"Look on Fertile France": French Theater in Shakespeare's Time (Early Modern Drama Around the World: The State of Study--Ii)

Durch Shakespeare Studies

  • Veröffentlichungsdatum: 2004-01-01
  • Genre: Sprachkunst und Lehrfächer

Beschreibung vom Buch

SHAKESPEARE'S WORK has had a profound impact on writers everywhere, and France is no exception. (1) Flaubert wrote to his mistress Louise Colet, "When I read Shakespeare, I become greater, more intelligent, and more pure. Having reached the summit of one of his works, it seems to me that I am on a high mountain. Everything disappears, and everything appears. I am no longer a man. I am an eye. New horizons surge up..." (2) Another major French writer, Voltaire, came to familiarize himself with Shakespeare's work when he was exiled to England in 1726, for the crime of insulting a duke, and challenging him to a duel. Voltaire had begun his literary career not as a philosopher, but as a playwright, seeking to following in Racine's hallowed footsteps. Thus, the experience of Shakespeare proved to be a shock from which he never quite recovered. He described Shakespeare's genius as "full of strength and fertility, of the natural and the sublime, without the least spark of good taste, and without the least knowledge of the rules [of theater]." (3) A writer brought up not to mix the tragic and the comic in the same play, to respect the importance of bienseance (decorum, seemliness), Voltaire was especially shocked by Desdemona's being strangled onstage, and by the gravediggers' scene in Hamlet. His mixed reaction aptly illustrates the breadth of the divide between Shakespeare and the dominant theatrical tradition in early modern France. This tradition, however, developed over the course of the seventeenth century and came to be best exemplified in the tragedians Corneille (1606-1684) and Racine (1639-1699), and in the comic actor and playwright Moliere (1622-1673). When Shakespeare died in 1616, Corneille was only ten years old; Moliere and Racine had not even been born yet. In order to understand what lay behind this divide, it is necessary to understand what was happening in French theater during Shakespeare's time, before the advent of Corneille, Moliere, and Racine. In what follows, I will briefly describe the field of Renaissance French theater, identify some of the problems confronting scholars of that field, and discuss two of the major recent studies. Renaissance French Theater