As these two deans of American theatre history enlarge upon their argument, subtle aesthetic evaluations of theatrical form emerge. Developing their analysis of the subject, Brockett and Hildy allow that some forms of theatre do, in fact, exist in Islam, but in techniques hardly worthy of sustained analysis: “crude folk drama” and various forms of puppet and shadow theatre which are “as nonrepresentational as possible” (69). Furthermore, they point out that the flat figures of Islamic-oriented shadow traditions of Turkey, India, and Indonesia lack a third dimension, and thus are “only” seen by their shadows—further evidence of Islam’s supposed failure to develop “advanced theatrical forms” (69).[i] Brockett and Hildy acknowledge traditional techniques of Islamic performance almost grudgingly, writing that “while the Moslems did not obliterate theatrical activities in their territories, they did discourage them and in most instances succeeded in confining them to minor forms” (69).
Brockett and Hildy put forth their sense of Islam as an obstacle to theatre by more subtle means as well. For example, at the beginning of their chapter on “European Theatre in the Middle Ages,” there is a map of “Europe in 1096” noting various kingdoms and the existence of such cities as Paris, London, Venice, and Rome. But aside from the presence of “Christian Spanish Kingdoms” near the Pyrenees, the Iberian peninsula is blank—a cultural void (73). The cities of Cordoba, Granada, Seville, and Saragossa are completely absent, despite the fact that, as María Rosa Menocal has pointed out, the Muslim/Jewish/Christian cities of Al-Andalus were far more sophisticated and “civilized” than any of the cities to the north, a situation which caused the tenth-century German dramatist Hrotsvitha to term Cordoba “the ornament of the world” (12).
[i] Asian theatre historian James Brandon articulated a common version of the West’s idée fixe about Islam and performance when he wrote in 1967 that Islam had a “totally stultifying influence” on theatre in India, Persia, and Arab countries (32). Wayang scholar Kathy Foley echoed Brandon when she recently wrote that although some forms of Islam have supported strong performance forms, “the Sunni variant of Islam found in the Arab peninsula has an anti-theatrical bent” (14). Even Turkish theatre historian Metin And wrote in 1991 about “the lack of great Islamic drama” (1991, 34). These variegated sentiments are part of a long tradition going back at least to the Orientalist Edward William Lane, who wrote in the 1820s that Egyptian theatre amounted to “low and ridiculous farces [performed] prior to weddings and circumcisions … scarcely worthy of description: it is chiefly by vulgar jests and indecent actions, that they amuse, and obtain applause” (quoted in Badawi 19).