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A detailed study of these parodies is fully warranted, but requires a larger scope than the specific Palissot/Voltaire polemic to incorporate the traditions, and more importantly, the subversions of those traditions, that are inherent to this important theatrical genre.190 Parodies differed from theater to theater and depended on factors such as the popularity of the original play’s author, the popularity of the parodist, and the genre of the original play. Adding more complexity to an already enigmatic genre, other For more information on parodies as forms of criticism see de Rougemont’s chapter on Parodies, or more recently, Isabelle Degauque’s Les Tragédies de Voltaire au miroir de leurs parodies dramatiques: D’Oedipe (1718) à Tancrède (1760). Paris: Champion, 2007.
factors such as music, pantomime, budgets, and the censure heavily influenced the writing and reception of parodies. But even without an in-depth analysis of the performed parodies from the summer of 1760, what remains of our corpus is no less interesting, nor less important to a discussion on theater criticism.
André-Charles Cailleau’s Les Philosophes manqués is perhaps the most creative “criticism” of Palissot’s comedy.191 Although Cailleau published the work as a parody on May 15 1760, it is very improbable that he ever imagined the play would see a live audience because at the very same moment, Cailleau was working on Les Originaux, ou les Fourbes punis, a “scène-par-scène” parody of Les Philosophes, which has a style and length that was more adaptable to the stage.192 In Les Philosophes manqués, a bizarre one-act “parody,” Cailleau stages allegorical figures of the Auteur, Comédie, Intrigue, Dénouement, Parterre, Cabale, and Intérêt. By taking a detailed look at Cailleau’s “parody criticism,” we can draw out the complex way theater criticism worked during this affair, and more specifically, how theater criticism served goals outside of a strictly dramatic domain to incorporate concerns such as political alignment, advertisement for future publications, and general socio-literary remarks.
Les Philosophes manqués begins in the same way as a dinner party: Cailleau introduces a new character in each scene, starting with a discussion between the Auteur (Palissot) and La Comédie. The critic’s digs at Palissot are far from innovative—Cailleau rehashes the commonplace criticisms that Palissot has gone too far in his on-stage critiques of Diderot and Rousseau and that Les Philosophes is a travesty to the French Published in Ferret’s critical edition of Les Philosophes, pp. 86-100.
Whereas Les Philosophes manqués is a short one act farce that personifies allegorical figures such as “Le Parterre” et “l’Intrigue”, Les Originaux is a full three act parody and reuses the same characters as Palissot’s Les Philosophes.
stage. But more interestingly, Cailleau surpasses a mere reflection on the performance or the dramatic text of Les Philosophes to include a criticism of the written suite that followed Palissot’s play. For example, the “Palissot” character argues that any problems caused by his original version of the play were rectified by a “préface,” which justifies all of Palissot’s nasty remarks against the philosophes (88). This is no doubt a reference to Palissot’s Lettre de sieur Palissot au public, pour servir de préface à la pièce, published just a few days before Cailleau’s Philosophes manqués, and intended to mitigate some of the abusive remarks made by critics after the premiere of Les Philosophes.193 Cailleau’s inclusion of Palissot’s preface shows the urgent wish to “stay up to date” that categorized polemicists during this time. In a constant battle of one-upmanship, pamphleteers had to keep a keen eye on day-to-day publications and incorporate them in a mocking manner into their own polemical works.
But also, Cailleau’s critique of Palissot’s preface demonstrates the unique way that critics viewed theatrical production at this time. Instead of just focusing on the dramatic text, or even on a single performance, critics attacked an entire ensemble of works—a constellation of creative materials—which, taken as a whole, emerge as “Les Philosophes.” Cailleau’s conception of Les Philosophes calls into question traditional definitions of a play. This following diagram attempts to show this process of critical
This pamphlet is reprinted in Ferret’s “Introduction” to Les Philosophes, pp. 113-119.
