«A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College In partial fulfillment of ...»
In addition, I hope to illuminate the fact that some plays, which are often deemed “petty” examples of “théâtre de circonstance,” caused important changes in both theater and its criticism. Les Philosophes by Charles Palissot and Voltaire’s L’Ecossaise were produced within a polemical atmosphere of nasty literary quarrel. These two plays put contemporary writers, philosophers, and critics on the stage in order to “prove” the inadequacy of the rival cohort: philosophes in Palissot’s case, anti-philosophes in Voltaire’s. Throughout this study, it will be important to keep in mind the battles between philosophes and anti-philosophes that influenced literary and critical production during the late 1750s and early 1760s in France. During this period, writers such as ClaudeAdrien Helvétius, Denis Diderot, Voltaire Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Jean Rond D’Alembert published various works that questioned established mathematical, scientific, religious, and aesthetic principles. These publications, from biological treatises to reflections on poetry, caused a backlash among more traditional or conservative writers from various backgrounds.
Philosophes and L’Ecossaise demonstrated a power to affect and persuade, and emerge as dynamic examples of a true “littérature engagée.”28 In order to further their respective causes, Palissot and Voltaire treated spectators as active agents in the process of creating good theater. This recognition parallels a more general rise in the value of the spectator, and his’ or her’s emergence as a critical force during the eighteenth century. In her recent monograph on spectatorship during the Enlightenment, Suzanne Pucci highlights the importance of spectators in criticism, and attests that “the Spectator is integral to a crucial shift: normative and prescriptive criteria used to judge, for instance, the value of an art work give way to less formal and more empirical criteria based on individual Spectator experience” (14).
Pucci’s study shows how more “objective” criteria for judgment during the seventeenth century (unities, adherence to Aristotle) ceded to a more subjective experience one century later for the spectator-critic. Whereas writers like Scudéry and Chapelain linked judgement to paradigms and norms, eighteenth-century critics began to focus on the literary work’s effect on the reader-spectator. What is more, Pucci’s capitalization of the word Spectator is an important marker of the newfound agency with which theatergoers and salon members operated during this precise period.
Pucci explains the phenomenon of spectatorship chronologically and brings the discussion closer to the middle of the eighteenth century, arguing that the idea of the “Spectator” eclipsed during the reign of Louis XIV, when the court itself metonymized critical power in the Republic of Letters (5). By increasing both censorship and It is no surprise that Jean-Paul Sartre, writing shortly after the second World War, bolstered the power of the écrivain engagé and found his or her origins in the eighteenth century, and more precisely, in Voltaire (cited in Goulemot, Adieu les philosophes 76).
patronage, the Sun King surrounded himself with literary cronies, reduced the power of less royally established critics, and thus, sought to control every aspect of cultural production, from the genesis of the work to its performance and review. During this time, any idea of a judging “public” hid behind a powerful cultural and political monarchy.
Providing the other bookend to her study, Pucci points out that during the Revolutionary period, the spectator disappeared into the less distinct notions of mass culture. The heterogeneous nature of spectators morphed into a uniform bloc: le peuple, and individual differences among audience members disappeared. Thus, “somewhere between these periods the Spectator garnered real and symbolic interest as an intermediary figure that would enjoy new prominence” (5). But how and why did representations of the spectator increase at that precise moment in history?
In an attempt to locate the rise of the spectator’s influence on cultural production and criticism, we could follow the debate into such disparate media as Denis Diderot’s Salons on painting, or epistolary novels by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Françoise de Graffigny. However, there is no place where the spectator is more natural, necessary, and visible than in the theater: thus, “it is no surprise in an age where the Spectator gained new ascendancy in these different arenas that theatre should acquire a special status” (Pucci 134). Even though the majority of close readings in the following chapters will concentrate on dramatic works from the middle of the eighteenth-century, I will rely on other writings such as criticisms, prefaces, and pamphlets to most accurately describe a unique atmosphere inside the Republic of Letters at this time.
The spectator’s rise in importance is inextricably linked to an increased awareness by dramatic writers and critics to theater audiences’ tastes and expectations. In his work on reading and interpretation, Hans Robert Jauss develops what he calls the reader’s “horizon of expectations,” and writes that “one cannot understand any work of art without bringing to it a past” (19). In the following few chapters, I will study the “pasts” of theatergoers to reveal how theater audiences responded to different performances because of the events on stage and because of their intellectual backgrounds—personal histories that included previous readings and theater performances, but also political, economic, religious, and social concerns.
In order to understand how playwrights attempted to effect spectators, I will broaden the scope of my discussion at times to indicate historical, political, and social factors that might have been in the “ideological toolboxes” of theater spectators at various times during the eighteenth century. Jauss, as well as other scholars who take into account the “pasts” of readers and spectators, will undoubtedly nuance and render more complete the portions of this study that focus on reception. However, Jauss’ corpus consists primarily of novels and other purely “textual” works by Rabelais, Goethe, Balzac and other writers, while my study focuses on theater, which is not a mere branch of literature. Thus the performative vein of this study precludes a theoretical “application” of reception theory in its strictest sense.
