Courses available in French


Le voyage n’est nĂ©cessaire qu’aux imaginations courtes.

— Colette

French 117B: Seventeenth-Century Literature — Theater and Power in 17th century France


1) Pierre Corneille, Le Cid and Polyeucte, excerpts from the texts of the querelle du Cid, as well as excerpts from Corneille, Trois discours sur le poème dramatique

2) Molière and the querelle de l’École des Femmes (La Critique de l’Ecole des Femmes and L’Impromptu de Versailles), Le Tartuffe and George Dandin 

3) Jean Racine, Iphigénie and Esther

Course Description:

In France, theater as we know it only began to take shape at the beginning of the 17th century. This class investigates the emergence of French classical theater under Louis XIII and Louis XIV by studying how this new genre interacted with monarchical power. The King and his ministers both attempted to develop public playhouses and police the stage, displaying simultaneously distrust for the theater and a desire to use it to political ends. In doing so, the King and his entourage were also attempting to keep the Catholic Church at bay, while modeling civil society in ways they hoped could serve the Crown.

As we read plays by three of the most famous French classical playwrights (Corneille, Molière and Racine), we will work to understand how the ethical and aesthetical canons of French classical tragedy and comedy (such as verisimilitude, and bienséances) were established, in constant negotiation with these conflicting political, spiritual and societal demands. We will also examine how kings and their counselors were represented on the French stage, and to what extent it was possible to reflect critically on the limitations of monarchical power in a genre that so depended on the King’s support.

This class invites students to think about the development of some of the most extraordinary plays of the Occidental tradition in a specific historical context, that of the rise of French absolutism. It will also allow them to reflect on the origins of modern drama more generally. Whenever possible films and recordings will be used to support students’ reading of classical French plays.

French 102 or consent of Instructor. Course conducted in French.

Additional information:
This course satisfies one “Literature/Genre” or one “Elective” course requirement in the French major; satisfies one Historical Period requirement in 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