Voltaire and the Theatre of the Eighteenth Century

By Marvin Carlson | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1
Voltaire's Career Begins, 1694-1726

The man who would become known as Voltaire was born on Sunday, 21 November 1694 in Paris. The exact location is unknown, but it was in the parish of Saint-André-des-Arts, in the heart of the Latin Quarter. The parish church where he was christened with the name François Marie Arouet was torn down at the beginning of the nineteenth century, its site now occupied by the square that bears its name, but his birthplace probably still stands, as do most of the buildings that made up this district in his lifetime. Were Voltaire to stroll today down the parish's main thoroughfare, the rue Saint-André-des- Arts, he would find the buildings and many of their usages little changed--bakeries, cafés, small hotels. Aside from the garishness of modern commercial advertising, he would probably be most struck by (and enthusiastic about) the international flavor of these establishments--a "Muscovite" sandwich shop, Greek tavernas, Chinese restaurants, even a Tex-Mex establishment called the Tacos Loco in a restaurant formerly named L'Arléquin. And he would no doubt be amused that the district's somewhat raffish character is still clearly being maintained by Le Caméléon, a stylish discotheque, and by Chochotte, a "théâtre supererotique."

The man who would become the dominant figure in the French stage of the eighteenth century in fact could not have selected a more appropriate neighborhood in which to make his appearance, since the narrow streets around Saint-André-des-Arts had not long before his birth become established as the center of the national theatre, and Voltaire would see most of his greatest triumphs within a few streets from where he entered the world.

When François Arouet was born, professional theatre had been firmly established in Paris for some seventy years, though its early homes were all on


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