Lovely Cadiz

Lovely Cadiz
Cadiz - my favorite place so far in the trip to Southern Spain

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bloggo Historico -A Fractured History of the Theatre via Gaffs, Misunderstandings and Muck-Ups in roughly chronological order, part 1

As a recently retired professor I find myself looking back these days more frequently than I look forward, which may not be terribly healthy, but which has certainly proved interesting and sometimes entertaining. What follows is one of those backward glances that has provided me with pleasure perhaps a tad perverse but amusing nonetheless.

During the course of a little over 20 years at Ithaca College I taught a two-semester theatre history course in a large-lecture format to at least 50 students, recently to 100 and sometimes more (once to nearly 200) each semester.

As you peruse these (mis-)statements, unique spellings, tortured sentences and so on, I suppose that some of you might think, “What a mean-spirited teacher, to collect these embarrassing gaffs and then publish them!” I assure you that while accumulating the following I was not in any way trying to demean students. Rather, it all started by accident. When a teacher grades midterm and final exam essays, written in blue books, in large numbers every semester for more than 40 semesters, that teacher can become exhausted, even punchy, can in fact come near to going blind (which I nearly did!). At times this rapid-fire forced reading gives ay to a giddy state, characterized by snickers, chortles and occasional belly laughs, the last of which must have disturbed the neighbors in my apartment complex. (“God, what does he find so funny THIS time? And why is he so LOUD!?!”) At any rate, at some point early in my career at Ithaca I began to jot down the portions of answers that produced such eruptions. I don’t think I ever really went looking for mistakes – I didn’t have to, they just kept popping up! At a later point I began to look at what I’d collected and realized that a fractured outline of history was forming. It was then that I began to type out the comments and place them as well as I could in chronological order.

I’m aware that if the readers of this twisted chronology do not possess a rudimentary knowledge of theatre history they may not “get” some of the laughs that slipped out of a tired-to-the-point-of-being-dopey Dottore Gianni, Doctor Jack, mean old Professor Hrkach, whatever you want to call him. At the same time many readers not versed in theatre history will still know enough about history in general to understand the warped chronology, clash of cultures etc that the answers reveal, and who knows? Those readers too might find themselves laughing!

I have not doctored quotations from the students. They are…what they are, for better or worse. I have dispensed with quotation marks as answer I’ve typed IS a direct quote. If there are misspellings…well, that’s part of the point. I live in hope that all are the students’ errors, none of them mine. I have labeled eras and categories within them (in boldface caps) and provided brief explanations (in boldface, no caps) that might help confused readers move forward.

While reading you might like to ponder the following definitions of history I’ve stumbled across over time:

Aristotle: If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.

Cicero: Not to know what happened before we lived is to remain perpetually a child.

Edward Gibbon: I know no way of judging the future but by the past.

Napoleon:  What is history but a fable agreed upon?

Marx: History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce.

Robert Penn Warren: History is not melodrama, even if it usually reads like that.

Joyce:  History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

Anonymous: History repeats itself because no one was listening the first time.

Alan Bennett, in his 2004 play, History Boys has a young tutor tell his students:   “History, nowadays is not a matter of conviction; it’s a performance.  An entertainment…In other words, facts can be rearranged, inverted, to work for any flashy theory you want to invent” – perhaps not surprisingly, that character ends up in government!”

One more quote from History Boys: Rudge (the jock, when asked by his teacher Mrs Lintott how he would define history)  “Can I speak freely Miss?  How do I define history?  It’s just one fucking thing after another.”

So! Shall we start at the very beginning? A very good place to start!


It’s been said that theatre is the only art form that doesn’t have negative re-precautions. Personally the gifts theatre can offer run ramped.

THEATRE IN ANCIENT EGYPT (or thereabouts):

The Abydos Passion Play stemmed from a ritual in Western Africa.  There was a tribe who performed the story in the medieval period.


The Greek theatre was a wanderous thing.


In Athens, some guy was born in someone else’s thigh, and that was pretty exciting, so they celebrated that through rituals.

A dramatic festival was held each spring to honor the god Dying Ices.

Dionysos, not Ding Ices


At the center of the Greek orkestra was a thymele (altar), a reminder of the biblical context of the plays.

The chorus entered through the peracion.

A piece of scenery in the Greek theatre was a perydactoid.

Also there were secen paintings called pankes.

