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But also, Palissot’s inability to continue performing Les Philosophes could be rooted in the increasing institutional domination of the philosophe clan, previously discussed in this chapter and about which Robert Darnton, Gregory Brown, and Darrin McMahon have written extensively.67 But Palissot’s Les Philosophes was a popular play that dialogued with other dramatic works from both the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As eyewitness testimonies suggest, the synchronic importance of Palissot’s comedy rivaled that of any play put up on the boards of the Comédie-Française during the middle of the eighteenth century. In this section, I will change registers in order to give a few inter-theatrical arguments—reasons why Palissot’s comedy is a unique example of theater and how the author demonstrated a keen awareness of contemporary trends in the dramatic arts. Rather than bolster a mediocre writer, I hope to merely present the synchronic argument that, at least one time, Palissot created an exceptional, theatrical work with his comédie des Philosophes.
Palissot never relinquishes his harsh criticisms of the philosophe secte throughout the play. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that not all of the playwright’s castigations come forth as serious criticism. Les Philosophes is a comedy, and it was received by a public that burst at the seams with laughter during the initial performance.
In fact, the moment of the play which drew the most laughter, according to the witness M. Hennin, was when “la vieille Dumesnil,” an actress at the Comédie-Française, “a Most notably in Darnton’s “High Enlightenment” and “Two Paths”; Brown’s “Low Life” and A Field of Honor; and McMahon’s Enemies of the Enlightenment. See works cited for complete bibliographic information.
trouvé le secret de s’habiller et coiffer comme Mme Geoffrin (who was at the performance), ce qui a fait beaucoup rire ceux qui connaissent cette dame” (qtd. by Showalter 110).
Most critics pass over the comical aspects of Palissot’s work, choosing to focus instead on the philosophical or polemical aspects of Counter-Enlightenment discourse.68 Cydalise’s refusal to see any merit in older works (when she orders Marton to “ranger Platon”) is a form of literary criticism that jars so much with any known eighteenthcentury idea of judgment. This ridiculous scene (cited above), in combination with innovative acting and costume techniques, comes forth as one of the play’s most comical aspects. Palissot’s draws many arguments from Counter-Enlightenment pamphlets that were in circulation during the 1750s, but one cannot forget that Palissot’s Philosophes was destined for a live audience at the Comédie-Française, and not only the hands of eager readers at the Tuileries or the Café Procope.69 While many of Palissot’s criticisms specifically attack the encyclopedic project or philosophe treatises, some of his comments pertain exactly to the theater. The comical example of the actress Dumesnil dressed as Mme. Geoffrin also has a more serious, profound implication. By dressing up an actor as an actual, living person, Palissot breaks through the fictive wall (what critics refer to as the “quatrième mur” developed in Diderot’s Entretiens sur “Le Fils naturel” and Discours sur la poésie dramatique) that separates the action on stage from the spectators in the audience. Palissot’s decorative In fact, Christophe Cave is the only contemporary critic who discusses the comical nature of Palissot’s play in his article, “Le Rire des anti-philosophes”.
Parisian socialites went to the Tuileries to purchase the latest brochures and pamphlets, probably on their way to the Café Procope (which happened to be next to the ComédieFrançaise) to discuss the latest issues in theater, politics, and society.
concerns take a theoretical spin when the attention of spectators breaks away from the narrative and focuses on the extra-scenic correlation between the actress Dumesnil and the real-life salonnière, Geoffrin. Here, Palissot challenges Diderot’s theories on theater, showing that he prefers a Moliéresque penchant towards ridicule to the philosophe’s calls for more subtle comedy.70 In their erudite history of performance, Christian Biet and Christophe Triau summarize Diderot’s theory of the “fourth wall,” pointing out how “L’esthétique du quatrième mur…constitue à la fois un outil dramaturgique destiné à l’auteur et une consigne de jeu pour le comédien, qui doivent tous deux s’efforcer d’oublier la présence du public” (229). Palissot was certainly no great fan of Diderot’s theories on drama.