In her work on spectatorship in theater, Florence Naugrette posits a logical way to make Jauss’ construct relevant in the dramatic arts. Naugrette provides a “theatrical” definition of the “horizon of expectations:” “Il s’agit du jeu avec ses connaissances et ses attentes préalables, dont l’étendue constitue ce que le critique Jauss a appelé son « horizon d’attente ». Selon lui, la manière dont l’horizon d’attente du public est traité conditionne la qualité de l’œuvre” (140). Jauss’ “horizon,” as well as the discussions of his theory in the realm of drama by Naugrette, Anne Ubersfeld, and Patrice Pavis will aid in delineating the various ways the public is incorporated into dramatic texts and criticisms: these analyses will provide a logical way to examine how dramatic authors fashioned “theatrical events” with an intense focus on their audiences’ reactions.
The Case: Palissot, Voltaire, and Fréron—Staging Philosophical Debate During the middle of the eighteenth century, and notably after the first volumes of the Encyclopédie were published in 1750, the debate between philosophes and members of a powerful Counter-Enlightenment movement reached its zenith. As we shall see in the pages that follow, events such as the Cacouacs and the Pompignon affairs spawned a litany of polemical pamphlets, and epistemological or literary debates quickly degraded into nasty personal attacks.29 As the war continued between the two sides, partisans used any media at their disposal, voicing their opinions in prefaces, letters, novels, short stories, and most importantly, illegally-printed (or at least, covertly-allowed) pamphlets.
In his monograph, La Fureur de nuire, Olivier Ferret follows these polemical échanges pamphlétaires between philosophes and anti-philosophes from 1750 to 1770. In a study that attempts to establish a triangular relationship among texts, theater, and society, Ferret’s erudite analysis of the literary landscape in France during this period will prove an invaluable resource.
At the center of this period, 1760, the debate between philosophe and antiphilosophe partisans reached its climax. Commenting on the atmosphere of the belles The Pompignan affair refers to LeFranc de Pompignan’s vituperative induction speech at the Académie Française, in which the anti-philosophe criticizes Voltaire, Diderot, and D’Alembert; and the Cacouacs affair saw a litany of anti-philosophe pamphlets published against Voltaire and Diderot. I provide a detailed analysis of these important quarrels between philosophes and anti-philosophes in chapter one of this dissertation.
lettres at this time, Diderot’s colleague, Jean Rond D’Alembert, summarized 1760 as a year which saw Palissot’s Philosophes, Voltaire’s L’Ecossaise, and the Pompignan affair—or in short, a literary landscape marked by nothing but querelles.30 During this tumultuous period, polemics dominated the Parisian salons and involved the most wellknown personalities of the time, including Diderot, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau—the latter of whom officially cut ties with his philosophe friends just two years earlier, in a letter condemning their call to legalize theater in Geneva.31 But in addition to these famous lumières, lesser-known writers such as ElieCatherine Fréron and Charles Palissot emerged as critical participants in an intellectual battle. Although they may at first seem ancillary to a study on the ambiguous relationships between texts and performances, the pamphlet wars during the middle of the eighteenth century altered traditional motives for theater production and served as intermediary objects between dramatic scripts and audio-visual performances.
In this study, I hope to show the short-term and long-lasting significance of onstage battles during the summer of 1760. For example, in 1765, five years after the staging of Les Philosophes and L’Ecossaise, Diderot describes the public reception of
Pierre Buirette De Belloy’s tragedy, Le Siège de Calais:
Le succès de la tragédie du Siège de Calais est un de ces phénomènes imprévus et singuliers qu’il serait, je crois, impossible de voir ailleurs qu’à Paris. Cette pièce a fait réellement un événement dans l’État, et depuis Ramponeau et la comédie des Philosophes, je n’ai rien vu dont le public se soit occupé avec autant de chaleur et d’enthousiasme. Ceux qui ont osé, je ne dis pas la critiquer, mais en Parler froidement et sans admiration, ont For D’Alembert’s full quotation on the cultural atmosphere in 1760, see Ferret’s La Fureur de nuire, p. 81.
This occurred with Rousseau’s “Lettre sur les spectacles” in which the famous genèvois attacked philosophes for their disparaging remarks against ministers in Geneva and for their insistence that the city lift its ban on theater.
été regardés comme mauvais citoyens, ou, ce qui pis est, comme philosophes. (Corréspondance littéraire, VI, 243) Neither Palissot’s nor Voltaire’s comedy found its way to the stage of the ComédieFrançaise during the early spring of 1765. Nevertheless, Palissot’s Les Philosophes serves as Diderot’s example par excellence of a “theatrical event.” The philosophe uses the terms “chaleur” and “enthousiasme” to describe the public’s reception of De Belloy’s play rather than the tragedy’s dramaturgical construction or poetic value.
Melchior Grimm’s review, paralleling Diderot’s, also reflects a change in the
locus of criticism from the stage to the public:
In De Belloy’s case, critics no longer hark back to the Aristotelian paradigm for theater criticism. Rather than emphasizing the lyric qualities (or lack thereof) of De Belloy’s poetics or whether or not the playwright adheres to the three unities, Grimm, like Diderot, underlines the public’s avid reception of the tragedy. With evocations of “tempêtes” and “incendies,” Grimm’s rhetoric seems more in line with a contemporary description of an earthquake in Lisbon or a fire in Le Havre, than with any piece of literary criticism.
In his analysis of Le Siège de Calais, Grimm uses a vocabulary that is similar to eyewitness accounts of the opening night of Palissot’s Les Philosophes. For example, the