Pamphlets before Les Philosophes + Les Philosophes + Pamphlets after Les Philosophes
Palissot’s polemical pamphlet is just as important as the dramatic text, and both works merge into one, single entity for critics to attack. By blending performed works with published pamphlets, Cailleau in turn asserts that Palissot’s brochure becomes part and parcel to any discussion of ‘Les Philosophes’ in critical discourse.
Cailleau also analyzes the manipulation of different receptive modes by partisans in the philosophe/anti-philosophe affaire. For example, in scene iii of Les Philosophes manqués, the author addresses the performance vs. publication dichotomy often
associated with this specific literary polemic:
This short scene underlines a variety of aspects from publication strategies to norms in comedy surrounding Palissot’s Les Philosophes. First, Cailleau ridicules the Comédie character when she says that literary success equals financial success (“c’est moi qui gagnerai le plus…”). Next, the author makes a qualitative distinction between the performance of Les Philosophes and the play’s subsequent publication. Cailleau points out the fact that Palissot manipulated his dramatic text (“les corrections”) to please the audience to no avail: a fact that Grimm lamented as well and that Ferret confirms occurred after the second performance of Les Philosophes.194 Paralleling Fréron’s criticism of Voltaire’s popular reception, Cailleau argues that Palissot’s success is due to nothing more than an anti-philosophe cabal and its nasty control of the public. Lastly, the critic makes a disparaging remark vis-à-vis this very same public, arguing that it cheers for what it doesn’t understand (“applaudir ce qu’il n’entend pas”). Cailleau emphasizes a disconnect between honest literary judgment and public opinion and bolsters the power of a more impartial, highly-educated reading public who will no doubt eviscerate Palissot’s play during their textual analysis of the work.
Calleau’s harsh treatment of the public continues during the rest of his “parody critique.” He argues that the public is nothing more than a force to be manipulated, pointing out that it is not the parterre “qui juge ordinairement,” but rather, “c’est la Cabale”195 (92). Les Philosophes manqués is a distinct form of literary criticism and a method to address both performative and textual aspects of Palissot’s Les Philosophes.
On the one hand, Cailleau regurgitates typical digs against the play, lamenting the staging of real people and disparaging a sort of “crise de la comédie.” But on the other hand, the critic’s choice of a theatrical genre allows him to rework and manipulate original verses in Palissot’s play and even address overtly “theatrical” aspects such as Crispin’s walk on all-fours, textual alterations between For more information on Palissot’s textual corrections, see Ferret’s “Introduction”, p.
The word “Cabale” usually connotes a group of paid spectators who either interrupt or cheer the performance, depending on who employs them. See the first section of my Introduction to this dissertation for more information.
different performances, the reception of the play by spectators, and qualitative differences between the play’s performance and its publication. Les Philosophes manqués incorporates the litany of written materials that accompanied Les Philosophes, both attacking and adding on to the plethora of creative-critical works associated with the scandal: this emerges as a relatively new critical posture. But also, the parodie-critique reverts to literary paradigms from the previous century and shows the author’s fear of public judgment and a conservatism that parallels seventeenth-century doctes like Scudéry and his calls for a more learned, reading public to officially scrutinize dramatic works.
‘Poème-Critiques’ and the End of Performance-Based Criticism In their reviews from the summer of 1760, established critics such as Grimm and Fréron show a divergence from traditional methods of dramatic criticism. Instead of merely dotting their texts with long plot summaries, comments on versification or verisimilitude and lengthy character compositions, Grimm and Fréron discuss more theatrical issues such as performance; or, they write about more “political” issues like censorship and behind-the-scenes sponsoring. But from a generic point of view, neither critic eschews traditional norms of form. In the Correspondance littéraire and the Année littéraire, both Grimm and Fréron write in a critical medium and their readers expect them to use a judgmental prose that is commonly associated with literary criticism.
