restricted access An Enlightenment Misanthropology: Rousseau and Marmontel, Readers of Molière


The aim of this article is to explain the importance of Marmontel's discussion of Rousseau's condemnation of Molière's comic theatre. A cross-reading of Rousseau's Lettre à d'Alembert sur le spectacles and Marmontel's Apologie du théâtre shows in fact that Rousseau's reading of the Misanthrope, far from being merely a sterile historical curiosity, constitutes the heart of a philosophical analysis of literary creation that, thanks to the emotion it conveyed, became a key device for the construction of the moral subject. In fact, it transcends the viewpoint of simple theatrical criticism to encompass several problems central to eighteenth-century ethics: (i) the influence that emotions presented on the stage may have on the feelings of the audience, (ii) the cathartic relation between true emotion and make-believe emotion, and (iii) the possibility of identifying a moral form of laughter.