In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Theater

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • African and Caribbean Theatricals
  • African American Theatricals
  • Canadian Theatricals
  • European Theatricals
  • Hispanic and Latin American Theatricals
  • Native American Theatricals
  • Musical Theatricals

Atlantic History Theater
Kevin J. McGinley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0170


This bibliography gives an overview of key studies that examine the intercontinental interactions of dramatic traditions from Europe, Africa, and North and South America from the 15th century to the mid-19th century. The largest concentrations of criticism on theater in the Atlantic world have been on English drama in North America, the subject of numerous in-depth studies over the course of two centuries. Latin American and Hispanic drama have also received increasing attention in Anglophone criticism over the last half-century, building on a much longer history of the subject in Spanish-language criticism. African, Caribbean, and African American theatrical traditions have also received new attention in the late 20th and early 21st centuries together with Native American performances, though study of the early performance traditions of these cultures is hampered by a lack of documentary evidence for theatricals that often took the form of ritual performances or storytelling with gestures. Studies of early Canadian theater and of Atlantic dimensions of European drama remain comparatively thin on the ground, and there remains much work to be done in these areas. Awareness of these diverse traditions has developed in tandem with an expanding range of critical approaches. Earlier criticism tended to focus on constructing factual histories—cataloguing performances, uncovering material information concerning playhouses, documenting details of staging, tracing biographical information, and studying contemporary reception. More recent investigations have focused on questioning the theatrical canon, uncovering aspects of theater history not previously addressed (and often scantily recorded in archives, if at all), such as women’s contributions and native American and African American traditions, and have extended the definition of theater to include performance traditions other than those of the conventional stage, including religious rituals, pageants, and folk customs. These developments owe much to the growth of the discipline of performance studies and the attention given therein to extratheatrical performances as significant cultural statements, enabling greater recognition of the diverse traditions and range of voices that have contributed to the Atlantic region’s dramatic culture. Recent criticism of Anglophone and Hispanic drama has also stressed the social diversity and intercultural relations of the Atlantic world, analyzing the theater as a site of social and political debate that engages with matters such as colonial interactions with the native peoples of America, class conflict, political relations between the Americas and Europe, and attitudes toward race and slavery.

General Overviews

Given that the topic of Atlantic theater encompasses traditions from four continents spread over more than three centuries, studies that provide a comprehensive overview of the subject are hard to come by. There are a few studies, however, that provide usefully broad perspectives in highlighting key interconnections among the cultures that were involved in early modern transatlantic interactions. Roach 1996 is an innovative work that draws on the discipline of performance studies to provide a broad perspective that includes theater, street festivals, and funerary practices, examines these in terms of the interaction of diverse Atlantic-area cultures. Reed 2007 examines the specific performance tradition of Jonkonnu in terms of its hybrid cultural influences, from its initial appearance in Caribbean slave festivities, through different contexts of articulation as it circulates in North America and Europe. Other studies, while more focused on North America, emphasize the diverse European influences on performance traditions there, with Waldo 1942 and Jost 1976 demonstrating the influence of French and German dramatic traditions on the North American stage, including via English translations and adaptations. Other discussions that focus on North America give strong emphasis to African connections and the institution of slavery, with Gibbs 2008 showing how theatrical culture contributed to debates on slavery and abolitionism, while Raboteau 2004 provides valuable material on musical and dance performance traditions associated with slave religion that became important cultural performances associated with African American identity. Castillo 2006 and Londré and Watermeier 1998 both give strong emphasis to native American and Hispanic dramatic traditions and emphasize how they express the varied interactions between different groups of colonizers and different colonized peoples in North America.

  • Castillo, Susan. Colonial Encounters in New World Writing, 1500–1786: Performing America. London: Routledge, 2006.

    Castillo focuses primarily on performance in the Spanish colonies in the Americas, though also includes material on British and French colonies. Her book examines a wide range of performance traditions from across a wide geographic area, including indigenous performance traditions dating from pre-Columbian times, Christian religious pageants, historical dramas, and postcolonization plays by indigenous writers, showing the shifting interactions in representations of colonized and colonizers over three centuries.

  • Gibbs, Jenna Marie. “Performing the Temple of Liberty: Slavery, Rights, and Revolution in Transatlantic Theatricality (1760s–1830s).” PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 2008.

    Examines how transatlantic cultural exchange, focusing on London and Philadelphia, affected the representation of race and slavery in theatrical discourses, including not only plays but also related discourses featuring theatrical figures and themes. Some of these discourses included broadsides, pamphlets, poetry, and cartoons, all of which contributed to a transformation in views of slavery that rallied popular feeling toward the abolitionist cause.

  • Jost, François. “German and French Themes in Early American Drama.” Journal of General Education 28.3 (1976): 190–222.

    Examines the appearance of German and French plays on the American stage from the 16th through to the 19th century, giving chief focus to works translated into English, with particular attention to William Dunlap’s influence but also having some discussion of performances in French and German.

  • Londré, Felicia Hardison, and Daniel J. Watermeier. The History of North American Theater: The United States, Canada, and Mexico: From Pre-Columbian Times to the Present. New York: Continuum, 1998.

    Presents a transnational and multicultural history of North American theater whose discussion interweaves developments in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The early chapters provide valuable transcultural perspectives on pre-Columbian performances in all three regions and the development of theater in the French, Spanish, and British colonies.

  • Raboteau, Albert J. Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    Raboteau’s seminal study of African American religion has a lot of material on how religious rituals propagated distinctive African American performance traditions of dance, music, and song that originated in Africa but came to influence Anglo-American culture in the New World.

  • Reed, Peter. “‘There Was No Resisting John Canoe’: Circum-Atlantic Trans-Racial Performance.” Theatre History Studies 27 (2007): 65–85.

    DOI: 10.1353/ths.2007.0021

    Examines the geographic and generic transformations of the Jonkonnu performances from an intercultural perspective. Looks at the diverse cultural influences taken from these performances’ origins in Caribbean slave festivals where they blended African and European traditions, through their transformations as performed in festivities up and down the East Coast of the United States and in theaters for European audiences.

  • Roach, Joseph. Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

    Extends the definition of theater to include carnivals, parades, ceremonial rituals, and oratorical performances and analyzes the interaction of these in terms of a hybrid Atlantic culture encompassing Anglo-American, African American, American Indian, African, Caribbean, and European performance cultures, opening up a number of intriguing new possibilities for the analysis of Atlantic drama.

  • Waldo, Lewis P. The French Drama in America in the Eighteenth Century and Its Influence on the American Drama of that Period, 1701–1800. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1942.

    Based on substantial archival research, this study has valuable references and bibliographical information. While it provides a useful account of French drama in America, it also places strong emphasis on the performance in America of British adaptations of French plays.

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