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Le Véritable Saint Genest: Changing Perspectives in Spectator Response Cynthia Osowiec Ruoff I N JEAN ROTROU’S Le Véritable Saint Genest (1645) sense experi­ ence and passion stimulate the actor Genest to abandon the dramatic text “ Le Martyre d’Adrian” and to create his new role in God’s theatre. Through the play-within-the-play, the pagan actor Genest responds to the marvelous, abandons the established beliefs and gods of the Romans, assimilates the passions of Adrian the convert he plays, and becomes a Christian martyr. Placing his faith in God and defying the Romans who condemn conversion as unreasonable, Genest succumbs to passion and commits himself to the ultimate baroque metamorphosis: to become a believer. Genest’s conversion illustrates what Bernard Chédozeau affirms in Le Baroque: ‘T appel créatif” of the “ baroque de persuasion” is “ un appel. . . vers le monde du sacré et du mystère, un appel à la croyance.” 1Inspired by grace, Genest then calls the spectators to convert and to join him on the path to eternal salvation. In order to contrast Le Véritable Saint Genest as an example of the “ baroque de persuasion” with the modern orchestration of Saint Genest introduced into the repertoire of the Comédie Française in 1988, I will begin by examining spectator reaction in French classical aesthetics. I. The Passions: Classical versus Baroque Internalization—What dis­ tinguishes the emotional response of the spectators according to classical aesthetics in which passions are imprinted both on the actor and on the spectator? Georges de Scudéry in L ’Apologie du théâtre (1639) clarifies the meaning of the imprinting of passions on the spectator in his descrip­ tion of the moral utility of drama in Antiquity and, by extension, in seventeenth-century France. Since “ comédie” often depicted the punish­ ment of crimes, “ elle avoit souvent imprimé la crainte, en l’ame de ces barbares, [the spectators], & enchainé quelque fois ces bestes feroces, dont elle ne pouvoit pas changer entièrement, les cruelles inclinations.” 2 The dramatic production arouses the spectator’s fear of imitating the actions of the character because of imminent punishment. In another example, Alexandre in the “ Tiran de Pheres” viewed a “ comédie” in which an “ obiet pitoyable,” an actor, who “ par des expressions Vol. XXXIII, No. 3 21 L ’E sprit C réateur touchantes” moved the tyrant or “ homme de roche jusqu’a lors insensi­ ble à la pitié, qu’elle [la comédie] le força de pleurer. . .” (82). Alexandre was moved to feel pity for the on-stage characters; he was not motivated to become one of those characters and live that character’s situation. Alexandre even wants to kill the actor for evoking his tears, a sign of weakness in his mind. In classical aesthetics, the actor’s credible representation of the char­ acter’s situation and passions elicits emotions such as laughter, terror, and pity from the spectators. These viewers, however, remain exterior to the action. Bernard Chédozeau describes this “ intériorisation classique” by differentiating it from the “ intériorisation baroque” : Plus intellectuelle et plus renfermée au spectacle de passions qui ne s’exprimeront que rarement par l’action . . . elle est plus proprement spectaculaire en ce qu’elle maintient, par le rire, ou par la terreur et la pitié, une distance souvent ironique excluant par principe la forte volonté d’assimilation vécue que semble impliquer l’intériorisation des dramaturges baroques. (107) Baroque aesthetics encourages the spectator himself to join in the charac­ ter’s metamorphosis through an “ assimilation vécue.” In Le Véritable Saint Genest not only is the actor Genest moved to a spontaneous con­ version during the performance of his role, but Rotrou also summons the spectator to become the actor and experience an act of faith (Chédozeau 106-07). In contrast, classical aesthetics expects the actor to portray a carefully planned and rehearsed metamorphosis designed to incarnate verisimilitude and arouse the spectator’s emotional reaction, but the spectator distances himself from the character. Through the play-within-the-play structure, Le Véritable Saint Genest attempts to move all potential converts plagued by uncertainty and doubt. During the...


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