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17 th Century French Theatre Practice. Presented by: Borana Luka. Overview:. Historical background Theater and theatrical companies The Neoclassical Ideal The Cid Corneille Racine Moliere . Historical Context.

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17 th century french theatre practice

17th Century French Theatre Practice

Presented by:

Borana Luka

  • Historical background
  • Theater and theatrical companies
  • The Neoclassical Ideal
  • The Cid
  • Corneille
  • Racine
  • Moliere
historical context
Historical Context
  • Religious controversies in the XVI century that continued in the XVII century
  • 1625 – Cardinal Richelieu

( Louis XIII’s prime minister)

  • France the cultural center of Europe
cardinal richelieu
Cardinal Richelieu
  • The French stage needed drastic reform
  • Looked to Italy for guidance
  • Advocated adoption of the proscenium stage and perspective scenery
  • The drama should adhere to theoretical principles articulated in Italy during the XVI century
  • These principles make up what came to be called the neoclassical ideal.
the neoclassical ideal
The Neoclassical Ideal
  • Only two legitimate forms of drama:

♣ tragedy

♣ comedy

Tragedy deals with affairs of

the state

Comedy deals with love

The two should never be mixed!

Neoclassicists: the purpose of drama is to teach and to please
  • Opera came to France in the second half of the century
theaters and theatrical companies
Theaters and theatrical companies
  • In addition to public theaters, plays were produced in private residences, before the court and in the university
  • The public, the humanist theater of the colleges and the theater performed at court showed extremely divergent tastes

- tragicomedy was fashionable at the court

- the public was more interested in tragedy

  • The early theaters in Paris were often placed in existing structures like tennis courts:

- stages were extremely narrow

- facilities for sets and scene changes were often non-


Eventually, theaters would develop systems of elaborate machines and decors

Theater performances took place twice a week
  • Theatrical representations often encompassed several works:

a comic prologue, a tragedy or tragicomedy, a farce and finally a song

Nobles sometimes sat on the side

of the stage during the


The audience was always aware

of each other

Spectators were notably vocal

during performances

- The place directly in front of the stage, without seats(the "parterre“) was reserved for men

- It was usually a mix of social groups

- Elegant people watched the show from the galleries

- Princes, musketeers and royal pages were given free entry

- Before 1630, a honest woman did not go to the theater

  • Unlike England, France placed no restrictions on women performing on stage
  • But the career of actors of either sex was seen as morally wrong by the Catholic church and by the religious Janseanist movement
  • Actors typically had fantastic stage names that described typical roles or stereotypical characters
main requirements of a neoclassical drama
Main requirements of a neoclassical drama
  • Five acts
  • Unity

- time ( 24 hours only)

- place ( same place)

- action ( only one plot)

  • “Poetic justice” to triumph
the cid by pierre corneille
The Cidby Pierre Corneille
  • In 1636 the most popular play written in France
  • Did not obey all the neoclassical rules
  • The French Academy praised its qualities but criticized the deviations from the rules

This controversy legitimized the neoclassical view

the cid
The Cid
  • Le Cid (1637) was influenced by Spanish tales of the famous 11th century warrior known as Le Cid
  • This was Corneille’s first masterpiece
  • Conflict between the claims of society and personal choice
  • In the end love must subordinate to a higher sense of purpose
sources of inspiration
Sources of inspiration
  • The most important source for tragic theater was Seneca and the precepts of Horace and Aristotle, classical authors such as Plutarch, Suenitos, etc. and short story collections (Italian, French and Spanish)
  • The Greek tragic authors (Sophocles, Euripides) would become increasingly important by the middle of the century
  • Important models for both comedy, tragedy and tragicomedy of the century were also supplied by the Spanish playwrights Tirso de Molina and Lope de Vega
  • Important theatrical models were also supplied by the Italian stage (including the pastoral). Italy was also an important source for theoretical discussions on theater, especially about decorum
The most important authors of the seventeenth century theatre in France were:
  • Pierre Corneille
  • Jean Racine
  • Jean Baptiste Poquelin ( Moliere)

