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17th Century French Theatre and The Misanthrope


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Title: 17th Century French Theatre and The Misanthrope

17th Century French Theatre and The Misanthrope
Historical Context
  • Religious controversies in the XVI century that
    continued in the XVII century led to Absolutism
  • Cardinal Richelieu served as Louis XIII prime
    minister established strong central government
  • Set during the rule of Louis XIV The Sun King
  • France the cultural center of Europe

The Neoclassical Ideal of Theater
  • 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

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-
  • existent
  • 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
  • performance
  • 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
  • - It was usually a mix of social groups
  • - Elegant people watched the show from the
  • - 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

Main requirements of a neoclassical drama
  • Five acts
  • Unity
  • - time ( 24 hours only)
  • - place ( same place)
  • - action ( only one plot)
  • Poetic justice to triumph

Moliere ( Jean Baptiste Poquelin)
  • 1622- 1673
  • Went to a Jesuit school
  • Studied law
  • In 1643 joined the Illustre
  • Theatre
  • 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
  • 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

  • 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

  • Influenced by the Italian commedia dell'arte
  • 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
  • He 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

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 Himself Amphitryon, The
    Miser, George Dandin, The Bourgeois Gentleman,
    Scapin, The Learned Ladies, and The Imaginary

The Misanthrope
  • A misanthrope is a person with general disgust,
    hatred, or disdain of the human species or of
    human nature
  • First performed in 1666 at the Palais-Royal
  • Moliere played the role of Alceste and his wife,
    Armande, played Celimene
  • Set in 17th century France during the reign of
    the Sun King at the residence of the upper class.
    High fashion, court intrigue, and gossip all play
    a role.

Mixed Critical Review
  • Praised for originality
  • Mixed response because it ridiculed so many
  • The literary pretentions and moral hypocrisy of
    the French aristocracy
  • The self-delusion of those who are hyper-critical
    of the society of the French aristocracy

  • Hypocrisy flattery and deceit is used to make
    way through upper-class
  • Tactless candor Alceste counters hypocrisy with
    candor, but he seems to enjoy criticizing others
  • Love Gone Wrong unwillingness to compromise
    ruins romances
  • Power power at court was used to manipulate
  • Moderation nothing in excess
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