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  • Introduction
  • Elizabeth Reitz Mullenix

I didn’t realize quite how much of a theatrical business the army is.


If we really saw war, what war does to young minds and bodies, it would be impossible to embrace the myth of war. If we had to stand over the mangled corpses of schoolchildren killed in Afghanistan and listen to the wails of their parents, we would not be able to repeat clichés we use to justify war. This is why war is carefully sanitized. This is why we are given war’s perverse and dark thrill but are spared from seeing war’s consequences. The mythic visions of war keep it heroic and entertaining.


American Civil War buffs are no doubt familiar with the oft-repeated words of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee, who declared at Fredericksburg in 1862 (a battle that saw 18,000 casualties in four days), “It is well that war is so terrible—lest we should grow too fond of it.” As Lee’s now-hackneyed words imply, war is a paradox. It is both horrifying and compelling, galvanizing and devastating, a phenomenon that separates and decimates while at the same time creating and strengthening national identity and community bonds. Indeed, the myth of war, according to the award-winning war correspondent and author Chris Hedges, is a force that gives us meaning. And, as theatre scholars well know, it is the stuff of great drama.

This special issue of Theatre History Studies contributes to an ongoing conversation about theatre and war, a popular topic amongst academics for obvious reasons. The American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) will continue its working group on theatre and war this year, a dialogue that began in 2010. In April 2013 and 2014 theatre scholars Ilka Saal and Barbara Ozieblo organized a [End Page 1] workshop entitled “Teatrum Belli: Theater of War, Theater as War, War as Theatre” in Thessaloniki; and I have spoken with two different scholars this summer who are working on anthologies on the subject. The essays in Volume 33 of THS explore plays about war, performance during times of war, and theatre done both to resist and foster war. In poignant ways, all the authors in this volume also write about nationhood and about how war—through propaganda and through protest—defines a people.

In her excellent essay in this volume that examines the nexus between theatre, Scottish nationalism, and war, Ariel Watson observes, “War plays are about the mobility of human populations and identities; they are about countries in flux and in conflict, strangers in a strange land reflecting on the Verfremdungseffekt of performing nation outside its boundaries. They are about occupiers and the occupied, and the ambivalences of identity in between.” Because wartime ravages and glories play with the very essence of humanity, as Watson implies, the subject of national and international conflict is a staple theme upon the world stage.

Indeed, the authors in this volume investigate constructions of nationalism (Watson and Tanya Dean) as well as notions of occupied and occupier, nostalgia and utopia, and patriotism and revolution—themes that transcend particular conflicts and countries. The essays are arranged chronologically so as to survey a march of war, both civil and international, that spans three centuries. This arrangement allows for obvious comparisons between authors (think European fascism and its multiple applications), but also maps the scope of war’s major themes as ideas prevalent in one historical moment seem to rift off the ideologies and propaganda of wars past and present. For example, while this volume begins with Bethany D. Holmstrom’s piece on the construction of memory in post–American Civil War drama, her ideas about nostalgia resonate with LiWen (Joy) Wang’s thoughts about the Chinese Civil War. Chrystyna Dail’s essay about post–World War II antifascist theatre and Lisa Jackson-Schebetta’s work about performance and the Spanish Civil War caused me to think about how war engenders feelings of utopia (a world without violence and conflict) as well as nostalgia. Utopia’s impulses are the same as nostalgia’s—a...


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