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  • Les Arts du spectacle et la référence antique dans le théâtre européen (1760–1830) ed. by Mara Fazio, Pierre Frantz, and Vincenzo De Santis
  • Thomas Wynn
Les Arts du spectacle et la référence antique dans le théâtre européen (1760–1830). Sous la direction de Mara Fazio, Pierre Frantz et Vincenzo De Santis. (Rencontres, 328; Le Dixhuitième siècle, 24.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2018. 402 pp., ill.

‘L’antiquité’, writes Germaine de Staël in Corinne (1807), ‘inspire une curiosité insatiable’, and the twenty-five essays in this volume testify to some of the endless ways in which theatre, dance, and opera responded to, and reshaped, the classical heritage at a time of intense political change. Aiming less to revisit once again that rather stale concept of neoclassicism, this wide-ranging volume instead explores how performing arts inspired by antiquity might also productively engage with Shakespearean drama, the Sturm und Drang movement, and national or bourgeois theatres. Though focusing on tragedies from the French Revolution, Éva Bellot’s efficient contribution might serve as an introduction for the volume as a whole: her proposition, that antiquity acts as a framework for understanding contemporary events and thereby provides ‘structures de pensée’ (p. 59) for both artists and audiences who were invested in a vast political project of moral renewal, offers a clear pathway into this complex field. Six other essays are of particular note. Renaud Bret-Vitoz examines how in Spartacus (1760) Bernard-Joseph Saurin presents a gladiator whose plebeian or rather servile status challenges the conventional depiction of the hero, and thus points to the future abandonment of a tragic system that depends on a clear hierarchy of grandeur and baseness. Maurizio Melai also treats the question of heroism in his excellent essay on three tragedies from the Restoration and July Monarchy; here the reference to antiquity is a means to valorize the popular right to rebellion, and to offer a positive depiction of the anonymous people’s transformation into the collective nation. François Lecercle offers a close reading of Richard Glover’s Medea (first published in 1761 but written earlier) and Jean-Marie-Bernard Clément’s Médée (1779); with both works reflecting the new maternal ideology, the Englishman utterly changes the myth by giving it a happy ending, and the French dramatist gives his audience a weak and sentimental heroine. Pierre Frantz examines how antiquity during the Revolution and the Empire served as a model for understanding the current situation and, focusing on the way the tribune in Marie-Joseph Chénier’s tragedies Timoléon and Caïus Gracchus addresses the dual audiences on stage and off, he demonstrates that there is no opposition between national theatre and ‘théâtre à l’antique’ (p. 180). In her outstanding essay on dramatic theory in England, Germany, and France, Laurence Marie shows that while for much of the eighteenth century painting was used to inspire a more natural performance style, later theorists (especially in Germany) turned to sculpture to redefine the autonomy of acting. Finally, Marie-Cécile Schang analyses how André Grétry, in opposition to Gluck, uses classical material to re-evaluate the function of poetry and prose with a view to creating a sublime aesthetic in lyric drama. Drawing on French, Italian, German, and [End Page 631] English material, this stimulating volume will appeal to scholars whose research interests cross across many linguistic, national, and disciplinary boundaries.

Thomas Wynn
Durham University


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pp. 631-632
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