French Neo-classism: Playwrights

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FRENCH NEO-CLASSISM:
PLAYWRIGHTS
Actor’s Studio II
7th Block
PIERRE CORNEILLE
Founder of French Tragedy
PIERRE CORNEILLE
1606-1684
 Known as Father of French Tragedy (but he also
wrote several comedies)
 Most famous play: Le Cid (1637)
 The Academy denounced Corneille for his errors
in Le Cid and he stopped writing drama for a few
years
 Started writing again and proved himself to be
one of the strongest playwrights of tragedy
 Many dramas focused on Roman stories
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LE CID
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Based on Spanish folklore
Plot Notes:
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Story of two young lovers – Rodrigue and Chimene – whose
fathers are enemies
Rodrigue’s father wins honor at court and Chimene’s father
defeats him in a duel meaning Rodrigue will have to fight
to defend his father’s honor (meaning he must kill
Chimene’s father)
Rodrigue’s internal conflict: loyalty (father) vs. love
(Chimene)
Rodrigue kills Chimene’s father and she is then torn
between her love for him and restoring her family’s honor
Rodrigue saves the kingdom, becoming Le Cid, and the
king will not risk his best fighter in a duel for honor
King’s decree: couple must separate for a year so Chimene
can mourn her father’s death then the couple will marry
LE CID…ISSUES SURROUNDING THE PLAY
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Classical Elements:
Tragedy (nobility, matters of state, verse)
 Unity of time and place
 Believable reactions by characters
 Moral dilemma from which the audience can learn
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The Issue:
Breaks unit of action multiple times
 Classists did not approve of the play
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CORNEILLE’S CHARACTERISTICS
IN
LE CID
Love story set against power struggle
 Internal struggle as characters face difficult
choices
 “Tragicomedy” – tragic situations but ends
happily
 Reasonable characters
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Characters see the logic and this takes the play from
tragic to happy
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The fact that this happens reflects Corneille as a playwright
and the time period in which he lived
JEAN RACINE
Corneille’s Rival
JEAN RACINE
1639-1699
 Simple plots with one moral problem shared by
three characters (most of the time)
 Character struggle: personal want vs. public duty
 Characters behave in the manner expected of
them even when they go crazy
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Never choose personal want over public duty
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Lesson for the audience
Characters express themselves appropriately
through language
 Writing includes strong imagery, verse, and high
emotional intensity
 Plays: Phaedra, Andromache, and Berenice
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PHAEDRA
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Racine’s greatest work
Plot:
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Phaedra is in love with Hippolytus (her stepson) but he
loves Aricia
Phaedra wants to die over her guilt (although she has only
told one person – her confidante)
Theseus (Phaedra’s husband) dies and when news reaches
Phaedra her confidante urges her to tell Hippolytus how
she feels
Phaedra tells Hippolytus and he is appalled; soon after
Theseus returns (very much alive)
Phaedra accuses Hippolytus of loving her and Hippolytus
chooses to leave rather than tell the truth about his
stepmother
Theseus places a curse on Hippolytus before he leaves
Phaedra confesses the truth out of guilt…but it is too late –
Hippolytus is killed by a sea-monster (to carry out the
curse) and Phaedra commits suicide leaving Theseus alone
PHAEDRA
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Unities of place, time, and action
Verismilitude
Observes proprieties
Moral dilemma and the sin is punished
Neo-classism plays all fit this, what makes Phaedra
stand out?
