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Reviewed by:
  • Miriame, tragic-comédie
  • Ronald W. Tobin
Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin, Miriame, tragic-comédie. Publié avec une introduction, des notes et des illustrations par Catherine Guillot et Colette Scherer. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2010. Collection Textes rares. Pp. 173.

This edition is a small jewel that will shine brightly for students and specialists of French seventeenth-century theater. It will also likely increase interest in that fascinating character, Jean Desmarets, born around 1600, but who will take the name of Saint-Sorlin only later in life when he is ennobled in 1653. Author of seven plays, contributor to the Guirlande de Julie, novelist, creator of ballets, polemicist in the Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes, he is especially known for two texts: Les Visionnaires, a comedy that may have inspired Molière for Les Femmes savantes, and Clovis, a "poème héroique" of which Félix Freudmann and H. Gaston Hall gave us an exemplary critical edition in 1972.

Catherine Guillot and Colette Scherer offer the reader all the tools for appreciating the play and its context. In "La Vie et la carrière de Desmarets," Scherer refines some of the details in Hall's Richelieu's Desmarets and the Century of Louis XIV (1990), particularly as regards the questionable attempt to identify Demarests and a professional ballet dancer known as Maraist. In "L'Homme de Richelieu" the editors point out that Desmartes was the official playwright of Cardinal Richelieu, even if, after his conversion in 1645, he regretted his foray into the theater. An analysis of the action and characters of Miriame is followed by Catherine Guillot's fascinating study of the text's relationship to the six illustrations that accompany it.

But above all there is the tragic-comedy itself. It deserves a special place in the history of the theater of the time in part because it was chosen by Richelieu as the play to open the Grande Salle du Palais Cardinal on January 14, 1641. The Cardinal sought to elevate theater to the level of appreciation earned by such princely diversions as the ballet de cour. The play was also distinguished by the role that technology à l'italienne played in the production. (Good public reception was principally assured by Desmarets who wrote a review of his play for La Gazette.) But finally, Miriame is noteworthy as a major reflection of the change in taste that would cause audiences to abandon the tragic-comedy for tragedy, for without the rather artificial happy ending, and some incredible deaths, we would already have a tragedy that prominently observes the unity of time.

But, some may ask, do we need a separate edition of Miriame when it is included in the Théâtre complet de Jean Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin published by Champion in 2005? The answers are convincing. This edition is a mise à jour of the 2005 one, reflecting seven new publications, a deeper analysis of the illustrations and of the role of the curtain, an appreciation of Richelieu as a patron of all the arts, not only of the theater, and an updating of aspects of the life of Desmarets. It must also be said that an edition of a play presented in exceptional circumstances has been made available at 15 euros, while the complete theater costs 140. A bargain.

Ronald W. Tobin
University of California, Santa Barbara


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