Los teatros comerciales del siglo XVII y la escenificacion de la Comedia

Los teatros comerciales del siglo XVII y la escenificacion de la Comedia

Sullivan, Henry W

Los teatros comerciales del siglo XVII y la escenificaci.n de la Comedia. By J. M. Ruano de la Haza and John J. Allen. Madrid: Castalia, 1994. 626 pages.

In the area of Hispanic research it does not often happen that a book appears which sweeps clean the slate of prior critical assumptions and, in so doing, maps out the boundaries of a new discipline. The monumental work of Jose M. Ruano and John J. Allen is just such a book. Despite the centuries-long reception of Spanish Golden-Age drama texts inside or outside their country of origin, it occurred to no one until very recently to ponder over what physical, architectural reality the commercial theaters, in which the original plays were acted, would have presented to the seeing eye. Still less did it concern readers of these classical texts to wonder how the stage directions or the implications of certain deictic actions and effects might have been realized in a seventeenth-century mise-en-scene Building on the pioneer work of John E. Varey and Norman D. Shergold (to both of whom the work is dedicated), as well as on the research of Charles Davis, Ruano and Allen have created a handsome and abundant work of reference where questions of Baroque theater construction and staging techniques are addressed in compendious fashion for the first time.

The book deals with commercial theaters, corrales, not palace theaters or outdoor auto sacramental stages, and is divided clearly into two halves. The first part, in co-authorship, deals with stage construction; the second part, authored by Ruano, summarizes most of what is known or may be conjectured about staging, scenery, props, backdrops, painted flats, stage machinery or tramoyas, trapdoors, discovery spaces, half curtains, music, sound effects, costuming, weapons, live animals, and much more. The two halves of the book are indispensable one to the other. Without knowing exactly how the playhouses in the reign of the Philips were designed and built, it is futile to surmise how the plays were staged. By the same token, the often scanty, but sometimes abundant stage directions-even short essays of bullying admonition to the impresario, autor de comedias-confirm the presence or existence of specific physical features of the theater (balconies; windows; exitways; the winding attic from which clouds, angels, or saints might be lowered and raised; the nine niches on the theater facade; fake crags and mountains; shrubbery, and so forth).

The authors worked with an opulence of material that would be the envy of any Shakespeare scholar, and yet at a marked critical disadvantage. After centuries of denigration of the Siglo de Oro drama in Spain (by the Enlightenment, the Realist-Naturalist schools, the Generation of ’98, Liberal Republicanism, etc.), it was assumed without proof, and for lack of any statement to the contrary, that the corrales were a sorry, primitive excuse for theater, lacking any or all sophistication in, for example, nineteenth-century Realist terms. A major achievement of this book is to deal a decisive and permanent deathblow to that critical myth. So richly described, analyzed, and illustrated are the minutiae of the design and construction, additions and remodelings of the Corral del Principe and La Cruz in Madrid, the Teatro Cervantes, La Monteria, La Olivera, as well as extant theaters at Toro, Cordoba, and Almagro, that the documentation, legal contracts, maps, groundplans, drawings and diagrams leave the reader giddy with a vivid and unforgettable mental impression of the reality of the seventeenth-century stage in Spain.

The first half of the book deals with the all-important commercial theaters in the capital, Madrid, during the sixteenth century (chapter 1) and, of course, during the seventeenth century (chapter 2-4). Allen provides a chapter 5, linking the corrales to their social network (impresarios, business managers, paying audiences); and a chapter 6, offering an impressive survey of other commercial theaters throughout Spain, including the five in burgeoning Seville, as well as corrales in Valencia, Oviedo, Badajoz, Pamplona, Tudela, Toro, Zamora, Burgos, Toledo, Cordoba, Granada, Alcala de Henares, Almagro, Guadalajara and Lisbon.

The second half of the book, by Ruano, has an important critical Introduction: he considers the dramatic texts themselves and their vicissitudes; costuming; stage props and accessories, theater music, the basic scene-set; the inner stage; the outer stage; spectacular scene-sets; animals on stage; actors on stage in relation to stage directions; and a General Conclusion analyzing-in the light of all that has been said-examples of one play each by Lope, Tirso, and Calderon.

I have not mentioned the many appendices, list of comedias cited, the critical literature, or the abundant indexes. Here, perhaps, especially for the novice, an alphabetical glossary might have been added, explaining the meaning of so many highly esoteric terms (alojeros, gradas, cazuela alta, tertulia). By the same token, perhaps some of the long entries in the Index might have been broken down further into sub-entries (Lope de Vega alone has 192 undifferentiated page references; Calderon nearly 160). But these are certainly carping, minor criticisms. From now on, any selfrespecting Golden-Age specialist who enters the classroom as an “authority” on the Spanish Comedia-without having read Ruano and Allen’s book-exposes himself to the charge of charlatanism.

HENRY W. SULLIVAN University of Missouri, Columbia

Copyright University of Pennsylvania, Romance Languages Department Summer 1996

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