The Persecution of José Macedonio Espinoza's Troupe by the Inquisition

The conflict between stable circus companies and itinerant puppeteers in 18th-century New Spain, focusing on the persecution of José Macedonio Espinoza's troupe by the Inquisition. The article tells us more about the history of entertainment and censorship in New Spain in the 18th century.

The Persecution of José Macedonio Espinoza's Troupe by the Inquisition
A Tale of Circus Clowns and Itinerant Comedians in 18th-Century New Spain. Image by DALL·E

In 18th-century New Spain, there was a conflict between circuses and the traveling troupe of José Macedonio Espinoza, a puppeteer who offered shows in the plazas. Upset by José's success, local circus performers accused him of using heretical symbols. The inquisitorial authorities confiscated the scripts of the shows even though they considered them harmless, although that did not save the artists from being judged as rogues and bums.

In New Spain in the early sixteenth century, small traveling companies with performers of puppetry, puppeteers, and acrobats dedicated to entertainment and spectacle were registered in the large cities. But by the 18th century, the conflict between the stable companies of the coliseums and the itinerant companies had gotten worse. This was because the itinerant companies cut into the profits of the stable companies.

The state of Zacatecas was one of the favorite places of "the comedians of the league", so named because they were obliged by law to camp one league away from the town where they were going to perform. This is where the Inquisition, which was winding down as a governing body, took a mildly interested look at José Macedonio Espinoza's troupe.

José Macedonio Espinoza was a puppeteer by profession who also wrote his plays and papers. His representations had a high impact on the people who used to pass by the small squares and ended up being part of the great crowd of curious onlookers who stayed to witness the whole show. In 1796, Macedonio got permission to perform as a comedian in the area called Ciudades Villas de Reales de Minas, Zacatecas, for the time he needed to finish his comedy year.

The Conflict Between Circuses and Itinerant Puppeteers in 18th-Century New Spain.
The Conflict Between Circuses and Itinerant Puppeteers in 18th-Century New Spain. Image by DALL·E

With this permission, José began to create a group of artists, with whom he toured the great cities of New Spain. This permit caused friction with the local circus performers, who denounced before the Inquisition that the itinerant artists used non-Christian elements, such as puppets of devils. Several of these complaints were sent to the Holy Office, but they only punished the company's artists financially and said they were rogues, lazy, and without trade.

In each denunciation, the authorities confiscated the scripts of the shows performed by this troupe, stamped them with a seal of receipt, and kept them as a paper trail with no follow-up. Strangely, it is because of this that we have a true record of the crimes committed by this company. The script for the one-act comedy play El entremés de Luisa (Luisa's Entremeses), for example, was taken in 1803 because, in addition to tricks, acrobatics, and puppet shows, these short comedies were very popular among the league's artists.

Entremeses were a problem for street performers, as they were considered vulgar and offensive satire, and although they were often censored by local governments, as in Zacatecas, they were not of great relevance to the Holy Office. However, when the authorities took action on the matter, it was more about judging the artists for their personal lives than for the content of their works.


Nación, Archivo General de la. “José Macedonio Espinoza, Un Artista Que Fue De Legua En Legua Por La Nueva España.”, 17 Feb. 2023,