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The Illegal Immigration of Medieval Drama to California Robert Potter There are few less likely places to look for indigenous medieval drama than in Southern California in the late twentieth century. Yet at Christmastime one can actually experience this phenomenon, amid the palm trees, sunshine, and Santa Clauses on surfboards, in the form of the Pastorela, a shepherds' play spoken and sung in a mixture of English and Spanish (both of the local variety) by community and professional groups. The story the play enacts is the familiar biblical encounter between shepherds and angels on the first Christmas Eve, culminating in the shepherds' visit to the holy Child, and its theological dramaturgy betrays many clear connections—even at this distance—with the medieval religious drama. To trace these connections we must make our way back to the era of Christopher Columbus and Hernando Cortés, to the site of the so-called "Discovery" of the New World—that terrible collision of cultures and bloody brutalities which five hundred years later we are attempting (with considerable confusion) to commemorate, lament, and understand. The Spanish conquest of Mexico was accomplished not merely through the technology of navigation, firearms, plate armor, and horsepower, but also by the fervor of an evangelical ideology and the mission of converting the "heathen." This latter task fell to the Franciscan friars, who came to Mexico as early as 1524. That they brought with them the medieval traditions of European religious drama, including the shepherds' plays, is abundantly clear; the very earliest theatrical records of post-conquest Mexico document a Christmastime performance of Los Pastores for Spanish soldiers garrisoned in what is now Mexico City on 9 January 1526, in the ruins of the great Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, conquered and 140 Robert Potter141 destroyed only five years earlier.1 As a performance in the language of the conquerors, for the entertainment of the conquering soldiers, this theatrical event might have been nothing more than a self-referential and ephemeral act of nostalgia for the Old World. But in fact it was the forerunner of a lengthy and complex dramatic process, involving not the simple transplantation of a European cultural product to a new environment but rather the blending of native and alien performance modes into something quite new. For their part, the Franciscans set about learning the languages of the indigenous population and bringing Christianity to them in every way possible, including the persuasive medium of drama. And what they enountered in Mexico, and attempted to embrace to their own advantage, was a rich panoply of ceremonial, ritual, and quasi-theatrical traditions including everything from seasonal rites of sacrifice to puppet shows.2 The result was a highly original and dangerously syncretic new form of theater, Christian in its purposes and narrative content but native in its exuberant styles and conventions of performance. This "Theater of Evangelization" flourished in the early decades of the sixteenth century in Mexico. As early as 1538, the enterprising Franciscan friar Motolina organized elaborate dramatic festivities in Tlaxcala on the feasts of Corpus Christi, St. John the Baptist, and the Incarnation which included several plays of the Annunciation and Adam and Eve. They were performed in the Náhuatl language in specially constructed outdoor pavilions, with native flora and fauna, including parrots and ocelots in the Garden of Eden.3 This early period of theatrical experiment (the "Teatro Mestizo," in Juan Arom's phrase) reaches its climax in a performance in Mexico City of The Last Judgment by native performers, enacting a script in Náhuatl written by the Franciscan friar Andres de Olmos. The setting was the vast Franciscan-designed outdoor chapel of San José de Naturales, known as the Cathedral of the Indians. The distinguished audience included the Viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, and the Bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumárraga. The performance evidently featured native costumes and dancers, and may even have included vestiges of pre-conquest religious rituals.4 The multicultural semiotics of this production apparently provoked an angry response from Bishop Zumárraga. Sitting in judgment on this Last Judgment spectacle, in an official document dated 1544 or 1545, he denounced and henceforth 142Immigration of Medieval Drama to...