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contemporary polemics. But the word “revenge” is misleading when scholars at present or Voltaire’s contemporaries discuss the relationship between Voltaire’s comedy and Palissot’s Les Philosophes. In his critical edition of L’Ecossaise, Colin Duckworth follows the genesis of the play with astute accuracy, pointing out that Voltaire’s comedy was not a direct response to Palissot. Although the precise dates when Voltaire began to construct his play (sometime in 1759) are difficult to discern, Duckworth argues that L’Ecossaise was never intended to be performed when Voltaire composed the piece, and that the play found a stage only after Palissot’s original attack (Duckworth, “Introduction” 225). Confirming Duckworth’s analysis of the play’s genesis, Jack Yashinsky argues that even though Voltaire wrote a first draft of the play as early as 1759, he only started reworking the play during spring of 1760—after hearing about rehearsals of Palissot’s comedy at the Comédie-Française (256).
Backing up Yashinsky’s link between the two performances, several critics argue that Voltaire’s play would have never passed the Royal censure if Palissot’s play had not already been allowed to see the stage at the Comédie-Française (Duckworth, “Introduction”; Ferret, “Introduction to Les Philosophes”). With these indications in mind, it is still valid to assert that Voltaire’s play was an act of philosophe revenge. Even though some elements in Voltaire’s narrative may have found their genesis outside of the polemical debate with anti-philosophes, the performance of L’Ecossaise was a direct response to the performance of Les Philosophes.
In analyzing L’Ecossaise’s dramatic composition, we are faced with an anomaly that jars with the norms of eighteenth-century theater. Contrary to Tancrède (Voltaire’s other play at the Comédie-Française in 1760), L’Ecossaise was not an effort in pure dramaturgy—it was not destined for immediate performance—and it found its genesis in extra-theatrical sources like pamphlets and literary criticism, as well as in previous dramatic examples.88 Owing to the urgency surrounding the play’s performance, the preconditioning of audience members plays an even more central role than in the case of Palissot’s Les Philosophes. With the level of anti-philosophie in France at an all time high, Voltaire hastily needed a receptive audience even before his play went up on the boards of the Comédie-Française.89 When L’Ecossaise opened, parodies of Palissot’s Les Philosophes were already on stage at the Comédie-Italienne, the Passy Theater, and other Parisian venues.90 In addition, authorities had recently sent the abbé Morellet to jail in June 1760 for his La Vision de Charles Palissot, a scathing pamphlet against Palissot.
Learning from Morellet’s legal troubles, philosophes recognized the need to encode their revenge in a subtler manner than obvious denunciation; but at the same time, they had to make their point accessible to the greatest amount of people in order to have any meaningful impact against their enemies. Recognizing the popularity of drama as a vehicle for social and ethical didactics, Voltaire and his cohort turned to theatrical “Pure dramaturgy” was the norm throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
In her work on performance, Florence Naugrette points out that the vast majority of dramatists, from Shakespeare to Molière, always performed their works before publishing them (38). This is also the case for every other play by Voltaire, except for his 1758 work, Socrate.
In his study on the literary staging of public opinion in eighteenth-century France, Nicolas Veysman summarizes the difficulties endured by philosophes during this precise period. According to Veysman, the years 1758 and 1759 saw the “suppression du privilege accordé à l’Encyclopédie, condamnation de l’Emile, [et] de De l’esprit (Mise en scène de l’opinion publique 51).
Versions of the Les Philosophes were also at foires such as St. Laurent and St.
performance. Voltaire responded with an attack of his own that places both CounterEnlightenment arguments and their mechanisms for dissemination on stage.
In the pages that follow, I will describe the content of Voltaire’s response to the Counter-Enlightenment in his comedy, L’Ecossaise, as well as show how he formulates these attacks through intertextuality, narrative (or storyline) techniques, and performance.
But what is more, I hope to highlight certain literary and cultural practices that come into play in Voltaire’s dramatic work, and again, show a close proximity between society and theater, dramatist and pamphleteer, or journalist and playwright.