Passionate and strong emotional intensity
 Language and structure are both beautiful
 Great amounts of tension
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Racine fulfilled the requirements of neo-classism
AND went above and beyond in creating incredible
dramas that moved audiences
Along with the neo-classism ideals he utilizes strong
structure, theme, characters, language, and imagery
MOLIERE
France’s Greatest Comedic Playwright
MOLIERE
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1622-1673
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin
Father was a furniture dealer and upholsterer – Moliere
attended the Jesuit College de Clermont with children of
prominent families
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Many assumed he would take over his father’s business but
he received a degree in law
Fell in love with Madeline Bejart – an actress and
playwright
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He would have learned court etiquette which helped him later
in life at the court of Louis XIV
Prominent but poor family of actors
Took the stage name Moliere and joined the Bejarts in 1643
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Common at this time for French actors to take a stage name
Moliere’s father also asked him to change his name so he
wouldn’t shame the family
MOLIERE
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Wrote one serious play and performed in many of Corneille’s
work
Comedies: 10 one-acts, comedy-ballets, and 12 five-act plays
One-act plays
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Comedy-ballets
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Contemplate the follies of humans
Greatest works: Tartuffe, The School for Wives, The
Misanthrope, The Imaginary Invalid, and The Miser
Learned from what he saw around him:
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Integrated music, dance, and visual comedy with humorous situations
Five-act plays
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original and innovative comedy
Single-situation, creative climax, and contrasting characters
Used commedia dell’ arte tradition
Studied the comedies of Coneille and Paul Scarron
Observed comic actors of his time – specifically Jodelet (who would
later perform Moliere’s works)
Result: genius comedy
COMMONALITIES IN MOLIERE’S WORKS
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Tricky servant character (derived from commedia dell’
arte) – often called a valet – was in many of Moliere’s
plays
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Very cunning, energized, and crafty
Eventually created a character similar to the valet
but this character was a bit more subdued and
reflective
One character is generally driven to overwhelming
passion for a certain idea/want and there is a calmer,
reasonable character to encourage them to take a
more average approach to their problem/want/idea
Usually characters become reformed in the end
leading to a comedic ending
MOLIERE’S WORKS
Storyline and general plot are the only
similarities in Moliere’s plays
 Understood human nature to an incredible
degree
 People experience the emotions and passions of
his characters but he brings this to life without
making the character appear flat or foolish
 Each character is given a unique personality and
while ridiculous at times is reasonable at others –
Moliere appreciated that people are not onedimensional so his characters were not onedimensional
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MOLIERE’S THEMES
Wrote to reflect on society and human nature
 Makes the follies and mistakes of humans
obvious and clear
 Pokes fun at courtiers and those who believe they
are talented when they are lacking talent in
reality
 Ridicules people who feel they are overly
important (especially people who feel they have
power over their household)
 Presents an honest look at those who are selfcentered and/or hypocritical
 Does not hide – nor exaggerate – the faults of
people
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MOLIERE’S COMPANY
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Moliere and 11 actors (including Madeleine)
formed The Illustrious Theatre
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1650: Patronage from Prince de Conti (school
friend)
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Performed 1644-1645; season was a failure; troupe
went into bankruptcy and Moliere was imprisoned
Prince de Conti had a religious conversion and
withdrew patronage in 1656
Returned to Paris in 1658 – performed for the
king
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Earned the right to perform at the Petit-Bourbon
theatre every other day
King’s brother became a patron of the company
MOLIERE’S TROUBLES
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1662: Moliere married Armande Bejart – Madeleine’s
sister or daughter
Moliere’s success continued to grow and his rivals
wanted to find a way to stop his successes
Claimed Armande was Moliere’s own daughter
 Others said Armande was having an extramarital affair
and that Moliere was still in love with Madeleine
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1663: The Versailles Impromptu – Moliere played
himself; told critics to attack his works and acting but
to leave his private life alone
1663: The Critique of The School for Wives – a piece
about the reactions to a previous play; courtiers felt
Moliere had ridiculed them
MOLIERE’S TROUBLES
1664: King rescued Moliere by serving as
godfather to his first child
 Wrote Tartuffe – people were horrified by the
attacks on religion and religious leaders; the play
was withdrawn until 1669
 Beginning in 1666 he became quite ill and could
only work off and on
 1673: Moliere died hours after completing a
performance of The Imaginary Invalid
 Denied a church burial because actors were not
allowed to receive the sacraments
 King interfered after a special request from his
friends and allowed him to be buried at night
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MOLIERE & NEO-CLASSISM
No direct relationship because he wrote comedies
(which were not highly regarded)
 Freedom to express himself because he wasn’t
bound by the rules and standards of neo-classism
 Works reflect neo-classism ideals
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Obey all three unities (very few exceptions)
 Characters find a way to become reasonable and good
in terms of morals (teach the audience a lesson)
 Gracious king ensures a happy resolution
 Exaggeration is in Moliere’s plays – but it is not
unreasonable or unbelievable
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Example: Use slapstick bits to hit a negative character but
the character feels pain
MOLIERE’S LEGACY
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1680: Moliere’s company became known as the
Comedie Francaise
1689: Comedie Francaise receives its own theater –
continued to perform the greatest works of the French
Renaissance
Comedie Francaise has since moved locations but is
still performing today
Pierre Marivaux is the only French playwright to
achieve anywhere near the success in comedic writing
as Moliere
Continues to be the playwright comedic playwrights
are judged against
Richard Wilbur’s rhymed verse translations are
popular in Western culture
Still popular today – universal appeal and honest
characterization of people
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