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On the topic of Froissart’s Chroniques, it is also interesting to note that De Belloy included a section of the fourteenth-century text in his 1765 “Nouvelle Edition” of Le Siège de Calais. In the conclusion to this edition, De Belloy pulls lines out of Froissart’s Chroniques to state how the playwright either followed his predecessor accurately or diverged from the Chroniques to adhere to norms in tragedy (Le Siège de Calais, tragédie, dédiée au Roi, par M. De Belloy ; représentée pour la première fois, par les Comédiens Français ordinaires du Roi, le 13 février 1765, suivie de notes historiques.
Paris : Duchesne, 1765. BnF Mitterand, 8-YTH-16462.
In fact, Le Siège de Calais was quickly printed and disseminated to French soldiers and colonists in San Domingo, making it the first French-language play ever printed in a French Territory outside of the hexagon (Truchet 1440).
Le Siège de Calais was printed and performed in Lyon, Bordeaux, Nancy, and other French provincial cities. In addition, De Belloy’s tragedy became “required viewing” for newly enlisted soldiers in the French army (Truchet 1441).
Un orage imprévu éclate presque aussitôt qu’il se forme : une catastrophe subite porte la combustion dans le parterre, dans les loges, dans la salle entière ; et, après avoir fait lever brusquement le Siège de Calais, ce feu se répand en dehors de proche en proche avec la même rapidité, se glisse dans tous les cercles, gagne tous les soupers, et communique à tous les esprits une chaleur qui produit un incendie universel : tel, au dire des poètes auvergnats et limousins, le nocher, trompé par un calme profond, se trouve assailli par la tempête sans même en avoir soupçonné les approches. (CL, VI, 256.) The famous philosophe’s review, which we first examined in the introduction to this dissertation, merits a more in-depth analysis. First, Grimm immediately focuses on spectators’ reactions to the play instead of on the play’s narrative or theatrical elements.
Using a vocabulary of “incendie,” “combustion,” and “feu” to describe how the play affected the audience, Grimm’s account seems more appropriate for a fire in Le Havre or an earthquake in Lisbon.
Even if we ignore his more hyperbolic statements, Grimm’s review still indicates a powerful reception of the play by Parisians from all walks of life (in the parterre and in the loges). The author focuses intently on the play’s effect on readers and spectators, splitting the shared exuberance between the audience in the theater and critics in the salons. By moving the locus of his criticism from the text to the audience, Grimm’s account of Le Siège de Calais differs from traditional reviews of tragedy—a genre that usually encourages a more formal criticism due to its long history and rigid (when compared to comedy) set of rules.
Eyewitness accounts of De Belloy’s premiere indicate that spectators eagerly attended performances of Le Siège de Calais well after its February 1765 premiere. In his Journal, Charles Collé argues that theatergoers lined up in front of the ComédieFrançaise for hours before performances of the tragedy until as late as the end of March.209 But what if spectators were not just responding to a subliminal connection between De Belloy’s patriotic rhetoric on stage and a recent war with the British? What if spectators recognized (and were still entertained by) ongoing ideological battles from the previous decade? Behind more overt statements on reconciliation and French pride lie ultra-contemporary themes from theater such as the recent on-stage debate between philosophes and anti-philosophes. For example, in Act III of Le Siège, the English
general Mauni makes the following assertion about patriotism and citizenship:
De Belloy uses a vocabulary reminiscent of Palissot’s in Les Philosophes. “Citoyens du Monde,” fake humanitarians, people who care more about cosmopolitanism than their own cities: these insults hark back to Damis’ criticisms of Valère and Dortidius in act I of Palissot’s comedy.210 De Belloy’s on-stage digs at philosophes attest to the continuation of the very same debate that was launched theatrically during the summer of 1760.211 But also, criticisms of Le Siège de Calais make an explicit connection between De Belloy’s Collé, Journal, t. III (1765), p. 169.
For example, in Act I, scene i. of Les Philosophes, the young hero Damis infers that philosophes have reaped benefits at home while most Frenchman were off fighting in wars.
