Voltaire and the Theatre of the Eighteenth Century

By Marvin Carlson | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
The Sage of Ferney, 1761-1769

Voltaire launched the year 1761 with a major new project. On 1 January he wrote to the Académie Française offering to undertake an edition of the complete works of Corneille, partly to honor his illustrious predecessor and partly to provide a dowry for an impoverished descendent of Corneille whom Voltaire had taken under his protection. This twelve-volume work, with minute, almost line-by-line analysis, occupied Voltaire for the next three years and thanks to his reputation and far-flung correspondence, enjoyed a huge sale. As usual, however, what would have been for most writers (even for those not yet approaching their seventieth year) a full-time occupation, was for Voltaire only one of dozens of projects, many of which, as usual, involved the theatre.

After the banning of spectators from the Comédie stage and the success of L'Ecossaise and Tancrède, there was no more talk from Voltaire of keeping his "fresh wine" to drink at home with his friends. Although he opened a new theatre at Ferney in October, which now became the center of his amateur theatre activity, he also became closely involved once again with the theatre world of Paris. In late February and early March, he followed closely the reception of Diderot Le Père defamille, which had finally made its way to the Comédie stage, and the success of which Voltaire saw as an important victory for virtue after the disgrace of Palissot Philosophes. Voltaire's own work, both major revivals and new plays, now dominated the Parisian stage. During the 1761-1762 season, his plays were performed more often than those of Corneille and Racine combined. 1 As usual, however, these productions were not unmarked by controversy. In August of 1761, he submitted to the Comédie a new comedy, Le Droit de Seigneur, under a pseudonym in

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