In addition to criticizing general philosophical principles, Voltaire attacks the practice of Counter-Enlightenment pamphleteering and anti-philosophe notions of literature. Through a close reading of L’Ecossaise, I hope to both broaden and deepen the scope of the theatricalized polemic between philosophes and anti-philosophes. Then, by using these two plays as a lens, we may be able to perceive new relationships among performance, polemics and writing that culminated during the summer of 1760. The theatrical genre, as we shall see, materializes as a powerful tool for persuading the spectator or reader. As we follow a debate that began in pamphlets during the 1750s, moved onto center stage in 1760, and then took on more surreptitious theatrical forms during the next decade—we will keep in mind the vital energy of theater, and specifically, the genre’s ability to incorporate various visual, auditory, and narrative elements into one “event.” Preconditioning the Spectator with Pamphlets: Voltaire’s À Messieurs les parisiens In our analysis of Les Philosophes, we saw how pamphlets from the late 1750s preconditioned certain audience members for the performance of Palissot’s play.91 With knowledge of events such as the Cacouacs affair or Moreau’s diatribe against Voltaire, learned members of the Republic of Letters were able to recognize specific CounterEnlightenment arguments against philosophes during the performance of Les Philosophes.92 Voltaire’s response, Le Caffé ou l’écossaise, was staged at the ComédieFrançaise on July 26 1760—a few weeks after Palissot’s comedy had run its course. Not one to be outdone by his adversaries, Voltaire goes even further in his attempt to precondition his spectators than Palissot by publishing a pamphlet just one night before the opening of L’Ecossaise. This change in the strategic function of the pamphlet is important: whereas Palissot merely incorporated arguments from polemical brochures into his dramatic narrative, Voltaire integrates pamphlets into his pre-performance strategy, utilizing them purposefully before his play hits the boards.
In À Messieurs les parisiens, Voltaire rekindles the polemic surrounding the Pompignan affair,93 and harks back to the story of Socrates’ unjust persecution by the For example, Palissot used identical lines from pamphlets that appeared during the Cacouacs affair. For more information, see chapter one of this dissertation.
In short, the “Cacouacs” was a derogatory name for the philosophes. The affair attacked members of the encyclopédie project, denouncing it as an “entreprise de subversion qui trahit les intérêts de la France et ruine les notions de famille, de patrie, de religion (1758)» (Descotes 140). For a more detailed description of CounterEnlightenment pamphlets during the late 1750s, see Olivier Ferret’s La Fureur de nuire, pp. 289-292.
This refers to the battle between Voltaire and Le Franc de Pompignan after the latter’s polemical, anti-philosophe reception speech at the Académie Française on March 10
1760. For a detailed account of the affair, see Ferret’s La Fureur de nuire, pp. 120-140.
Athenians.94 The Socratic topos built upon an already existing corpus of philosophe pamphlets and unperformed theater. Most recently, Voltaire had explored this philosophe cum victim theme in his un-staged play, Socrates (1757-1758). And as Jean-Marie Goulemot points out, Diderot employed the same story, writing an Apologie de Socrate during his 1749 imprisonment at Vincennes (79).
In Voltaire’s À Messieurs les parisiens, the philosophe focuses his reader’s attention on a singular aspect of (the next evening’s) the performance: the satirical miseen-scene of Elie Fréron, the ardent Counter-Enlightenment journalist, pamphleteer, and enemy of the philosophes. In the opening passage of the pamphlet, Voltaire uses a fictionalized translator and a healthy dose of irony to describe his character Frélon.95 Voltaire provides his reader with important information about the next evening’s
performance with a light-hearted hodgepodge of French and “English”:
Even before the comedy’s premiere, Voltaire attacks the Counter-Enlightenment camp with his play—both À Messieurs les parisiens and a textual version of L’Ecossaise were published before the stage performance—thus providing another example of how theatrical productions during the summer of 1760 diverged from eighteenth-century norms. L’Ecossaise was published in Paris before mid-June—some six weeks before its A Messieurs les parisiens was published most recently in Voltaire’s Oeuvres complètes, SVEC Vol. 50, no. 1, pp. 347-351.