It is also interesting to note that, like Palissot, De Belloy emerged on the Parisian theater scene as a “social outsider” rather than a member of a dominant social group. In his Pleiade edition of Le Siège de Calais, J. Truchet (see Works Cited) points out that De Belloy was an unknown and rather unsuccessful actor living in St. Petersburg. Moreover, the playwright wasn’t even officially allowed on French soil until 1763 because a decade earlier, his uncle had convinced the courts to issue a lettre de cachet against his own nephew because De Belloy refused to study law and enter the family practice.
tragedy and the tumultuous summer less than five years earlier. For example, Diderot
According to Diderot, Paris had not seen an event (“événement”) like the performance of Le Siège de Calais since the storm surrounding Palissot’s comedy in 1760. In addition, the philosophe underlines the impossibility of fair criticism (“de parler froidement”) in the case of De Belloy’s tragedy due to the public’s “chaleur” and “enthousiasme.” The play has become such a tour de force that philosophes will have to swallow their pride, accept some of De Belloy’s digs at their expense, and laud the play like the rest of Paris.
At first, it appears that De Belloy’s dramatic text and some criticisms of his tragedy share themes with the theatrical events involving Palissot and Voltaire in 1760. In both cases, playwrights incorporate insults against an enemy into their dramatic texts and draw on themes from current events such as the Seven Years’ War with Great Britain.
What is more, performances from the summer of 1760 and February 1765 indicate the fact that in both cases, spectators reacted viscerally to the events on stage. However, ElieCatherine Fréron’s review of Le Siège de Calais—the very same Fréron who waged overt Diderot makes a reference to Jean Ramponeau, a Parisian cabaret owner who produced anti-clerical marionette shows during the 1760s and 1770s. He also served as the subject of Le Plaidoyé de Ramponeau devant ses juges, a farcical comedy that caused a scandal in 1761. For more information on this famous cabaretier, see Michèle Viderman’s Jean Ramponneau, Parisien de Vignol. Paris, L'Harmattan, 2000.
war with philosophes just five years earlier—underlines an important difference between De Belloy’s “event” and the Palissot/Voltaire affair.
One might expect Fréron to be an ardent supporter of De Belloy’s French patriotism, and especially, the playwright’s disparaging remarks against philosophes.
However, Fréron sets a different tone in his initial review of the play:
The critic attacks the emotional calibration of De Belloy’s tragedy. According to Fréron, De Belloy’s play fails to contrast crucial feelings such as love and grief, and therefore, the work is not a tragedy. Fréron further criticizes Le Siège de Calais, arguing that De Belloy is ignorant of late-Medieval military tactics (294) and gives too many lines to “unimportant” characters, such as Aliénor (295).
If Fréron’s criticisms had ended here, one could argue that his review of the play is nothing more than an honest attempt to measure Le Siège against classical norms in the tragic genre. But later in his review, Fréron inspects De Belloy’s evocation of unpatriotic
philosophes and arrives at a surprising conclusion:
Instead of agreeing with De Belloy’s character Mauni that philosophes are a group of cold-hearted internationalists with little concern for their own patrie, Fréron takes De Belloy to task for peppering his dramatic text with anachronisms such as the existence of a philosophe during the fourteenth century.
Never one to back down from contemporary polemics, Fréron then asserts that true philosophes don’t even exist in current, eighteenth-century France (“sous Louis XV”). On the one hand, this example may just illustrate another one of Fréron’s digs at contemporary philosophes. But on the other hand, the de facto result of Fréron’s criticism is extremely important: Fréron wants De Belloy to avoid on-stage discussions about philosophes and he effectively defends the philosophes by arguing that De Belloy should not have mentioned them in Le Siège de Calais.
