During the Prussian siege of Paris in the winter of 1870-1871, a play based on Horace by Corneille premiered at the Ambigu-Comique. Far from presenting a form of escapism, Le Forgeron de Châteaudun was a play that took the Franco-Prussian War as its backdrop, offering Parisian spectators an interpretative framework for understanding their resistance against the enemy blockade, a resistance that was feeling futile.

Its author, Franz Beauvallet, mixed elements of Horace with contemporary news articles about the war in order to present a tragedy with a happy ending. Le Forgeron argues, through its final scene of martyrdom, that a French defeat would sow the seeds for European peace. In a departure from Horace, Beauvallet valorizes a "patriotisme de l'amour" that defies national boundaries, and identifies this as an expression of French universalism.

Theaters' willingness to engage with the war as a subject of spectacle is a result of their difficult position in such times of national tragedy. Le Forgeron represents the delicate balance that theaters during the siege had to strike. Parisians were bored, but did not want to be distracted from the serious circumstances in which they found themselves. Shows like Le Forgeron de Châteaudun allowed for theaters to remain relevant during the siege as sites of engagement with civic and literary French traditions.


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pp. 375-389
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