Aztec Precedents

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although many civilizations flourished in Central and South America thousands of years before the coming of the Spanish conquistadores, the history of pre-Columbian theater is very poorly understood. There are many reasons for this gap, including the fact that few records from the ancient Mayan, Olmec, and Aztec civilizations survive, and those that do exist are difficult for modern scholars to interpret. The main records of the Aztec civilization come from Spanish monks who arrived in the New World to convert the Aztecs to Christianity: Naturally, these records are very biased in favor of European civilization.

Performance art for the Aztecs was basically religious, and demonstrated the central focus of Aztec theology: the great interconnectedness between humanity and the gods. The Aztec calendar had eighteen months, and each month was marked with a major festival paying homage to the gods: Many of these festivals involved spectacular dances of numbers of performers wearing elaborate and beautiful costumes honoring, for instance, the Aztec god of rain and wind, Quetzalcóatl. This is probably the origin of the traditional quetzal dance still performed annually in Mexico, in which dancers wear headgear of paper, silk, and feathers measuring up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) in diameter.

A major component of Aztec performance ritual was human sacrifice: For the Aztecs, this sacrifice demonstrated their connection to the divine, and...

(The entire section is 411 words.)