Theses Doctoral

Stages of History: New World Spectacles and the Theater of the World in the Sixteenth Century

Hughes, Nicole T.

Stages of History: New World Spectacles and the Theater of the World in the Sixteenth Century is a sweeping analysis of dramatic performances in New Spain and Brazil that superimposed depictions of far-flung conflicts with representations of local struggles. Settlers, Franciscans, Jesuits, and Amerindian collaborators overlaid stories of New World conquests with accounts of battles that took place in the Old World, the Mediterranean, and North Africa. The conditions of staging in New Spain and Brazil—particularly performance in public spaces and the use of non-professional actors (conquistadors, missionaries, and natives)—enriched portrayals of far off times and places. These circumstances led playwrights and actors to reinvent global history through the lens of local experience and thus contemplate the historical immediacy of the New World. Participants revised historical narratives and reinterpreted biblical prophecy; they reversed the outcomes of historic defeats and projected Amerindians into distant campaigns. The inhabitants of New Spain and Brazil pictured themselves as protagonists in faraway hostilities and boldly re-arranged Spain and Portugal’s place in Christian eschatology. In these spectacles, New World societies produced optical feedback loops that interlaced regional self-perceptions with worldviews held in the Americas. I conceptualize this visual dialogue by drawing on one of the early modern senses of the term “theater” (or the Latin theatrum): facilitated viewing or orchestrated seeing.
Ultimately, the dislocations, anachronisms, and interruptions through which participants linked New Spain and Brazil to other parts of the world produced new narratives and legends. Chroniclers described these performances in the written histories and reports that they sent to influential patrons in the Old World. After their original performance, I argue, these spectacles were re-staged in the various forms of history writing in which they were described. In other words, theatrical performances were made to double as history writing. These spectacles inspired chroniclers to contextualize New World events within global history and tempted historians to edit the plots of dramas to better suit the aims of their histories. The theatrical practice of envisioning other parts of the world, and relating those images back to the Americas, I demonstrate, shaped the writing of New Spanish and Brazilian history. My title, Stages of History, refers to the multiple phases through which New World history came into being.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Russo, Alessandra
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 12, 2017