Jean-François Regnard wrote a romantic novel, La Provençale (1731), satires and occasional verses, Epîtres (1731), and accounts of travels, Voyage de Flandre et de Hollande (A Journey Through Flanders, Holland, etc., 1801) and Voyage de Laponie (Journey to Lapland, etc., 1808), both published posthumously in 1731.
Literary history has been unkind to Jean-François Regnard. It was his misfortune to begin writing his comedies shortly after Molière’s death. By then, the classical conception of comedy in France meant comedy as conceived by Molière. Therefore, in the last decades of the seventeenth century, the chief preoccupation of French playwrights was almost exclusively with character studies. Plot became subordinated to the study of contemporary manners, and authors concentrated more on character portrayals. Hence, while most writers of comedies after Molière were striving to imitate him in painting contemporary manners and in creating living characters, Regnard concentrated all of his efforts in creating amusing, witty plays that filled audiences with delightful merriment. He considered the ability to amuse, to induce laughter, as the sine qua non of comedy. For this reason, many critics have rendered unfavorable judgments on his dramatic output, particularly in the area of characterization. Conceding that Regnard’s comedies are very funny, these critics claim that his characters are pale creatures in comparison with Molière’s and that his plays are bereft of penetrating psychology and moral instruction. Unfortunately, the preoccupation of an era of French scholarship centering on human motivation and human foibles produced a negative attitude toward comedy that is based on robust laughter, and too many critics of the French theater have shared this cultural attitude.
When Regnard’s comedies are studied without any preconceived notions, they may be appreciated from various points of view. To begin with, his plays are very theatrical. Indeed, much of his strength as a dramatist lies in the area of dramaturgy, that repository of devices and methods that are the very heart of the playwright’s craft. His skill in creating movement without impeding the progress of the plot, his gift for dramatic irony and contrast, his ability to give variety and freshness to the treatment of common...
Connon, Derek, and George Evans, eds. Essays on French Comic Drama from the 1640s to the 1780s. New York: Peter Lang, 2000. This collection of essays focusing on French drama from the mid-seventeenth century to the late eighteenth century looks at comedy during the period in which Regnard was active. Bibliography and index.
Harrison, Helen L. Pistoles/Paroles: Money and Language in Seventeenth Century French Comedy. Charlottesville, Va.: Rockwood Press, 1996. This study of French comedy in the seventeenth century centers on the prevalent writers such as Molière, Pierre Corneille, Monsieur Scarron, and Thomas Corneille. However, it presents a broad discussion of comedy and the topics of money and social class in literature. Bibliography and index.
Orwen, Gifford P. Jean-François Regnard. Boston: Twayne, 1982. A basic biography that covers the life and works of Regnard. Bibliography and index.
Yeh, J. “Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow.” Review of The Universal Legatee, by Jean-François Regnard. The Village Voice, April 24, 2001, p. 119. Yeh reviews a performance of Regnard’s The Universal Legatee (translated here as A Will of His Own) by the Pearl Theater Company in New York City.