Iberian Theater and Performance

Christopher Swift

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online February 2012 | | DOI:
Iberian Theater and Performance

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
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  • Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology


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Medieval Iberian theater and performance maintains a peculiar status within, and between, performance and medieval disciplines. In theater studies, medieval Iberia has received minimal scholarly attention, and standard theater history textbooks contain only traces of Iberian material, if any at all. Despite the existence of Catalonian and Castilian archival materials that indicate performance traditions unique to the peninsula, scholars of Spanish literature (outside of the notable exceptions below) generally view Iberian medieval theater as an anomaly. One of the main reasons for this situation is that Iberian theater has yet to emerge fully from traditional historiographic parameters predicated upon the narratives and liturgical forms of the Christian Church. The dearth of liturgical performance evidence in Castile—whether due to the dominance of the Mozarabic rite on the peninsula through the 11th century, Muslim occupation, Iberia’s unique religious and cultural history, or the destruction of church documents—should not preclude future research into Spanish medieval theater. The broader field of medieval European theater has moved forward to embrace a wider range of public acts, including jongleur performance, mock battles, performative reading and viewing, devotional practices, festivals, tableaux, court entertainments, and processions, and new approaches and forms of performance are just beginning to take hold in Spanish studies. The second reason for the discipline’s uncertain presence in the academy has to do with the linguistic and cultural heterogeneity of the medieval geography we now call Spain. Prior to unification under the Catholic monarchs, Aragon, Andalusia, Castile, Catalonia, and Galicia were at one point or another autonomous political kingdoms with unique religious, linguistic, literary, and performance traditions. Despite decades of Francoist polemical historiography that stunted research and promoted a nationalist narrative of Castilian, Catholic centrality, the medieval performance archive reveals diverse, regional traditions. It is perhaps the motley complexion of Iberian performance that has discouraged theater scholars from entering the field. Despite these hurdles, important foundational scholarship, new discoveries, and interdisciplinarity, provide the bases for continued growth of an Iberian performance discipline. Charlotte Stern’s call in The Medieval Theater in Castile (Stern 1996, cited under General Overviews) for a “new poetics” appears to be taking hold: other scholars have embraced performance theory in their work, made inroads into aspects of popular entertainments, considered Islamic and Jewish participation in performance culture, and broadened the conversation by examining scenography and theatrical space. This article bridges the gap between old and new scholarship by including traditional texts and approaches along with primary materials often excluded from the conversation on Iberian drama, as well as critical works that engage the subject matter in an interdisciplinary manner.

Article.  8616 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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