French Theater – from the 17th to 18th Century

17th century

The French theater reached a high point in the 17th century, the “siècle classique”. The targeted state funding of the theater by Richelieu, Ludwig XIII. and Louis XIV., the establishment of permanent venues for drama troops who were under the protection of the king and were financially supported by him, as well as the evaluation of contemporary dramas by Corneille, Molière and Racine as “classical” climaxes of dramatic art are the reasons for such an assessment of the theater of the 17th century. The aim of the “dramaturgie classique” (classical dramaturgy) that developed over the course of the century was to educate and entertain the audience. By observing the three units (Place, time, plot), the preservation of the propriety and the probability, a theater emerged that had to meet the demands of scholars and sophisticated society, which was made up of nobles, the court and women alike. The style of performance was shaped by the following factors: The actors acted on a pedestal in a uniform decor that consisted of painted canvases, supplemented only by a few pieces of furniture and used repeatedly for various productions. In addition, there were audience seats on the stage, which could affect the drama; the lighting consisted of candles which were placed along the stage ramp and which not only illuminated the stage poorly, but also hindered the actors due to the smoke development. The exaggerated play of facial expressions and gestures should compensate for the poor visibility. A monotonous, chant-like manner of presentation was the rule. Several of Richelieu and troops subsidized by the king competed in Paris: in 1629, at the request of the king, the Hôtel de Bourgogne became a permanent venue for the “Comédiens du roi”, the troupe around the theater directors and actors Gros-Guillaume († 1634) and Bellerose (* around 1592, † 1670), who performed farces and baroque plays, and later the tragedies P. Corneilles and J. Racines. In 1634, the Montdorys troupe (* 1594, † 1653) established themselves as competition in the Théâtre du Marais (a Jeu de Paume [ballroom]) in the Corneille celebrated his first triumphs until he moved to the Hôtel de Bourgogne in 1647. From 1639 the Italian troupe of Tiberio Fiorilli, called Scaramouche (* 1600, † 1694), played in Paris; In 1653 the king appointed this troupe to “Comédiens-Italiens du roi” (Comédie-Italienne). After the actor and theater director Molière had roamed the provinces with his company “Illustre-Théâtre” from 1643, he settled in Paris in 1658, where he was assigned the Théâtre du Marais as a venue. From 1660 he shared the room of the Petit-Bourbon with the Comédie-Italienne, which influenced his dramatic work. In 1661 he created the Comédie-Ballet with »Les fâcheux«(Ballet Comedy), a genre that arose in the context of courtly festival culture, which enjoyed great popularity at the court of Louis XIVand especially with the king himself, who performed as a dancer. With his organization of the spectacular performances with dance, singing, fireworks and stage machinery, Molière also became the forerunner of the modern director. After Molière’s death in 1673, his troupe and the Théâtre du Marais went together in the ballroom of the Hôtel Guénégaud. Around 1680, however, the king lost interest in the theater and economic problems also led to a change in the theater landscape: the merging of the two large theaters in Paris (the Hôtel de Bourgogne and the Théâtre Guénégaud) led to the founding of the Comédie-Française, France’s national theater, and in 1697 the king ordered the expulsion of the Comédiens-Italiens, who had been based in Paris since 1639.

18th century

The passion for theater (»théâtromanie«) reached its peak in the 18th century. In addition to the public theaters and the stage at court, numerous private theaters (Théâtres de Société) were created in castles, country estates and private houses, as the audience themselves played theater with great enthusiasm and invented various short dramatic genres (Proverbe dramatique; Parade). In Paris, in addition to the opera founded in 1672 and the Comédie-Française, from 1716 there was also the Comédie-Italienne again, which was recalled by the regent and which formed the Opéra-Comique in 1762united. In addition to this official, state-sponsored theater, the adventurous, “unclassical” Théâtre de la Foire, which took place on the occasion of the spring and autumn fairs, was also very popular. A further differentiation of the theater landscape took place in 1759 with the establishment of a Variété -Theater on the Boulevard du Temple, where numerous other theaters were set up in the following years, whose repertoire included comedies as well as singing, dancing and puppet pieces. The province also participated in the theatrical passion and had 23 new stages from the middle of the century. In particular, the houses in Lyon and Bordeaux, and later the new buildings in Paris, were characterized by a new type of theater architecture, because instead of the stage and audience arrangement in the rectangular ball game houses, the auditorium was built around the stage in a horseshoe shape. The art of acting and stage technology also underwent a fundamental reform from the middle of the century: the way of playing was supposed to become more natural by overcoming the monotonous, chant-like manner of presentation; Costumes, Hairstyles and make-up were adapted to the content of the pieces; the stage of the Comédie-Française was freed from the seats in 1759, whereby the final separation of the auditorium and the stage area was accomplished. The initiators of this acting reform were alongside the famous actors Baron (* 1653, † 1729), Mademoiselle Clairon, Antoine-François Riccoboni (* 1707, † 1772) and H. L. Lekain the playwrights and drama theorists D. Diderot, L. S. Mercier and Beaumarchais, who also wrote the “drame bourgeois” (bourgeois drama) created. After the censorship and the monopoly position (1791) of the state-sponsored theaters in the course of the French Revolution numerous new venues were founded; In terms of content and form, the theater of the revolution reacted to the events with the time-related, one-act »fait historique« in the sense of a political agitation theater. In 1799, the Comédie-Française moved into the architecturally innovative theater building (built by Victor Louis) called Salle Richelieu in the Palais-Royal, where the National Theater is still located today.

French Theater - from the 17th to 18th Century

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