Audiences of Empire
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LOPE DE VEGA (1562-1635), poet/playwright of unrivaled popularity during Spain's Golden Age of literature (including Miguel de Cervantes and Calderón de la Barca), rescued theater from ineffective conventions and claimed authorship of some 1800 titles. Many of the almost 500 existing plays are stagings of pivotal events and protagonists from national history. Lope entertains his eager public with colorful stories of the passions, heroism and villainy of the high and mighty blending these with the virtues and vices of ordinary folk and stock characters. In the twilight of the once great empire, now powerless and bankrupt, Lope draws his audience into a reimagined past that is confirmed and redeemed by a prophecy of future greatness. With the history play Lope gives new meaning to the moniker often ascribed to him, Phoenix of Spain. In Audiences of Empire, author Elaine Bunn proposes a new subgenre, the populist national history play that is communal and deliberately expansive. She shows Lope, the frustrated historian, connecting king to commoner and putting myths, legends and miracles to fresh use. Finally, Audiences of Empire includes a personal reminiscence by the author about the challenges of the writing process and her experience as a feminist academic in a slowly transforming patriarchal university system. Her protracted research on Lope's early theater makes her aware finally of the significance of her own historical moment with surprising insights.