«A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College In partial fulfillment of ...»
The fact that Voltaire never really intended his play for the stage, and only sought a performance after Palissot received permission to stage his own play, resulted in an abnormal eighteenth-century theatrical example and a possible predecessor to nineteenthcentury armchair theater.137 In his history of European drama, Hervé Bismuth argues that, “Depuis qu’il existe des textes de théâtre, à l’exception des premières tentatives des auteurs humanistes, la destination première du texte dramatique est la scène: l’auteur dramatique écrit en principe pour être joué” (249). Bismuth goes on to argue that authors such Alfred de Musset, Alfred de Vigny, and Victor Hugo changed this a priori consideration for performance with plays that were never destined for the boards, such as Cromwell (1827), Chatterton (1835), and Ruy Blas (1838).
Voltaire’s dramaturgy in L’Ecossaise, at least at its origin, did not take into account a live audience at the Comédie-Française. Only after Palissot’s play caused a buzz in literary circles around Paris, did Voltaire then attempt to get his play put up on the boards. Although we can assume that Voltaire made dramaturgical and narrative changes to his play during the early summer of 1760, little evidence remains to clearly “Armchair” theater (or “Closet Drama”) refers to plays that were never intended for performance.
show us the precise nature of these edits.138 Putting a dramatic text in circulation before a performance was an anomaly during this period, and Bismuth’s assertion that the stage was the “destination” of most dramatic texts holds true for the vast majority of eighteenth-century plays in France.
But in the case of L’Ecossaise, two interpretive “horizons” emerge: one for spectators who were preconditioned by pamphlets and polemical texts before a performance, and another slightly different horizon that comprised readers of the comedy
who had yet to see the show. This shift in “horizons” has epistemological repercussions:
a reader of Voltaire’s work certainly picked up on nuanced metaphors faster than a spectator at a live performance.139 Throughout his play, Voltaire peppers the text with ambiguous textual metaphors, and an in-depth study of some of these literary devices may help us determine whether or not Voltaire can differentiate between a reader and a spectator with his dramaturgy.
In L’Ecossaise, Voltaire presents two contrasting female protagonists in Lindane and Lady Alton. Lindane is the voice of reason, chastity and virtue, while Lady Alton attempts to manipulate characters through nasty threats and unethical ruses. But what is more, Voltaire chooses to show the dissimilarity between the two characters by pitting disparate images of the writing process against one another. Toward the end of the first act (1.5), Voltaire gives his reader a writing metaphor with the way Lindane earns her
modest living through embroidery:
Little evidence, save the alternative lines highlighted by Colin Duckworth in his introduction to L’Ecossaise. According to Duckworth, most of these dramaturgical edits sought to remove the spotlight from Fréron and apply Voltaire’s critique to members of the Counter-Enlightenment at large (see Duckworth’s intro, part II).
For a more detailed account of the qualitative effect of Voltaire’s divergence from publication norms, see chapter 3 of this dissertation.
Il ne faut perdre ni le courage ni l’espérance : je supporte ma pauvreté, mais la tienne me déchire le cœur. Ma chère Polly, qu’au moins le travail de mes mains serve à rendre ta destinée moins affreuse : n’ayons d’obligation à personne ; va vendre ce que j’ai brodé ces jours-ci. (Elle lui donne un petit ouvrage de broderie.) Je ne réussis pas mal à ces petits ouvrages. Que mes mains te nourrissent et t’habillent : tu m’as aidée : il est beau de ne devoir notre subsistance qu’à notre vertu.
Here, Voltaire draws upon a well-known literary topos of embroidery cum writing, even emphasizing the importance of the work in his stage directions.140 In this passage, Lindane physically hands over the embroidery to Polly. But on a figurative level, she also relays a story to her servant about duty and ardent attachment to “doing what is right.” Lindane’s narrative, woven physically and metaphorically in a textured piece of work, passes from person to person. Lindane (through her dialogue and embroidered work) tells a story of virtue, responsibility, and refusal to lower self-expectations.
