Voltaire and the Theatre of the Eighteenth Century

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place in the theatre during a production of Mariamne in December of 1725, culminating in an exchange of threatening gestures between Voltaire in his box and the chevalier in his, and the on-stage fainting, real or pretended, of Lecouvreur. 11 In any case, the chevalier's response was to have Voltaire beaten a few days later in broad daylight by six of his servants while the chevalier directed their activities from his nearby carriage. Voltaire, instead of appealing to the law, employed a fencing master and announced his intention of challenging the chevalier to a duel. Unwilling to undergo the shame of such a challenge, the chevalier appealed to the duke of Bourbon to place Voltaire in the Bastille in mid-April 1726. The fact that Voltaire was widely regarded as a victim and martyr did little to assuage his feelings, and the Rohan family was determined to keep him out of the way of their threatened member. Rather than remain in the Bastille, Voltaire offered to go into voluntary exile in England, a compromise acceptable to the authorities. He was accompanied to Calais and in May 1726, landed in England, to begin a quite different phase of his complex career.

Letter of 1763 to Doctor Bianchi, quoted in Henri Beaune, Voltaire au college ( Paris: Amyot, 1868), xciv.
Voltaire, Correspondence, ed. Theodore Besterman, 107 vols. ( Geneva: Institute et Musée Voltaire, 1953- 1965), I:53 (henceforward VC).
Frederick Hawkins, The French Stage in the Eighteenth Century, 2 vols. ( London: Chapman and Hall, 1888), I:136 (henceforward HFS).
Voltaire, Oeuvres, 52 vols. ( Paris: Garnier, 1877), IV:81 (henceforward VO).
René Pomeau, D'Arouet à Voltaire, 1694-1734 ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 117.
Voltaire, OedipusII, iv and IV, ii in The Works of Voltaire,trans. William F. Fleming , 22 vols. ( New York: St. Hubert Guild, 1901), 8:169 and 8:187.
Theodore Besterman, Voltaire ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 82 (henceforward BV).
See Spire Pitou, "The Comédie Française and the Palais-Royal Interlude of 1716-1723", Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, vol. 64 ( 1968): 225-64.
The best study of this aspect of his career is Lilian Willens, Voltaire's Comic Theatre: Composition, Conflict and Critics, vol. 136 in Studies on Voltaire (henceforward WCT).
Jack Richtman, Adrienne Lecouvreur: The Actress and the Age (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1971), 88.


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