The Oxford Handbook of the Baroque
Oxford University Press
This article focuses on the practice of machine theater that originated from courtly spectacles in Italy during the Renaissance and developed throughout Western and Central Europe during the seventeenth century. Defined by rapid scene changes and special effects, machine plays reflect the Baroque fascination with both mechanical devices and the law of optics—or scenery perspective—to produce wonder while displaying royal power and prestige. The aim of this article is threefold: to provide an overview of the origins and development of machine theater, to examine the transmission and dissemination of stagecraft knowledge, and to look at the changing nature of machine plays performed by public theater companies, which took advantage of stage machinery innovations to broaden their repertoire, attract a larger audience, and remain competitive.