Playwrights on the Threshold Between Stage and Study: paratexts and polemical texts in seventeenth century French theater
Kamin, Jessica Noel
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The seventeenth century in France was a golden age of "Neoclassical" theater, where the Dramatic Poem was subject to a two-step reception by its publics for judgment as both performance and print. While scholars have explored the rapport of theater to its abstract public, and of plays to stage and page, the articulation of a hierarchy of judgment by the public in terms of spectators and readers has remained largely underappreciated. This dissertation analyses the treatment of the Dramatic Poem's judgment in the Theater and Study as seen in the paratextual and polemical spaces where playwrights communicate directly with their public. Based on prefaces, dedications, and related materials from over 210 plays by 70 authors from 1630 to1680, the analysis begins by re-reading the famous Quarrel of the Cid. In Chapter 1, I demonstrate that Corneille departed in his management of the Cid's publication from the norms of civility of a two-step reception of his work in the Theater and in the Study, elevating spectator approval in a way that invited critique from learned readers who associated legitimate judgment with Neoclassical rules in the Study. In Chapter 2, I show that Molière--l'homme de théâtre--chose to print his theater pieces, thus opening himself to the judgment of readers and evaluations by dramaturgical rules, but using his theatrical persona and blurring of boundaries between conventions of stage and page to distraire--to distract his public through entertainment--from the role of readers as judges of his work. In Chapter 3, I show that tragic authors such as Jean Racine were working under different constraints and precedents in the relationship of their work to Stage and Study. After comparing tragedy and comedy and analyzing paratexts to tragedies from the 1640s to 1660s, I offer an interpretation of Racine's choice to re-write several prefaces to his most famous plays. Taken together, these three chapters reveal a dynamic legacy of the Querelle du Cid in the way that poets and publics perceive of the Dramatic Poem and its judgment in both the Theater by spectators and the Study by readers.