Architecture as Design

Early Modern theatres of France and Spain, 1486–1789

Authored by: Franklin J. Hildy

The Routledge Companion to Scenography

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138917804
eBook ISBN: 9781315688817
Adobe ISBN:


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The Early Modern period in Western history begins in the late fifteenth-century, where the periods traditionally called the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance overlapped. This is significant in theatre history as it is the time when medieval dramatic traditions were in many ways reaching their zenith, while the new Renaissance theatre was working out what it could and should be. It was at this juncture that professional theatre was reintroduced to Europe after a long absence dating back to a century or so following the fall of the Western Roman Empire. It was also at this juncture that the first purpose-built theatre buildings to be erected in Europe since Roman times were constructed in the Italian States, England, France, and Spain. In all of these countries theatre professionals had to blend old traditions with new ideas, coming up with approaches to theatre art that laid the foundation for the theatre we know today. Those who designed theatre buildings for these new professionals had to accommodate the new hybrid approaches to staging that were being created. The theatre architecture they developed not only defined the relationship an audience could have with the performance on stage, it also defined the relationship an audience could have with itself. Theatre architects had to negotiate the ways in which the organization of audiences within a theatre space was to reflect the social order in the society these spaces served. The accommodation of class distinctions is often discussed as a manifestation of cultural hegemony in which the powerful used the products of culture, in this case architecture, to impose acceptance of the status-quo on the less powerful. But the organization of space in the house of an Early Modern theatre can just as readily be seen as a manifestation of a universal desire for what I would call social comfort; the right to enjoy an entertainment among those for whom one feels the greatest esprit de corps. This would suggest that it was not imposed from the top but insisted upon by all. Only part of the spectacle of Early Modern theatre occurred on the stage; a great deal of the appeal of attending the theatre came from watching other parts of the audience and the design of these building fully accommodated that desire. In this chapter I will examine the distinctive development of professional theatre in France and Spain as they are representative of the trends throughout Europe.

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