- Women’s Somatic Training in Early Modern Spanish Theater by Elizabeth Marie Cruz Petersen
Women’s Somatic Training in Early Modern Spanish Theater.
Routledge, 2016. 158 Pp.
IN WOMEN’S SOMATIC TRAINING IN EARLY MODERN SPANISH THEATER, Elizabeth Marie Cruz Petersen skillfully uses somaesthetics to shed light on the professional training of the early modern Spanish actress. Although there is copious scholarship about Golden Age plays and playhouses, there are few studies that emphasize the art of acting. A highlight of this work is Cruz Petersen’s close reading of stage directions, cues from dialogue, and metatheatrical comments in order to elucidate the rigorous training demanded of early modern actresses to execute their roles. While narrower in scope, the focus on performance makes Cruz Petersen’s study a good companion for Evangelina Rodríguez Cuadros’s La técnica del actor español en el Barroco: Hipótesis y docoumentos (Castalia, 1998), Josef Oehrlein’s El actor en el teatro español del Siglo de Oro (Castalia, 1993), and David Castillejo’s La formación del actor en el teatro clásico (Ars Millenii, 2004). Notably, Cruz Petersen’s is the only one of these studies with a sustained focus on women, and the only one written in English.
Cruz Petersen’s sources include historical documentation, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century treatises on acting, manuals of conduct, and seventeenth-century plays. Combining these with current studies on somaesthetic theory, “which offers an understanding of the relationship between mind and body” (9), the author illuminates the ways in which actresses used their lived experiences and their bodies in order to build a character, both on and off the stage. Indeed, Cruz Petersen claims that the most renowned actresses sometimes carried over into everyday life the skills they needed for a successful production, and in doing so, were able to cross social boundaries allowed to few women at the time.
The book is divided into four chapters, including a concise introduction and conclusion. Chapter 1, “Theoretical Models: Somaesthetics and Arte Nuevo,” outlines the theoretical models that inform the entire book. Engaging the work of American pragmatist philosopher Richard Shusterman, Cruz Petersen delineates the central categories of somaesthetics: analytic, pragmatic, and practical. While relying on contemporary philosophy as a basis for interpreting [End Page 139] early modern production may seem anachronistic, Cruz Petersen carefully and thoroughly demonstrates how a somatic sensibility is evidenced in early modern theatrical treatises, most notably Lope de Vega’s Arte Nuevo de hacer comedias en nuestro tiempo. Although at times this chapter makes for dense reading, Cruz Petersen makes a persuasive argument for how a somaesthetic lens can reveal “how [a]ctors learn to individualize their roles through the amalgamation of their body and mind” (19).
Cruz Petersen then extends this examination of the body to the space in which the performers worked. Chapter 2, “The Corral’s Contribution to Somatic Experience,” illustrates how the unique architecture of early modern Spanish theaters influenced the training and preparation of actors. Particularly interesting is the discussion of the conditioning and courage required for actors to manipulate effectively the improvised and often unstable stage machinery, or tramoyas, used to hoist actors above the stage in order to create the illusion of flying. This chapter also contains a compelling description not only of the corrales’ impact on the performance of the actors, but also of how “spectators expressed their sense of empowerment through representational somaesthetics that included rituals or habits related to aspects such as dress and refreshments. This form of embodiment enhanced their sense of aesthetic agency, enabling them to comply with and defy social codes” (50). In other words, somaesthetic stage practice extended beyond the stage to influence the behavior of the community attending the spectacle—a community who might have been surprised to register the influence of their own presentations on a micro-sociological level of public performance.
In chapter 3, Cruz Petersen turns to the textual contexts of the theater to explore how performance practices affected not only the cultural performance of the audience but also the coded gender identities of women more broadly. Chapter 3, “Sociopolitics of the Spanish...