- Beyond Spain’s Borders: Women Players in Early Modern National Theaters ed. by Anne J. Cruz and María Cristina Quintero
Beyond Spain’s Borders: Women Players in Early Modern National Theaters.
Routledge, 2017. 220 Pp.
AS THE LATE YOGI BERRA WAS REPORTED to have said, “in theory there’s not much difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” In theory, most scholars of early modern theater will readily concede the need for transnational approaches to what was, in fact, an international phenomenon. In practice, because of entrenched institutional inertia and the sheer stretch of going outside of one’s national comfort zone, most people just don’t get around to it. There is no sign today that English professors teaching Shakespeare and his English contemporaries know anything more about Spanish, French, Italian, or German theater than they did fifty years ago. The new historicist revolution significantly widened the textual field resonating around English early modern plays, and did extend the global reach of Shakespeare by its inquiries into postcolonialism and early modern racism. But to mention the great sixteenth-century Italian playwright Ruzante in English literature circles, for example, is still to elicit blank stares. (Italian scholars archly refer to Shakespeare as the “English Ruzante.”)
There are moments in Beyond Spain’s Borders: Women Players in Early Modern National Theaters when the sheer detail regarding the Spanish situation makes it seem like the book was written just for other Hispanists. In general, however, editors Anne J. Cruz and María Cristina Quintero and their group of authors provide an illuminating transnational perspective on this great theater, a rival in its time only to the theater of Shakespeare. The theater of Calderón and Lope de Vega should, indeed, play a special role in a transnational history of early modern theater. English early modern theater was certainly the “drama of a nation” (if with strong international connections); but except for court performance and outliers like Mary Frith, it did not have female performers. Italian theater not only had female performers, but ones who acquired dazzling international reputations; in this fractured period of republics, duchies, territories, and states, however, Italian theater was only “national” in a virtual, promissory sense. Spanish theater had [End Page 133] the best of both worlds: the national heft of English early modern theater and female performers almost as famous as the Italian innamorate. Siglo de Oro theater was news worth carrying beyond national boundaries, and carried it was, often by powerful royal women destined for foreign husbands. When professional troupes voyaged outside of Spain, often initially invited by foreign courts, audiences could see polished and confident female actors plying their professional trade. Beyond Spain’s Borders nicely develops this double thrust of a transnational carry that seems to have particularly depended on women; the book’s subtitle refers both to royal female players, such as the Empress Margarita Teresa of Austria, and women actors in professional troupes. Additionally, the collection addresses the roles some female novelle authors, such as María de Zayas, had in transmitting easily theatricalized narrative character types, plots, and situations. Taken together, the book nicely conveys a sense of the different kinds of theatrical things they carried across geo-linguistic borders: female sovereigns keenly interested in purveying Spanish theater; the vast human and material resources that these powerful women brought along with them to their new courts: actors both male and female, costumes, dramatic scripts, character types, plots and other theatrical moving parts, or “theatergrams,” and more. Also, the book avoids the binary, English-Spanish rut of most transnational studies of Golden Age drama and nicely explores how this theater radiated into France, Italy, England, and the German-speaking regions.
The book divides into two parts. Part 1, “From Spain to the Transnational Stage,” is centrifugal: it examines the carrying, the translatio, of Spanish theater to England, France, Germany, and Italy. The first essay of part 1, José María Pérez Fernández’s “The Domestication of Melibea: Recasting Spanish Characters in Early English Drama,” considers how Fernando de Rojas’s late fifteenth-century Calisto and...