A Theater of Diplomacy: International Relations and the Performing Arts in Early Modern France

A Theater of Diplomacy: International Relations and the Performing Arts in Early Modern France

A Theater of Diplomacy: International Relations and the Performing Arts in Early Modern France

A Theater of Diplomacy: International Relations and the Performing Arts in Early Modern France

Synopsis

The seventeenth-century French diplomat Francois de Callieres once wrote that "an ambassador resembles in some way an actor exposed on the stage to the eyes of the public in order to play great roles." The comparison of the diplomat to an actor became commonplace as the practice of diplomacy took hold in early modern Europe. More than an abstract metaphor, it reflected the rich culture of spectacular entertainment that was a backdrop to emissaries' day-to-day lives. Royal courts routinely honored visiting diplomats or celebrated treaty negotiations by staging grandiose performances incorporating dance, music, theater, poetry, and pageantry. These entertainments--allegorical ballets, masquerade balls, chivalric tournaments, operas, and comedies--often addressed pertinent themes such as war, peace, and international unity in their subject matter. In both practice and content, the extravagant exhibitions were fully intertwined with the culture of diplomacy. But exactly what kind of diplomatic work did these spectacles perform?

Ellen R. Welch contends that the theatrical and performing arts had a profound influence on the development of modern diplomatic practices in early modern Europe. Using France as a case study, Welch explores the interconnected histories of international relations and the theatrical and performing arts. Her book argues that theater served not merely as a decorative accompaniment to negotiations, but rather underpinned the practices of embodied representation, performance, and spectatorship that constituted the culture of diplomacy in this period. Through its examination of the early modern precursors to today's cultural diplomacy initiatives, her book investigates the various ways in which performance structures international politics still.

Excerpt

Metaphors of the performing arts abound in talk about diplomacy. Journalists condemn the emptiness of “diplomatic theater” when negotiations seem to serve no purpose other than political posturing. At other times, skillful negotiators receive praise for carefully “choreographing” a “diplomatic dance” and avoiding any “misstep.” the eighteenth-century notion of a “concert of nations” survives in today’s discourse if only as an ideal of global concord. However trite, these metaphors retain their currency because they concisely evoke the aims and intricacies of diplomatic negotiation. Like a play, ballet, or symphony, diplomacy requires a coordinated effort by multiple players. It demands a degree of responsiveness, perhaps the ability to improvise. Diplomats need a sense of theatricality and an eye for symbolism—an awareness of how actions will be interpreted by negotiating partners and the broader public. Finally, when iAD ily—order and harmony in the world.

A similar lexicon pervaded discourses on international negotiation in early modern Europe. From the advent of those practices that we would recognize as features of modern diplomacy (such as ambassador exchange), commentators characterized diplomats as performers. Writers about diplomacy relied heavily on a theatrical vocabulary to describe the ambassador’s work. in the 1580s, for example, Italian theorist Alberico Gentili recommended that diplomats attempt to act like and even to “assume” the personality of the princes they represent, as if playing his character on a stage. in his influential tome L’ambassadeur et ses fonctions (first published 1680), Dutch legalist Abraham de Wicquefort wrote: “In all the world’s commerce, there is no personage more actor-like than the ambassador.” in a 1716 work, French diplomat François de Callières echoed: “An ambassador resembles in some way an actor exposed on the stage to the eyes of the public in order to play great roles.” Although framed as comparisons, it would be unfair to characterize these references to theatrical performance as mere metaphors. As countless manuals stressed, a . . .

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