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Reviewed by:
  • Theatre Histories: An Introduction. 2nd Edition, and: The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Historiography, and: Representing the Past: Essays in Performance Historiography
  • Michal Kobialka (bio)
Theatre Histories: An Introduction. 2nd Edition. By Phillip B. Zarrilli, Bruce McConachie, Gary Jay Williams, and Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei. Edited by Gary Jay Williams. London: Routledge, 2006; xxvi + 630 pp.; illustrations. $125.25 cloth, $59.95 paper.
The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Historiography. By Thomas Postlewait. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009; 360 pp.; illustrations. $87.00 cloth, $29.95 paper.
Representing the Past: Essays in Performance Historiography. Edited by Charlotte Canning and Thomas Postlewait. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2010; 428 pp.; $29.95 paper, e-book available.

"Historiography," "theatre historiography," and "performance historiography" are often mentioned in theatre and performance studies. For the purpose of this review, it may be useful to draw attention to how historiography is defined in these three volumes. Theatre History: An Introduction (second edition) rejects the objectivity and documentarianism of what is called foundationalist history, and recognizes that the writing of history has been affected by the historical and cultural formations within which historians work. At the same time, the authors reinforce the notion that the historian's fundamental obligation is to be "as scrupulous as possible in the pursuit of truth" (xxv), particularly in consulting primary sources and seeking new evidence. Whose history has not been told? What are the gender, race, and class of eyewitnesses? Who benefited from the ideologies of the age, and why have previous historians "asked some questions and not others?" (xxv). To answer these questions, global or world theatre history is organized into four parts: performance and theatre in oral and writing cultures before 1700; theatre and performance in print cultures, 1500-1900; theatre and performance in modern media cultures, 1850-1970; and theatre and performance in the age of global communications, 1950-2009. Each section features case studies analyzed through an [End Page 209] interpretive approach, e.g., phenomenology, speech-act theory, feminist and gender theory, queer theory, cognitive studies.

Introducing non-Western temporalities and spatialities and placing them on an equal footing with traditional Western approaches to theatre history is valuable; thus the chapters on non-Western theatre by Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei and Phillip Zarrilli are a welcome addition. However, the treatment of Western theatre history in this volume offers a set of common opinions that call the solidity of the enterprise into question. For example, a discussion of the formation and enunciative modalities of "tragedy" and "comedy" is absent. This is evident in the dismissal of Gerald Else's statements about Aristotle's Poetics, which I believe have reshaped our view of representational practices in Greece. Absent, too, is scholarship questioning representation in the Quem Quearitis and The Regularis Concordia, as if 21st-century views of medieval representational practices were the same as those advanced by E.K. Chambers, Karl Young, or O.B. Hardison in the 20th century. These are important elisions that draw attention to the unresolved problem of writing global theatre histories, namely, the fragmented nature of those histories with respect to incommensurate intelligibilities, spatialities, and temporalities. Fragmentation that does not query incommensurate intelligibilities on the ground of intelligibility itself must, as here, result in an uninflected celebration of pluralism without questioning the strategies that are used to determine what constitutes historical evidence. In short, this "democracy" of subjects hides its incommensurable intelligibilities under a cloak of "shared" rational and evidentiary rules, legislating what is plausible, legible, or legitimate in Western historiography without interrogating that historiography or those subjects. This condition resembles the fate of Tadeusz Kantor in this volume, still alive in this second edition of Theatre Histories, it seems, even though he died in 1990.

The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Historiography reflects Thomas Postlewait's mission to turn theatre historiography into an empirical study of what constitutes the historical and theatrical event as well as to establish a clear classification that allows one to give order and sequence to historical time—thus, set up the criteria for periodization. (Postlewait criticizes the authors of Theatre Historiography for a formulaic use of period concepts.) His aim is to focus historiographical discourse toward the "twelve cruxes...


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