Although Fréron has nothing positive to say about his rival cohort, his critique of De Belloy warns dramatic writers against entering another on-stage ideological war with Grimm, Diderot, and other philosophes. Fréron’s implicit request for a “dramatic ceasefire” between both sides may highlight the fact that the critic has learned an important lesson. After supporting Palissot213 and writing against philosophes during the 1750s, Fréron found himself first as the butt of philosophe jokes in pamphlets, and then, ridiculed on the stage of the Comédie-Française in Voltaire’s L’Ecossaise. With philosophe dominance at a higher level in 1765 than in 1760,214 it is possible that Fréron took both his personal history and the contemporary climate of the Republic of Letters It is important here to recall that Fréron read Palissot’s Les Philosophes to the actors at the Comédie-Française (see chapter one, part two for a more detailed description of the relationship between Palissot and Fréron).
For an indication of how philosophes began to increase their dominance at this precise time, it is important to note that in 1763, philosophes succeeded in pushing through Marmontel’s Académie election despite vehement opposition by Lefranc de Pompignan and other anti-philosophes.
into consideration before writing his review of Le Siège de Calais—and with all of this in mind—he decided to not pursue the battle any further.
Even as late as 1765, the visible strife between philosophes and anti-philosophes continued at the Comédie-Française, albeit in a more reserved and nuanced fashion. It is important to note that De Belloy’s tragedy focuses mainly on Gallic pride in the face of defeat, and any reference to the debate between the two rival factions is ancillary to the crux of the play. Nevertheless, Pierre Buirette De Belloy, like Charles Palissot and Voltaire, recognized the importance of staging contemporary themes from Parisian society in order to create a more interested, and therefore receptive, spectator.
Even though Fréron’s review of Le Siège de Calais shows the slow death of the on-stage debate between the two rival sides, the Palissot/Voltaire affair of 1760 had an ongoing impact on theater at the Comédie-Française and theater criticism in publications such as the Correspondance littéraire. In the following sections, I will revisit preconditioning strategies used by playwrights and audience reactions to performance— this time against the backdrop of a theatrical corpus from the eve of the French Revolution. Although the plays I will study largely ignore the literary polemic between philosophes and anti-philosophes, their authors nonetheless exhibit similar strategies of affecting the spectator that were put into motion by Palissot, Voltaire, and their respective clans.
Beaumarchais’s Le Mariage de Figaro: A Theatrical Marketing Campaign in PreRevolutionary France This dissertation would not be complete without a discussion of the biggest “theatrical event” from the eighteenth century: the premiere of Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais’ Le Mariage de Figaro on April 27, 1784. At the time, or shortly thereafter, contemporaries hailed the play has being “the Revolution already in action” (Napoleon) and as having “killed the Nobility” (Georges Danton).215 Although critics have since dropped the explicit Mariage-Revolution link,216 critics at present nonetheless continue to emphasize the eventful nature of the second play in Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy. For example, the eminent twentieth-century Voltairien, René Pomeau, argues that Le Mariage had the biggest first night “dans l’histoire de notre histoire théâtrale” (144), and the historian Claude Petitfrère points out that “…jamais [dans l’histoire du théâtre] une première de théâtre n’avait été tant espérée, vécue avec autant d’excitation” (8).
Petitfrère’s emphasis on the excited “hope” of the public is key in understanding how Beaumarchais cleverly fashioned his own event. Spectators at the ComédieFrançaise, as we shall see, received Le Mariage de Figaro with great anticipation, and Petitfrère’s use of the term “espérée” conveys the fact that by 1784, the audience had been waiting for the work for over eight years because of the author’s inability to get his play past the Royal censure.217 The staging of Beaumarchais’ play will forever go down in history as a prime example of successful marketing—a strategy that harks back to Voltaire’s efforts to For more “political” reactions to Beaumarchais’s play, see Francine Lévy’s Le Mariage de Figaro: essai d’interprétation, p. 14.
For more information on the “Revolutionary” aspects of Le Mariage de Figaro, see Philip Robinson’s edited volume, Beamarchais: homme de lettres, homme de société.
Bern: Peter Lang, 2000—and more specifically, included articles by Gérard Kahn and William Howarth.