During the two years before Les Philosophes’ debut (1758 and 1759), Palissot wrote extensively against Diderot’s emerging theories on staging techniques and the drame genre. By staging philosophes and by writing pamphlets like Un Supplément d’un grand ouvrage, Palissot goes in precisely the opposite direction as Diderot and bolsters “la présence du public” by blurring the lines between spectators and actors and by influencing the public through pamphlets before the performance: two strategies that Palissot hopes will further even more his evisceration of the rival camp.
Palissot brings the ideological or theoretical debate between two diametrically opposed groups inside the theatrical world (the narrative of his play) when he argues that philosophes wrongly seek to replace traditional concepts with new ones. But also, he Molière employed the same “extra-scenic” correlation strategy in his criticism of the abbé Cotin in Les femmes savantes. In his comedy, Molière dressed up the character Trissotin in Cotin’s traditional religious garb. For more information, consult “Les Femmes Savantes” in Claude Bourqui’s Les sources de Molière: Répertoire critique des sourcs littéraires et dramatiques, pp. 334-336.
implicitly makes this point by choosing Moliéresque comedy as the theatrical motor in Les Philosophes. Contemporaries such as Voltaire and the abbé de LaPorte were quick in noticing that Palissot lifted lines directly out of Molière’s Les Femmes savantes.71 And it is important to note that to “Défendre une conception moliéresque du caractère, du portrait, et de la fonction morale et sociale du théâtre…c’est donc aussi une manière de refuser une idéologie nouvelle” (Cave 237).
By borrowing extensively from Molière’s seventeenth-century comedic examples, Palissot asserts a relatively “normal” Counter-Enlightenment argument against philosophe ideas of theater: i.e. classical, French style vs. new dramatic ideas from a broader, European mold. But also, by copying from the most performed comedic dramatist during the eighteenth century, Palissot gives the audience a theatrical model with which they must have been accustomed as theater spectators.72 This familiarity possibly facilitated an easier transfer of Palissot’s Counter-Enlightenment message from the stage to the parterre.
Rather than worrying about a complicated plot, spectators understood that the philosophes would eventually be ousted in a traditional restoration of the bons over the Voltaire quickly noticed the link between Palissot and Molière in a June 28 letter to the author of Les Philosophes (cited in the Recueil des faceties parisiennes pour les six premiers mois de l’an 1760. pp. 260-264 [publ. Par A. Morellet avec préface de Voltaire] Unknown Publication. COTE : Richelieu 8-RJ-2111], and the abbé de La Porte commented on the play’s resemblance to Tartuffe and les Femmes savantes in the Observateur littéraire (Paris: t.III, 1760, pp. 120-121) Molière’s enduring influence during the eighteenth century cannot be understated.
Voltaire himself modeled several comedies after the great classical playwright, including L’Indiscret (1725), L’Envieux (1738), et La Prude (1739). In addition, the ComédieFrançaise continued to keep several Molière comedies in their current repertoire, including Tartuffe and L’Ecole des femmes.
méchants.73 This acquaintance with a known narrative framework allowed spectators to then concentrate more on the comedic and polemical dialogues of the play: if the audience is not required to focus on the overall outline of the narrative, individual scenes and precise citations easily draw more attention. This tactic bolsters the overall importance of the particular, live event and facilitates the “transfer of the text into a unique product”—a phenomenon that characterizes theatrical performance (Eagleton 48).
When Cydalise chooses to read contemporary sources instead of Plato, Palissot keeps his enunciated argumentation inside the philosophical frame (sources of knowledge from antiquity vs. the eighteenth-century Encylopédie). But we can turn from epistemology to theater and argue that Palissot’s criticism applies equally to the philosophe abandonment of the Molièresque tradition in comedy, the Racinian form in tragedy and the adoption by Diderot and others of the drame and the comédie larmoyante. Palissot criticizes new playwrights for trying to break away from the pillars of the dramatic arts. Here, we can see where Palissot’s work detaches from pure philosophical querelle and enters into the dramatic realm. Throughout the rest of the play, Palissot parallels his staged pamphleteering of anti-philosophe social principles with more nuanced digs inside the world of theater—a tactic that exemplifies the close relationship between society and the dramatic arts during this time.
