«A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College In partial fulfillment of ...»
Another link between Marivaux and Palissot comes forth in the latter’s 1757 pamphlet against Le Fils naturel. In the Supplément d’une importante ouvrage, Palissot ridicules Diderot’s play for failing to exude primordial passions such as grief and love. In a diatribe on Diderot’s drame, Palissot mockingly renames Le Fils naturel, “Le Triomphe de l’enthousiasme” (44)—a fact that possibly indicates Palissot’s desire to satirically contrast Diderot’s drame with Marivaux’s Triomphe de l’amour. But most importantly, we can perhaps bring to light the philosophical affinity between Palissot and Marivaux, best illustrated in Marivaux’s Le Triomphe, and more specifically, when Léonide, the female protagonist, organizes an entire social plan around her original romantic feelings for the prince, Agis.75 In Marivaux’s comedy, Léonide wages her faith in the power of love against the cold reasoning of Hermocrate, a local philosophe, and ultimately wins at the end of the story.76 In a similar fashion, Palissot’s Rosalie refuses to relinquish her love for Damis and overcomes adversity from the rival philosophe camp. Analogously to how Léonide proves that Hermocrate’s cold reasoning is nothing more than a hypocritical farce, Damis and Rosalie show that their romantic bond—a link that escapes linguistic mastery—is stronger than Cydalise’s “false” call to a more cooled and explainable logic.
Palissot’s use of Marivaudian themes once again bolsters his pedagogical mission to debunk philosophe ideas. Through his theater, Palissot hopes to teach spectators about the true nature of love, and by paralleling Marivaux, Palissot provides an excellent “source” that spectators could easily understand. Paradoxically, this didactic strategy dialogues with Diderot’s call to use the drame as a pedagogical tool. Quoting from Diderot’s Entretiens sur le Fils naturel, Anne Boës points out that theater “est un instrument efficace du pouvoir parce qu’il a un retentissement auprès du peuple. Son ‘effet’ doit donc avoir une utilité morale et pédagogique” (56). With Les Philosophes, it does not seem that Palissot would disagree with Diderot on this point. By using the work of the most popular comic dramatist alive in 1760, Palissot boosts the pedagogical message of his play by providing a credible source on theatrical love.
Marivaux, Pierre de. Le Triomphe de l’amour. (1732) Paris, GF Flammarion, 1989.
I explore Léonide’s efforts to organize a society around her in more depth in a recent article in Eighteenth-Century Women (see “Works Cited” for complete bibliographical listing).
In Marivaux’s Le Triomphe de l’Amour, Léonide puts forth a romantically based social plan from the onset of the play. Similarly, romantic philosophy enters the plot of Palissot’s comedy by the end of the first act. During the final scenes of act one, Marton (the house servant) and Damis form a plan to woo Rosalie back into the latter’s arms and oust the pesky philosophes from the estate. In short, they hope to pit their philosophy of
love against the philosophe’s assertion of reason. Marton explains the ruse in more detail:
“Venez, et nous verrons si la philosophie,/Quel que soit son crédit, pourra dans ce grand jour/Tenir contre Marton, et Crispin, et l’amour!” (1.6). What follows in the next two acts is not difficult to predict. Damis and Marton formulate a clever way to expose philosophe hypocrisy and win Rosalie back into Damis’ arms. And following the Palissot’s strategy of attacks against Diderot and other philosophes, the two characters inside the play depend on a complex relationship between overt denunciation and hidden messages to drive out Valère and his cohort.
Narrative, Texts, and Performance in the Dénouement of Les Philosophes Most of the action in the play takes place during the third and final act. Damis, Marton, and Crispin (a book seller, or colporteur) create a plan that they hope will expose the philosophes as self-indulgent hypocrites, force Valère and his cohort out of the estate, and woo Cydalise and Rosalie back into Damis’ more “sensible” way of thinking. In the final act, Palissot’s staging of written documents, as well as his use of narrative and performative elements of criticism, emerges as paramount to the playwright’s continuous condemnation of the philosophes. In addition, the interplay between audio-visual event and text serves an important role during the final scenes of Palissot’s play. By the end, text and performance blur into a polysemic haze which more than hints at a unique dramaturgy. But first, Palissot continues to condemn specific works by Diderot and Rousseau with even more fervor than in the previous two acts.