Other playwrights: Claude Boyer, Michel Le CLerc, Jacques Pradon, Jean de la Chapelle, Antoine d’Aubigny de la Fosse, Prosper Jolyot de Crebillon

pierre corneille
Pierre Corneille
  • 1606- 1684
  • Together with Racine, the greatest classical tragic dramatist
  • Educated by Jesuits, studied law, entered the Rouen parliament
  • Regarded as the founder of French tragedy, but he wrote comedies too
  • The Cornellian hero
  • In 1647 was admitted to the Académie Francaise
He wrote thirty plays, choosing a great many historical subjects, several of which had often been used before, such as Sofonisba, Attila, Oedipus.
  • He avowed his allegiance to the so-called classical rules, and for a part of the time he adhered to them.
  • His theory was that the subject of a tragedy should be remote and improbable, with as many striking and extraordinary situations as were compatible with unity of action
Melite (1629), Clitandre, La Veuve, La Galerie du Palais, La Suivante, La Place Royal, and L'Illusion Comique - comedies and tragicomedies
  • Le Cid, Horace, Cinna, Polyeucte – these four plays are considered his greatest achievements as a writer and thinker
  • Rodogune, Theodore (his first failure), Nicomede, Pulcherie, Surena
Each play reveals the essence of Cornelian tragedy
  • Conflict usually ends not in death and destruction, as in Racine's plays, but in moral growth and an abiding sense of duty
  • The protagonists suddenly realize that they must acquire moral strength and do whatever is right, regardless of the personal cost.
jean racine
Jean Racine
  • 1639-1699
  • Attended the Jansenist school at Port-Royal
  • His fusion of the Greek idea of fate with the Jansenist belief in human helplessness later produced unique tragedies of the struggle of the will against the passions
  • Studied philosophy in Paris
Moliere produced Racine's first plays, La Thebiade (1664) and Alexandre le Grand (1665)
  • Confirmed in his theatrical vocation by the reception accorded these plays, Racine broke with the Jansenists and devoted himself entirely to his art
Andromaque (1667) - occasioned a great rivalry between him and Corneille
  • Bajazet, Mithridate, Iphigénie, Phèdre, Esther, Athalie

Corneille's characters are moral giants endowed with indomitable will. Racine's are intensely human.

La Bruyère: Corneille painted human beings as they ought to be; Racine painted them as they are.

In 1672 he was elected to the Académie Française
  • Under increasing attack from other playwrights
  • Retired from theatrical activity and married in 1677
  • His last two plays, Esther and Athalie were on biblical themes, written for performance by students at a school for the sacred and secular education of young women
moliere jean baptiste poquelin
Moliere ( Jean Baptiste Poquelin)
  • 1622- 1673
  • Went to a Jesuit school
  • Studied law
  • In 1643 joined the Illustre


  • Composed 12 of the most

durable and penetratingly

satirical full-length

comedies of all time

As a comic dramatist he ranks with such other distinctive masters of the genre as Aristophanes, Plautus, and George Bernard Shaw.
  • Also the leading French comic actor, stage director, and dramatic theoretician of the 17th century
  • Molière affirmed the potency of comedy as a serious, flexible art form
  • The king's brother became Molière's patron
He is credited with giving the French
  • “Comedy of manners” and
  • “Comedy of character”

their modern form

The Precious Maidens Ridiculed (1659), established him as the most popular comic playwright of the day
  • Molière advanced from being a gifted adapter of Italian-derived sketches and a showman who put on extravaganzas to a writer whose best plays had the lasting impact of tragedies
  • He made many enemies - the clergy mistakenly believed that certain of his plays were attacks on the church. Other playwrights resented his continual experiments with comic forms
Strongest influence the Italian commedia dell'arte troupes
  • He applied the alexandrine , to a relaxed dialogue that imitated conversational speech
  • He created a gallery of incisive portraits: Tartuffe the religious hypocrite, and Orgon, his dupe; Jourdain the social climber; Don Juan the rebel and libertine; cuckolds such as Arnolphe, Dandin, and Amphitryon; Alceste the stony idealist; Harpagon the miser; Philaminte the pretentiously cultured lady; and many more.
the death
The Death
  • He finally collapsed on Feb. 17, 1673, after the fourth performance of The Imaginary Invalid, and died at home that evening. On the night of February 21, he was interred in Saint Joseph's Cemetery.
  • Church leaders refused to officiate or to grant his body a formal burial.
  • Seven years later the king united Molière's company with one of its competitors; since that time the French national theater, the Comédie Francaise, has been known as the House of Molière.
plays by moliere
Plays by Moliere

Short plays ( one or two acts):

  • The Jealous Husband
  • The Flying Doctor
  • Sganarelle
  • The Rehearsal at Versailles
  • The Forced Marriage

The longer plays (in three or five acts):

  • The School for Husbands
  • The School for Wives
  • Tartuffe
  • Don Juan
  • The Misanthrope
  • The Doctor in Spite of HimselfAmphitryon, The Miser, George Dandin, The Bourgeois Gentleman, Scapin, The Learned Ladies, and The Imaginary Invalid
  • Oscar G. Brockett, Robert J. Ball, The Essential Theatre, p. 136-145
  • http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc57.html
  • http://www.discoverfrance.net/France/Theatre/Racine/racine.shtml
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_literature_of_the_17th_century#Theater