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The Business of Theater in Eighteenth-Century France and Its Colonies

by Lauren R. Clay

Publication Year: 2013

Stagestruck traces the making of a vibrant French theater industry between the reign of Louis XIV and the French Revolution. During this era more than eighty provincial and colonial cities celebrated the inauguration of their first public playhouses. These theaters emerged as the most prominent urban cultural institutions in prerevolutionary France, becoming key sites for the articulation and contestation of social, political, and racial relationships. Combining rich description with nuanced analysis based on extensive archival evidence, Lauren R. Clay illuminates the wide-ranging consequences of theater's spectacular growth for performers, spectators, and authorities in cities throughout France as well as in the empire's most important Atlantic colony, Saint-Domingue.

Clay argues that outside Paris the expansion of theater came about through local initiative, civic engagement, and entrepreneurial investment, rather than through actions or policies undertaken by the royal government and its agents. Reconstructing the business of theatrical production, she brings to light the efforts of a wide array of investors, entrepreneurs, directors, and actors-including women and people of color-who seized the opportunities offered by commercial theater to become important agents of cultural change.

Portraying a vital and increasingly consumer-oriented public sphere beyond the capital, Stagestruck overturns the long-held notion that cultural change flowed from Paris and the royal court to the provinces and colonies. This deeply researched book will appeal to historians of Europe and the Atlantic world, particularly those interested in the social and political impact of the consumer revolution and the forging of national and imperial cultural networks. In addition to theater and literary scholars, it will attract the attention of historians and sociologists who study business, labor history, and the emergence of the modern French state.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

This book has been many years in the making. It is with great pleasure that I can now express my gratitude to those who have supported and encouraged me along the way. My initial research was funded by the Mellon Foundation, the Fulbright Program, and the University of Pennsylvania. ...

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Introduction: The Making of a French Theater Industry

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pp. 1-13

Never has talent been so rare among us,” complained theater director, dramatist, and talent scout Charles-Simon Favart. Writing from Paris in the early 1760s, Favart maintained that all of France was facing an acute shortage of able and experienced actors, actresses, and singers for hire. ...

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1. Investing in the Arts

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pp. 14-39

In late 1774, residents of Le Mans, a city of about fourteen thousand located to the southwest of Paris, complained in the local newspaper, the Affiches du Mans, that their city was now “the only one in the whole [region] deprived of the pleasure of a theater.”1 ...

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2. Designing the Civic Playhouse

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pp. 40-67

For the mayor and city councilors of Nantes, the inauguration of an impressive new municipal playhouse shortly after Easter in 1788 was an event long in the making. For several decades these magistrates had wanted to give the city a new theater to replace the dilapidated privately operated playhouse that had hosted performances in the city since the 1740s. ...

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3. The Extent and Limits of State Intervention

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pp. 68-96

In the summer of 1764, the naval commander in the port of Brest, the comte de Roquefeuil, wrote to Versailles with an unusual proposition. The wooden warehouse where acting companies performed in the city was badly decayed, and Roquefeuil proposed that the navy itself should construct a new playhouse to replace it.1 ...

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4. Directors and the Business of Performing

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pp. 97-131

In 1745, Jean Monnet, having abruptly lost his privilege to direct the successful Opéra-Comique theater at the Paris fairgrounds, left the capital to take up a new position as director of the Lyon stage. In order to secure the privilege for the theater of France’s second-largest city from the duc de Villeroy, ...

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5. The Work of Acting

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pp. 132-162

By all accounts, Madame Marion’s debut at the municipal theater of Lille in the spring of 1774 was a disaster. As the actress acknowledged, while she performed the role of Cleopatra in Pierre Corneille’s Rodogune, she could barely deliver her lines over heckling from the crowd. Nonetheless, she completed every last syllable: ...

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6. Consumers of Culture

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pp. 163-194

During his travels in the south of France in the late 1780s Johann Georg Fisch made a point to attend the theater in every city that boasted a playhouse. At the theater, he explained, “in one evening one can learn so much more about the nature, the character, the taste of a public than one could collect in weeks of arduous observations” ...

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7. The Production of Theater in the Colonies

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pp. 195-224

In April 1766, the Affiches Américaines published an article that celebrated the inauguration of a new public theater in the city of Cap Français, Saint-Domingue, describing the playhouse in detail. Although local residents had founded a private, amateur theater society more than twenty years earlier, ...

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Epilogue: Culture, Commerce, and the State

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pp. 225-234

In 2009, the French Ministry of Culture and Communication celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. This branch of government, created by Charles de Gaulle in 1959, advances a mandate “to make accessible the capital works of humanity and above all of France to the greatest possible number of French citizens, ...

Appendix: Timeline of Inaugurations and Significant Renovations of Dedicated Public Theaters in France and the French Colonies, 1671-1789

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pp. 235-240


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pp. 241-320

Bibliography of Primary Sources

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pp. 321-326


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pp. 327-334

E-ISBN-13: 9780801468216
E-ISBN-10: 0801468213
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801450389
Print-ISBN-10: 0801450381

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1