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Holy Wednesday

A Nahua Drama from Early Colonial Mexico

By Louise M. Burkhart

Publication Year: 1996

Identified only in 1986, the Nahuatl Holy Week play is the earliest known dramatic script in any Native American language. In Holy Wednesday, Louise Burkhart presents side-by-side English translations of the Nahuatl play and its Spanish source. An accompanying commentary analyzes the differences between the two versions to reveal how the native author altered the Spanish text to fit his own aesthetic sensibility and the broader discursive universe of the Nahua church. A richly detailed introduction places both works and their creators within the cultural and political contexts of late sixteenth-century Mexico and Spain.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: New Cultural Studies


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

This book was written with the support of a grant from the Translations Program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency. A New Faculty Development Grant and a grant from the Faculty Research Awards Program at the University at Albany, State University of New York, also assisted this project. Earlier research...

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pp. 1-8

About seventy years after the Spanish invasion of Mexico, a native scholar translated a Spanish religious drama into his own language, Nahuatl. Spoken by the various local ethnic groups known collectively as the Nahuas, the Nahuatl language had been the lingua franca of the Aztec empire and was now the principal indigenous language of the colony called...


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1. Spain

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pp. 11-36

Little is known about the author of the Spanish drama, except that he was a Valencian bookseller and a devotee of the Virgin Mary. Archival records in Valencia attest that Izquierdo was named a councilor of the parish of Santa Cruz in 1585. He dictated his last will and testament onSeptember 20,1596 (Marti Grajales 1927:281). An Izquierdo alluded to in...

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2. Mexico

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pp. 37-88

A copy of Izquierdo's "Beacon of Our Salvation" traveled to New Spain via one of the biannual fleets that sailed to the Indies, either among the personal effects of an individual passenger or as part of a shipment of books and pamphlets sent from Seville to be sold in the colony. Arriving at the Gulf Coast port of Vera Cruz, it would have been transported inland to the city of Mexico. The colonial book trade was a flourishing business: during just two...

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3. Interpreting "Holy Wednesday"

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pp. 89-101

The following are summary comments based on my comparison of the two plays. The development of these interpretations and their expression in the texts may be traced in more detail in the commentary on the scripts. ...


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Prologue to the Translations

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pp. 105-108

To facilitate comparison of the two dramas, I have paired the five line stanzas of the Spanish text with the corresponding segments of the Nahuatl script, numbering them accordingly. Each segment of the Nahuatl play includes all the text that is modeled on the corresponding Spanish stanza plus any additional content without a basis in the Spanish, up to...

The Translations

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pp. 109-163

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Commentary on the Plays

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pp. 165-254

Throughout the following annotations I make frequent reference to other Nahuatl texts, including those that are excerpted in the Appendix. I will briefly describe these materials before proceeding with the stanza-by-stanza commentary. The Nahua playwright was surely familiar with some of the Nahuatl literature circulating at the time; even texts not directly known ...

Appendix: Comparative Texts

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pp. 255-278


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pp. 279-289

References Cited

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pp. 291-306


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pp. 307-314

E-ISBN-13: 9780812200249
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812215762

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 26 illus.
Publication Year: 1996

Series Title: New Cultural Studies
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OCLC Number: 44961186
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Holy Wednesday

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Nahuatl drama -- History and criticism.
  • Religious drama, Nahuatl -- History and criticism.
  • Christian drama, Mexican -- History and criticism
  • Ash Wednesday -- Mexico.
  • Holy Week -- Mexico.
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