The skene was very useful for many reasons.  First, it was used as a backdrop for the performance space.  B, it was used as a place for the actors to change.  Fifth and lastly, it could be used as a place for actors to make entrances from.  Third, it could be used as a place for special effects.   (Dogberry strikes again!)

An early Greek flute was the pikatores.

While the stone was not added until after the 5th c
this is a pretty good idea of what a Greek theater would have looked like


In the tragedy contest one poet would write three tragedies and a seder play.

Three Greek tragic playwrights that stood out for me this semester were...

The three famous Greek tragic playwrights were Aeschylus, Sophocles and Eumenides.

Aeschylus lived from 456 to 523 BC.

Aeschylus lived during the Trojan War, and wrote about it in the Oresteia.

One of Aeschylus’s plays was The Liberation Bearers.

Aristophanes fought in the Trojan War and at Marathon.

Arystophocles: first to get rid of chorus; introduced second actor; focused
on tragedy.

Sophocles wrote Ostitione. (???)

John cheats on his wife and the chick flips out! (A description of Euripides’ Medea)

Euripides wrote Media.

Euripides was the most modern of the Greek tragic playwrights. He was
influenced by Nero.

Euripides held the idea of “god from machine.”

Euripides plays were said to be messy, etc, because he was sloppy and messy.

(interesting misspellings of the playwrights’ names)
Aesalysis, Aestheysus, Aesthises, Orineus (all for Aeschylus), Sopholic, Thesbus, Arastaphanes, Erestophecies


Old Greek comedies were in the style of mystery plays, dealing with God and angels.

Old Comedy was very political, often harpooning important figures.

Antagony was a writer of old comedy.

Meander’s play The Grouch is the only thing we have of new comedy.
(interesting misspelling of Menander!)

New Greek comedies were more like morality plays.  There were three main writers of these plays, Aeschylus, who wrote Agamemnon, Euripides, who wrote Medea, and Aristotle, who wrote Everyman.


Aristotle’s six elements of tragedy were plot, character, thymele, donmar, music and spectacle.
(mostly right, but thymele? – the altar in the center of the orchestra in an ancient Greek theatre; and donmar??? A former warehouse turned theatre in current-day London)


Seneca was a mentor to Sophocles and died just a few months apart.

Lycestes was a revenge drama by Seneca. (???)

Hoorace…Horus... wrote rules for Roman plays. (both spellings refer to Horace)
This is Horus

And this is Horace

Greek theatre spaces had three openings in the back wall 
The Theatre of Herodas Atticus
Athens (Roman style)

and the Romans opened it up to create a proscenium arch.

In Roman theatres there was a curtain hung on the scaenae frons called the zapatum. Another curtain, the olium, was placed in front of the auleum for surprises.

At either side of the scanae were vomitorias, where actors could come out of the ground. (????????)


Liturgical drama began when the king thought they needed to abolish secular drama. So, he built hundreds of churches and called it a new form of education.

Liturgical drama started with Charlemagne and developed with the priests and monks.  Other then rituals and dithyrambs and such the only written drama was religious.  Eventually they began to use a trope (a fancy mask or robe) to embellish their characters.

The visitatio plays were spoken in tropes, a kind of lyrical verse.

A trope is a magical passageway.

(point of information on the comments above: a trope is an addition or variation on a text, a song etc and below: Terence was an ancient Roman comic playwright, and Hroswitha, whose name has been spelled in a variety of letterings, was the first identifiable female playwright, writing in the tenth century A.D. “White Rose” is simply a direct translation of her name, not a novel or any of the other ideas listed)

With the demise of the church, theatre had to find its home elsewhere.
Terence, an African playwright of this time, became interested in Hroswitha’s work.  Hroswitha felt that Terence’s plays were not suitable for Christian audiences.

Hroswitha worshipped Terence.

Hroswitha wrote using Terence’s style but turned the main characters into
young virginous women.

Hroswith wrote in the Terential style.

Hroswitha wrote Duplicine...Dulicios...

Hroswitha wrote about virgins, martyrdoms and hard-won conversations.

Hroswitha’s subjects included hard-won conversations, redemption and penance.
(both of the last two were trying to write “hard-won conversions” not “conversations –wonder if they were sitting next to one another, eh?)

Hroswitha adapted her plays to Christian themes, which she deemed more
appropriate to Christians.

Hroswitha was a nun at the Gutenberg abbey.

