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  • The First Frame: Theatre Space in Enlightenment Franceby Pannill Camp
  • Mechele Leon
The First Frame: Theatre Space in Enlightenment France. By Pannill Camp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Cloth $99.00, eBook $79.00. 288 pages.

In both its methods and findings, The First Frame: Theatre Space in Enlightenment Francemakes a substantial contribution to the history of theatre architecture, spectatorship, and stage technology. Its purpose is to offer an "interpretation of the evolving spatial ideology beneath a profound mutation in theatrical esthetics" (6). The book begins with an introduction, which argues that important changes in theatre architecture in Enlightenment France, far from being merely the elaboration of modernized theatre construction in response to the growing popularity of theatre, were instead expressing a new and rationalized way of understanding the physiology of vision and theories of seeing. In this way, theatre architecture responded to a transformation in the very concept of the purposes of theatrical representation from a reflective model to a transparent view of the world. In an introduction of exceptional clarity given the vastness of this topic, Camp defines the parameters of the project as precisely not "a descriptive history [End Page 163]of French theatre architecture" (6). The distinction he makes is important: for such descriptive history of theatre architecture—an often progressivist narrative that depicts theatre architecture as evolving from the primitive to the sophisticated—has dominated approaches on the subject. Instead, his study breaks ground by attending to the natural and empirical philosophical trends of the period and on the discovery of the "spatial ideology" that was at work in the construction and transformation of French theatres in the eighteenth century.

The first chapter analyzes historical developments of seventeenth-century playhouses and scenic design practices—elements that will be confronted and challenged in the eighteenth century. His analysis of tennis court theatres is particularly fascinating for the depth of his research and salient insights. Theatre scholars are well aware that tennis courts— jeux de paume—that were converted to playhouses were the norm for performance spaces in France from the 1500s to the 1700s. To a large degree, however, historians have absorbed the eighteenth-century critique of these spaces (advanced by Voltaire and others), which views them as hopelessly inadequate. Quite original is Camp's analysis of the cultural meanings of the jeu de paume. He avoids the trap of received ideas about the their inadequacies and views their positive aspects as uniquely suited for sociability. This allows him to recognize why traits of the jeux de paumeendured in the explosion of French theatre construction in the latter half of the eighteenth century.

The second chapter provides a long view of the development of dramatic theory and corresponding rationalist philosophy from the seventeenth to the eighteenth century in order to articulate the shift from theatre as a "mirror" of the world to theatre as a transparent viewing space, a window if you will, in which something of the world is revealed. For this chapter, Camp draws on a range of drama and theory from the sixteenth-century authors of the Pléiadegroup, through the influential theatre theorists the abbé d'Aubignac and Jean-Baptiste Dubos. Through his close analysis, Camp reveals the philosophical foundations of this transition from mirror to transparency, paving the way for his discussion of architectural change.

Chapter three, "Enlightenment Spectators and the Theatre of Experiment," draws together, on the one hand, eighteenth-century public demonstrations of natural science phenomena, situating them as performances with a specific dramaturgical framework, and, on the other hand, the development of middle-class drama. Both dramatic performance and public scientific demonstrations involved an important reconceptualization that emerged in the Enlightenment in which spectatorship is recognized as epistemology—that is, spectatorship as a new way of knowing. Both theatre and science become understood in this spectatorial frame to be the site of the formulation of knowledge. Recognizing this development, Camp offers a fresh and incisive reading of the function and aesthetics of French middle-class drama (the drame). [End Page 164]

In subsequent chapters and the epilogue, he traces the development of theatre reform in Enlightenment France for how ideas about the...


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