Voltaire presents the message through the performance as well as through nuanced literary metaphors such as the embroidery/text. This double-edged combination of performance and text hints at the specificity of dramatic writing. Because the playwright always incorporates speaking individuals in a communicative act, he or she cannot “move away” from performance to bury purely fictional textual elements in the dramatic narrative. Although the embroidery emerges as a largely textual metaphor, it only becomes part of a completed message when Lindane physically hands the work over This metaphor is a common topos in epistolary novels from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Lettres péruviennes, for example) but actually dates back Classical Rhetoric, and then of course, to Marie de France’s 11th century Lais.
to Polly. Borrowing from Jauss’ work on interpretation, Patrice Parvis sheds light on the
inherent duality of the fictive space in theater:
La fiction (le texte et les systèmes narratifs, idéologiques, etc. qu’il véhicule) est à tout moment à la merci de ruptures de jeu : l’événement, la réalité matérielle du spectateur, la présence du comédien. Seul le théâtre nous offre cette relation ambiguë à la scène : un langage, une idéologie et une fiction sont iconisés, donnés à voir, plus qu’à comprendre. Cette relation se fait ainsi toujours à l’intérieur et à l’extérieur de la fiction, dans la lecture horizontale (soumise au texte, à la narration, à l’idéologie) et dans une lecture verticale (faite dans l’événement, dans le sentiment d’une « présence » de l’acteur, dans l’acte herméneutique de l’interprétation).
(39) The actor’s “presence,” even if only imagined by a reader, provides a material, performative interruption to the strict literary metaphor of embroidery. Because Voltaire writes for theater—with dialogue and action—he cannot fully depart from the imaginative presence of a stage, actors, and an audience. The metaphor associated with Lindane’s text/embroidery connotes virtue and a didactic link between Lindane and her servant, and maybe between Voltaire and his spectator, as well.
This overwhelmingly positive association jars with another use of textual metaphor in L’Ecossaise: Lady Alton’s use of letter writing. Throughout the play (most notably in act II), Lady Alton manipulates various characters by writing nasty letters, lying about who wrote them, or interrupting letters from the author to the intended recipient. Lady Alton, like Frélon, uses writing as a means to control other people and achieve malicious, selfish goals.
In a revelatory scene (2.2), she pretends that Murrai’s love letters to Lindane were originally destined for her rival (Alton) and convinces the écossaise that Murrai has undergone a change of heart and now favors Lady Alton. The play’s female antagonist mirrors Frélon, and especially, his ability to create fiction out of a nasty context.
Although Lady Alton has a hand in the production and manipulation of texts (letters), her attempt to tell a story (make Murrai love her and not Lindane) proves unsuccessful. Like Frélon, she skews written materials into polemics and denunciation rather than honor and vertu—and also like the nasty pamphleteer—she is absent from the final scenes of the play, and relegated to ephemeral anecdotes rather than the crux of the comedy’s plot.
In fact, both Lady Alton and her literary corpus (the letters) remain outside of the chief narrative of the play. Although she succeeds in creating temporary confusion through textual manipulation, she never suspends the audience’s belief (they know she has altered the letters). This fact renders her, like Frélon, two-dimensional and unable to convey the strong emotions that pass from stage to parterre with more dynamic and complex characters such as Lindane, Polly, and even, Friport.
Voltaire also focuses on the power of texts to convey both positive and negative aspects of an emerging critical sphere of journalistic media. In a dramaturgically modern scene (2.6), Voltaire stages the concurrent actions of Polly and Lindane on one side of the stage with Friport trying to read the newspaper on the other side.141 Friport negotiates his attention between the current events in the newspapers and Lindane’s conversation with Polly (the play’s climax to its central narrative). Friport’s inability to concentrate on either the newspapers or Lindane may hint at a difficult (and sometimes pernicious) fact that the public constantly has to move between literature (the plot) and journalism, and that maybe the advent of journalistic media detracts from “the story,” inserting unnecessary polemics into society and the literary milieu.
David Trott points out that L’Ecossaise was very modern not only in this scene, but also in its split-stage dramaturgy. Throughout the play, Voltaire partitions the action between the café setting and the guesthouse bedrooms (Théâtre du XVIIIe, 72-73).