Hroswitha wasn’t completely confined to the cloister as she was canonized.

Hroswitha was a mixture between a nun and a real woman.

Hroswitha was said to be absolutely brilliant, far before her time.

Hroswitha of Gendersheim...(interesting spelling error! She was in fact from Gandersheim)

Hroswitha (aka White Rose) was the first woman playwright.

Hroswitha wrote The White Rose.

Hroswitha used the white rose to enter a convent where she would be safe from marriage. 

In order to avoid an arranged marriage, Hroswitha entered a convent to become a canibus.

Hroswitha ran ways to a convent to escape an arranged marriage.  She became a canibus and learned how to read and write.

Hroswitha was a cannos...a cannansis...a cananus... (the word they are looking for is canoness; see also canonized and canibus above)


Mansoons and plateaus....

The medieval playing space was called the plateau.

The major methods of staging cycle plays were movable and fixated.

For cycle plays, Britain began to travel around the country performing.

Due to the continuation of Corpus Christi, the Catholic religion had sprung, and the autos sacramentales were stressed.

An example of a cycle play is the crucifiction. (I love this spelling error!)
Re-enactment of the York cycles plays
in different parts of the city in 2006

Cycle plays were performed at Chorpus Christie.

Cycle plays were performed at York and Westchester.
(Chester, yes, Westchester…it’s doubtful!)

The most famous passion play is the Valciennes at Lucerne.
(the student is trying for Valenciennes, a town which did produce a series of passion plays…but it was hardly in Lucerne, which offered its own plays)

The use of allegorical characters saved time because their character didn’t
have to develop himself. (!)

Two great comic playwrights of the Middle Ages were Terence and Plautus, whose works were rumored to inspire the play, “Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum.” (these two were ancient Roman writers, not medieval ones)

Everyman centers on a regular townsman who tricks another man while having an affair under his nose.

Terence wrote The Play of Robin and Marion.


The Renaissance equivalent to the Greek satyr play was the “pasture” play or pageant.
(the student meant to write “pastoral” instead of “pasture”)
a painting taken from a famous pastoral
While Horus felt that plays should be entertaining as well as instructional,
many neoclassicists such as Bertolt Brecht believed that theatre should merely teach.
(Horus was an Egyptian god - the student means Horace here – and Brecht was a twentieth century playwright/director – hardly neoclassical! In fact he’d be rolling over in his grave if he read this!)

Other neoclaccists were Zala and Stagmita. (???)

Three units were time, place and action. (read “unities” for “units”)

(Misspellings of verisimilitude include)
Varacimilitude, Versusmeritude, Vermismilitude

The neoclassical ideal was ideas known as vestmillities.

The Neoclassic Ideal was used as a theorical way of life in the Renaissance.

The more efficient and effective of the two systems (of changing scenery) was the chariot and pole, simply because it utilized the use of one wench being turned, cueing a chariot under the stage to roll along a line to allow all wings of the scene to be revealed at once.
(a winch, not a wench, was turned – at least so one hopes!)

This is a winch
and this is a wench!

One example of a Renaissance play would be Ariosto by La Cassria. This was the very first vernacular Renaissance comedy and it was based on Roman comedy. Greek tragedy later influenced Sofonish to write the first Italian tragedy, Trissino
(Here the student has interestingly twisted authors and titles: actually Ariosto wrote a play called La Cassaria, and Trissino wrote a play called Sofonisba)

Palladio built the Olimpico, Alladio (the student means Aleotti) built the Farnese.

Paradio built the Olimpico.

Shortly after the Teatro Olimpico became erect (what!!!), Teatro Farnese in Parma also began to take shape in 1618. 


In commedia dell arte all the characters were the same and the play was plot driven.

In commedia dell’arte the soggeti is blocking actors are handed in Japanese
theatre.  The actors have to refer to it like a bible.
(I cannot even begin to explain this!)

The soggetti were scenarious.
(The student is almost right – leave out the “u” and you have the correct word “scenarios”)

Charlemagne was a stock character in commedia, a loyal servant. (???)

cimaculata/o, amaratona/o, inamorta/o, immormorta, innamoretta...
(all of the above are interesting variations on the innamorato and innamorata, the young male and female lovers, respectively)

Stock characters include Dottore, father of one of the lovers, and Bologna, and old man in academic robes.  
(The character Dottore comes from the city of Bologna and is dressed in academic robes, sometimes the father of one of the lovers – I think the student means to write “ Pantalone” as the father of one of the lovers – by the way, using “and” for “an” is a very frequent error)

Penucello, poncillo, puncielli, punaeillo, pullicentra
All of these interesting words refer to Pulcinella, a rather nasty comic servant in Commedia)

Harlequin lusted after the fisty Columbina.

