Courses available in French



— Baudelaire

French 121B: Literary Themes, Genres, Structures — Staging Tyranny in France from Pierre Corneille to Aimé Césaire (1600-2000)


Pierre Corneille, Médée (1635); Jean Racine, Bajazet (1672) ; Voltaire’s La Mort de César (1736), Victor Hugo’s Cromwell (1827), Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (1896), Albert Camus’ État de siège (1948), Ionesco’s Rhinocéros (1959) and Aimé Césaire’s La Tragédie du Roi Christophe (1964), as well as a variety of theoretical texts, such as excerpts from Corneille’s Trois discours sur le poème dramatique, Victor Hugo’s Préface de Cromwell, and excerpts from Le Théâtre et son double by Antonin Artaud.

Course Description:

Tyranny often plays out as a bewildering spectacle. This class will however observe the theatricality of tyrants from a literary perspective, asking why and how it is that, in the French theatrical tradition — from the 17th century until today — so many major plays are centered on figures of authoritarian rulers, be they men or women. For what reasons was the spectacle of tyrants so important for the development of French classical theater and why did such spectacles remain pervasive on the French stage well into the 19th and 20th centuries, i.e. even after the French Revolution?

Conversely, in what ways did the depiction of these authoritarian rulers — as well as the women or men they loved, the crimes they committed, the revolts they generated and, more often than not, their bloody demise — shape not only the French stage, but also France’s understanding of monarchical power, and, later on, its conceptions of the ideal polity? How is emotional and physical violence represented in these plays and to what ends? Can theatrical tyrants be comical — and, if so, are they still credible as tyrants? Furthermore, how do efforts to resist tyranny play into spectacles of tyranny? Is a play centered on tyranny always, in some way, a play about freedom?

This class offers an extensive and detailed survey of French drama over four centuries, with emphasis on genre development and dramatic theory. Based on the study of works by major French and Francophone authors, it also functions as an introduction to French political culture, allowing for the parallel exploration of how the French imagine and portray political rule across their history. Films and recordings will be used to support students’ reading of the plays assigned, and a class outing will be organized to see Albert Camus’ État de Siège, as staged at Cal Performances by the Parisian troupe of the Théâtre de la Ville (Oct. 21-22 2017).


French 102 or consent of instructor.

Additional Information:

This course satisfies one “Literature/Genre” or one “Elective” course requirement in the French major; Satisfies one course requirement in the French minor.  Satisfies L & S breadth requirement in Arts and Literature.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes