Voltaire and the Theatre of the Eighteenth Century

By Marvin Carlson | Go to book overview
Save to active project

Chapter 4
Voltaire at Court, 1743-1750

The decade of the 1740s in France was in many respects key in the reexamination of traditional ideas about social and political life that characterized the eighteenth century. A new intellectual class of writers and thinkers was appearing, mostly of middle-class background, who took Voltaire Lettres philosophiques as a model for writing and action, seeking new liberty in politics, religion, and thought. They began to designate themselves philosophes. The legitimacy of conventional moral restrictions and codes was called into question by powerful thinkers and writers, such as: Condillac, in his Essai sur l'origine des connaissances humaines ( 1746) and Traîté des sistèmas ( 1749); La Mettrie, in his materialistic L'Homme machine ( 1747); Montesquieu, in his Esprit des lois ( 1748); Buffon, in his Histoire naturelle, the first volumes of which appeared in 1749; and Diderot, in his Lettre sur les aveugles ( 1749), which among other things, dared to defend atheism. The end of the decade saw the inauguration of the culminating intellectual work of the century, the great Encyclopédie, edited by Diderot and d'Alembert.

Voltaire stood at the center of this new ferment, the emblematic figure of the new philosophe, the idol of young thinkers and anathema to many conservative defenders of the old order. This preeminance was achieved, of course, largely through the power of his writings, but during this decade Voltaire also achieved a dominant position in more traditional ways: being elected to the French Academy; playing a role on the complex international scene in Europe; and moving into a prominent position at court, the intimate of the powerful royal mistress, Madame de Pompadour.

The great success of Mérope, despite its lack of a love interest, spurred the Comédiens to plan a production of La Mort de César, formerly not


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Voltaire and the Theatre of the Eighteenth Century


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 188

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?