Theatre, Opera, and Audience in Revolutionary Paris: Analysis and Repertoryby Emmet Kennedy, Marie-Laurence Netter, James P. McGregor, and Mark V. Olsen (review)
- Comparative Drama
- Western Michigan University
- Volume 30, Number 4, Winter 1996-1997
- pp. 558-560
- View Citation
- Additional Information
558Comparative Drama Emmet Kennedy, Marie-Laurence Netter, James P. McGregor, and Mark V. Olsen. Theatre, Opera, and Audience in Revolutionary Paris: Analysis and Repertory. Contributions in Drama and Theatre Studies, 62. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Pp. xii + 424. $79.50. As the subtitle of this book indicates, the work as a whole is divided into two parts: analysis (pp. 1-90, with endnotes on pp. 39397 ), and repertory (pp. 91-391); a list of references (pp. 395-404) and a useful index (pp. 405-11) complete the volume. The analysis portion of the book is divided into ten chapters, all of which were written by Emmet Kennedy and Marie-Laurence Netter. The repertory portion consists of lists by author and, in the case of anonymous plays, by title of all the plays performed in Paris during the Revolutionary period (178999 ), indexes of titles and authors, authors and composers, a list of operas performed in this period, and a statistical overview accompanied by tables; there is no indication of individual authorship of the chapters in this section. Covering a period largely ignored by critics and containing a wealth of information otherwise not readily available, this is a valuable reference work. Perhaps this book will stimulate other teams of researchers to do similar work on the many provincial theaters that operated during this crucial time in French history in cities large and small, from Lyon and Rouen to Toulouse and Bordeaux and Dijon. After an introductory chapter in which the problems connected with establishing a firm chronology of the plays actually performed in Paris during the Revolutionary period are discussed, the first analytical chapter shows the extraordinarily broad range of the backgrounds of the authors' families and of the professions they themselves exercised. Parisians and provincials, wealthy or well-to-do or financially struggling , theater professionals, artisans, military officers, or members of other professions—only the love of the theater seems to bind these authors to one another. Unsurprisingly, there is nothing in their backgrounds that would predict who would become a playwright. An analysis of the most performed plays of the decade reveals that audiences enjoyed complicated plots, comic resolutions, traditional scenes of young love winning out over all odds. This is especially true of the theater up to the Terror; "patriotic entertainments" abound under the Terror, perhaps because so many other plays are prohibited or severely censured. After the Terror, for the last five years of the decade, the notion of good and bad revolutions is born, the Terror being in the latter category and seen as an aberration. There are informative chapters on the creation and evolution of genres (in particular, mixed genres, melodramas, and the like) during the period, on the public, on the theaters (scores of which existed, most of them failing financially), and their owner-directors. The authors demonstrate that while the Revolutionary authorities favored innovation and plays celebrating a new republicanism and giving sound moral les- Reviews559 sons, what the public wanted was comedy and laughter, light and frothy plays that make you laugh: "The thesis of the present work is that, although politics may have been the most important innovation, it was not the most telling characteristic of that theatre, nor the most revealing of its audiences" (p. 88), for the "entertainment world" of Parisians "proved more Rabelaisian than Robbespierrist" (p. 90). Indeed, the ratio of comedies to tragedies performed was an astonishing 14 to 1 (p. 87). We also learn, somewhat to our surprise, that theatergoers even in the darkest days of the Revolution "remained attached to the pre-Revolutionary repertory or that part of the new repertory that mimicked the old" (p. 90), although it must be said that very few indeed of the authors repertoried in the second part of the book are those canonized today. There are some relatively minor errors of fact in this work (e.g., Fénelon's Télémaque is called a poem on p. 30; the author of Didon is not Jean-G[eorge] Le Franc de Pompignan, as listed on p. 188, but his brother Jean-J[acques]). In general, stiff writing and a penchant for Gallicisms on Emmet Kennedy's part...