17th & 18th Century French Theater

245B :  Early Modern Studies
Spring 2024
Class No: 31050
Susan A. Maslan
1:00 PM - 3:59 PM

Theater was France’s pre-eminent art form from the seventeenth- through the early nineteenth centuries. Theater was also a public, collective social experience as well as a cultural institution often in contention with other institutions—religious and political.

During the first half of the semester, we will pay special attention to problems of political theology, sovereignty, and voluntary servitude. In the second half, we will examine how the social came to occupy the position previously consecrated to the political. But these large conceptual patterns also allow plenty of room for discussion of other topics such as formal innovation, gender and sexuality, censorship, acting, the history of the family, and much more.

We will study some major plays of the 17th and 18 th centuries (Corneille, Racine, Moliere, Marivaux, Voltaire, Beaumarchais). We will seek to understand some of the important literary and aesthetic stakes of these works, as well as to investigate the social and political history of the theater (organization of theater troupes, audiences and their social composition, censorship practices, etc.). We will think about the role and the effects of genre (tragedy vs. comedy; the rise of “drame”.) We will study contemporary debates about the theater and trace theater’s importance as a crucible for the formation and expression of public opinion. We will study censorship—an ever-present force that shaped French theater. We will discuss representations of class and of gender. We will also study the representation of cultural others—e.g. Islam, the New World. We will examine anti-theatrical discourse and seek to understand how theater was simultaneously a sign of the French monarchy’s hegemony and a practice of dangerous subversion.

Readings will include Corneille, Polyeucte or Cinna, or Horace (au choix); Molière, Le Tartuffe ou Le Bourgeois gentilhomme; Racine, Athalie; Voltaire, Mahomet et Zaire; Marivaux, L’Île des esclaves and La Colonie; Beaumarchais, Le Mariage de Figaro, Citoyenne Villeneuve, Plus de batârds en France; La Nourrice Républicaine