Docort was the male servant often enamored of Harminy. (???)


The main playwright was Shakuntala, who wrote Kalidasa.
(the form of drama is Sanskrit - not Sanskirt, see below – this answer is close, actually, but it was the writer Kalidasa who wrote the play Shakuntala)

Sanskirt Drama

The God Sheba stood on a demon and danced.
This is Shiva, who stood on a demon and danced

And this is Sheba...well, as played by
Gina Lollobridrigida!

Bhenena (for Bharata, one hopes) wrote rules for Indian drama.

The Two Indian Epics are the Ramayana and the Hash-hish-Kagura.

The major Indian epics are Mahahabrahma and Ramayama.


Mei Lan Fancy played women’s roles in Beijing Opera.

It wasn’t until the 1920’s that women were allowed to play in all women troops.  
One of the most popular actresses was Mei Lan Fanag, who was famous for a role in Farewell my Concubine.
(the male actor above, famed for playing women’s roles, is Mei Lan Fang - and he died many years before Farewell My Concubine was filmed)

There was a lot of symbolism in Beijing Opera.  For instance, a piece of the
stage that was once a mountain cojuld become a palace just by stating so and burning incense on it. (eh?)

Madame Butterfly is an example of Beijing Opera.

A night at the Opera is long and loud.
(The student is referring to Beijing Opera, but for some I suppose any night at the opera could be considered long and loud)


Japanese theatre really took sprout during the fourteenth century.

Kyogen, interludes in Noh, were influenced by Hanamichi.
(a hanamichi is a walkway in a Kabuki theatre, not a person)
The hanamichi runs down the left side of this drawing
note the actors on it

Bankura was a form of theatre all around puppetry.
Bunraku handlers and puppeets

Japanese puppet plays are called Boku-Raku.

Moon-raku is Japanese puppet theatre.

Japanes theatre included Noh, Bunku, and Kabuku.

Two of the three Baruki puppeteers are dressed in black. The third wears a
costume and actually does the same things as the puppet.  This creates a
stunning effect and the puppets really seem to come to life.
(the puppet theatre referred to in all the misspellings above is Bunraku. Not sure WHAT the student who wrote about the puppeteer who does the same thing as the puppets was thinking!)

Kabuki is more popular mainstream puppet drama than Bunraku. Kabuki uses only adult males to puppeteer the puppets.
(Kabuki is performed by live actors, not puppets, but I really liked “to puppeteer the puppets” here)

Kabuki began on the banks of a riverbed with women and with very bauty and erotic plays.  They were suppressed and women’s troops turned into boys’ troops.
(you’ve probably guessed that “bauty” should be “bawdy” – spelling “troops” is a common mistake when attempting to write “troupes” – pronounced the same but with different meanings. As to the statements just below, Okuni is the name of the woman thought to have begun the form of drama called Kabuki)

Kabuki has its origins in scantily clad women, called Okuni, dancing.

Okuni performed in a dry riverbed in Kyogen.

An Okuni was a very erotic dance performed by women in early Kabuki.

The direct consequence of women in Kabuki was the sexual deviancy and prostitution that always seems to ruin women in theater.

In Kabuki you have the Hibiach, or flower way.
(hanamichi again – see above – I think this student was going for the equally incorrect “hibachi!”)

Kabuki started in the early seventieth century.

Thus ends part one -- I'll put another blog out in a few days with Part 2, which will begin with Elizabethan theatre!


  1. marie.king@wichita.eduNovember 19, 2012 at 11:13 PM

    my life in a nutshell

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I guess I have sexual deviancy and prostitution to look forward to.

  4. Welcome to my (former) world Marie! Or rather, count the days until you too can retire from it!

    Cori, you above all people I know need to stay away from Kabuki, I beg you! "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." heh heh

    Thanks for the comments, part 2 will be out soon

  5. I just laughed so hard I spit yogurt onto my laptop.

  6. They ARE something, aren't they Maggie? I hope you didn't ruin your laptop!