François Ponsard Essay - Critical Essays


It is claimed that François Ponsard acted only as a renovator of the classical theater and that, in such a role, he failed. In fact, he set about to be an innovator, for although he did reinvigorate the seventeenth century style of tragedy, he actually sought to combine elements of classicism with those of Romanticism. To that extent, he can be considered somewhat successful.

Ponsard was a dramatist who, though he never had a firm grasp on the technical aspects of dramaturgy, did, on occasion, reach sublime points in his dramas. Although the consensus of critics appears to be that he was a mediocre playwright, he did create a theater of ideas that formed a transition between the Romantic theater and the Naturalist and Symbolist theaters to come soon after him. Together with the fact that two or three of his plays do provide good drama, this element should afford Ponsard a somewhat higher place in the rankings of playwrights than that which he has occupied in the past.


His play Lucrèce retells the ancient story, recounted by Livy, of Lucretia, wife of Tarquinius Collatinus (Tarquin Collatin), who is related to Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin le Superbe). The latter’s son, Sextus, is impassioned by Lucretia and rapes her, whereupon she, to prove her virtue, stabs herself to death in front of her husband and father. Immediately, Junius Brutus rattles the death dagger still dripping with blood, rouses the people to revolt, and proclaims the fall of the Tarquins.

Charlotte Corday

Throughout his literary career, Ponsard would choose his themes and settings from a wide variety of historical and contemporaneous tableaus. Agnès de Méranie, for example, had for its setting an event and characters from the Middle Ages, which was, ironically, the favored period of the Romantics. Charlotte Corday, considered by many his best play, amplifies the story of the slaying of the revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat in his bathtub by the exiled Girondin, Charlotte Corday during the time of the Terror, in 1793. With fervor and conviction reminiscent of Joan of Arc, Charlotte views herself as the person chosen by God (she arrives at this notion through her own interpretation of the Bible) to infiltrate the...

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