Ethics and Politics in Seventeenth-Century France

Ethics and Politics in Seventeenth-Century France

Ethics and Politics in Seventeenth-Century France

Ethics and Politics in Seventeenth-Century France

Synopsis

This collection of twenty essays, of which five are in French, written by leading English and French literary and historical scholars, deconstructs the ethical and political framework supporting and circumscribing the actions of a powerful elite in France between the early 1600s and the final years of Louis XIV's reign. Reflecting a diversity of individual concerns, the essays, which offer a radical double questioning of the absolute values in which were founded the authority of Church, King and nobility, have been divided into two interrelated parts in acknowledgement of the complex tensions between codes of behaviour and political practice in the different theatrical spaces of government in the real and imaginary world. The dual political and moral theme of this study is not new, but it is one which has always been highly regarded by historians and literary specialists alike. It is in fact one of the 'classics' of seventeenth-century studies, the one to which critics must always return, and to which students must always address themselves, if they are to comprehend the intellectual core of seventeenth-century French studies.

Excerpt

ELIZABETH WOODROUGH

Ne piu ne pari—none greater nor equal—the young Louis XIV’s distinctive devise for the Carrousel of 1662 may be taken as the measure of a generation and more of image-conscious men of action and letters in seventeenth-century France, and also of the women of the period to the lesser degree that circumstance permitted. The remarkable concurrence of noble heroes and writers of supreme distinction who dared to compare their singular belles actions and multiple chefs-d’œuvre to the best in the ancient world, and also to break the mould, eclipsing all their predecessors, presents posterity with a unique challenge. Such eloquent claims to excellence require constant critical evaluation, as well as the praise, admiration and adulation which have made cult figures of the Sun King and of so many of those in his service.

This collection of twenty essays, written by leading English and French literary and historical scholars, deconstructs the ethical and political framework supporting and circumscribing the actions of a powerful elite in France between the early 1600s and the final years of Louis XIV’s reign. Reflecting a diversity of individual concerns, the essays represent a radical rethinking of the absolute values on which was founded the authority of the established Church and the king. Discussion of the twin themes of the book has been divided into two parts, in acknowledgement of the importance accorded in this study to the fact of history and to the virtual reality of dramatic representation.

Part One, ‘The Ethics of Action’, evaluates, against the background of the climate of belief and the new civility in social relations, the evolution of the deontological debate about the nature of heroism which marked the century. The argument focuses on some of the most notable conflicts opposing the prince-generals, cardinal ministers and others who used and abused the privilege of birthright or the accident of authority in the name of the king. The initial essays reassessing the importance attached to independence of thought in a period of . . .

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