French Drama Since the 1600's Introduction


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

As the eighteenth century began, the influence of the great dramatic poets—Pierre Corneille , Jean Racine , and Molière —was dominant. Their plays continued as the standard fare in the repertory of the Comédie-Française, created by the fusion of Molière’s actors and the Hôtel de Bourgogne players in 1680. Yet whereas the seventeenth century had had a predilection for tragedy, the eighteenth century tended to favor comedy, and, with the exception of Voltaire, there are no tragic playwrights of note as tragedy evolved into drama, melodrama, historical, and thesis plays. At the turn of the century, the most prolific tragic dramatist, Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon while imitating his predecessors in his choice of subjects taken from Greek history and mythology, favored plots with violent deeds and fast-paced action in which passion leads to mayhem. Eschewing the reasoned analysis of passion that lay at the base of Racinian tragedy, Crébillon’s works harked back to the early days of the seventeenth century and baroque exaggeration in the style of Alexandre Hardy. Crébillon justified himself in a celebrated dictum in which he posited that since Corneille had taken Heaven and Racine, Earth, there was nothing left for him but Hell. In Idoménée (pr. 1705), a father kills his son; in Atrée et Thyeste (pr. 1707), a father drinks his son’s blood; and in Électre (pr. 1708), a son kills his mother. Crébillon’s contribution to the...

(The entire section is 446 words.)