Paris Theatre Audiences in the Seventeenth & Eighteenth Centuries

Paris Theatre Audiences in the Seventeenth & Eighteenth Centuries

Paris Theatre Audiences in the Seventeenth & Eighteenth Centuries

Paris Theatre Audiences in the Seventeenth & Eighteenth Centuries

Excerpt

In the past occasional articles have been devoted to a study of the Paris theatre audiences of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and here and there a few pages or even a whole chapter on this question can be found in the standard works on French drama. So far no one has thought the subject worthy of the detailed study which a whole book devoted to such an inquiry demands. Yet most people would agree that useful work could be done in this field, especially as it is on the border- line between two quite distinct disciplines which only too often have no dealings with one another -- the history of literature and social history.

Such a book may repel and even shock people who prefer to study literary masterpieces in a complete vacuum and are content to register the impact which great plays make on their refined sensibility without even wishing to know anything about the vulgar details of the conditions under which they were first produced. However, experience of lecturing on this subject has shown that audiences, both at the undergraduate level and well beyond it, are interested in the attempt to discover something more precise about the spectators for whom Corneille, Molière, and Racine, Voltaire, Marivaux, and Beaumarchais wrote, and the influence exercised on their plays by the audiences of the time. In such an investigation an incursion into the realm of social history leads one back again to the masterpieces of drama produced in France under the Ancien Régime.

All historians of the theatre recognize that there is a connexion between theatre audiences of a given time and country, and the types of drama which are produced for them. It is true that even if we had fifty times more material available for a study of the audiences of the Paris theatres under the Ancien Régime than we actually have, we should still not be able to explain more than a limited amount about the plays performed there. Other factors -- aesthetic, dramatic, and psychological-must also be taken into account. Yet for the light which it . . .

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