- Théâtre de Femmes de l’Ancien Régime ed. by Aurore Evian, Perry Gethner, and Henriette Goldwyn
This first volume of a five-volume series clearly lays out the enormous task that the editors have undertaken, that of correcting the common misconception that women’s participation in theater as dramatists is a recent development. The [End Page 147] editors propose, through this series, to bring to light the works of a wide variety of women dramatists, both professional and amateur, and to make them accessible to students and professors, as well as any others interested in theater.
This desire to make the plays accessible functions very successfully on two levels in the volume. First, there is the fact that many of these works are not currently available in most libraries, having long since gone out of print. At the beginning of each play, the editors list the first edition of the play as well as the edition(s) used as reference with bibliographical information so that scholars can refer to these. Second, the editors have endeavored to make the texts more accessible to the modern reader, including students of the language, by modernizing the spelling, punctuation and printing, and by glossing words that no longer exist or whose meanings have changed over time. At the same time, as the editors point out in the introduction, they have attempted to retain the versification and to clearly mark if the pronunciation of a word has changed that might affect the rhyme or the meter of the verses. Thus, by presenting these plays in a modern, annotated edition, they are easily accessible for reading, discussion and study.
The works published in this volume include plays written by three women who are today perhaps more well-known for others forms of literature. Marguerite de Navarre, best known for her Heptaméron and her poetry, is the first author presented, followed by the poet Louise Labé. The final author presented in the volume is the salonnière and poet Catherine Des Roches. By presenting these women in a new, creative light, the editors expand our appreciation of their talents, and allow the reader to discover other aspects of these early authors that have been, until now, overlooked or ignored.
Marguerite de Navarre’s works occupy the largest portion of the volume and include eight of her eleven known plays. As the editors point out, she is the first known female French playwright, and her plays are as varied as her poetry and her stories in the Heptaméron. In keeping with their desire to present a complete vision of the authors studied, the editors have provided the reader with the same variety in their play selections: three religious satires, two plays dealing with the worldlier subject of love, a meditation and two biblical plays. The breadth of these offerings emphasizes the range of Marguerite de Navarre’s style and talents.
Labé’s only known play is presented in the volume as one of the first humanist plays and a play that was clearly ahead of its time, which could explain why it disappeared with the Revolution and the advent of the ultra-paternal Nineteenth Century. Clearly, a play that advocated the equality of the sexes was a threat to a society that wished to keep women in their place. It would seem only fitting that Labé’s play was republished, as the editors point out, in 1578 along with the plays of Madeleine and Catherine Des Roches.
Catherine Des Roches is the final author presented in the volume, and the editors have made a concerted effort to separate Catherine’s works from those of her mother, and for the first time to separate Catherine’s theater from the entire corpus, choosing to present her plays as stand-alone works. Once again, the editors present a varied selection of plays, including Tobie, a tragi-comedy [End Page 148] based on a biblical theme, Bergerie, a pastoral...