The Power of Love: Palissot, Diderot, and Marivaux The battle between classical theater and emerging notions of the drame continues during the last two scenes of the first act. Here, Palissot once again pits two competing Naugrette points out that eighteenth-century audiences would not have imagined any other type of ending, and that, “le spectateur, sachant qu’il assiste à une comédie, sait aussi que l’équité sera rétablie in fine, que le vice sera puni, que les barbons seront joués et que les jeunes premiers parviendront à leurs fins” (146).
philosophies against each other and asserts the vision of theorists from outside of the philosophe camp. In Palissot’s play, there is a very fine line between criticisms of philosophy and criticisms of drama, and if we keep in mind Palissot’s stark demarcation between Molière’s and Diderot’s visions of comedy, we can see how, once again, theatrical arguments emerge from more explicitly philosophical subjects. In the following example from scene v, Cydalise contrasts her own manifestation of detached raison
against her daughter Rosalie’s uncontrollable romantic feelings:
This philosophical disagreement on love between a mother and her daughter highlights important tensions in Palissot’s play; and once again, the playwright’s criticism shows both inter- and extra-theatrical elements. First, Palissot favors Rosalie’s philosophy of the senses (“la voix de la nature”) over Cydalise’s (and the philosophes’) physically detached raison.
For a third time, Cydalise’s support of a concept connotes Palissot’s disapproval.
Despite her inability to master linguistically how she feels (“Je définirai mal ce que je sens…”), Rosalie’s physical sensations determine how she solves problems and interacts with those around her. Conversely, Cydalise favors a logical determinism that favors the sublimation of physical sensations into academic reasoning, creative processes (like writing a novel), and self-interest. Cydalise warns Rosalie against her daughter’s “sentiments vulgaires,” and implies that love is nothing more than a dangerous lie. With this discussion between his two female characters, Palissot draws a binary picture of the mid-eighteenth-century woman: on the one hand there is the detached, (and ultimately) wrong logician; and on the other hand, the passionate and sensitive virgin who understands what is right but must rely on others to resolve her problems.
Palissot’s demonstration of love’s complex tensions might have its origins in the theatrical realm. Throughout the play, Palissot lambastes both Diderot’s Le Fils naturel and the philosophe’s theoretical works on the drame. The playwright draws an implicit parallel between Cydalise, the powerful and raisonnable female character, and Diderot’s Constance, who serves a similar role in Le Fils naturel.74 Although there are clear differences between the two (in Diderot’s work, Constance is overwhelmingly portrayed in a positive light whereas Palissot’s Cydalise is consistently ridiculed), both characters direct the moral course of the estate and favor the sublimation of physical desire into a reasonable plan.
During the dénouement of the play, Palissot will prove that Cydalise’s thoughts on love are incorrectly slanted because of philosophe influence and that Rosalie’s more physically determined idea of sentiment catalyzes characters into making the right Although the characters differ radically in their enunciated dialogues, both focus on organizing a successful family structure. Moreover, both Constance and Cydalise care for a less-powerful female character named Rosalie.
decisions. Damis formulates the plan to rid the estate of the philosophes because he loves Rosalie, and not because of any hopes to teach a different form of philosophy, or because of any strong socioliterary concerns. Once again, Palissot’s criticisms emerge on both enunciated (philosophical quarrel on reason and love) and more hidden levels, or, as obvious citations of works, pamphlets, and personalities on one hand; and nuanced theatrical phenomena on another.
An eighteenth-century theatergoer would have been accustomed to seeing the theatricalization of binary arguments about love on stage. Palissot’s argument that the physical spark of love catalyzes the successful dénouement of the comedy strongly parallels Marivaux’s conception of romantic sentiment. Historically, we know from Palissot’s critical edition of Voltaire’s Oeuvres complètes (1792) that the former antiphilosophe (always the opportunist, Palissot had since switched “teams”) enjoyed Marivaudian comedy. In his “Critical Edition” of Voltaire’s L’Ecossaise, Palissot praises one of the protagonist’s (Lindane) lines from act I, scene vi because it sounded like it was lifted directly from Marivaux (qtd. by Duckworth, “Introduction” 383).