Act I, scene three, however, presents Voltaire’s harshest condemnation of French journalistic practices and possibly even public opinion in general. Here, Voltaire stages a group of discordant voices—all of whom try to weigh in on the contemporary sociopolitical atmosphere of mid eighteenth-century France. Nicolas Veysman points out
the interdisciplinary nature of this “cacophonous” scene:
C’est au café que Voltaire choisit de placer sa mise en scène d’une impossible symphonie des voix particulières qui se croisent, se mêlent, sans jamais constituer une voix publique harmonieuse. ‘Ils parlent tous quatre en même temps’, précise Voltaire en didascalie. À la confusion des voix mêlées, Voltaire ajoute celle des thèmes abordés, l’un parlant de théâtre, l’autre d’économie, sans que la parole parvienne jamais à devenir dialogique, recluse par conséquent dans une surdité mutuelle que souligne le parallélisme des conversations étrangères les unes aux autres. (207) Through his stage directions (didascalie) and dialogues, Voltaire shows the impossibility of enunciating a clear, correct opinion when a “symphony” of voices speak at the same time. Voltaire subtly criticizes certain members of the ‘public’ for their desire to give their opinions on political, economic, and aesthetic issues. There are too many “hacks” with newspapers, and according to Voltaire, they should cede some pages to more illuminated experts like himself.
His condemnation of emerging popular criticism, however, is not nearly as severe as his diatribes against Fréron and the Année littéraire. Nevertheless, Voltaire clearly worries that the opening of critical avenues to a more popular public leads to an overall degradation of specific media.142 Voltaire heavily criticizes Fréron and his newspaper for attempting to judge everything—from painting to theater to politics. In the above scene, Voltaire’s concern for a more public arena parallels an overall critique of “the masses” that dots philosophe texts up until the Revolution. For example, Roland Mortier argues that Condorcet’s goal in Sur la nécessité de l’instruction publique (1791), was “to bring out new elites” rather than open up the education avenues to all (74).
Voltaire slips between his more overt criticisms of pamphleteers to a more subtle dig of popular practices and the Parisian public in general. And what results is an attempt by Voltaire to reduce “public” comprehension of his dramatic text through difficult metaphors and complex intertextuality.
Voltaire uses enunciation and dramaturgical tricks to show the spectator that new cultural practices such as gazette literary criticism, anti-philosophe slandering, and journalism may have a negative effect on literature. However, Voltaire’s condemnation of public opinion is called into question by the denouement of his own comedy. By the final scene, the audience realizes that if it wasn’t for Frélon and his nasty newspaper, Monrose would have never figured out that Lindane is his daughter and Murrai would have never realized that Monrose’s family is the one to which he owes restitution.
Frélon’s gazette is certainly not literature, nor is it beneficial to society. However, it emerges as dramaturgically necessary to catalyze the happy ending of Voltaire’s play.
Social practices may move outside of Voltaire’s control, manifesting in the narrative covertly and proving their value as essential, and even originary, to artistic production. Because Voltaire writes a dramatic text—and thus incorporates live audiences, bodies, and conversations into his work—he must therefore identify with the society that he chooses to stage. Therefore, the philosophe loses his ability to inscribe sheer “literary” metaphors into his text: he must also take into account the bodies, voices and effects of live actors. But what is more, Voltaire also loses his power to provide a unitary condemnation of certain cultural practices during this time, such as the role of journalism in French society.
Enough is Enough: Calls for a Cease-Fire in the Republic of Letters Although Palissot was the first to bring the pamphlet war between CounterEnlightenment writers and encyclopedists to the French main stage, Voltaire goes further than his anti-philosophe adversary in incorporating literary devices and staging techniques into his play. The receptive longevity, as indicated by ticket sales at the Comédie-Française, proves that Voltaire “won” the theatrical battle against Palissot. And in the critical domain, the abbé Coyer, in his Discours sur le satyre contre les
philosophes (1760), highlights important differences between the two plays: