Frustratingly, the reinvigoration of a contemporary Spanish comedia performance tradition has sprung up with an intensity inversely proportional to the scholarly study of its 17th-century staging practices. Postmodernism has demanded that we rethink the very nature of performance, articulate the relationship between dramatic and performance texts, delineate notions of “doubling” and “restored behavior” on the stage, and consider the role of audience reception and cognitive function in the creation of meaning (Peirce, Eco, Foster, McConachie). Furthermore, the cultural intersections of postmodernity push us to seek how we communicate meaning over vast (or tiny) expanses of space-time. As a result, the wave of scholarship on Spanish Golden Age staging practices in the 1960s through the 1980s (which was very late in comparison to comparable work on Elizabethan theater) was effectively put on hold while theorists developed performance taxonomies based on contemporary, rather than classical, performances.
While it seems that poststructuralism and other literary theories may be used to dismiss each of these approaches out of hand, I argue that an interdisciplinary approach to staging reconstruction can, in fact, result in valid and illuminating conclusions. In spite of the ephemeral nature of performance, through a detailed analysis of approaches to space, the body, the stage object and the spectator, it is possible to discern analyzable artifacts that permit us to reconstruct significant aspects of early modern stagings.
Laura L. Vidler is an Associate Professor of Spanish in the department of foreign languages at West Point. Her monograph entitled The Poetics of Comedia Reconstruction: Reviving and Revising Performance is forthcoming with Palgrave MacMillan.