Voltaire and the Theatre of the Eighteenth Century

By Marvin Carlson | Go to book overview

Introduction

Born in the final years of the seventeenth century, and dying a decade before the beginning of the French Revolution, François Marie Arouet, who subsequently assumed the name Voltaire, was a central, in fact quintessential figure of the eighteenth century, so much so that this era has sometimes been called the "Age of Voltaire." At a time when French culture dominated Europe, Voltaire dominated French culture, and like Goethe, another key figure of the next generation, he was interested in and made major contributions to almost every sphere of human intellectual activity--the sciences, trade and commerce, politics, and most particularly the arts.

Despite the astonishing range of Voltaire's pursuits, indeed of his literary activities alone, the theatre maintained a central position in his interest and affection from the beginning to the end of his career. His pamphlets, novels, short stories, histories, philosophical treatises, and poems were read throughout Europe, but his first and last literary triumphs were plays: Oedipe, written when he was only seventeen; and Irène, completed when he was eighty-four. Both were produced amid the greatest public enthusiasm at the Comédie Française (the preeminent theatre in France, and indeed in Europe), and between these two, the Comédie also presented dozens of other Voltaire plays. He created a total of fifty-six, and there was rarely a period in his long life when he was not actively working on a theatrical script. During the latter part of his career, and for many years after his death, he was produced more often on the national stage (and on the stages of much of Europe) than any other serious dramatist, including Racine and Corneille, and his plays served as models for aspiring young dramatists throughout Europe.

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Voltaire and the Theatre of the Eighteenth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Contents ix
  • Series Foreword xi
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction xv
  • Chapter 1 Voltaire's Career Begins, 1694-1726 1
  • Notes 19
  • Chapter 2 Voltaire in England, 1726-1728 21
  • Notes 36
  • Chapter 3 Triumph in the Theatre, 1729-1743 39
  • Notes 57
  • Chapter 4 Voltaire at Court, 1743-1750 59
  • Notes 79
  • Chapter 5 Voltaire and Germany, 1750-1755 81
  • Notes 96
  • Chapter 6 Voltaire and the Philosophes, 1755-1760 97
  • Notes 118
  • Chapter 7 The Sage of Ferney, 1761-1769 121
  • Notes 138
  • Chapter 8 The Final Triumph, 1770-1778 141
  • Notes 155
  • Chapter 9 The Path to the Pantheon, 1778-1791 157
  • Notes 166
  • Chronology of Voltaire's Life 169
  • Further Reading 175
  • Index 179
  • About the Author 187
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