Skip to main content
  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: February 2013

3 - Baroque to romantic theatre

from Part II - When?

The history of the theatre from the late sixteenth to late in the nineteenth century is usually framed around dominant periods of national dramatic literatures: theatre of the Spanish golden age; Shakespeare and his contemporaries; the classic theatre of France; the comedy of manners of the English Restoration; Weimar and the golden age of German theatre. Given the longevity, authenticity and the archaeological value of the printed play text, this framing is understandable and inevitable. Nevertheless, these histories with their focus upon ‘great works’ have the effect of identifying the written and spoken word as both the prime instigator and the most important archival souvenir of theatre. Inevitably such theatre histories have shaped our contemporary perception: what we consider to be ‘good’ dramatic literature. For example, beyond the small output of R. B. Sheridan and Oliver Goldsmith, the British eighteenth-century theatre produced few plays that are today considered to be ‘good’ dramatic literature, and yet in terms of audience popularity, famous actors and scenic developments, the period clearly produced great theatre. Likewise, during the period c. 1830–c. 1880, theatre throughout Europe was a hugely popular form that responded fully and widely to social and political events, and yet, in marked contrast to opera, few plays from the period have entered the canon of dramatic literature. There appear, therefore, to be distinctive periods of European theatre history when the co-existence of ‘great’ dramatic literature with ‘great’ theatre did not occur. It would therefore seem to be important to treat with caution modern judgements about what is great dramatic literature and to inflect the assumption that ‘great plays’ are a necessary ingredient of great theatre. Whilst dramatic literature is of considerable importance, it should serve as only one approach to the making of histories of theatre. This essay aims to use the framing of the baroque and the romantic in order to make a narrative of theatre as a spatial and visual phenomenon from the late sixteenth century to the modernist revolt against romantic and material realism, which began in the final decades of the nineteenth century.

Recommend this book

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.

The Cambridge Companion to Theatre History
  • Online ISBN: 9781139019651
  • Book DOI:
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to *
Gombrich, E. H., ‘Norm and Form: The Stylistic Categories of Art History and their Origins in Renaissance Ideals’ (1963), in Edwardes, Steve (ed.), Art and its Histories (New Haven and London: Yale University Press with the Open University, 1999), p. 77.
Nagler, Alois, Theatre Festivals of the Medici 1539–1637 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964)
Strong, Roy, Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals 1450–1650 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1984)
Saslow, James, The Medici Wedding of 1589 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996)
Blanning, Tim, The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648–1815 (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 2008), p. 426.
Carlson, Marvin, Places of Performance: The Semiotics of Theatre Architecture (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1989), p. 38.
Peacock, John, The Stage Designs of Inigo Jones: the European Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
Kernodle, George R., From Art to Theatre: Form and Convention in the Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944).
Diderot, Denis, Oeuvres Complètes, Vol. x, ed. Jacques, and Chouillet, Anne-Marie (Paris: Hermann, 1980), p. 337
Diderot, Denis, Discours sur la Poésie Dramatique (1758), trans. Pollock, W. H., London: 1883
Nagler, A. M., A Source Book in Theatrical History (New York: Dover, 1959), pp. 325–6.
Cumberland, Richard (1801), cited in Highfill, Philip H., Burnim, Kalman A., Langhans, Edward A., Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and other Stage Personnel in London 1660–1800, Vol. vi, Garrick to Gyngell, (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978), p. 17.
Fried, Michael, Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (London: University of Chicago Press, 1980), pp. 131–2.
Brewer, John, The Pleasures of the Imagination (London: HarperCollins, 1997)
Blanning, Tim, The Romantic Revolution (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2010), p. 37.
Murphy, Arthur, The Life of David Garrick, 2 vols., London, 1801, Vol. ii, p. 201.
Baugh, Christopher, Garrick and Loutherbourg (Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1990).
Undated letter by Loutherbourg, to Garrick, c. March 1772, Harvard Theatre Collection, my translation in Garrick and Loutherbourg, pp. 123–4
Baugh, Christopher, Theatre, Performance and Technology: The Development of Scenography in the Twentieth Century (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), p. 13
Fitzgerald, Percy, The World Behind the Scenes (London: 1881), p. 3.
Further reading
Baugh, Christopher. ‘Scenography and Technology’, in Moody, Jane and O’Quinn, Daniel, eds. The Cambridge Companion to the British Theatre 1730–1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 43–56.
Bergman, G. M.Lighting in the Theatre (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1977).
Blanning, T. C. W.The Culture of Power and the Power of Culture: Old Regime Europe 1660–1789 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
Brewer, John. The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century (London: Harper Collins, 1997).
Brockett, Oscar G., Mitchell, Margaret and Hardberger, Linda . Making the Scene: A History of Stage Design and Technology in Europe and the United States (San Antonio, TX: Tobin Theatre Arts Fund, 2010).
Davis, Tracy C., and Holland, Peter. The Performing Century: Nineteenth-Century Theatre’s History (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
Strong, Roy. Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals, 1450–1650 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984).
Worrall, David. The Politics of Romantic Theatricality, 1787–1832 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).