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The Actor and the Statue: Space, Time, and Court Performance in Molière's Dom Juan Michael Spingler In Dom Juan, Molière inscribes the organized world of seventeenth-century French court life within a dramatic space which reflects the relationship between theatrical and social performance. In what follows, I will focus on how Molière's handling of the play's scenic structure questions the codes which govern life at court. Considered from the point of view of the actor's location and movement on stage, Dom Juan is an interrogation of the court's attempt to adjust the perception of time and space to its own needs, in particular the need to transform history into a repeatable script. The way Molière incorporates the spatial and temporal consciousness of the courtier into Dom Juan is at the heart of his critical representation of the court as a constructed performance which relies excessively on theatrical self-presentation. By the mid-seventeenth century, court space in France had long been organized into a framed and coherent whole, a cultural and social field which was the ideal setting for the representation of prestige and power. Norbert Elias defines the French court as "an arena of activity" ("un champ d'activité") which is also "the reflection of a social unity in space."1 The court was a privileged space, organized around the person of the King and his royal household, within which an aristocratic self-performance could be played out according to a commonly held code of behavior. The framed space of the court authenticated the performed self and gave aristocratic performance both focus and prestige by setting it off from the rest of the MICHAEL SPINGLER, Associate Professor of French and Adjunct in Theater Arts at Clark University, is co-director of Clark's Center for Contemporary Performance . In addition to writing on French Theater he has directed numerous plays in French and English. 351 352Comparative Drama world. It was a closed system, a worldly version of such enclosed spaces as monasteries and convents, where time could be controlled, and privileged moments of history replayed, by the repetition of significant gestures which were considered to be endowed with shared and permanent meaning. At court such theatrical matters as one's location in space and one's mastery of etiquette—that is, scripted social behavior —were of fundamental importance since they performed the political function of expressing and maintaining social prestige. Where one positioned oneself and how well one behaved according to the complex and draconian code of the court defined what one was. Elias observes that the court was a social structure which supported a network of relations which were essential to the maintenance of the common and peculiar identity of its members: "Un ordre hiérarchique plus ou moins rigide, une étiquette minutieuse leur servait de lien. La nécessit é de s'imposer et de se maintenir au sein d'une telle formation sociale leur donnait un caractère particulier, celui de l'homme de cour" ("A more or less rigid hierarchical order and a scrupulous etiquette served to link them. The necessity of asserting and maintaining oneself within such a social formation gave them a particular stamp: that of the courtier").2 The ideal was to be fixed in a mise en scène which emblematized the courtier's continuous participation in royal authority. Molière challenges this notion of a rehearsed and scripted life through a complex dramaturgical strategy consisting of a set of self-referential theatrical operations which brings up the problem of the actor's position within the playing space of the stage. The playwright focuses on the courtier's reliance on two particular performance conventions, centricity and stillness, as fundamental marks of aristocratic privilege. Centricity reflects the courtier's need to occupy a space whose prestige as place comes from its proximity to power. Stillness is the sign of the desire of the courtier, once having achieved a position near the center, to remain rooted to the spot. In his espousal of stillness and centricity, the courtier emulated two kinds of performers: the statues who populated the gardens and palaces of the aristocracy and the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 351-368
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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