1): El Rey Planeta, in Aercke; and 2): The Courts of the Spanish Habsburgs, in Adamson.


Thurs. Feb. 18:  Power at Play: El mayor encanto, amor, Margaret Rich Greer,

The King Takes his Pleasure, from A Palace for a King, Jonathan Brown and John Elliot.


Tues. Feb. 23:  Ne Plus Ultra, in Aercke; Vienna and the Austrian Hapsburgs; The Court of the Austrian Habsburgs, in Adamson

Thurs. Feb. 25:         Fourth etude: enjoy ‘Il Pomo d’oro’       


Tues. Mar. 2:‘omnium fere gentium’ - representations of empire (Nicholl); New World Baroque; Read ‘The Invention of Britain’ in The Stuart Court Masque and Political Culture, Martin Butler


Thursday, March 4:   Fifth etude: Using the Baroque as an aesthetic of state power, find examples of baroque applications outside the period.  How might we read modern nation states as sites of Baroque performance?

Tues/Thurs, Mar. 9-11         Performance reconstructions

Friday, ????:                       Papers due

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: 
October 22, 2020 - 9:21pm