In act 3 scene iv, Palissot steals a line directly from Le Fils naturel, when Cydalise exclaims: “Je devrais le gronder, son esprit me désarme;/On ne peut y tenir et je suis sous le charme” (3.4, emphasis added).77 This criticism parallels Palissot’s earlier critiques of philosophe didacticism and is similar to the playright’s previous tip of the hat towards learned members of the audience. Palissot admits that Diderot and Rousseau are very persuasive, and almost enchanting, which makes their dissemination of philosophe ideals all the more insidious. But by quoting from Diderot’s play, Palissot implicitly criticizes the philosophe’s drame once again. Later in this scene, Palissot changes from subtle critiques on Diderot’s theater to overt attack, ridiculing the writer’s conception of a “genre purement domestique.” Finally, to complement his dig at Diderot, Palissot inserts an ennunciated reference to Molière (as if the connection was not obvious enough already!), his own inspiration and source for the construction of Les Philosophes.
During the play, Palissot continually pits a Molièresque vision of comedy (and his own) against the drame and other forms of theater favored by philosophes. In this third act, however, Palissot gives his play a personal touch with an innovative mirroring effect.
Palissot stages a version of Les Philosophes—and its reception—inside the theatrical
The original line reads “Je m’écria, Presque sans le vouloir, il est sous le charme” (Diderot, Le Fils naturel 168).
L’entreprise est hardie.
In this short encounter, Palissot praises himself and his supporters while at the same time continuing his criticism of the philosophes. After already having denounced the State as unimportant and beneath their interests, the philosophes now will have to rely on government officials to censure the premiere of a “certain author’s” play. Palissot, once again, seeks to draw out the hypocritical paradox between philosophe words and actions.
But this time, instead of overt citation, Palissot makes a clever meta-theatrical comment—a refection on what will happen in “real life” after the performance of Les Philosophes—hypothesizing on how the philosophes will act after they see themselves on stage.78 The playwright’s mise-en-scene of themes such as the power of the censure, audience reactions to performance, and critical reception more than hint at a close proximity between the theatrical and “actual” timeframe. Palissot, like in the case of his previous prediction of philosophe solidarity, foreshadows his rival camp’s behavior.
While discussing what the philosophes should do to mitigate the potential popularity of a play in which they are ridiculed, Valère comes up with the idea to stage a comedy of their Palissot’s innovation with this scene lies in his staging of theater reception (how the philosophes will respond to Les Philosophes) rather than a mere “performance-in-a play”—a strategy that was explored by seventeenth-century dramatists like Molière and Racine. For more information on the staging of the “performance-in-a play” see Kimberly Cashman’s adeptly named monograph, Staging Subversions: The Performancewithin-a-Play in French Classical Theater, or Georges Forestier’s Le Théâtre dans le théâtre sur la scène française du XVIIe siècle.
own and to ensure its success through critical manipulation. The philosophe states that he and his cohort will “ferons un bruit à rendre les gens sourds./ Nous avons des amis, qui de loges en loges,/Vont crier au miracle, et forcer les éloges/N’avons-nous pas d’ailleurs le succès des soupers?” (3.8).
A few months after Les Philosophes’ overwhelmingly successful premiere at the Comédie-Française, Voltaire staged his L’Ecossaise at the same venue. As a polemical riposte to Palissot’s Counter-Enlightenment comedy, Voltaire’s play caused a similar receptive bruit. Part of the play’s popularity, as we shall see, stems from the fusion of former rivals inside the philosophe camp and their eventual cooperation at the time of L’Ecossaise’s performance. Chapter three of this dissertation discusses how extra-scenic dramaturgy—a concerted choreography during the performance—helped contribute to exactly the sort of raucous public reception (of Voltaire’s play) that Palissot so adeptly predicts in the above passage.
