- La Pratique du spectateur: la médiation des regards dans le théâtre de Thomas Corneille par Gaël Lechevalier
This is Gaël Le Chevalier's second monograph in a two-volume collection on Thomas Corneille, the first having focused on his career and the question of the nature of theatre audience (La Conquête des publics: Thomas Corneille, homme de théâtre (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2012)). It echoes Georges Forestier's magisterial work on the aesthetics of identity, Esthétique de l'identité dans le théâtre français (1550—1680): le déguisement et ses avatars (Geneva: Droz, 1988). Here, however, the circumscribed area of study is 'une esthétique de la diversité spectaculaire' (p. 8) and, rather than cast his net exhaustively over seventeenth-century theatre, Le Chevalier limits his reach to plays by Thomas Corneille. That said, Corneille's range in genre (comedies, tragicomedies, tragedies, machine plays, and musical plays) provides substantial material in itself and makes for a rich exploration. Le Chevalier argues that Thomas Corneille is a playwright particularly attentive to his audience and one who privileges the act of seeing on the stage through a variety of means. He charts how the act of looking is fundamentally ambiguous and full of contradictions; it is both active and passive, interiorized and projected outwards, a key to understanding but also rife with blind spots. Overall, the author's main aim is to identify and explore the dramaturgical means by which the spectator's role is highlighted. Le Chevalier clearly underlines how the multiple, fleeting, and inconsistent act of seeing is made manifest through the playwright's explicit references to this within the text, the actors' embodiment of the act through their eyes and glances, the characters as witnesses and reporters of what they have seen, and also through the spectator's act of looking during every performance. Most compelling is when Le Chevalier argues that Thomas Corneille presents a challenge to the contemporary notion that viewers narcissistically imagine themselves at the centre of this process, and come to the theatre to see but a reflection of themselves, and be reminded of their own status (p. 341). He suggests the game of reflections, mirrors, and narcissistic characters is actually a way to guide spectators to go beyond their own amour-propre and solipsism and instead pay close attention to the material before them. Given this focus on examining spectatorship, it is a shame that Le Chevalier does not discuss Joseph Harris's important book, Inventing the Spectator: Subjectivity and the Theatrical Experience in Early Modern France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). Despite this lacuna, Le Chevalier engages thoroughly with other critical studies on the subject and provides an impressive overview not just of the theatrical context but also of the epistemo-logical importance of sight, optics, and illusion across a range of thinkers of the period. As was the case with Forestier's study, Le Chevalier provides detailed statistical analysis of his findings, here included in the appendix in useful tables and categories (including the network of characters observing or being observed, and the three main types of exchanged looks identified, namely 'le regard amoureux', 'le regard complice', and 'le [End Page 288] regard témoin'). Le Chevalier Differentiates The Way These Operate across the dramatic genres but these observations could have been better integrated into the body of his argument rather than left until the end. It would also have been interesting to compare the frequency of these acts of looking and references to the gaze across other plays of the period to show the degree to which Thomas Corneille's work stands out in this respect. However, this, of course, would have made for a rather different work of scholarship. What Le Chevalier has produced is a robust work which demonstrates the way we can look upon the act of looking anew.