It is interesting to note the origins of the neologism Frélon. Voltaire created the word out of a combination of the French term for wasp (Frelon), and of course, his adversaries last name (Fréron).
initial performance—a rare publication strategy that further confuses the barriers between pamphlets, literature, and performance. Normally, plays were kept in tight circulation, performed, and then published (if a successful performance run was achieved).96 In the next chapter, we will examine how L’Ecossaise’s publication before the audio-visual event affected spectators and theater critics. But for now, it is merely important to note Voltaire’s deviation from publication norms during this time. Writing to Nicholas Thieriot in July 1769, Voltaire describes his innovative strategy of preperformance publication. According to Voltaire, his efforts before the premiere of L’Ecossaise have since served as an example for other dramatists to follow, possibly in order to bolster the receptions of their plays. The philosophe points out how it is “actuellement à la mode de faire imprimer les pièces de théâtre sans les donner aux comédiens; mais de tous ces drames il n’y a que L’Ecossaise qu’on ait joué” (Voltaire, Correspondence, IX, 984).97 In À messieurs les parisiens, Voltaire disguises his polemical pamphlet as a legitimate dramatic criticism of L’Ecossaise by using a fictive narrator, balanced (academic) rhetoric, and a discussion of character composition—a wholly dramaturgical notion. Voltaire’s mildly “academic” discourse, however, is methodically employed (he gives quick translations of every English word) and really nothing more than a way to enlighten the reader to the real meaning of the word Wasp (frelon, read: Fréron), and a warning towards other Counter-Enlightenment pamphleteers that the philosophe’s For more information of eighteenth-century theatrical publication norms, see Hervé Bismuth’s history of European theater, specifically chapter four.
Unfortunately for Voltaire, this isn’t true. L’Ecossaise was not the only drame to be performed after the publication of the text. Diderot’s Le Père de famille enjoyed the same atypical path to the stage of the Comédie-Française in 1762.
lambasting of Fréron in L’Ecossaise could have been worse (for example, if Voltaire hadn’t deleted Frélon’s “chatiment” at the end of the play, as indicated in the pamphlet).98 With this preconditioning text, Voltaire readies his audience for the next evening’s theatrical arrival of Wasp (or Frélon), a strategy that focuses his spectator’s attention on one man and one genre: Fréron and his journal. This process echoes Palissot’s combination of many philosophe critiques into an evisceration of Diderot and his drame. With pamphlets and publication strategies, Voltaire makes his audience aware of some of the digs at Counter-Enlightenment works and personalities that will come forth in L’Ecossaise. But, with his discussion of character composition, Voltaire refuses to ignore issues inherent to theater. The philosophe remains inside of the dramatic domain (theater criticism) and parallels his overt polemical attacks with subtle reflections on the traditional notion that performance precedes the publication and criticism of a play.
In Les Philosophes, Palissot uses quotations from philosophe works such as Helvétius’ De l’Esprit or Rousseau’s Second Discours in combination with narrative and performative elements (the love story between Damis and Rosalie or the famous actor Préville walking on all fours). With this multifaceted dramaturgy, Palissot hopes to inspire visceral reactions by audience members from all walks of life. If a spectator hasn’t read Rousseau’s Second Discourse or Diderot’s Le Fils naturel, he or she still could understand the attack against philosophe social and literary practices through overt Depending on the version of the text, Voltaire uses Frélon and Wasp interchangeably.
However, when employing the English word, he included a footnote giving the translation into French (e.g. version 60CR and 60AM, noted in Duckworth 361).
denunciation (the Latinized anagram Dortidius for Diderot, for example), a classic love story, or through a well-known dramaturgical model inspired by Molière.99 With the following analysis of Voltaire’s dramatic revenge, we should perceive a parallel process of cross-pollination between texts and performance. Voltaire uses this combinatory method as revenge against Palissot’s specific play, Fréron’s literary criticism, and the litany of Counter-Enlightenment pamphlets that littered the streets of Paris during the 1750s. But, a close analysis of L’Ecossaise also reveals important social and literary changes that surpass the polemic between philosophes and anti-philosophes during the summer of 1760.