Dramatic and Theatrical Censorship of Sixteenth-Century New Spain

Author: Breining, Daniel
This work investigates the censorship of género chico dramas, pieces which were commonly used as a conversional and didactic tool in New Spain during the first decades of colonial rule. These small theatrical representations and dramatic texts are particularly insightful to the censorial policies as developed and implemented by the ecclesiastical and viceregal authorities of New Spain. The official and personal anti-theatrical and anti-dramatic dictates, as enforced in part by Archbishop Juan de Zumàrraga and the New World Inquisition, relied heavily upon the ideals of mimesis, education, and concern for subversion of the state. Because the works generally included the use of Nahuatl, the language of the newly conquered natives of the Anahuac valley, and were performed by the Indians without Spanish supervision, they feared potential insertion of indigenous elements. Along with the hybridized qualities found in many of the pieces, this work also looks at the criticism of viceregal policies as one more reason for censoring these works and reprimanding their authors, with examples taken from the works of Hernán González de Eslava, Juan Pérez Ramírez, and Cristóbal de Llerena.


“As Breining so clearly demonstrates, the meanings of theatrical performance have always been at the center of debates about how societies and their cultural institutions – including religions, educational systems and political life – should function in the everyday lives of citizens, subjects or slaves ... The author’s book focuses on the intense and intensely contradictory struggle for the souls and hearts of the newly conquered native populations ... his choice to focus on the role of small theatrical works, the género chico, in the great debates on theater’s role in the process of colonization further demonstrates how even small performance events on ordinary and seemingly insignificant stages can and do have resonance in larger political arenas far from the site of their initial impact.” – Dr. Catherine Connor, Department of Romance Languages, University of Vermont – Burlington

“This is an excellent study on the development of the Género chico as instructional dramas in colonial Mexico aimed to convert the Indigenous population into Christianity ... he has illumined the political context of colonial power and the internal debates within civil and religious authorities about the fear of the propagation of native traditions in these hybridized representational pieces ... a welcome addition to the growing body of new knowledge on culture, theater and drama in colonial Mexico ... A remarkable aspect of this study is the finding and inclusion here in English translation of the first extant American drama, Juicio Final, written by Fray Andrés de Olmos. The author’s study will generate discussions on Olmos’ play, and will add to current theorization on hybridity, censorship and on drama genres.” – Dr. Rubén Medina, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Table of Contents

1. Theatrical Censorship and Its Early Settings: The Greek Ideal and the Problems with Drama
2. The Continuation of Classical Ideals and Anti-theatrical Sentiments in New Spain
3. Indigenous Influence, Catechistical Purpose, and Hybridization in Didactic Representations and the Early género chico Dramas of New Spain
4. The First Extant American Drama: Nexcuitilmachiotl motenhua juicio final by Fray Andrés de Olmos
5. Theater and Drama in New Spain: Censorship and Governmental Controls in the Second Half of the 16th Century
Appendices: addenda of Archbishop Juan de Zumárraga to the first and second editions of the Compendio breve que tracta de la manera de como se han de hazer las processiones (1544) by Dionisio ricke, el carujano; the Nexcuitilmachiotl motenhua juicio final (1531-33) by Fray Andrés de Olmos; Entremés (1588) by Cristóbal de llerena