Moliere, the French Revolution, and the Theatrical Afterlife

Moliere, the French Revolution, and the Theatrical Afterlife

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From 1680 until the French Revolution, when legislation abolished restrictions on theatrical enterprise, a single theater held sole proprietorship of Moliere's works. After 1791, his plays were performed in new theaters all over Paris by new actors, before audiences new to his works. In "Moliere, the French Revolution, and the Theatrical Afterlife", Mechele Leon convincingly demonstrates how revolutionaries challenged the ties that bound this preeminent comic playwright to the Old Regime and provided him with a place of honor in the nation's new cultural memory. Leon begins by analyzing the performance of Moliere's plays during the Revolution, showing how his privileged position as royal servant was disrupted by the practical conditions of the revolutionary theater. Next she explores Moliere's relationship to Louis XIV, Tartuffe, and the social function of his comedy, using Rousseau's famous critique of Moliere as well as appropriations of George Dandin in revolutionary iconography to discuss how Molierean laughter was retooled to serve republican interests. After examining the profusion of plays dealing with his life in the latter years of the Revolution, she looks at the exhumation of his remains and their re entombment as the tangible manifestation of his passage from Ancient Regime favorite to new national icon. By showing how the Father of French Comedy was represented, reborn, and reburied in the new France - how the revolutionaries asserted his relevance in ways that were audacious, irreverent, imaginative, and extreme - Leon clarifies the important role of theatrical figures in preserving and portraying a nation's history.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 184 pages
  • 154.94 x 236.22 x 22.86mm | 408.23g
  • University of Iowa Press
  • Iowa, United States
  • English
  • 8 photos, 4 tables
  • 158729821X
  • 9781587298219
  • 1,869,271

Review quote

The creation, nurturing, and contestation of cultural memory is a compelling subject; it has obsessed French theatre ever since the emergence of the metteur en scene. Mechele Leon s book presents the clearest conceptual map I have encountered of Moliere s trajectory through the chaotic period in which that cultural memory first began to take on the recognizable, constantly shifting contours that still animate French theatre. Leon s book demonstrates how productive it can be to conduct a wide-ranging exploration of theatre history (especially production history) against a backdrop of a society that is undergoing enormous and painful change. Her work is so satisfying because she recognizes that none of the objects of her study remains even remotely stable under such conditions, a recognition that enables her to be unusually attentive to cultural forces operating in complex and often self-defeating ways. Her discussion of these forces is free of the historiographical prejudices that have led earlier scholars to advocate purportedly coherent interpretations of personalities and events about which the available historical record is fragmentary at best, when not completely silent. Jim Carmody, University of California San Diego"show more

About Mechele Leon

Mechele Leon is an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Film at the University of Kansas. She has published essays in French Historical Studies, the European Studies journal, Theatre Journal, and L'Autre au XVIIIeme siecle.show more

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