Diverging from critical prose, Cailleau’s Philosophes manqués addresses both writing and performance in a performative and creative medium that still nevertheless asserts legitimate dramatic criticism as its raison d’être. So far, we have looked at forms of critical prose and critical parody, neither of which is chosen by the author of La Vengeance de Thalie, a “poème critique de la pièce des Philosophes,” published anonymously and without permission on June 5 1760.196 In this alexandrine poem, Thalia, the Greek muse of comedy and pastoral poetry, laments the horrors of “decadence” and “offense” caused by Palissot’s Les Philosophes. Although the poem reuses many of the same arguments against Palissot that characterized more traditional criticisms (copy of Molière, unfair portrayal of philosophes, bad versification, etc.), a few new critiques emerge that perhaps stem from the author’s conscious effort to change generic registers and employ poetry in verse instead of critical prose.
Aside from her discontent for overt “satire” and the denunciation of living people,
Thalia also criticizes Palissot for his “attack” on the comedic genre (135):
With criticism in verse, the poet hopes to punish Palissot internally, from inside the comedic genre—from one alexandrine poet to another. By masking criticism under poetic language, Thalia avoids the illogical problem of “denouncing by denouncing” or “criticizing nastiness with nastiness” that marks so many critiques of Palissot’s play. The author of this poem can stay behind an artistic veil without lowering herself to the mucky realms of pamphleteering and journalism. Even “Thalia’s” extra-theatrical digs come
forth with nuance and tact. For example, she ends the poem with the following lines:
The reference to Isocrates, the Athenian orator and inquisitor of Socrates, is probably a dig at Fréron, who is, no doubt, the most famous producer of “critiques amères” in a “schoolboy” style. Even under the guise of “protecting Comedy” and “le bon goût,” “Thalie” can’t seem to help herself from weighing in on the more “non-theatrical” elements of the polemic like the ideological association between Palissot and Fréron.
Although the poem asserts a critical tone with more subtlety than that of prose criticisms, La Vengeance de Thalie nevertheless emphasizes two extremely important extra-scenic factors of the play: the political genesis of the comedy’s staging at the Comédie-Francaise, and the plethora of written documents that stemmed from the play’s performance (“fatras de paperasse folle”). “Thalie” attempts to bypass the continuous chain of nasty post-performance pamphleteering by precisely criticizing this pernicious practice, but she is unable to do so. Even though the author recognizes the vicious, neverending circle of brochures, Thalie emerges as just another rag in the Palissot affair, and little more than a fancy example of polemical pamphleteering.
Claude-Joseph Dorat’s Epître à un ami dans sa retraite à l’occasion des Philosophes et de l’Ecossaise is another example of “critical poetry” with the specific goal of weighing in on the Palissot/Voltaire affair.197 Contrasting with the Vengeance de Thalie, however, Dorat’s Epître was published in early September, and critiqued both plays rather than just Palissot’s Les Philosophes. Following the same strategy as the previous “poème critique,” Dorat personifies the Greek muse Thalia and attacks both poems from the point of view of theatrical comedy itself. In the previous chapter, we saw how the abbé Coyer, a noted philosophe, combined both plays into one lamentable event in his Discours sur le satire de nos temps. Dorat’s poem takes up this disappointed and
relatively non-partisan tone, first attacking Palissot:
Dorat makes a parallel between Palissot and Aristophanes, the putative enemy of philosophy and Athenian playwright who satirically staged Socrates’ trial and subsequent condemnation.
By citing Aristophanes, Juvenal and Archilocus, Dorat shows erudition and knowledge of sources from Antiquity. This tactic was possibly a way for Dorat to prove that he is more knowledgeable than the average critic because of his understanding of comedy’s origins and his ability to write in verse. But also, it is a way to change the semiotics of the debate between both sides to include a more nuanced vocabulary.198 In Les Philosophes, Palissot uses the blatantly obvious anagram “Dortidius” to mock the Dorat’s Epître can be found at the BnF Mitterrand (Z-Fontainieu-358 ).
Dorat’s emphasis on Greek Antiquity also shows his desire to debate Palissot’s claim that he was a legitimate successor to Aristophanes and that the philosophes earned this harsh theatrical treatment.
philosophe Diderot. Instead of hitting his reader over the head with overt references, Dorat favors more subtle analogies to antiquity.