The final three scenes of Les Philosophes (3.9-3.11) best illustrate Palissot’s complex representation of both performative and textual aspects in his criticism of the philosophes. Damis and Marton devise a two-pronged attack to expose the philosophes as inept charlatans and mean-spirited hypocrites. First, they convince Crispin, the local colporteur, to pretend that he is a “wild man” from the “state of nature,” and to then emerge from the woods surrounding the estate. With this dramaturgical event, Palissot makes a reference to Rousseau’s Discours sur l’inégalité des hommes.79 He also compounds this more subtle attack with continued overt denunciation. For example, Rousseau’s Discours sur l’origine et les fondaments de l’inégalité parmi les hommes was the genevois’ response to question on inequality posed by the Académie of Dijon in
1753. In his response, Rousseau argued that man had since degenerated from an original state of nature because of the inequalities inherent to the modern political system.
Cydalise, Valère, and another philosophe, Théophraste, discuss their favorite readings,
including Rousseau’s 1755 work:
Palissot repeats (for the fifth time!) the theme of Cydalise’s approval as his condemnation. Once again, Palissot provides fodder to members of the audience who have read Rousseau’s controversial treatise as well as to less inclined spectators who easily perceive Cydalise’s idiocy. And to further bolster his critique of Rousseau, Palissot adds a pantomimic scene, where Crispin silently enters the stage on all fours,80 eating a piece of lettuce.81 To add even more complexity to his attack, the image of Rousseau on “quatre pattes” could be a reference to a letter from Voltaire to the famous citoyen de Genève, in which Voltaire makes the following comment about Rousseau’s Discours: “J'ai reçu, Monsieur, votre nouveau livre contre le genre humain; je vous en remercie; vous plairez aux hommes à qui vous dites leurs vérités, et vous ne les corrigerez pas. Vous peignez avec des couleurs bien vraies les horreurs de la société humaine dont l'ignorance et la faiblesse se promettent tant de douceurs. On n'a jamais employé tant d'esprit à vouloir nous rendre Bêtes. Il prend envie de marcher à quatre pattes quand on lit votre ouvrage” (Correspondance de Voltaire: August 30, 1755). If we read Palissot’s Jean-Jacques pantomime in this vein, we can perceive yet another way by which Palissot hoped to drive a wedge between Voltaire and other philosophes.
This was by far the most polemical scene in the play and the one which caused the greatest public uproar. In his Pléiade edition of Les Philosophes, Jacques Truchet points With this example, Palissot steps outside of the binary receptive techniques that he has employed throughout the play: the pantomime scene surpasses both overt citation and Palissot’s disparaging remarks against the philosophes through his characters’ words.
Not only does Palissot criticize the philosophe essay through textual reference and the enunciated dialogues of his characters, he manifests his disapproval through dramaturgical devices. This scene will assert itself as the most popular of the play and will be discussed by writers such as Fréron and Voltaire for years to come.82 Moreover, the fact that Palissot (with Fréron’s help)83 specifically chose the actor Préville to play the role of Crispin shows the playwright’s interest in acting—a relatively modern theatrical concern during this era. Préville was one of the most well-known actors of the period, and it certainly seems bizarre that he would have carried out a role with no lines and one, single, scene. While scholars have noted that playwrights of the drame incorporated concerns about acting into their dramaturgy and that authors like “Diderot refuse de séparer écriture et représentation. Sa sensibilité personnelle, son expérience de spectateur lui montraient que l’acteur est le cœur même de l’incarnation théâtrale, le foyer de ce phénomène,” (Roubine 67) this sensibility is rarely attributed during this period to writers from outside the Diderotian sphere (and certainly not to any of his most ardent adversaries !).
out that the pantomimic scene was removed cut from the performance when the comedy was replayed in 1782 (Théâtre du XVIIIe siècle 1388).
The pantomimic scene becomes metonymic for the play in general and later during the eighteenth century, Les Philosophes is often referred to as the play where J.J. Rousseau walks on all-fours.
In his Journal, the critic Charles Collé notes that it was “Fréron qui a présenté et lu cette pièce [Les Philosophes] aux comédiens” (t. II 350).