After his death in 1650, Jean de Rotrou’s plays, with a few notable exceptions, were neglected for more than two centuries. The probable reason for this is that Rotrou, the author, was forgotten while Rotrou, the man, was cloaked in the mythic mantle of the “mayor-martyr.” His premature death by the plague while he was steadfastly serving a term as mayor of Dreux was taken as a beautiful example of civic duty and sacrifice. The aura of this noble death tended to distort other aspects of his life, and the distinction between fact and legend became more blurred with the passing years. By extension, erroneous notions cropped up in the literary domain. It is only in the second half of the twentieth century that a reevaluation of Rotrou’s contribution to the French stage has begun; excellent studies and critical editions have appeared that deal with various aspects of his dramatic output. The immediate impression one receives from these scholarly works is that Rotrou should be ranked after Pierre Corneille, Jean Racine, and Molière as one of the foremost playwrights of his century. For a long time, he was, indeed, one of France’s neglected classics. Modern scholarship has redressed historical injustice.
Rotrou excelled in the imbroglio type of play made popular by the Italian performers who came to France at the end of the sixteenth century. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Rotrou did not discard primacy of plot in favor of portrayal of manners or character. Indeed, his primary appeal lay in his plots. He liked a good story, a complex intrigue, and he knew how to develop it neatly. Moreover, it is doubtful that he could have attempted innovations in the genre of drama if he had so desired, at least not at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, the theater for which he wrote his plays. A playhouse, then as now, was in business to make money. To do so, it had to supply its audiences with the kind of entertainment that they desired, and in plays performed during this period, audiences wanted an abundance of movement, action, and surprise. Furthermore, to better accommodate the spectators’ hunger for variety and exuberance, the Hôtel de Bourgogne had invested a huge sum in a system of complex and picturesque decor. It is likely, then, that when the directors of the Hôtel de...
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Knutson, Harold C. The Ironic Game: A Study of Rotrou’s Comic Theater. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966. Knutson examines the comedic plays of Rotrou. Bibliography.
Morello, Joseph. Jean Rotrou. Boston: Twayne, 1980. A basic biography of Rotrou that also discusses his works. Bibliography.
Nelson, Robert. Immanence and Transcendence: The Theater of Jean Rotrou, 1609-1650. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1969. This scholarly study looks at the concepts of immanence and transcendence in the plays of Rotrou. Bibliography.