Le Théâtre en province pendant le Consulat et l’Empire by Cyril Triolaire (review)
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Le Théâtre en province pendant le Consulat et l’Empire. Par Cyril Triolaire. (Études sur le Massif central.) Clermont-Ferrand: Presses universitaires Blaise-Pascal, 2012. 562pp., ill.

Napoleonic theatre has for some time been ripe for the kind of scholarly revival that French Revolutionary theatre has undergone so fruitfully in the past few decades. Cyril Triolaire’s recent volume offers a promising contribution to the field: an investigation of the [End Page 397] theatrical life of the provinces under Napoleon, focusing on his deeply researched case study of the ‘11th theatrical arrondissement’ created in 1806, an area that broadly corresponds to today’s Massif Central. This examination leads in turn to an analysis of the administrative and cultural relationship between Paris, where power was centralized, and the provinces, although the prominence of 1806 for Triolaire causes him to focus more on the Empire than on the Consulate. Having supplemented his original doctoral work with extensive archival research at national, departmental, and municipal levels, Triolaire presents his new findings thematically and in an accessible manner, and he shows himself to be as attentive to the archives’ silences as to their contents. Interweaving official documents from Napoleon, the Ministry of the Interior, the police, and departmental authorities with local newspapers, theatre archives, correspondence, and the texts of plays, Triolaire assesses numerous elements of theatrical life, such as actors and directors, audiences and critics, repertoires, economics, buildings, policing, and governance. Out of this research emerges a surprising picture of regional theatre run by and for the people. Through a historical reconstitution of the 11th arrondissement’s theatrical life, Triolaire emphasizes the Ancien-Régime origins of Napoleonic theatre regulation initiated by the decree of 8 June 1806; at the same time he argues that Napoleon’s reforms, which included limiting the number of theatres, specifying which theatres should support which genres, and modifying the way in which theatres should interact with the centralized State, also inaugurated a new era of French theatrical legislation and history that would continue until 1864. Although the decree caused some rupture in the theatrical life of the regions, Triolaire’s assertion that there was, nonetheless, a degree of continuity in this sphere between the Ancien-Régime and the Empire is well founded and convincing. He demonstrates that the implementation of Napoleon’s centralized regulations was only partly realized in the provinces, which retained a measure of independence largely as a result of people’s individual actions. In contrast to Napoleon’s Ancien-Régime-inspired policies of plaire et instruire and strict classification of dramatic genres, theatre remained a divertissement in the provinces, which developed their own particular theatrical taste privileging a mixture of genres, as Triolaire is able to establish through statistical analysis. Triolaire’s work remains concentrated on the provinces, but, as the 1806 decree demonstrates, under Napoleon centralized power is never far away. Consequently, this study offers considerable insights into Napoleon as a leader, into the workings of his often overlooked cultural politics, and the relationship between Paris and the provinces. This inherent relationship reveals the need for similar in-depth analysis of the Parisian theatres of this period — one of many starting points for further research in accordance with the varied and alternative approaches that Triolaire’s commendable work offers.

Clare Siviter
University of Warwick