- L'âge d'or du conte de fées: De la comédie à la critique (1690-1709)
This volume of texts and criticism opens with three comedies related to fairies and the fairy world. Each leads its readers into apparently familiar but essentially alien territory.
On March 2, 1697, Charles Rivière Dufresny and Claude-Ignace Brugière de Barente brought Les Fées, ou Les Contes de ma Mère l'Oie to the stage of the Hôtel de Bourgogne in Paris. Performed by the Comédiens Italiens du Roi, its trifling plot required little more than forty-five minutes to perform (including songs) and presented a princess who is abducted by an ogre (who wittily offers her a choice between "marriage, ou carnage" ) and is eventually saved by a prince. Insubstantial and irreverent, Les Fées, ou Les Contes de ma Mère l'Oie's literary props are borrowed from recent fairy fictions and fairy tales: flying chariot, princess in tower, seven-league boots, enchanted wand, fairy palace, ogres, and fairies. The text edges toward suggestiveness with the words "un ogre te dérobera / Ta fille et puis, et caetera" (67), its "et caetera" an unadorned reference to sexual defilement. Directly thereafter, a fairy highlights the evident fragility of chaste virtue by declaring that she can protect a girl's honor only until the age of fifteen years and six minutes (67). Dufresny and Barente's comedy, with its numerous vulgar double entendres, offended taste-minders and was speedily suppressed, along with the comediens italiens themselves.
The second fairy drama, Les Fees, by Florent Carton Dancourt, opened on September 24, 1699, at the court at Fontainebleau and a month later in Paris at the Comédie française. The drama's thin plot details King Astur's curiosity, which drives off his fairy wife, Logistille. The education of their two daughters has been turned over to Logistille's fairy sisters, the Fairy of Pleasures (who oversees the sober Cléonide) and the Fairy of Wisdom (assigned to the fun-loving Inégilde). The fairies, at war with each other over the princesses' companions and education, choose inappropriate suitors for their charges, which am plifies the drama. The plot—little more than a vehicle for a spectacle of musical [End Page 371] interludes, declamations, and repeated allusions to France's royal family and its high literature, allegorical figures, and dances—is predictable but with occasional good moments. For instance, the king, who panics when his long-absent fairy wife returns, obviously loves her memory more than her presence. His alarm parodies final-scene reunions as he states flatly that she didn't have to return in order to sort out everybody's problems—she could have done it by mail!
La Fée Bienfaisante, composed by le chevalier de La Baume, was a much later, and far more distant, production, debuting in Grenoble on July 7, 1708. It never appeared anywhere else and has been previously noted only by Mary Elizabeth Storer. It provides a standard collision between a good fairy (Bienfaisante) and a bad fairy (Grognon), whose names were prob ably familiar to theatergoers in the early 1700s, since Mme d'Aulnoy had used "Grognon" in "Gracieuse et Percinet" (and Grognette in "Le Dauphin") and Mme de Murat had named her beneficent supernatural "Bienfaisante" in "Le Roi Porc," not to mention Mme d'Aulnoy's "La Grenouille Bienfaisante." The titular beneficent fairy tests the love of the poor but virtuous Clitandre, and when he proves constant in his devotion to Climène, song and dance conclude the piece.
Between 1697 and 1709, staged fairy fictions were evidently disappearing from fashionable theatrical view. But what kind of fairy world was it that these dramas purveyed? Nathalie Rizzoni concludes that Dufresny and Barente's play was the most successful of the three in transposing the narrative structure of the conte de fées and its textual fabric to the...